Top Ten Backpacking Shelters Of All Time

Every year, around both the holiday season and before backpacking season starts, there is a spate of TOP TEN PIECES OF GEAR posts.

Nearly one new piece of gear per month to test?

Hmmm…

Here are the shelters I’ve used consistently since I first wrote this article back in 2016. I’ve changed it a little bit since then since I tend to backpack almost exclusively with one person since 2018.

So here’s my contribution…done in my way.

In no particular order –

~ Updated April 2020 ~

  1. Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis (2008)

Pyramid tarps are perhaps the most versatile shelter of all time. With proper pitching, they can handle moderate snow loads, does well in the wind, have a small footprint, and set up quickly.

My pyramid tarp of choice is my circa 2008 Six Moon Design Wild Oasis. I’ve used it all over the Intermountain West, on longer hikes such as Utah or New Mexico, and even in the Canadian Rockies for solo treks.

I could save a literal couple of ounces with the new DCF version, but $500 to shave 2 oz. is a bit too much for this ex-IT Monkey!

EDIT MAY 2020: Well, what can I say.ย  Joan shocked me by purchasing one of the sly for my birthday. Thank you, dear! ๐Ÿ™‚

In the Sangres of Colorado. I’ll set up the new version at some point!

 

2. Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 (2019)

As of this writing (April 2020), we’ve only had the tent since December 2019. No matter. Read my sorta-review/relationship musings on it: This tent is quick to set up, only makes a 2 lb carry for me (1 pound for Joan), and prevents some “spirited discussions” we’ve had when we are cold hungry, tired, and just want to set up the shelter.

We drink our whiskey and cider quicker. And that’s what is essential, right?

Our winter camp in Canyonlands National Park

3. Black Diamond Firstlight

At sub-3lbs, single wall, free-standing shelter ideally suited for winter backpacking when on the move and not making an extended basecamp. Technically the tent is for two people, really better suited for one. At the end of a day of winter backpacking, esp on skis, I just want to set up something quick, get in my bag and get dinner going. The Black Diamond Firstlight fills that role. A bit of a splurge because the ideal range of use is limited; for snowy winter backpacking. Does not breathe well, but in the cold and dry Intermountain West winters, that is fine.

In the Indian Peaks Wilderness

4. REI HooDoo 3

A cheat because I use the REI HooDoo 3 backpacking tent for…CAR CAMPING!

The circa 2010, no longer made, tent makes an excellent car camping tent. Unlike many tents made for car camping, this tent sheds wind, light snow, and makes a stable set up. The two vestibules are always handy, and the three-person setup makes a spacious tent for two. When I traveled solo across the US for a good portion of 2018, I used a small beach chair inside and found the tent a palace.

A good car camping tent extends our outdoor time. When we road trip, we make a comfortable base camp in between backpacking trips and find we are not roughing it with our deluxe road trip/car camping setup. It saves us money, we are outside more, and we enjoy going to places that aren’t necessarily car camping destinations.

In the decade since I’ve owned this tent, I lost count the number of nights spent in BLM land after a trip, spending a weekend at a national monument, or meeting up with dear friends for an outdoor-focused holiday gathering – this shelter has served me, and now us, well.

Dispersed camping somewhere in Nevada

5. through 10.

None. Zip. That’s it. No more backpacking shelters to list.

I’ve used the shelters above the most over the years. And I don’t see a need to upgrade currently. (Unless we get involved in more “spirited discussions” due to a shelter set up!) We have other shelters in our collection from our collected years of backpacking, but we don’t use them much anymore, if at all. The major exception is the hammock setup Joan uses for her solo trips such as her 600 miles PCT section hike last summer.

In any case, how many backpacking shelters can a single person or even two people have, use, and evaluate in a given year? ๐Ÿ™‚

For now, these shelters are what I use for solo, couples, snow-based, and basecamp style trips. If Joan decides that skiing in with a backpack makes more sense for overnight trips, than perhaps someday there will be a number five pick.

I guess “cowboy camping” could be a number five pick! PCO Joan.

Until them, If I want to do the BEST TENTS OF 2021, better start buying up more gear.

Or maybe not.

I like what we have. ๐Ÿ™‚
Disclosure: We purchased all these shelters with our funds.

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Gary
Gary
4 years ago

Very interesting post. I’ve never tried a tarp as a shelter. Well…I did once but I didn’t sleep in it. It was more of a rain shield. I usually prefer tents. I also have never tried a natural shelter and don’t know if I want to either. Funny post and thanks for the contributions.

Elaine
Elaine
4 years ago

My wife and I absolutely love our SMD Lunar Duo. Soooo much room!

JT
JT
4 years ago

Oh the numberless nights I’ve spent in my SMD Skyscape Scout, far, far away from the hand of man and deep in the heart of the Olympics. STILL just $125! My personal choice for best bang fer yer buck piece of kit.

Joan
4 years ago

I like # 5-10. I’ve aleady got a tarp, and you just spared me from having to read more boring gear reviews, or contemplating whether my tarp is good enough. Much appreciated!

Ryan
Ryan
4 years ago

First-time poster here, and I want to first of all thank you for your awesome blog, which has helped me get into backpacking. I have used a number of tips from your posts and have enjoyed several backpacking trips that I learned about here. Due to a recent injury (torn Achilles), I’m trying to figure out how to further lighten my load so that I can hike more safely. I am considering switching from my tent (which is almost 4 lbs with footprint) to a flat tarp. My question is, how often are the bugs a problem for you? I… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks! I think for now I’ll just buy the tarp, and start off late-season (late August or Sep.) so that I don’t have to deal with bugs. Then, if I become a tarp convert and want to use it when bugs are out, I’ll try the bug net. Would you say that an 8×10 tarp is big enough to keep a tall person (who is a novice) dry in his down sleeping bag?

Ryan
Ryan
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul Mags

Thanks again for the tips. I ended up buying a “Bearpaw Lair” tarp (similar to the ZPacks Hexamid) because I found one used and cheap. My recovery from injury is going quite well and I happen to have a free long weekend at the very end of July… the mountains are calling! Do you think that bugs will be an issue this year in the high country at the end of July? (for something like the 4-pass loop or the Pawnee-Buchanan loop, etc). In light of my recent Achilles injury, I’d feel a lot safer backpacking out there if I… Read more »

John
John
3 years ago

So which of the 5 would you take on a CT thru?

Darren
Darren
3 months ago

No place for the Shangri-La?

Charlie
Charlie
3 months ago

I enjoyed my night alone in the Bryant Ridge Shelter a great deal. Tarps are good too.