June 12, 2020
By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.
This page provides details on small, lightweight tents and hammocks that are appropriate for backpacking as well as for campground use.
All tents discussed on this page are stated by their manufacturers as being free of chemicals covered by California Proposition 65.
Tents that are stated as being free of fire retardants are marked with an asterisk (*).
Following is a list of links to additional articles in this series on non-toxic and less-toxic tents and shelters.
Highly Ventilated Tents
Especially when I am sleeping in a pristine location, I prefer to have as much air circulation in my tent as possible, in order to bring in plenty of fresh clean air and to allow any toxins that may be expelled through my breath and sweat to dissipate.
I therefore am especially interested in small, highly ventilated tents that contain ample amounts of mesh (and that do not include toxic fire retardants or other chemicals that destroy the air quality).
These small, light tents are easy to wash in plastic bins at the campsite and dry quickly on a clothesline.
An additional benefit is that they are designed to be quickly put up by one person.
They also can be moved easily from one spot to another at the campsite on a daily basis, which can be helpful when mold growth underneath the tent has the potential of becoming a problem.
The fact that they fold up compactly can be helpful for those who are short on space and makes them especially suited to have on hand as an extra backup tent.
A downside of these kinds of tents is that they are generally too small to be used for anything other than sleeping.
I suggest that those who are planning to spend much time at their campsite during the day invest in some kind of day shelter to use as an adjunct to this type of small sleeping tent.
Another downside of small tents that contain a great deal of mesh is that they do not provide as much privacy as other kinds of tents when used without the rain fly.
I personally always have slept in casual clothes (such as stretchy pants and loose tee-shirts) when camping and never have experienced a great deal of anxiety about the idea that someone might be able to observe me when I am sleeping.
But for those who are more concerned about privacy, choosing a tent with mesh just toward the top might be worth considering.
Starting at the high end, I recently fell in love with the Fjällräven View during a visit to a Fjällräven store.
The tent, which is stated as not including any toxic fire retardants or other toxic chemicals, felt great to me.
The vestibule design made it seem that I could get a great deal of air circulation while still having some privacy and storage space for extra possessions.
The tent also seemed extremely well-constructed, making me think that it would probably hold up well to wind or other adverse weather conditions and that it would last a long time.
Although the high price ($700) is a major investment for a tent this size, I would seriously consider buying one anyway if I were planning to be camping regularly in the near future.
I’m also especially optimistic about the Nemo Aurora, which is a moderately priced tent line without any fire retardants that is new for 2020.
Nemo tents in general get good ratings in terms of feeling tolerable from many people who are sensitive to mold and chemicals, and so I am hoping that this new tent model will be very good for them as well.
Also new on the market for 2020 is the Mountain Hardwear Mineral King, a moderately priced tent series that is free of fire retardants and that seems to be intended mostly for car camping or casual backpacking.
A nice feature of these tents is that they are designed so that large amounts of mesh can be exposed on two sides of the tent without removing the rain fly.
Mountain Hardwear’s lightweight Aspect tents are designed more for serious backpacking and are listed in the next section (“Ultralight Tents”) of this article.
Although the Mountain Hardwear Aspect tents are a little more pricey, they contain a great deal of mesh and could be worth consideration by those looking for a car camping tent with good ventilation.
Although many of the Tarptent tents have fairly minimal ventilation, several models – including the StratoSpire, the Notch, the Scarp, and the Hogback – have all-mesh interiors that can be set up on their own without a rain fly when the weather is nice.
Tarptent tents do not contain fire retardants and have received quite a few positive comments from those pursuing mold avoidance.
Although it is expensive, the Tarptent Hogback seems especially intriguing to me since the boxy shape and the high ceiling (49″) possibly would make it appropriate for use as a little sitting room in addition to a sleeping tent.
Especially when camping in buggy areas, having a place to be able to sit up to work on my laptop has made a big difference for me in terms of how productive and comfortable I have been able to be on the road.
