Last updated in May 2019. Photo above taken in 2018 while bikepacking through southern Armenia with a Terra Nova Starlite 2 (review).
Choosing the best tent for your cycle tour or bikepacking trip is difficult because there’s a huge amount of choice out there. Ultralight, freestanding, 3-season, 4-season, double wall, solo, with and without awnings – and at a whole range of prices from next to nothing up to hundreds of pounds or dollars. Which of these options is right for you?
As a newcomer, it’s natural to look for other people’s recommendations when choosing a tent for cycle touring. But before you get bogged down with what other people think is the best cycle touring tent (which always seems to be the one they originally chose or were given by a sponsor), here’s one important thing to remember:
The word ‘best’ only has meaning within the context of your bike trip. Every ride is different.
- Are you looking to for a long-lasting tent for a transcontinental trip, or something cheap for a few weeks of summer adventuring?
- Are you a couple who like plenty of living space, or a minimal solo rider?
- Do you have racks and panniers to take heavy loads, or are you bikepacking with ultralight gear?
- Do you plan on staying at nice campsites, or wild camping in the woods after dark?
- Will it be fair weather only, or will all-season use be required?
Sure, there are a few tried-and-tested tents for cycle touring that have proven themselves on a massive range of journeys.
But if you want to delve any deeper, you’ll find there’s no real ‘best tent for cycle touring’ until you know the answers to the basic questions above. If you haven’t asked them of yourself, now’s the time to do so. Then come back to this article.
Know what kind of bike trip you’re going on now? Great! Read on…
What Types Of Tents Are Good For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking?
I’ve spent a long time (too long) looking at the trends over the years, so I can tell you that the ideal cycle touring tent for one person is a freestanding, double-walled, 2-berth, 3-season tent in an inconspicuous shade of green, weighing 1.5-2.5kg, fitting nicely on the rear rack of a touring bike, with room inside for the rider and some of their luggage (but not their bike).
For a couple, it’s generally the 3-berth model of the same.
And for a solo bikepacker, it’s generally the 1-berth model of the same or a bivvy bag/tarp tent.
If you were short of time and you asked me to pick just one tent that ticks all of these boxes, it would be the MSR Hubba Hubba NX in green. Full details down the page.
I’ve used and abused many of MSR’s tents over the years and can personally vouch for them. I’ve been using a 2014 model 2P Hubba Hubba NX recently in Armenia, had a 1P Hubba in the USA in 2012, and here’s a photo of my wife and I pitching our 2010-model (and still going strong) Mutha Hubba HP in a Buddhist temple in Myanmar last year.
The 14 Qualities Of The Bicycle Traveller’s Perfect Tent
There are solid reasons why bike travellers tend to go for certain types of tent. Explained from an experienced perspective, then, the perfect tent would:
1. Weigh nothing
The less weight you’re carrying, the nimbler and more enjoyable to ride your bike will be while you’re on it, and the more manageable it’ll be while you’re off it. Tents of yore were built of heavy canvas, wood and steel, and weighed a ton. Modern tents, by contrast, are now absurdly light. The ideal touring tent would, therefore, weigh as little as possible when packed – particularly key for bikepackers.
2. Last forever
The importance of durability increases in parallel with the length of your journey. Modern tents do have a limited lifespan and on an ultra-long tour can almost be considered a consumable item, most multi-year journeys involving a series of tents. Common points of failure include zip sliders wearing out, floors losing waterproofness, poles fatiguing and snapping under stress, and flysheets shrinking through prolonged UV exposure. Long-term riders especially therefore tend to choose tents whose durability has proven itself over time.
3. Pitch anywhere
Especially when wild-camping, perfect pitching conditions can never be guaranteed. As well as this, a long tour may well incorporate a variety of environments. The ideal tent would go up anywhere, regardless of the availability of flat, level ground, and with or without the ability to use pegs/stakes. That is, rather simplistically, why cyclists tend to choose freestanding tents, in which the poles support the whole structure, or tents requiring minimal staking out.
