Best wild camping tent 2022: Lightweight tents for off-the-grid adventures
Camping has gone posh in recent years. Yurts, tipis and artisanal pizza ovens are to be found on campsites across the country these days, while the latest family tents look more like hotel suites than basic shelters. There’s nothing wrong with spending time in the lap of luxury, but to really get away from the rat race and enjoy time in the mountains and national parks, nothing beats venturing into the wilderness with some lightweight gear and the best wild camping tent you can afford.
Not all tents are suitable for a night out in the wilderness. For a start they need to be light enough and small enough to be easily carried, and discreet enough not to draw attention to yourself, while also being big enough for your backpack and boots. Sadly, that cheap festival tent just won’t cut it in the Cairngorms.
A high-quality wild camping tent will keep the warmth in, keep the weather out and let you enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep wherever you pitch up, and the best will offer enough space to be used on more casual excursions, where there might even be a portaloo. What a luxury!
Not sure what features and specifications you need to look out for? The quick buying guide below will run you through all the factors you’ll want to consider.
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How to choose the best wild camping tent for you
What type of wild camping tent should I buy?
Wild camping is all about being stealthy, so forget big family tents and choose something small, discrete and easily transportable. There’s a reason so many small tents are green, because they can blend in easily with your surroundings.
The general idea of wild camping is that you pitch your tent at sunset and rarely stay in the same spot for more than one night. So space inside your tent is not as important as the weight or size it packs down to. The bigger the tent, the heavier it will be, so snuggling up with your hiking partner in a two-person tent will minimise backpack weight – you just need to be sure there’s enough storage for two bags and boots. If you’re travelling solo, a one-person design, or even a bivvy bag, is ideal as it will have space for you, your kit and nothing else.
Low-profile tents are also ideal for wild camping as you’re often more exposed to the elements compared to on a campsite. Geodesic pole designs are best in strong winds, but well positioned guide ropes are essential too.
As with any tent, rain proofing is essential, and we suggest a minimum of 1,500mm HH (hydrostatic Head) rating. The greater the HH rating the more expensive, but also the longer a flysheet fabric will take before it becomes saturated.
How light should my wild camping tent be?
This depends greatly on how far you’re travelling and how many people are sleeping in it, but ultralight tents are generally seen to weigh between 1kg and 2.5kg for a one or two-person model. You can find much lighter designs, but lightweight often means basic, with features stripped back to shave every possible gram, and ultralight flysheet materials aren’t as resistant to tears as a traditional tent. You should also be able to pack the tent down and easily strap it or put it in your backpack.
What features are worth looking out for?
- Easy pitching: Forget about pop-up designs which are a pain to carry, but being able to pitch a tent quickly, and on your own, is essential. Obviously it’s worth practising in the garden before you go away, but most tiny tents have one or two pre-bent poles and a handful of pegs and that’s it. No wild camping tent should take more than five minutes to pitch.
- Trekking Pole Tents: These are becoming increasingly popular as more hikers and trail runners use poles to navigate uneven surfaces in the mountains. By swapping tent poles for trekking poles the tent can pack smaller and be lighter, while also often providing more headroom and internal space. Just don’t forget your poles!
- Bivvy tents: The classic bivvy bag is simply a waterproof sleeve that covers your sleeping bag, allowing you to sleep out under the stars. Many die-hard wild campers use a bivvy and, if needs be, hang a tarpaulin above for protection from the elements. If you’re not quite that brave, or hate feeling trapped in a cocoon, a poled bivvy – with a tent-like construction around the head, offers a much more enjoyable sleep with only a few grams added to the pack.
Is wild camping legal in the UK?
Technically, wild camping is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but there are exemptions and loopholes, and simple common sense. Wild camping is legal in Scotland, so book yourself on a sleeper and camp guilt free in the National Parks, although some areas require permits in peak season, so check before you travel.
