Putting together a gear kit for backpacking can be a little intimidating. With so many options out there, how can you know if you’re choosing the right items? Your backpacking tent, in particular, is a crucial piece of your camping gear. 

Knowing how to select an ultralight shelter can leave you enjoying your backpacking trip more, as you’ll be carrying less weight while appreciating the ease and comfort of its setup and features. If you’re ready to find the ultralight tent of your dreams, we’ve got you covered below.  

We'll go over everything you need to know about lightweight shelter designs, fabrics, setups, weights, and more. Plus, we’ll highlight Gossamer Gear’s line of ultralight shelters that are beloved by thru-hikers, weekend warriors, and first-time backpackers alike.

Is an Ultralight Tent Worth It?

First, let’s cover whether an ultralight tent is even worth it. If you look at any outdoor discussion board online, you’ll see that people have all sorts of hot takes on the issue. It’s true that ultralight tents can cost more than car camping tents or other shelter options that reach into the four-pound zone. However, what you often exchange for a lower price is greater discomfort.

While it’s true that you can get away with heavier tents, that extra weight on your back adds up. It’s harder on your joints and muscles, leaves you feeling more fatigued, and minimizes the distance you can do in a day. 

Investing in an ultralight tent setup from the start can ultimately save you money in the long run, as you won’t need to re-purchase gear when you want to go lighter. If you’re still not sold on the idea, ask a friend if you can borrow their lightweight tent to try it out before making the plunge.

Plus, due to continued high demand for our award-winning shelters, Gossamer Gear is excited to offer our community a better price through increased production for The One and The Two.

What Should I Look for in a Backpacking Tent?

If you’re going to make the investment in an ultralight backpacking tent, it’s important to know what to look for in the shelter. Below are four things to consider that will help you choose the best ultralight backpacking tent for you.

1. Select the Right Lightweight Shelter Design

There are a few different tent design options out there. Each comes with pros and cons.

Double-Wall Shelters

Double-wall shelters are your traditional setup: a mesh inner tent with a detachable rainfly on the exterior. They are generally freestanding, meaning they can be set up without staking them into the ground. This makes them very maneuverable in terms of campsite selection and a great option for beginners. On the downside, because they require you to carry a dedicated tent pole set and two layers of fabric, they are the heaviest and least minimal shelter option. 

While we don’t currently make any double-wall shelters at Gossamer Gear, we are playing around with some minimalist designs—so stay tuned!

Single-Wall Shelters

Single-wall shelters are the ultralight standard: a single layer of fabric and mesh all the way around that acts as a rainfly and inner tent all in one. Single-wall shelters like The One and The Two are able to be set up with trekking poles, saving you the weight and volume of having to carry dedicated tent poles. This multi-functional approach allows you to pack a much lighter and more compact shelter set-up.

The downsides to a single-wall shelter are needing to use stakes to set up the tent, which limits site placement and requires a little more skill, as well as increased exposure to condensation, which you can read more about combating here


Tarps are for skilled backpacking enthusiasts. They come in different shapes and allow for a highly modular approach, depending on your chosen campsite. A-frame catenary cut tarps, like our Solo Tarp and Twinn Tarp, are as minimal as it gets: a canopy for wind and rain protection with no bug netting or floor, keeping you fully connected to nature when bug pressure is low.

While tarps are the absolute lightest option, they require the most skill and are something to be approached with ample research and experience.

Tarp-Tent Hybrids

In case you missed it, our founder Glen Van Peski created a minimalist backpacking shelter for fellow lightweight obsessives called The Whisper. You can think of it as a bottomless tent or a bug-proof tarp. 

It’s a truly unique design unlike other ultralight tent options on the market, and it’s super lightweight. The Whisper is a limited edition shelter that, at the time of this writing, is no longer available, but if you’re interested in it, let us know and keep an eye out for any future restocks!

2. Understand Available Lightweight Shelter Fabrics

At Gossamer Gear, picking the right fabrics for our products is a careful balancing act. We consider weight, price, water resistance, durability, test data, production time, availability, and more. Our shelters are currently being produced with a custom woven 10D nylon SIL/PU fabric waterproof to at least 1,800mm. Here are the specifics on what those fabric details mean and how they play into shaping the best ultralight backpacking shelters available.


The “D” here stands for denier, which is the thickness of individual threads used in the creation of a woven fabric. The lower the denier, the lighter and more sheer or silky a fabric is. 10D is on the lightest end of the spectrum for technical fabrics.


