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Freestanding Backpacking Tents

Freestanding tents are very fast and easy to set up because they don't require tents stakes to pitch.
Freestanding tents are very fast and easy to set up because they don’t require tents stakes to pitch.

Have you even wanted to move your tent because the ground underneath was uncomfortable or you needed to make space for someone else at your tent site? Have you ever had to pitch your tent on a wooden platform, a sandy beach, or a rocky overlook where you couldn’t use tent stakes? I think everyone has had an experience like this at one time or another.

Freestanding tents are prefect for times like these because they stand up by themselves, without needing tent stakes. They set up quickly and are usually quite spacious because they have a dome-shaped interior that maximizes interior space. It’s surprising that they’re not more available, because they make perfect backpacking and thru-hiking tents.

What is a freestanding tent?

Freestanding tents are tents that you can pick up off the ground and move from one place to another without having to tear them down and set them back up. That’s probably the simplest definition.

Freestanding tents have specially designed tent poles that hold up the tent and don’t have to be staked to the ground using tent stakes. You’ll still want to use a stake or two to prevent them from blowing away in the wind, but they’re not necessary to set up the tent or keep it from collapsing around you.

Most freestanding tents hang from tent poles that use an exoskeleton pole architecture, shaped like a geodesic dome.
Most freestanding tents hang from tent poles that use an exoskeleton pole architecture, shaped like a geodesic dome.

Most freestanding tents hang from tent poles that use an exoskeleton pole architecture. An inner tent hangs from the poles using plastic hooks, while a rain fly is draped over the poles to waterproof the interior. The ends of the poles fit into plastic or metal connectors at the corners of the tent to stretch out the interior and eliminate the need for tent stakes. The rain fly is attached to the corners connectors, forming a self-contained unit that you pick up and move around wherever you want.

The tent poles in the freestanding Black Diamond Firstlight Tent are positioned inside and crossover each other.
The tent poles in the freestanding Black Diamond Firstlight Tent are positioned inside the tent and crossover each other, slotting into four corner hubs, that hold the single wall upright without stakes.

Some freestanding single-wall tents like the Black Diamond FirstLight and the Mountain Hardware Direkt2 have tent poles that cross-over each other and are set up inside the living space. The is a useful feature in winter when you want to get out of the cold and wind as quickly as possible. I’ve owned a FirstLight for close to 10 years and it’s an amazingly convenient tent to use in winter since it doesn’t have to be staked out to set up.

Lightweight Freestanding Tents

One or two person freestanding backpacking tents are relatively rare and there aren’t many of them available. If you can find one that weighs 3 pounds or less, grab it. Seriously. I can tell you from experience that you’ll probably hang on to your first freestanding tent for a long time, because it’s so convenient to use, not just for backpacking, but for car camping as well.

Here’s a list of the 1 and 2 person lightweight freestanding tents available today that weight 3 pounds or less.

TentSleep CapacityWeightConstructionSeasonsPole Type
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 11 Person2 lbs, 4 ozDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 22 Person2 lbs, 14 ozDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 22 Person3 lbsDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
Big Sky International Soul1 Person2 lbs, 9 ozDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
Black Diamond Firstlight2 Person2lbs, 11ozSingle-walled4 SeasonInternal Crossover
Marmot EOS 1P1 Person2lbs, 13ozDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
Marmot Force 1P1 Person2lbs, 14ozDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
MSR Hubba NX Tent1 Person2lbs, 14ozDouble-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton
MountainHardware Direkt 22 Person2lbs, 11ozSingle-walled4 SeasonInternal Crossover
Tarptent Rainbow1 Person2lbs, 2 ozSingle-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton/Trekking Poles
Tarptent Double Rainbow2 Person2lbs, 9 ozSingle-walled3 SeasonExoskeleton/Trekking Poles

Semi-Freestanding Tents

When shopping for backpacking tents, you’re likely to come across companies that describe their tents as semi-freestanding. These are not freestanding tents, they can’t be picked up and moved around, they need to be staked out making them difficult to use on wooden platforms, sand, rock, or snow.

Buyer beware.

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  1. For all around use, meaning not carrying a Bivy type or a one man solo… I still prefer my Three Eureka! Back Country Tents I bought in about 1991.. The Solo, the Two Man and four man all in Olive Drab green so they are not an eyesore upon the land.. Sure wish they still made them, very easy to set up and move around as needed. I am wary of lighter weight tents for 3 1/2 season use and think their only good for 2 season because of all the netting which provides no insulation during cold weather.. I still have my Eureka Timberline 2 which I bought in 1978 when it came with two doors…Not insulting the current tents just showing how with proper care you tents will last a long time…and mine all cost under $150.00. With Hunting season coming I am not a sit in the tree stand type of person, I am out roaming around and like the idea of carrying at Tent with me so when night comes I just stop and set up camp and spend the night and in the morning continue on with the Hunt I can stay out to about 5 days and shorter depending on my success. . A double wall sure does help insulate in the cold makes the extra weight very worthwhile. Another issue to think about is whether those exo-skeltons will stand up to a bit of snow without collapsing..but why we have reviews on Summer Tents with the winter coming on I do not understand…

  2. Terrific set of reviews! One tent that I enjoy and is often not thought of as a freestanding tent is the TarpTent Double Rainbow.

    If you hike with trekking poles, this ingenious design allows you to configure it as a freestanding tent. I have to admit, that I do not use the shelter in this way, but I am glad I could should I choose to adopt trekking poles in the future. Combine that with the clip in double-wall liner and multitude of adjustments for breathability, and configurability based on weather conditions, and you cannot beat it for a 2-person, freestanding shelter at 41oz.

