Raising the stakes for backcountry tents

Perhaps no gear category has witnessed more rapid improvement in recent years than backcountry tents. Here are some of the best:

SlingFin 2Lite TrekThe 2Lite Trek shines for its balance between minimalist weight, strength and livability. When pitched properly — which takes only a little practice — this non-freestanding ultralight tent stands up to strong gusts. A short pole over the tent’s peak can be tensioned to maximize stability. Livability is quite good for its weight, with almost 29 square feet of floor space and a peak height of 41 inches, plus two doors and vestibules with unusually good amounts of space. 2 lbs. 6 oz. ($329)

REI Half Dome 2 PlusContinuing the impressive legacy of the popular Half Dome series, this tent’s 36 square feet of interior space, two doors and large vestibules, eyebrow pole, 44-inch peak height and steep walls make it one of the most livable backcountry tents. Hubbed, color-coded poles make setup a snap. Ceiling vents enhance air flow. But at nearly 5 pounds, it’s heavy. (The smaller REI Quarter Dome weighs less than 3.5 pounds.) The Half Dome also comes in 3 Plus (3-person, $279) and 4 Plus (4-person, $329) versions. 4 lbs. 14 oz. ($229)

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2: Lighter than 3 pounds, the Copper Spur offers 29 square feet of floor area for two people, but even more: a 40-inch peak height and a pole configuration that magnifies the headroom, giving the feel of a larger shelter. It’s a true champ at space-to-weight ratio. The 88-inch length lets tall people stretch out, and the lightweight, hubbed poles are sturdy enough for the usual three-season weather that backpackers encounter. 2 lbs. 12 oz. ($450)

Marmot Tungsten UL 2P: This tent is a great value in terms of living space, weight and price. Although just ounces heavier than some significantly pricier tents, it sports 32 square feet of area — more than virtually all competitors in its weight class. Tent poles bent at the corners and a short eyebrow pole over the top make the walls more vertical to improve headroom — over and above its 42-inch peak height. Plus, it stands up to wind while minimizing condensation. 3 lbs. 4 oz. ($299)

The North Face Mountain 25The Mountain 25 reigns supreme when punishing winds and falling snow are standard adventure fare. The four-pole structure creates as stout a backcountry tent as you’ll find, while boosting headroom. The 32 square feet of living space and 41-inch peak height make it very livable for two people waiting out a storm. Two doors aid ventilation — critical to preventing buildup of condensation and ice inside — and the two vestibules will store packs and boots. The interior comes replete with multiple pockets and hangers. 8 lbs. 8 oz. ($589)

MSR Hubba Hubba NXThis tent looks a little different — in a good way. The common hubbed-pole structure with an eyebrow pole takes a slightly different shape that creates lots of headroom inside — making its 29 square feet feel larger. This freestanding tent pitches quickly, thanks in part to color-coded poles. Ventilation excels with two doors and vestibules, extensive mesh on the walls and rainfly vents. When used with just a footprint (sold separately) and rainfly, leaving the tent body at home, you have an ultralight shelter that weighs just 2 pounds. The whole setup weighs 3 lbs. 7 oz. ($400)

Eureka! Suma 2This tent is great when you’re backpacking on a budget, because it has design features you’ll find in higher-quality models. It weighs in respectably at less than 4 pounds, while still providing 30 square feet of floor space and a 42-inch peak height. The basic modified-dome structure with two crossing poles performs fine in relatively light winds, but creates sloping walls that reduce headroom, so take care not to pitch it anywhere exposed. It has just one side door — meaning one person climbs over the other — but a decently spacious vestibule. 3 lbs. 13 oz. ($140)

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