We choose to make most of our shelters and packs from a thin woven nylon fabric. Nylon is exceptionally strong for its weight and price, resistant to abrasion and chemicals, long-lasting, compressible, and easy to wash. The downside in certain situations is that it is relatively elastic, meaning it will have a minimal sag when saturated with water. 

Occasionally, we’ll design products, like The Whisper, with DCF fabric instead of nylon. DCF stands for Dyneema composite fabric, which is a laminate fabric composed of a thin sheet of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, sandwiched between two sheets of polyester. The main benefits of DCF are that it’s inherently waterproof without added coatings, dries quickly, and holds its shape well with a high strength to weight ratio. However, it does come with a premium price and doesn’t compress as well as nylon.


These terms are shorthand for the different coatings that we infuse into our nylon fabric. One side of the nylon is blended with liquid silicone, and the other is blended with UTS, or Ultra Tear Strength. Unlike many traditional polyurethane coatings, UTS is specially formulated to increase tear strength while offering great hydrolysis performance.

3. Know How Much an Ultralight Backpacking Tent Should Weigh

The general guide for how much a backpacking tent should weigh is no more than 2.5 pounds per person. That’s because there’s an assumption that you’ll share some weight between two people if carrying a two-person tent. However, a tent that weighs five pounds for two people is definitely not an ultralight shelter.

Here’s a quick comparison for you: our two-person tent, The Two, weighs less than 1.5 pounds total. This calculates to less than a pound per person. That makes a huge difference on trail!

We calculate our nylon shelter weights based on an average of 20 quality-control-approved production tents. The current weights for each at the time of this writing are:

These weights include the shelters themselves, as well as the cords attached to them.

Our shelters also require two poles for a complete setup. The One and The Two are compatible with trekking poles that can be set to 120-125 cm in length, and our tarps with trekking poles that can be set to 76-114 cm in length.

All of our shelters are compatible with our 3-piece LT5s:

If you don’t use trekking poles, you can achieve a lighter setup with dedicated aluminum tent poles for The One and The Two:

The One and The Two come with aluminum peg stakes that weigh 11 g each. If you’d like to lighten up or diversify your tent stakes, we offer some additional options:

4. Consider Other Features for Comfort and Durability 

Just because you’re going ultralight doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all creature comforts or beloved shelter features that make your time on trail a little better. As you’re selecting the best ultralight backpacking tent for you, consider things like the following.


Decide whether you’ll need a two-person or one-person tent. Take a look at the interior dimensions of your ultralight shelter and consider your own size needs, as well as any gear you might want to include in the tent with you.


Think about what time of year you’ll be using your tent and whether it can withstand the typical weather conditions during that season. Our fabric is rated to at least 1,800mm of waterproofness. 

The "at least'' part means that when coating is applied to a fabric during production, it is never 100% consistent, and there is an allowable range of variability. Tents are generally rated between 1,000mm and 10,000mm. Ours is at the lower end of the spectrum, as the less coating that is applied, the lighter the fabric and end product will be. We have found a rating of 1,800mm to be a good balance of being waterproof without applying unnecessary amounts of coating.

Also, instead of having our tents and tarps seam-sealed the traditional way with a caulk-like solution, they are seam-taped when produced and fully waterproof and ready-to-go right out of the box!

Comfort and Function

When selecting the best ultralight tent for backpacking, look at the shelter’s special features. The tent shouldn’t be overloaded with them so that it adds unnecessary extra weight, but it should have the key elements you’re looking for. 

For example, some of the best features of The Two tent include:

  • Full protection from rain and bugs
  • Great headroom (and shoulder room)
  • Big vestibule with great protection
  • Easy side entry
  • Excellent ventilation with four doors that open to minimize condensation
  • Highly adjustable pitch
  • Interior clothesline and flashlight loop
  • Reflective tie-outs for additional lines during high winds
  • Ability to furl the vestibule for views when no rain expected
  • Zipper pulls have reflective lines added for easier handling
  • 2 large mesh internal pockets for personal items

Select an Ultralight Backpacking Shelter for Happy Hikes and Peaceful Sleeps

A good ultralight backpacking shelter can be a real game changer on trail. Look for lightweight tent options that set up easily, minimize weight, and include just the right amount of features for comfort. The One and The Two are excellent tent options for all types of backpacking trips. If you want to take things to the next level, consider the Solo Tarp or Twinn Tarp to cut even more weight.

And if you take any of our ultralight shelters out on an adventure, we want to share in the magic! Let us see your most scenic or memorable shelter setups by tagging Gossamer Gear on social media (@gossamergear) and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.

Looking for more outdoor adventure inspiration and backcountry shelter knowledge? Check out some of our other articles on the Light Feet blog:

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July 29, 2020 — Korrin Bishop