Home / Reader Surveys / Top Backpacking Tent and Shelters: 2019 Annual Survey Results

Top Backpacking Tent and Shelters: 2019 Annual Survey Results

Survey Top Backpacking Tents and Shelters

Backpacking is a remarkably simple hobby, but it’s easy to think otherwise if you pay too much attention to the marketing hype put out by the outdoor news sites and printed magazines that only focus on latest bright and shiny object or technology. At SectionHiker.com, we like to ground our gear reviews and educational articles by surveying backpackers to find out what they really do, so you can pick up new tips and tricks from your peers.

In this backpacker poll, we surveyed 3,300 backpackers to answer the following questions about their primary, non-winter backpacking tents and shelters:

  1. Who are the most popular gear manufacturers making backpacking tents, hammocks, and tarps?
  2. What types of tents, hammocks, and tarps do backpackers use the most?
  3. What the most popular backpacking tents and shelters that people use?
  4. How many people usually sleep in them? For example, are 2 person tents usually used by 1 person?
  5. How many people own a Dyneema (formerly known as cuben fiber) tent today?
  6. How many people plan to buy a Dyneema tent in 2019?

Top 20 Backpacking Shelter Manufacturers

We were interested in identifying the top backpacking tent, hammock, and tarp manufacturers used by survey respondents. This is a rank ordered list of the manufacturers of the primary, non-winter tents and shelters that the backpackers we queried use.

BrandPercentage
Big Agnes17.33%
REI8.59%
Tarptent6.71%
Zpacks6.13%
MSR5.31%
Six Moon Designs4.15%
NEMO3.43%
ENO3.14%
Warbonnet2.99%
Sierra Designs2.85%
Hennessy Hammock2.37%
Marmot2.37%
Dutchware2.22%
Kelty2.17%
Eureka1.79%
Mountain Laurel Designs1.74%
Alps Mountaineering1.30%
Gossamer Gear1.21%
Dream Hammock1.16%
Lightheart Gear1.16%

While there aren’t any unknown brands on the following list, there are a couple of takeaways of note.

  • First, several of the backpacking cottage manufacturers, like Tarptent and Zpacks, have a surprisingly large market share compared to more mainstream brands like MSR and NEMO. That’s not completely a surprise since Tarptent and Zpacks cater almost exclusively to backpackers. But it illustrates the growing market demand for lighter weight, trekking pole shelters that more mainstream manufacturers have largely ignored because they sell poorly in retail stores and online chains.
  • Second, while Big Agnes and REI continue to dominate the market because they have more direct access to retail consumers, one can’t discount the willingness that backpackers have for purchasing products directly from the manufacturers who make them, including Tarptent, Zpacks, and Six Moon Designs.

Backpacking Shelter Type Preferences

Over half of the backpackers we surveyed prefer double-wall tents over all other types. Single-well tents and hammocks are the next most popular shelter types, while shaped and rectangular tarps are next. A handful of backpackers use bivy sacks in three-season conditions.

Backpacking Shelters by Type

Most backpackers use double-wall tents. That’s been true for many years, so it’s not surprising. What is surprising is how many backpackers prefer hammocks to single-wall tents. I guess I never realized just how prevalent hammock use has become.  Shaped tarp, rectangular tarp, and bivy use is much less popular, since they usually provide the least comfort of any shelter type and require more skills to set up and use.

Drilling down further, we see that hammock use is divided into two nearly equal camps: those who use hammocks with integrated insect netting and those that don’t. Bridge hammock use is a distant third.

Shelter Type DetailPercentage
Double-wall tent with separate rain fly and inner tent53.02%
Single-wall tent, where mesh inner and rain fly are sewn together and set up at the same time19.31%
Gathered end hammock, no netting7.44%
Gathered end hammock, with integrated netting9.85%
Bridge hammock1.21%
Rectangular or square tarp, by itself1.35%
Rectangular or square tarp, w/ separate mesh inner tent or bivy sack2.41%
Shaped or pyramid tarp, by itself2.80%
Shaped or pyramid tarp, w/ separate mesh inner tent or bivy sack2.51%
Bivy sack, by itself0.34%

Similarly, tarp use, both shaped and rectangular, can be broken into people who use them with an inner tent or nest and those who use them by themselves. I’ve always suspected that a significant proportion of people who use rectangular or shaped tarps, use them in conjunction with an inner tent or nest, much like a double wall tent, and these results confirm that hypothesis.