The Tarptent Hogback seems like it would be easy to put up and would be usable as a sleeping tent and as a day tent, therefore making the price seem more justifiable to me.
Naturehike is a Chinese company that does a brisk business on Amazon and gets many positive reviews there.
Company representatives have stated that Naturehike does not use fire retardants in any of its tents.
The company makes a few well-ventilated models for backpacking purposes.
These include the Naturehike Mongar (which is reported to be similar to the MSR Hubba Hubba NX but offered at a much lower price).
The rest of the tents listed in this section do include fire retardants, but ones that seem to be on the less harmful side (e.g. are not covered by Proposition 65) and that tend to be relatively well-tolerated by those pursuing mold avoidance.
The REI Half Dome tents have been an especially popular choice among individuals pursuing mold avoidance.
I came across the two-person model of this tent in an REI store in 2011, and it felt good enough to me that I decided to purchase it even though I was not actually in need of a tent at the time.
I then slept in it regularly for several years, abandoning all my other tents for sleeping purposes.
It held up well, presenting no apparent problems at all.
Although I almost always leave the rain fly of my tent in order to maximize air circulation, the rain fly for this tent always has felt okay to me when I have needed it.
In addition to the very popular two-person model, the REI Half Dome is also available in one-person, three-person and four-person versions.
REI also makes two other highly ventilated backpacking tents that are smaller and lighter than the Half Dome.
The REI Passage is a series of very simple and lightweight dome-style tents that are presented as being especially suitable for novice backpackers.
The Passage tents are priced fairly affordably and get good reviews by users.
For those who actually are going to be using their backpacking tent on backpacking trips, the somewhat pricier REI Quarter Dome series (listed in the next section of this article on Ultra Light Tents) may be a good choice since it is smaller and lighter than the other REI backpacking tents.
Both Big Agnes and LL Bean make some different regular backpacking tents and ultralight backpacking tents that might be appropriate for those looking for highly ventilated smaller sleeping tents.
The Big Agnes Blacktail line uses a combination of mesh and fabric, to provide a good amount of ventilation but also some privacy while sleeping.
The body of the LL Bean Mountain Light tents is all white mesh and therefore may be less appropriate for those who are especially concerned about such privacy issues.
On the other hand, I think that the new four-person LL Bean Mountain Light tent might work well as a little sitting room use during the day, due to its all-mesh construction, ample height (53″) and fairly straight sides.
Although the LL Bean Mountain Light is a little on the expensive side, the company occasionally has sales of 20% off everything on its website that would bring it to about the same price as many of the other tents mentioned in this section.
For those interested in something less expensive, Winterial offers 1-person and 3-person tents that are free of fire retardants and get pretty good reviews.
For those who go backpacking (and especially for those who spend more than one consecutive night in the wilderness), tent weight and packability is especially important.
Although I have not (yet) been backpacking myself, there are several ultralight tents that I would consider if I were going to give it a try.
Dyneema (also known as “Cuben Fiber”) is a high-tech fabric that is especially light and strong (though not very breathable).
Tarptent also sells at much more reasonable prices a number of other tents made out of less expensive fabrics – including the one-person ProTrail (1 lb 10 oz) and the similar two-person MoTrail (2 lb 2 oz).
The company’s one-person Bowfin (2 lb 5 oz) is similar to the Rainbow but said to be a little simpler to set up.
All Tarptent products are free of fire retardant chemicals.
Zpacks offers a line of line of expensive ultralight tents made from Dyneema that are very popular among “through hikers” (such as those hiking the Pacific Coast Trail or Continental Divide).
The Zpacks Duplex two-person tent weighs in at just 19 ounces, for instance.
To my understanding, Zpacks tents do not contain any fire retardants.
A downside, again, is the breathability issue, with many users reporting condensation issues while sleeping in their tents.
