We asked the Minimal Gear team about their favorite shelters and boy did they have a lot to say on the subject. We’ll jump right in so we can keep this intro short and to the point.
Shelters for me are first dependent on if I’m solo or with the family.
For family trips (Mika, our kids, and me) we opt for two two-person tents: Durston X-Mid 2 and the Six Moon Designs Haven (with net). This is our standard setup and Mika and I get to be with a different child each time (Shira likes the Haven and Boaz the X-Mid), so we mix it up. Two tents makes it easier to find a good spot, especially when dispersed camping, than a single 4 person tent.
When solo, this is where things become complex. For deep winter it is usually just a tarp (Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar or Solomid XL) if it is just snowing or the X-Mid 1 if it's raining (great ventilation). For really bad weather I might use the Nordisk Telemark 1 LW since it is the best wind shedding tent I have.
For shoulder season it depends on activity: X-Mid 1 for backpacking (especially in rainy conditions), Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape for bikepacking and just cowboy camping if dry and sheltered.
In the summer I try to avoid tents and might use the X-Mid 1 inner (backpacking) or the SMD Cape inner (bikepacking).
Last note: I sometimes play with hammock camping, especially for bikepacking, and usually use various items from Kammok, mainly their UL series.
So being the nerd and gear enthusiast I am, I have many shelters for different trips.
For full winter excursions, especially above treeline, I’ll bring my Hilleberg Tent. It weighs a lot, so I like to share it if I can. I like that I can take it anywhere and it’ll hold up to all the wind and snow.
For most trips in the typical backpacking season, I’ll try and save as much weight as possible. Unless the trip is under 5mi each way, I’ll bring my UL Bivy from Katabatic and pair that with a lightweight tarp for any unexpected rain that might come through. These two are well under a pound together, including pegs and cordage.
For easy trips, where we’re bringing chairs and all of the luxury items. I’ll bring my 2 person Sil-Nylon dome tent from one of those brands we are all familiar with. Set up is easy and freestanding.
Let's talk shelters! I select one of my 4 shelters based on the terrain and conditions I'm expecting while planning an adventure.
Freestanding Tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 1): This is my old reliable 1 person shelter for trips with potential storms, winds, colder temps, high exposure, or poor soil. Although it adds the bulk of dedicated hub-style poles, it's durable and keeps the bugs and condensation far away from my body with its double wall construction. I used this while thru-hiking the PCT and had no regrets.
Non-Freestanding Tent (REI Flash Air 2): This is my lightweight trekking pole style shelter, similar in design (notably not in price) to the Zpacks Duplex. It's great for fair weather trips when I know I'll be needing my trekking poles. It's also my go-to shelter for backpacking with my partner. We used this on the Wind River High Route and it performed surprisingly well in alpine terrain.
Expedition Tent (REI Arête 2): This is my heavier and bulkier mountaineering tent for those cold and stormy winter backcountry ski missions. With its solid double wall and dome construction, I can sleep soundly in 50+ mph snow storms and still feel refreshed the next morning for some more skiing. I used this while climbing Rainier and it was bombproof.
Cowboy Camping: Who needs a shelter when the weather and bugs cooperate! Sleeping right in the dirt out in the open is always my preferred method if nature allows.
Like the rest of the team, I have the privilege (and pro deals) that allow me several shelters to use depending on circumstance. While I’m a solidly three season backpacker - do not use any of these tents while mountaineering - my shelter choice does change depending on conditions.
Gossamer Gear’s The One: This is my go-to non-freestanding tent. It’s roomy for a one person tent, sets up easy, and performs fairly well in poor conditions despite a not so aerodynamic layout - although a very secure set up takes some practice. I used this on my PCT thru and it is my go to three season tent.
Nemo Hornet (a slightly older version): I use this for two reasons - I’m not worried about weight or I am worried about weather. I have the two person version, but haven’t had much success with it as a two person tent (particularly in poor weather, which is when I use it) so it’s kind of my “luxury” tent when solo backpacking. Or, my best option if I don’t want to rely on a non-freestanding tent (rarely).
Six Moon Designs Haven: It’s appeared a few times on this list for good reason. This is the shelter I use when backpacking with my partner. It’s comfortable for two people and I like the flexibility of choosing to use just the inner mesh or the outer rainfly. It’s also easy to split the weight between two people, which is handy for folks trying to share their weight fairly.
Right now, my go-to all around tent is the Tarptent Notch. It’s double-walled (with the solid interior), has two side doors, fits my dimensions well, and will safely be under two pounds in my pack. It can also give me privacy if I want that for longer thru-hikes and feels relatively affordable compared to other options on the market. It isn’t freestanding, but with the right pitch and campsite selection it should be fine in most storms. I also think it looks nice and is something I feel comfortable in - which is important too.
In the future, I plan to acquire a tarp and bivy setup and a two-person tent. I would probably go with a Katabatic or Borah bivy and that may become my next go-to for 3-season camping. For luxury and multi-person hikes, I would probably go with the SMD Haven.