Top Three Shelters by Category

What are the top three tents, hammocks, and tarps used by the backpackers we surveyed?

The top three double-wall tents used by backpackers are:

  1. Big Agnes Copper Spur 2
  2. Big Agnes Fly Creek 2
  3. MSR Hubba Hubba

The top three single-wall tents used by backpackers are:

  1. Zpacks Duplex
  2. Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo
  3. Tarptent Double Rainbow

The top three hammocks used by backpackers are:

  1. Warbonnet Blackbird
  2. ENO DoubleNest
  3. Dutchware Gear Chameleon

The top three shaped tarps, including pyramids, used by backpackers are:

  1. Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid
  2. Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
  3. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2

The top three rectangular or square tarps used by backpackers are:

  1. Make Your Own Tarp
  2. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Flat Tarp
  3. Aqua Quest Guide Tarp

Solo Use of Two-Person Tents

We asked backpackers about their use of two person tents and whether they primarily sleep in them alone or with a second person. We found that the majority of people using the top three two-person tents listed above, use them alone.

  1. Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 is used primarily as a 1 person tent by 46% of owners.
  2. Zpacks Duplex is used primarily as a 1 person tent by 72% of owners.
  3. Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 is used primarily as a 1 person tent by 75% of owners.

We can’t tell if these tents were purchased with the intention of using them with a second person or whether they were purchased in order to have more interior space. Nevertheless, this is still a significant finding with implications for users and manufacturers alike.

Dyneema Tent Intention to Purchase

Dyneema (formerly called cuben fiber) tents and tarps have been around for many years, but 2019 is the first year that a mainstream manufacturer like Big Agnes has made a visible commitment to selling Dyneema tents in the retail channel.

We asked backpackers whether they use a Dyneema tent as their primary shelter today and found that 8.7% of the backpackers who use double-wall and single-wall tents use one. We also asked existing double-wall and single-wall tent owners, who do not use a Dyneema tent as their primary shelter, whether they plan on buying a Dyneema tent in 2019.

Here’s a breakdown of their responses.

Plans to purchase Dyneema Tent in 2019?   
YesNoMaybe
Double-wall Tent Owners42.53%11.38%46.08%
Single-wall Tent Owners10.68%51.96%37.37%

We found that double-wall tent owners are more likely to purchase a Dyneema shelter than single-wall tent owners by a significant margin. This tendency is most likely driven by weight goals, since double-wall tents generally run heavier than single-wall tent. On the flip side, it looks like most single-wall tent owners are satisfied with the weight of their non-Dyneema tents and don’t see a need to switch to one this year.

List of  Dyneema Tents Available in 2019

Time will tell whether retail customers will purchase Big Agnes’ new Dyneema tents, which are priced considerably higher than the Dyneema tents made by smaller manufacturers who sell direct to consumers (see below). Big Agnes’s tents don’t require trekking poles to use, however, which will be to their advantage since trekking pole tents don’t sell well through REI and comparable retailers.

Make / ModelPeopleDoorsWeightPrice
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV Carbon 11116 oz$800
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV Carbon 2211 lb 2 oz$850
Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon 2221 lb 6 oz$1,000
Big Agnes Tiger Wall Carbon 3321 lb 13 oz$1,200
Big Agnes Scout 2 Carbon2111 oz$700
Big Sky Soul111 lb 6.2 oz$690
Big Sky Wisp1110.6 oz$600
Big Sky Mirage 2P221 lb 10.5 oz$700
Big Sky Soul X2211 lb 8.5 oz$800
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II211 lb 13 oz$695
Tarptent Aeon Li1115.8 oz$536
Tarptent Notch Li121 lb 3.9 oz$599
Tarptent StratoSpire Li221 lb 11.7 oz$689
Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform SW111 lb 4.8 oz$630
Yama Mountain Gear 1P Cirriform DW111 lb 6.6 oz$630
Yama Mountain Gear 2P Cirriform SW211 lb 11.1 oz$750
Yama Mountain Gear 2P Cirriform DW211 lb 12.2 oz$765
Zpacks Duplex221 lb 3 oz$599
Zpacks Plexamid1114.8 oz$549
Zpacks Triplex321 lb 6.5 oz$699

Key Takeaways

We surveyed 3300 backpackers about their primary, non-winter backpacking tents and shelters. We found that smaller manufacturers that sell direct to backpackers have surprisingly high market shares when compared to more mainstream manufacturers. While most backpackers continue to use double-wall tents with a separate rain fly and inner tent, hammock use has come to rival the use of single-wall tents. We also found that the most popular two person tents are frequently used by one person, not two, which is not all that surprising given the cramped interior of many two-person tents. Finally, the survey demonstrated a strong intent on the part of double-wall tent owners to purchase a Dyneema Tent in 2019, which we believe is driven by significant weight saving compared to their existing tents.