Although the Zpacks tents do open wide to reveal some mesh on either side in order to allow some cross breezes to occur, these tents should not be expected to be as well-ventilated as ones where the body is made mostly or entirely of mesh.
Six Moon Designs offers a variety of ultralight tents and tarps intended for backpacking use, with prices currently ranging from $145 to $600.
The more expensive tents from Six Moon Designs use Dyneema, while the less expensive ones use silicone-coated polyester.
They are reported by some users to be free of fire retardants, though I have not gotten confirmation from the company on that.
The ultralight tents from Hyperlite Mountain Gear also are made from Dyneema and are free of fire retardants.
They are even more expensive than the other Dyneema tents mentioned here, with prices ranging from $695-890, not including ground cover or mesh insert to provide bug protection.
The Mountain Hardwear Aspect is a highly ventilated tent with mostly mesh in the body.
The Aspect has a minimum trail weight of just under three pounds for the two-person version.
Like all Mountain Hardwear tents from 2019 and 2020, the Aspect contains no fire retardants.
The Chinese company Naturehike offers a number of affordable ultralight tents for backpacking purposes, including the Cloud-Up (said to be similar to the Big Agnes Fly Creek) and the basic Cyclist Backpacking Tent.
Naturehike has stated in email correspondence that its tents are free of fire retardants.
Nemo offers several ultralight tent models designed for backpacking use.
(All weights are for the two-person models of the tents.)
The company also offers the Nemo Escape Pod, which is a lightweight bug tent.
While all these lightweight Nemo backpacking tents include fire retardants, my experience is that the fire retardants used in Nemo products seem to be pretty tolerable and benign.
The REI Quarter Dome series is similar in many ways to the very popular REI Half Dome series, except that the Quarter Dome tents are a little lighter for backpacking purposes.
The main functional difference that I see is that the tents have more of a triangular rather than a dome shape, thereby making them less practical for sitting purposes.
The two-person REI Quarter Dome has a minimum trail weight of 3 lb 5 oz.
The REI Quarter Dome line also includes some items marked “SL” (super-light). The two-person version has a minimum trail weight of 2 lb 8 oz, for instance.
REI also makes two different one-person bivy tents that are well under two pounds and appropriate for backpacking use.
The LL Bean Microlight backpacking tent (minimum weight 2 lb 11 ounces) also gets good reviews and could be worth a look.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear:
Six Moon Designs:
An additional group of tents are not especially lightweight and do not have an exceptional level of ventilation, but nonetheless may be useful for certain backpacking or car camping situations.
These tents tend to be a bit sturdier than the previous tents mentioned, making them more appropriate for frequent use or for situations where wind may be an issue.
The prices tend to be more on the reasonable side as well.
The Fjällräven Abisko line includes several very sturdy tents that are appropriate for use during mild winter conditions as well as during the warmer months of the year.
The company’s tents include large vestibules (useful for pets or protecting gear from the elements) and a durable construction that allows them to stand up well to windy or rainy conditions.
Included are the stalwart Abisko Shape ($700); the lighter weight Abisko Lite ($600-800); and the roomier Abisko Dome ($850-950).
All of the Fjällräven tents are said to be free of toxic fire retardants and other toxic chemicals, and they felt great to me in a Fjällräven store.
New for 2019 is the two-person Mountain Hardwear Outpost, which is described as a “expedition strength in three-season weight.”
The tent is stated as being more breathable than Mountain Hardwear’s four-season tents.
Although it is on the heavier side (5 lb 4 oz), it still may be appropriate for use on mountaineering expeditions or other backpacking trips when strong winds or other harsh conditions are anticipated to be an issue.
I would consider it for car camping purposes in adverse conditions such as high desert winds.
Like all 2019 Mountain Hardwear tents, the Outpost is free of fire retardants.
Another possibility for those who are trying to avoid fire retardants is the line of MoonLight tents, which is sold by a very small Colorado company called The Tent Lab.