4. Blend in perfectly
Successful wild-camping is largely about avoiding detection. Part of this is having a tent that does not stick out like a sore thumb in a landscape. The ideal tent, therefore, would exhibit chameleon-like properties, blending perfectly into the surroundings. Tents with green or neutral-coloured flysheets are therefore a good bet, while bright orange or yellow mountaineering tents are less than preferable in this regard.
5. Not mind being packed up wet
Cycle travellers can’t be picky with the weather, and rain is often an inevitability. As well as that, as the temperature drops, so does the possibility of condensation in the morning from warm breath and body heat. Many tent manufacturers issue stern warnings about drying tents thoroughly before stowing them away, because it’ll damage the waterproof coating and taped seams. The ideal tent, therefore, would reluctantly accept the possibility of a being caught in perpetual rain for a few days on the trot, and not disintegrate when packed away wet.
6. Dry out instantly
Related to point 5, damp tents can be quickly brought out and draped over bikes or pavement furniture to dry during a riding break or a clear spell of weather. Tents that dry out quicker than others are therefore likely to be preferable. In practice, that means being easy to hang the separate components out flat, rather than everything being attached together by fiddly mechanisms.
7. Pitch instantly
Once a suitable pitch has been found, the last thing a cycle traveller wants is to waste time pitching or tweaking an overly complicated tent, particularly in bad weather or when stealth-camping under cover of darkness. This, again, is one of the reasons why cyclists tend to prefer freestanding tents with simple, ideally one-piece, pole structures, which are technically pitched in a few seconds, all stakes and guy lines being optional.
8. Keep you dry in a monsoon
Any tent worth its salt will keep its occupants dry. The best tents will do so in a torrential downpour and on waterlogged ground, and many riders will have to anticipate such conditions. In practice, this means choosing a tent with an additional footprint to provide extra waterproofing to the floor, an adjustable fly sheet that can be cinched down closer to the ground to avoid splashback, and a good level of protection around the edges of the inner tent as well. It might also mean a footprint that extends to cover the space beneath the awning where your gear is being stowed.
9. Stay up in a hurricane
Extreme weather, by definition, is the exception rather than the norm. But the longer the trip, the higher the chances of being exposed to it. The ideal tent would take stormy weather in its stride, remaining firmly planted even whilst houses, pets and automobiles are being blown clean away. So-called ‘geodesic’ and tunnel tents tend to do well in strong winds when properly pitched and oriented, while wedge-shaped tents are among the worst performers in this sense.
10. Ventilate fully in all climates
Climate control is a perpetual concern for the camper. Condensation in particular can contribute far more to a soggy night’s sleep than rainfall itself. The ideal tent would feature adjustable ventilation options for all circumstances, including plentiful mesh panels on the inner so it can be pitched alone in hot weather and allow a good breeze to come through.
11. Provide a lovely view when you want it
Tents are enclosed and often claustrophobic spaces designed to isolate and protect from the elements. But when the elements are at their most desirable, the ideal tent will provide a viewing platform from which to drink all that natural beauty up. This usually means choosing a tent with an awning that can be tied right back and a mesh panel on the inner door to look through.
12. Give you complete privacy when you need it
Sometimes, after a long day on the road, all you’ll want to do is retreat to a save haven. The ideal tent will feel as secure, safe and impermeable as a padded cell. If you think it’ll be warm and dry enough to pitch only the inner tent without the rainfly, a full mesh inner will afford no privacy whatsoever. A tent with a combination of mesh and fabric panels, on the other hand, may strike a better balance.
13. Provide room for any amount of luggage
Tents being necessarily restricted in size for practical reasons, it’s usually possible to bring some of your belongings inside, but often it’ll be necessary to leave at the very least your bicycle to brave the elements overnight. The ideal tent provides space for everything to be brought inside or stowed in the awning.
14. Provide space to live
In a similar vein to the above, tents are more or less well designed for doing anything other than sleeping. The ideal tent will exhibit Tardis-like qualities, providing space to unpack, rearrange, work, play, get changed, entertain guests, repair bicycles and more, in addition to simply sleeping.
How Do Tents For Cyclists Differ From Tents For Hikers & Backpackers?