Some English National Parks such as Dartmoor do have designated areas in which wild camping is okay, as long as you’re arriving on foot or by bike. Check out this interactive map for the best wild camping spots.
If, however, you don’t overstay your welcome, and leave no trace of your stay behind, most National Parks are tolerant of wild camping, especially in more remote areas. Not getting caught is another great way of wild camping – so choose a discrete coloured tent. One simple way to make a wild camping pitch legal is simply to ask the landowner – if you don’t know who this is, the local pub or shop is a good place to ask for help. Some farmers are only too happy to charge you a few pounds in return for a pitch on their land, so don’t be shy and ask.
What’s the difference between a wild camping and backpacking tent?
There isn’t a huge difference between the two options – both need to be as small and light as possible – but wild camping tents tend to be smaller, and lower profile, to help blend into the surrounding countryside. With some backpacking tents you can share the load between two bags, allowing you to carry a bigger tent for two or three people, and they tend to have taller head heights for added comfort. But essentially, if you can carry it, you can sleep in it.
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The best wild camping tents in 2022
1. Alpkit Polestar: The best trekking pole tent for wild camping
Price: £159 | Buy now from Alpkit
Alpkit continues to design innovative and affordable adventure equipment that easily keeps pace with the big global brands, and with the Polestar it has added a super light trekking pole tent to the line-up.
If you’re unfamiliar with trekking pole tents, they’re lightweight designs that swap traditional tent poles for trekking poles. Assuming that you hike with poles, that means you can save weight with your tent. They’re increasingly popular, and with good reason, being nearly as light as a tarp or bivvy, but offering the space and comfort of a tent.
The 980g three-season Polestar isn’t the fastest tent to pitch, but we think the extra faff is worth it, particularly for the space and height you get compared to the competition. It comes with one very thin, ultralight pole that props up the foot area for extra space, with the trekking poles (Alpkit supplied its Carbon Marathon Ultra Twins for this test) creating a secure cross-configuration. It isn’t freestanding, so it needs guide ropes, and getting everything lined up can take a while, but pound for pound, it’s still hard to beat.
If you want to save even more weight, you can just pitch the flysheet to use it as a tarp and use a separate groundsheet to keep you off the ground, but we liked having the internal section to clip in, not least for the bug protection.
Once pitched, it’s surprisingly spacious for such a light tent – especially without the clip-in bedroom section – as it provides space to sit up, and extra width for your bag if you’re tall and don’t have space at your feet.
Key specs – Person size: 1; Standing room: No; Bedrooms: 1; Pitch time: 6 minutes; Weight: 0.98kg; Waterproofing: 3,000mm HH; Packed dimensions: 42 x 11cm
2. Robens Elk River 1: Best backpacking tent for most people’s needs
Price: £280 | Buy now from Trekitt
This is a superb one person design from Robens. There’s space inside to sit up (it’s 95cm tall at its highest point) and a separate generously proportioned vestibule area accommodates your wet boots and pack. What’s more, you can drop the already modest all-in 1.52kg weight down to 1.38kg if you leave the inner and stuffsack at home.
Everything about this tent screams quality. Excellent DAC alloy poles creating a freestanding exoskeleton shape that’s quick and easy to pitch but remains impervious to strong winds and bad weather. The double zip allows for easy ventilation in the summer without having to leave the door flapping, which was appreciated on our sweltering test camp.
Despite the low weight, the Elk River 1 is significantly tougher than many lightweight tents too, using 75D polyester for the floor and 30D polyester with a 3000mm hydrostatic head on the flysheet.
Key specs – Person size: 1; Standing room: No; Bedrooms: 1; Pitch time: 5 minutes; Weight: 1.52kg; Waterproofing: 3,000mm HH; Packed dimensions: 42 x 11cm
3. Alpkit Elan: Best wild camping tent for indestructible build quality
Price: £109 | Buy now from Alpkit
Part bivvy bag, part tent, the Alpkit Elan is the ideal choice when you’re travelling fast and light and need discreet protection from the weather. The secret to its success is the combination of impressively waterproof (10,000mm HH) taped seam 70D material with two pre-curved ultralight poles that essentially create a freestanding tent for your head and shoulders.