The company makes a lighter two-person model (minimum weight 4 lb 7 oz) and also several other sizes in heavier weights (with the largest, the 4-person MoonLight, having a minimum weight of 8 lb 12 oz).
The tents are made of polyester, which the website states is more expensive than nylon but holds up better and dries faster.
The website says the tents do especially well in windy conditions (usually an enemy of tents), with their having tested as being “rock solid” in winds of 20-35 mph (30-35 mph for larger tents) from all directions.
The Tent Lab includes no fire retardants in its tents, with the company website presenting a passionate explanation for why such chemicals are both unnecessary with regard to preventing fires as well as harmful for human health and the environment.
In addition, the tents do not include any treatment with DWR’s (such as Teflon) or PVC’s. Water repellency is achieved through the use of silicone.
These tents seem to receive good general reviews from gear publications as well as from many users.
However, I have heard mixed reviews from individuals pursuing mold avoidance, with several reporting that they have not been able to tolerate the tents due to what felt to them like cross contamination with mold toxins.
An initial review of the tents from a gear publication was highly positive about the tent except for the fact that it had actual mold growth on it.
In addition, The Tent Labs is based in Boulder – a town that has been reported as having substantial toxic mold problems subsequent to a major flood that occurred there in 2013.
The owner told me about a year ago that he had not had any reports of mold growth problems with the tents since the first reviewer prototype was made a number of years ago and that he was willing to accept returns of unused tents that purchasers were not able to tolerate.
Naturehike offers a tunnel-style, three-person backpacking tent that looks somewhat similar to those produced by Hilleberg that is said to stand up well to wind and possibly also to light snow and cold.
The tent – called the Naturehike Opalus – is moderately priced and free of fire retardants.
The Tent Lab:
Most so-called “four-season tents” are designed primarily for mountaineering expeditions at high altitudes.
They thus need to perform well with regard to a variety of characteristics – holding up to wind, keeping users warm, offering good protection from snow/ice/rain, and being lightweight enough to carry on long treks.
As a result, four-season tents tend to be quite expensive, with prices usually starting at close to $1000 or more.
Despite their being stated as being appropriate for four seasons, they usually tend to be most appropriate for use only in colder months due to a lack of good ventilation desirable for warmer weather conditions.
I don’t have any experiences with mountaineering tents at all and have never attempted to camp in snow.
I did periodically camp at high altitudes where the temperature would go down to as low as 18 degrees at night (and then would warm up to the 60’s during the days), but that was in a regular tent with the rain fly off.
I do think that if I ever were in a situation where I was going to be camping in true winter conditions, buying a four-season tent designed to handle the weather would be well worth the investment though.
Tents from these companies tend to be designed just for cold-weather use, and cost between $1,000 and $3,000.
To my understanding, none of the tents made by either of these companies include fire retardants.
These tents have very good reputations and likely would be the first ones that I would consider if I were looking for a tent for winter use.
As may be apparent from its name, Mountain Hardwear specializes in mountaineering gear, including four-season tents.
The Mountain Hardwear Trango series provides 2-, 3- and 4-person tents, from $700 to $920 (plus an unusually expensive tent footprint). It seems to get good reviews.
Mountain Hardwear also makes two very large dome-style shelters – the Stronghold Dome Tent and the Space Station Dome Tent – that are designed for group use and that conceivably could provide a longer-term living space for those who are in transition.
None of Mountain Hardwear’s 2019 tents include any fire retardants.
The Nemo Chogori is a mountaineering tent released in 2018 that does not include any fire retardants and that is available in 2- and 3-person versions.
The tent has the benefit of an external pole structure that supposedly contributes to fast setup, as well as silicone waterproofing that eliminates the need for addressing seam leaks.
Nemo also makes a number of other mountaineering tents that do include fire retardants.
While Tarptent does not make any tents that are designed just for mountaineering use, several of the company’s tents offer the option of solid interiors that can make them more appropriate for use in winter conditions.