    (If you go to the site, the setup video shows how to use your trekking poles to make it freestanding at around 2:35 of the video.)

    Just another option for those interested in supporting a terrific cottage manufacturer.

    • This isn’t a review article. More a roundup or survey of freestanding tents.

      But good catch about the double rainbow. I’d completely forgotten about it and the fact that you can use trekking poles instead of staking out the four corners. I’ll add it to the display and chart a bit later in the day…

      • I have a TarpTent Double Rainbow and love it. While it is a freestanding tent, my experience is that it’s a whole lot more secure when staked out and the vestibules achieve their full size when staked. I’ve never felt it was too sturdy in the freestanding mode, however, I may need to watch the video a few more times.

      • Of course, if you broaden “freestanding” to include “Use hiking poles to make it pretty much freestanding”, you’ll have to include not only the Rainbows, but also the Fly Creek (and its price-point clones, like the Seedhouse and Fly Creek Platinum) and the MSR Carbon Reflex tents – and there are probably others. Just saying…

      • That’s not true. You need to stake out the corners of the floor of the other tents you mention…those are the semi-freestanding ones I allude to at the end of my post, and they’re not freestanding at all.

      • I’ve owned a Rainbow – you have to stake the corners out on it, too – unless you use your hiking poles to hold it open. Same with the tents I mention (which I’ve also owned, and “appropriated” the hiking pole idea to make them freestanding.) I agree – all of these tents, including the Rainbow, are “semi-freestanding.” Tarptent was just the one to come up with a way to make them freestanding with some additional poles. You said the Rainbow is freestanding with hiking poles; I was simply pointing out that there are other tents for which you can do the same.

    • I would love to see what the mad scientist, Henry Shires, could come up with if he decided to make a really sturdy freestanding tent. It would be truly awesome, weigh a half pound less than anyone else’s, and cost two thirds as much.

  3. I also love my Double Rainbow and similarly have not ever used it with my poles, but like that I could if I had to set up on a platform. I will take exception with one of you statements though Philip. In the caption under an illustration showing a camper attaching a clip to the red tent pole frame, you say: “Most freestanding tents hang from tent poles that use an exoskeleton pole architecture, shaped like a geodesic dome”. In fact there are almost no tents available today (or in the past) which have a frame that is geodesic by definition. Of course there are many domes, but for a dome to be technically a geodesic, it must have at least four equal length poles (some have had as many as 12), each terminating at the ground; ie: The North Face VE-25, The North Face NorthStar, Sierra Designs Stretch Dome, Eureka K2 XT and a few others.

    • The heavier ones above 3 pounds tend to be truly geodesic, but they also tent to weigh 5 pounds and up, something I would NEVER carry on a backpacking trip, but YMMV. But you are correct in saying that the lightweight ones are not truly geodesic, because they have truncated rectangular floors designed to fit 1-2 people. I edited out the geodesic language. Good catch.

  4. Your charts are not showing up in my e-mail. I only see: [gallery id="47343"] and [table id=39 /]

  5. Oh how I love my Hillebergs.

  6. Not mentioned but worth a look is the Alps mountaineering Lynx 1. Its heavy 3lbs and change, but its bomb proof and can be found on sale for 100$ or less. I backpack with my dog and have yet to had a issue with the floor.

  7. I wasn’t fond of their 3 season Anjan when I tested it.

    What is the new one?

  8. In the Sierra, I have had issues with finding space for my tarp to be strung properly. I never had that problem with my older heavier freestanding tents, but oh how I like the weight of a simple tarp!

  9. RE I has many freestanding tents in their own brand line-up. Heavier than most up there but suitable for non-ultralight trips, canoe trips, car camping, etc.

  10. I like my Alps Zephyr 2, which at 4.5 pounds is not light. It is free standing and really very easy to assemble. You can easily stake it in windy conditions. I cut back on other items if I choose to bring the tent; otherwise, I use a hammock and Ridgerest Solar, along with a light tarp.

  11. It’s all about the rain fly. You say, “The rain fly is attached to the corners connectors forming a self-contained until that you pick up and move around wherever you want.”

    Except oops, 8 of your 11 examples are not freestanding because these 8 require pegs to pull out the fly to create a vestibule and cannot as you say “form a self-contained until that you pick up and move.” You first have to remove the fly peg.

    True freestanding tents are like the Black Diamond and Mt Hardwear Direkt and several Hilleberg models like the Soulo, Allak and Staika. A fully set up tent with rain fly using no stakes whatsoever (except to keep the tent from blowing away) is a real freestanding tent.

    • I relaxed my criteria a bit to include tents where a vestibule stake is required, since you often don’t have to stake the vestibule out because you don’t need it (keep it rolled up). The one criteria I didn’t relax is that the tent’s floor much be fully deploy-able without staking.

  12. Truly, sometimes weight is worth it… Freestanding is heavier and harder to fix in the field (vice carrying hiking poles as your tent frame) but the versatility is priceless…

    I am suspicious however of the claims about being a 2 person tent that some brands make. The Direkt2 is very tiny, some 1 person tents are the same if not more in headspace than it. It’s a fine tent, but far from being the classic 2 person tent.

    I have a Salida 2. It is truly a 2 man tent. Yes, it’s 4 pounds. But it’s truly a freestanding 2 person tent.

    The beauty of freestanding? Pitched your tent close to the river and went day hiking, came back and rain and wind is picking up and you wanna be tucked further into the bush, up the bank? No problem. No dealing with 50 guylines of a U/L “tarptent”.

  13. Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 – teeny, but fine for a 5’5″ woman. Front entrance is ….hmmm… less than graceful. I enjoyed being able to pitch it, sans fly, on a large concrete boat dock, for an unimpeded night sky view. Mosquitos effectively kept out.

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