It took us no more than two minutes to pitch – simply slip the poles in the slots and peg it out – although you’ll only need to use one peg at the head in all but the worst weather. Weather on our test camp was glorious, but we have no doubt this would keep us dry in an extended downpour, especially as the poles help water run off the fabric quickly.
Being wrapped up in an extra layer of fabric – especially a waterproof one – meant we were very warm in our sleeping bag, but in truth, if you’re camping in the summer and the forecast is good you may end up sleeping out under the stars.
We liked the long side zip configuration which made it easy for us to get out at night, and also opened up a bug-proof mesh section around the head, which helps improve airflow.
Behind the head, there’s a handy porch section secured by a tent peg, which is just about big enough for your boots and camp stove. At 225cm long, most people will have enough space at their feet for stashing their backpack, but taller campers may need to pack a spare bin liner.
Bivvy camping isn’t for everyone, and being cocooned takes getting used to, but the extra height around your head makes the Elan an ideal compromise that takes up minimal space in your bag.
Key specs – Person size: 1; Standing room: No; Bedrooms: 1; Pitch time: 2 minutes; Weight: 0.89kg; Waterproofing: 10,000mm HH; Packed dimensions: 39x11cm
4. Snugpak Ionosphere One-Person Tent: The best wild camping tent for staying hidden
Price: £190 | Buy now from Amazon
Snugpak’s tiny two-pole Ionosphere tent is ideal for adventurers setting out alone on wild camping trips and multi-day hikes when you want to stay hidden. The low-profile design is very inconspicuous, and the choice of green or camo colourways allows it to blend into the countryside brilliantly.
It offers more space than a bivvy, but significantly less than a tent: you will need to crawl inside and, once there, propping yourself up on your elbows is about the extent to the headroom. It measures 90cm at its widest point, which is great for stashing kit and boots, but be warned, there’s no vestibule, so muddy boots will be with you all night.
It’s a little heavier than some at 980g, but remember this is a twin walled tent with proper poles. If you don’t fancy being cocooned, it’s a happy middle ground and is considerably cheaper than many brands.
Key specs – Person size: 1; Standing room: No; Bedrooms: none; Pitch time: 5 minutes; Weight: 0.98kg; Waterproofing: 5000mm HH; Packed dimensions: 48x12cm
5. MSR Access 2 Two-Person, Four-Season Ski Touring Tent: Best wild camping tent for all-year adventures
Price: £624 | Buy now from Trekitt
Designed as a weather-proof shelter for all-season hiking trips and hardy backcountry skiers, this single pole two man tent weighs just 1.8kg and packs down impressively small. Backcountry skiing – essentially off-piste self powered ski touring – is big news in the US, and while the Scottish highlands offer the chance to do the same, in reality this is a tent for anyone brave enough to be camping in February.
It has been specifically engineered with minimal mesh on the tent body to help restrict airflow and insulate on very cold nights. It’s a superb idea that prevents your nostril hairs from freezing as you sleep (trust us, this happens.) There’s not a huge amount of space inside (127 x 213cm), but if temperatures plummet you’ll be very happy to have someone close by to keep you warm.
The Access 2 isn’t a mountaineering tent – meaning it won’t survive heavy snowfall – but it’s ideal for even the harshest UK winter temperatures. If you’re brave enough to be camping in January, this tent is worth the significant investment. It’s also available in one and three person designs, and in a more stealthy green colourway.
Key specs – Person size: 2; Standing room: No; Bedrooms: none; Pitch time: 8 minutes; Weight: 1.8kg; Waterproofing: 1200mm HH (3,000mm HH floor); Packed dimensions: 46x15cm