All tents made by Tarptent are free of fire retardants.
Naturehike makes a four-season version of its popular Cloud-Up series of tents, with a snowskirt that makes it appropriate for winter use.
The tent is said to be free of fire retardants and – especially considering its moderate price – gets very good reviews on Amazon.
Big Agnes also makes some four-season tents – Battle Mountain and Copper Spur Expedition – that may be worth considering.
The Big Agnes Guard Station 8 is a group dome shelter with a peak interior height of 84″ that may be useful for some situations where people are in need of temporary housing in cold climates.
The REI Arete is a two-person, four-season tent available for the moderate price (in this category) of $400.
It seems like there is more ventilation than is present in most four-season tents, and the ceiling is high enough (43″) that a cot rather than just a sleeping pad could be used.
Reviews suggest that it is not quite as solid as some four-season mountaineering tents but it is a good buy for those who intend to do cold-weather camping.
Finally, for those living in Europe, I received a positive review from someone pursuing mold avoidance about the Vaude line of tents.
These tents do not seem to be available in the U.S., however.
I think that hammocks could be a great idea for mold avoiders, since they seem to have the potential of offering a great deal of access to fresh air and also allowing toxins that are breathed out to easily dissipate.
Conceivably rain protection could be provided by setting up the hammock underneath a tarp.
Bug protection could be provided through mosquito netting (which is readily available without fire retardants).
Although I have spent some nights sleeping on picnic tables in order to get as much fresh air as possible, I have never used a hammock for the same reason that I have so little experience using tarps – that I have done most of my camping in desert areas where not very many trees are available to use as support.
While it is theoretically possible to set up a hammock using poles, this seems like it would take a goodly amount of effort and that the whole setup would take up a large amount of room in the car.
If I were looking to buy a hammock, the first thing that I would likely do would be to head to an REI store to check out the REI Quarter Dome Air Hammock.
The reason is that I have had so much success with REI Half Dome Tents feeling okay to me that my hope would be that this hammock would be tolerable for me also.
In addition, in looking at the user reviews of the Quarter Dome Hammock, I also like the idea that it seems simple to sleep either with or without the bug net and that everything seems designed to make assembly fast and easy.
REI also sells a second house-brand hammock – the REI Co-op Flash Air Hammock – that I would look at closely if I were in the market for a hammock.
One experienced mold avoider recommended the Crazy Creek Crazy Crib hammock, and so I might be interested in looking at it as well.
Sea to Summit makes a selection of hammocks that seem to get good reviews, and I have felt good about this company’s products from a toxicity point of view when examining them in stores.
To my knowledge, there are not any laws that require hammocks to be treated with fire retardants, and so it may be that many other hammocks would be appropriate for those looking to avoid toxic chemicals as well.
Sea to Summit:
About This Blog
Living Clean in a Dirty World provides useful information for those working to recover from chronic illness through mold avoidance, clean living and related therapies.
It is presented by Paradigm Change.
Previous Living Clean Guides include:
Lisa Petrison is the founder of Paradigm Change and Mold Avoiders. She holds a Ph.D. in marketing/psychology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Paradigm Change also provides a wide variety of additional information on the topic of the role of mold toxins in chronic illness.
The remarkable life of Erik Johnson (including details about the Lake Tahoe epidemic) is summarized in the book Back from the Edge, written by Lisa Petrison.
A PDF copy of the book is available for free to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Paradigm Change.
Erik’s approach to mold avoidance is outlined in the book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance.
It is available for free in PDF format to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Mold Avoiders.
The book is also available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
The Mold Avoiders discussion forum is run by Paradigm Change and is designed to help those who are seriously interested in pursuing the approach to mold avoidance described in the book to get their questions answered.
Only those who have been approved as Mold Avoiders Participants can read or post in the forum.
The Mold Avoiders Facebook group is designed for more casual conversations among those who are interested in this approach to mold avoidance.
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