Excuse me if I am repeating myself, but for the benefit of people coming to the world of cycle touring from a hiking and backpacking background, I feel it’s important to explain why, if you’ve done any amount of online research, you’ll have noticed that the priorities for cycle touring tents differ in a couple of important ways from those of hikers.
Primarily because packed weight and volume is less of an issue for cyclists.
Remember: you have a vehicle to carry your gear, which means you can carry a tent that will allow you to live more comfortably. In choosing a bigger, heavier tent, you’ll likely also save money, fare better in bad weather, and find that your tent lasts for longer.
Long-distance thru-hikers in particular are concerned with minimising their loads. Unless you’re an ultralight bikepacker, you probably won’t be sharing that concern. (If you are, then by all means look to the ultralight backpacking scene for ideas.)
A secondary reason, which I’ve already touched on, is that cyclists tend to camp close to roads, not on backcountry trails. This brings with it a totally different perspective on visibility. Some hikers prefer to be as visible as possible in a mountain landscape in case of needing assistance. Cyclists, on the other hand, typically want the opposite: to be able to camp undetected often very close to civilisation.
A List Of The Best Cycle Touring Tents In 2019
OK – let’s get down to business! The following listings represent an up-to-date collection of tents specifically recommended for travelling by bicycle by a wide range of experienced riders.
We’ll start with low-budget solo tents for short and simple trips, work our way up to uber-tents for people on worldwide bike tours of many months or years. We’ll also look at a few specialist tents suited to the weight and pack size restrictions faced by dirt-road bikepackers with frame luggage alone.
I’ve fleshed out the details of one popular tent from each brand. When several tents from a single manufacturer are popular, I’ve included them as additional suggestions in the same entry as the ‘favourite’ cycle touring tent from that brand.
You’ll find links to manufacturer’s websites where you can get detailed, up-to-date specifications, plus links to online retailers in the UK and USA I’ve found offering the best deals.
These are not the only tents that’ll do the job. They are, however, representative of what real riders are out there using successfully.
Gelert Track 1 (UK, RRP £70)
If you’re riding alone, looking for a low-budget lightweight tent that can be pitched in temperate climates, and you’re not expecting much in the way of living space, the Gelert Track 1 tent (previously known as the Gelert Solo) is well worth a look, not least because you’ll be able to pick one up for under £40.
Coming highly rated by bushcrafters and hikers, it’s small, inconspicuous, waterproof, and relatively lightweight at 1.8kg.
You can find them on UK high streets at Sports Direct, which acquired Gelert a couple of years ago, as well as on their website* for £35 + P&P.
Vango Banshee (UK, RRP £150–170)
Vango‘s Banshee Pro range of 3-season tents is a step up in quality and features, coming in a good shade of green for wild-camping and providing ample living and storage space while remaining on the lightweight side of things. Two- and three-berth versions are available under the 200 and 300 model names. The 200 is ideal for a soloist at 2.4kg, and the 300 at 2.8kg is good for a couple.
Vango is very well represented in the UK, both on the high street and online, though their tents my be harder to find elsewhere.
The RRP for the Banshee Pro 200 is £150, and you’ll be able to find them cheaper online from outlets such as Go Outdoors* and Amazon*. The 300, with an RRP of £170, can also be found at Amazon* and Go Outdoors*.
As an alternative, the Coshee range by Wild Country (see below) is similar in design, name and price point.
Wild Country Zephyros 2 (UK, RRP £180)
Wild Country is the budget marque of the otherwise premium British manufacturer Terra Nova. The 1.9kg Zephyros 2 takes more than a little inspiration from Hilleberg’s Akto, a favourite high-end tent for minimalists since it was popularised by TV outdoorsman Ray Mears. It requires staking out at each end, but you get a lot of space for a reasonably low weight and with a single pole supporting a single-pitch structure. Not a lot of awning space, though.
Alpkit Ordos 2/3 (UK, RRP £240–280)
Britain’s favourite direct outdoor gear retailer Alpkit has made a splash in the bikepacking and cycle touring scene as well as with the mountaineers and climbers, with the Ordos 2 and Ordos 3 tents now almost as popular as MSR’s Hubba series (see below). (I’ve been using one myself on recent multi-day backcountry hikes.)
