Tents for two people that are perfect for every adventure

One of the pillars of my gear arsenal is a two-person tent. As a mountain bike and a daypack, it is one of the most essential pieces of equipment that I have. When I don’t have the space or energy to rig up the six-person palace, I reach for my two-person tent when setting up for a backpacking excursion, an impromptu backyard campout, or a car-camping trip. At an REI garage sale, I bought an inexpensive North Face tent at a steep discount. The thing accompanied me across the United States countless times during my teens and early twenties. As with my first car (a Cadillac late in the 1970s), it gets me emotional when I think of it. I bought that tent 25 years ago, but man, have they evolved since then. Everyone should have one of these lightweight engineering marvels. Each of these tents is designed for its own purpose, and is suitable as an anchor in your gear closet.

For bikepackers: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 ($380)

(Photo: Courtesy Big Agnes)

While weight is an important factor to consider when packing for a backcountry trip, your gear’s size is equally important. Despite its light weight, a tent can take up a lot of space in your pack if it is not compact. Its 2.1-pound weight (along with the short pole system, on the other hand) and compact design make it perfect for bikepacking, and its compact size allows it to fit on a bike’s handlebars. My favorite shelter over the past two years has been this tent, which I’ve used on gravel and singletrack bikepacking trips. Mesh forms the vast majority of the tent, lowering weight and creating a breezy experience on hot nights, while nylon ripstop forms the fly and floor. The durability of my gear has not been a problem. The tent is 52 inches wide and 86 inches long, and has just enough vestibule room for shoes and a backpack. Daisy chains on the outside of the tent fly are smart, even if you’re not a cyclist; they allow you to secure and dry dirty, wet clothes like socks and shirts. One thing to keep in mind, though: the fly doesn’t have a hood vent, and some people have reported condensation (though I haven’t noticed it). It has only one door, so if you’re going to use this tent with a partner, you’ll have to crawl over them when it’s time to use the bathroom at night.

Budding Outdoorspersons: REI Groundbreaker ($75)

(Photo: Courtesy REI)

These prices are not typographically incorrect. Compared to Whole Foods, the Groundbreaker is cheaper. Two-person tents like this were specifically designed for novice backpackers. Thanks to REI for coming up with an idea and executing it. I let my son use it on a camping trip with one of his friends recently. He put it up entirely on his own in less than five minutes, which is impressive since (a) he’d never pitched a tent before and (b) he’s terrible at following directions. Tents tend to be heavy, and there aren’t many modern design innovations that separate them from previous generations. The Groundbreaker, for example, has a lot of floor space (31.8 square feet), but because of the pole design, there isn’t much vertical space, so it feels smaller than it really is. While it doesn’t come with storage pockets or gear loops, some tents costing six times as much as it does do. I love this tent, but its size when packed into its stuffsack is the only thing that bothers me. There’s something about its size (22 inches by 7.5 inches) that might turn people off more than its weight. It is not for ounce counters and experienced backpackers, but it is for people seeking an easy tent for overnight adventures.

The backpacker’s choice is the Sea to Summit Alto TR2 ($449)

(Photo: Courtesy Sea to Summit)

In contrast to most two-person tents, the Alto TR2 is plenty large enough for a dog and an adult. In this simple, lightweight shelter, there is ample space for two people because it has a floor area of 25 square feet (84.5 inches wide at its widest point). At 2.5 pounds, it is near the ultralight category, but it includes some features you wouldn’t expect for a tent in that category, like two big doors and matching vestibules, as well as storage pockets to ensure nothing gets lost in the dark. In the vestibules, you can still leave soiled, smelly items outside of the tent without having to take them inside. Although the Alto TR2 doesn’t pack down as small as the Fly Creek, it comes with separate bags for the poles, tent body, and fly, so two people can easily divide the weight. Single pole designs make things simple from an instruction standpoint (match the colors of the poles to the colors of the tabs on the tent), but that can also be confusing as the single pole has so many arms to manage (try wrangling a stiff octopus). The effort is worth it, however, because the tension ridge pole adds vertical space to the tent, while the matching venting system on the rain fly allows air to flow, even in severe weather. There aren’t many “livable” two-person ultralight tents on the market, so if comfort is important, this tent might be the one for you.

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