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=3300 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant because backpackers were not randomly selected to participate from a pre-screened population.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for formulating questions and recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the most popular backpacking shelters used by their peers..

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12 comments

  1. It is indeed delightful to see the caveats of the study design mentioned. Kudos. More people should do so.

    I will add, there is likely a gross undercount of bargain gear sold through Cabela’s/Bass Pro/WalMart and children’s (read “Scouts”) gear sold through Scouting organizations. Many Eureka and Kelty users likely read Scouting and hunting blogs in preference to “expensive gear” blogs and fora. (Yes, you have a lot of excellent non-gear information, but the other camping fora have plenty of how-to tips as well).

    Hell would freeze over before I would buy a dyneema BA Fly Creek UL 1 for $800.00.

    • You wouldn’t believe the number of scoutmaster who contact me for advice. I think the world of their generosity and leadership, so I’m happy to help.

      • Great survey. Being primarily a 3 season backpacker in the White Mtns. ( PWs stomping ground) I also use a lower cost, 2 person tent for solo outings. A REI Campdome 2, with more gear room, about $100 as I remember 5 years ago, but also sufficient when I take my wife. Winter weekends I just use the available AMC self service huts that are open, Carter Notch and Zealand . Personally, I Dont use for a any of the high cost 4 season tents. I Did grab a discounted Kelty Gunnison 1.1 at Campmor. $60. But outside of a Saco River kayak trip, it’s just too confining. For those doing thruhikes and extended trip, maybe a $800 tent will meet its value, but most backpackers I meet on the trail, find good tents, for much less. If it’s true, you get what you pay for, I hope those willing to pay large for Deneema tents are getting it. I agree with Nancy, I’d never pay that to save a few ounces.

    • Nancy, I think Philip goes out of his way to provide low cost alternatives for readers instead of expensive ones. I think his views on backpacking rain jackets and disdain of waterproof/breathable jackets in favor of lower cost ones are a good example. I don’t think he’s advocating that people buy dyneema tents in this post, just reporting on what people said in the survey.

      • Agreed. There are many posts on “low cost, medium cost, high cost “X””. And some tips are pretty cheap – trash compactor bag for pack liner, or “mash together dryer lint or cotton ball and petroleum jelly for fire starter fuel”.

      • Actually I’m more of a cotton ball proponent than a lint one. The problem with lint is that it has to be 100% cotton to work. It can’t be from synthetic clothing. Most people don’t realize this, so they’re surprised when they try to use it and it doesn’t work. Cotton balls on the other hand are reliably cotton.

      • Phillip,
        Re Dryer Lint – My experience is that all lint in from my dryer is cotton although less than half of my clothing is. Sometimes people use too much petroleum jelly.

  2. It’s informative to ask how many solo backpackers use a 2-person tent. I use a 1 person Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1. But if I had it to do over again, I’d buy the 2-person version. More room with little weight difference.

  3. Philip, can you tell if there is an Eastern bias here? I do much of my backpacking in the West and like all us gearheads I take a loose survey of who’s using what and the first thing that pops out in the survey is the absence of North Face and Mountain Hardwear. In campgrounds in Wyoming,Idaho and Montana, you see a lot of those two brands and oddly far fewer Big Agnes or Nemo, but a LOT of REI which is indicated in the survey too. Anyway the survey was a great idea both fun and informative.

    • I don’t think there’s much of that to be honest. I have a fairly balanced set of subscribers across the country with smaller proportions in UK and Canada. My largest reader base is actually in California, which isn’t that surprising because 25% of the US population lives there. This is all based on 10 years of anonymous website statistics.

  4. Interesting survey. Published weight of DCF shelters sometimes includes stakes, sometimes not. Makes it hard to compare directly.

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