With 2- and 3-berth models available and a choice of red or green flys, these ultralight tents – just 1.3kg for the complete 2-berth model and 1.6kg for the 3-berth – are roomy, practical, well-ventilated, easy to pitch, and reasonably priced, with the wedge design echoing the long-standing Vaude Hogan (see below) and Big Agnes Seedhouse. Not quite freestanding but close enough for almost all real-world purposes, they do well in warmer weather, with full mesh inners.
Get the optional footprint or make your own: as with all ultralight tents, longevity is not a design priority. I can see these being strapped to the handlebars of many a bikepacking rig and taken off on summer adventures.
REI Quarter Dome (USA, RRP $279–399)
If your tour is kicking off in the States and you need a new set of camping gear, you’d do well to head to the nearest branch of REI when you arrive. This outdoor co-op manufactures a range of top-rated gear and sells it without the third-party mark-up, so you get a lot for your money.
Their freestanding Quarter Dome range, available in 1-berth (1.3kg), 2-berth (1.7kg) and 3-berth (2kg) versions, is the most frequently-cited cycle touring tent range from Stateside riders, with the Half Dome range recommended as a heavier, lower-budget alternative.
The one-berth Quarter Dome 1 (RRP $279) is available from REI.com* or from any of their 132 retail stores in the USA, as is the two-berth Quarter Dome 2* (RRP $349) and the three-berth Quarter Dome 3* (RRP $399).
MSR Hubba NX series (Worldwide, RRP £425–650 / $350–600)
The MSR Hubba NX* series is the current incarnation of one of the all-time most popular tents among cycle tourers globally, as mentioned in the introduction.
The range, which features 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-berth models, has been updated several times over the years, and strikes a balance between lightness and durability, with grey and green fly versions available (I’d get the green for wild camping purposes). There’s also a Tour version with an extended awning for luggage, which you almost definitely don’t need.
Most solo tourers go for the 1.7kg 2-berth Hubba Hubba* for ample living space and a double entrance awning. Couples tend to prefer the 2.3kg 3-berth Mutha Hubba*. Bikepackers might prefer the 1-berth Hubba* with a minimum weight of 1.1kg.
Expect MSR tents to last for years, with top-quality weatherproofing and ventilation, superb build quality, and super-easy pitching with a variety of pitching options for differing climates.
The heavier and cheaper Elixir range has a similar freestanding dome design and range of sizes, and if weight is not of primary importance I would actually choose these over the Hubba equivalents for the durability factor.
MSR tents tend to work out much cheaper in the USA, being based in Seattle. You can order direct from the MSR website* in the USA – at the time of update there’s 33% off the whole Hubba range with free shipping*. Also look at REI, who stock the full range of Hubbas and Elixirs, with the Hubba Hubba NX* currently priced at $449.
Vaude Hogan UL (Germany, RRP £420)
Another tent that has stood the test of time, German brand Vaude’s classic Hogan UL 2-berth tent was, back in 2007, my first decent tent of any kind. I rode across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Mongolia with it for four years, so I guess you could say I’ve put it through its paces (read my original review here). Then my brother inherited it and subjected it to another few years of abuse. It’s still standing 12 years on.
It’s not the lightest, nor is it truly freestanding, but it is extremely durable, waterproof, and stable in bad weather, with a decent-sized porch and a nice natural shade of green available for the fly, and it’s pretty portable at 1.9kg.
Terra Nova Voyager (UK, RRP £590)
A British design that’s been doing the rounds for decades, the freestanding classic Voyager is likely the long-term favourite among round-the-world tourers from the UK, in part because Terra Nova don’t feel the need to change the design of or discontinue perfectly good tents at random (like certain other manufacturers seem to do), allowing the tent to build up a second-to-none reputation.
Weighing in at 2.2kg, top-class construction, weatherproofing, liveability and extreme durability is the order of the day here.
Hilleberg Nallo 2/3/GT (Sweden, RRP $775–935)
The most lusted after (and expensive) tents for long-haul trips for which durability is the key consideration are undoubtedly those from Swedish tentmakers Hilleberg.
They’re not the most lightweight, nor (as all-season tents) the best choice for hot climates, but they do have an unmatched reputation for quality and longevity. Hilleberg have long resisted following the trend for ever lighter and more flimsy materials: don’t expect to find a bikepacking tent in their range, but do expect to find tents that are among the most tried and tested in the world and will last literally for decades.
The Nallo 2 (2.4kg) comes highly recommended for solo tourers, with the Nallo 3 GT (3.1kg) representing the epitomé of luxury on-tour living for couples. Other Hilleberg tents often seen on the road include the minimalist 1.7kg Akto for soloists (see the Wild Country Zephyros above) and, for couples, the freestanding and spacious 3.3kg Allak. The Swedish brand predictably makes excellent winter tents, with the 2.4kg Soulo standing out.
In the UK, the Hilleberg Nallo 2 is available from many of the high-street chains, including Ellis Brigham*. Cotswold Outdoor* have the GT model. They’re more difficult to find elsewhere online, and rarely discounted, though I’ve found a few on Amazon* and AlpineTrek.co.uk*.
Ultralight Bikepacking Tents For 2019
The following tents are included in this list as an example of the kind of shelters that have either been developed with bikepacking in mind or crossed over from backpacking and thru-hiking circles – in any case, tents that have found favour in the bikepacking community.
You’ll also find some of the lighter tents from the list above, such as the Alpkit Ordos and the MSR Hubba NX, making their way onto bikepacking kit lists – possibly in stripped-down form. (In the photo above, I’m wild-camping in Iran on a recent bikepacking trip using the inner tent alone of an MSR Hubba.)
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (USA, RRP $200)
Weighing just 680g (that’s the same as a full, standard-sized cycling water bottle), the single-pole, single-wall Lunar Solo relies on being staked out and requires you to supply your own pole (it’s designed to be used with a trekking pole). It’s never going to be as comfortable as a double-wall tent with a geodesic structure – but if you’re OK with that, it’s difficult to imagine a more minimal shelter that isn’t a bivvy bag.
It is by no means the only such shelter on offer – check out MSR’s Thru-Hiker Mesh House 1 to see a big-brand attempt at the same kind of thing (although without the flysheet).
Terra Nova Starlite (UK, RRP £595)
New in 2018, the Terra Nova Starlite series, available in 1-, 2- and 3-berth options, is one of the first British tent ranges designed specifically for bikepacking. Aside from striking a great combination of weight and weather-resistance, the 2-berth Starlite 2 (as pictured in this article’s header) weighs just 1.5kg and has a packed length of 29cm, meaning it’ll fit easily into a pannier or strap to your handlebars using the stuff-sack’s integrated webbing loops.
Some might consider its non-freestanding design a negative, but in the type of climate and terrain it’s designed for, staking it out really shouldn’t be a problem if you choose your pitch accordingly. Once up, it’s as roomy as you’d expect from a tunnel tent and very stable. That the optional footprint extends to cover the awning floor is a nice bonus. Not cheap, though.
Read my full long-term review of the Starlite 2 here. As with all of Terra Nova’s tents, you can order it direct (RRP £595). It’s well-distributed in the UK; online stockists include Wiggle*, Amazon* and AlpineTrek.co.uk*.
More Tents For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
If that’s not enough of a selection, try the following, which have also been recommended by readers of this blog:
- Berghaus Peak 3.2 (UK, RRP £170)
- Big Agnes Seedhouse SL / Copper Spur HV (USA, RRP $350/450)
- Camp USA Minima 2 SL (USA, RRP $350)
- Decathlon Quickhiker 3 (Europe, UK RRP £100)
- Exped Gemini II (Worldwide, UK RRP £530)
- Macpac Minaret (New Zealand, RRP NZ$900)
- Marmot Tungsten (Worldwide, RRP $200)
- Nordisk Telemark (Denmark)
I have also happily toured with a free Tesco Value tent I rescued from the local household recycling centre, because remember: you don’t actually need any of this stuff.
Which tent(s) have you successfully used on tours or bikepacking trips? Which would you recommend to a friend planning a trip? Let us know in the comments.