Table of contents

Big Agnes Tiger Wall vs. NEMO Hornet OSMO vs. MSR FreeLite

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If you’re looking for a lightweight backpacking shelter that blends comfort, user-friendly design, and excellent weather protection, a semi-freestanding tent is the ideal choice.

Semi-freestanding tents offer lower weight without sacrificing the comfort and ease of double-wall tents – a combination that has made them more popular than ever in recent years. Thanks to a simple pole structure, semi-freestanding tents are fast and easy to pitch. They offer interior conveniences like practical pockets and extra headroom, features that are often missing in single-wall, non-freestanding alternatives like trekking pole tents.

In the semi-freestanding category, three tents steal the spotlight: the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO  2, and MSR FreeLite 2. These shelters are at the top of their class and excel in every important way for backcountry adventures. They’re extremely light, highly functional, and simple to use. That’s why each of these tents ranks on our list of the Best Backpacking Tents

After thoroughly testing each tent in varied backcountry conditions, we assembled this guide to compare their strengths and weaknesses. Read on to find out which tent came out on top and why.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

How We Tested

Our team at CleverHiker has used the 2-Person models of the Big Agnes Tiger Wall, NEMO Hornet OSMO, and MSR FreeLite tents for more than half a decade in very rugged trail conditions. We’ve pushed the limits of these tents from the dry heat and hot wind of Bryce Canyon, Utah to the cold, wet storms of Olympic National Park, and relied on them for tough, multi-day adventures to a months-long thru-hike of the CDT.

Most recently, we put these three tents through the wringer on a five-day expedition in the challenging Sawtooth Wilderness. We encountered late September rain, snow, and sub-freezing temperatures. Years of experience and testing in these diverse conditions have allowed us to assess and scrutinize every element of these tents in real-life backcountry scenarios where reliability, durability, and comfort matter the most.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Models We Tested

We’ve also tested – and really like – the 3-person versions of these tents. This guide focuses on the popular 2-person versions, but most of the pros/cons remain the same for the 3P models. If you usually backpack with a partner and like a bit more interior space in your shelters, the 3-person versions of each of these tents are also excellent and are still very light.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Product Comparison Table

Product Price Weight Dimensions (LxWxH) Type Floor Area Vestibule Area Pockets Packed Size
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 2
View at REI View at Amazon
$450 2 lb. 8 oz. 86 x 52/42 x 39 in. (wider at head, narrower at foot) Semi-freestanding 28 sq. ft. 8 + 8 sq. ft. 4 18 x 5.5 in.
MSR FreeLite 2
View at MSR View at Amazon
$450 2 lb. 5 oz. 84 x 50 x 39 in. Semi-freestanding 29 sq. ft. 7.5 + 7.5 sq. ft. 3 18 x 4.5 in.
NEMO Hornet OSMO 2
View at REI
$430 2 lb. 8 oz. 85 x 51/43 x 39 in. (wider at head, narrower at foot) Semi-freestanding 27.5 sq. ft. 7.1 + 7.1 sq. ft. 2 12.5 x 7.5 x 3.5 in.

Scoring

We ranked the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 based on a simple scoring system:

  • 1 point for every section the tent wins
  • 1 point for all tents if there’s a 3-way tie

The tent with the highest score wins.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Price

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 represent phenomenal value for ultralight user-friendly shelters. These tents cater to hikers planning a long trek or thru-hike but aren’t ready to part with the comforts and middle-tier pricing of a double-wall tent.

There are more affordable double-wall tents on the market, but they tend to be quite a bit heavier. There are also lighter shelters out there, but they tend to be single-wall non-freestanding tents that often use expensive fabric like Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF). These three semi-freestanding tents land in the middle for pricing, but are still impressively light, easy to use, and provide superb weather protection.

Check out the price comparison table in our Best Backpacking Tents Guide to see how these tents stack up against the other top shelters on the market. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 are priced in the mid to low 400s, which places them just below average for price. They are cost-effective for being so lightweight and feature-rich.

MSRPs

  1. NEMO Hornet OSMO – $430
  2. MSR FreeLite – $450
  3. Big Agnes Tiger Wall – $450

Winner: NEMO Hornet OSMO

The NEMO Hornet OSMO wins this category by $20, with a tie for second place. But we wouldn’t recommend making your choice based on price alone. Because these tent prices are so close, consider focusing on which tent features are the most important to you. At the end of the day, an extra $20 will be money well spent if the tent fits your needs better in the long run.

PHOTO CREDIT: HEATHER ELDRIDGE (CLEVERHIKER.COM)

Packaged Weight

These tents are impressively light. Take a look at the weight comparison table in our Best Backpacking Tents Guide to see how they compare to our other top picks. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, MSR FreeLite 2, and NEMO Hornet OSMO 2 are near the front of the pack for weight. That’s why each one earns a spot in our Best Backpacking Tents Guide or Best Ultralight Tents Guide: they are easy to carry for extended periods.

To compare tents, we use their packaged weight. Packaged weight is the total mass of the tent as it’s sold by the manufacturer. That number usually includes the tent, rainfly, stakes, and guylines. 

  1. MSR FreeLite – Packaged Weight – 2 lb. 5 oz.
  2. NEMO Hornet OSMO – Packaged Weight – 2 lb. 8 oz.
  3. Big Agnes Tiger Wall – Packaged Weight – 2 lb. 8 oz.

Winner: MSR FreeLite

The MSR FreeLite wins this category by three ounces, with a tie for second place. Three ounces isn’t nothing when it comes to backpacking gear weight, and that could factor into your buying decision. However, keep in mind that three ounces is just a bit more weight than a snack bar, so choosing a tent with the features you want could easily be more important.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Interior Space

We think the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 generally work better as solo shelters. Because all three tents prioritize low weight, we found their interiors were small for two average-sized adults. If you’re backpacking with a partner or a dog, we recommend sizing up to the 3-person versions of any of these tents for more room.

Interior space of the tents is measured as follows: L x W [head / foot] x H [peak]). Note that the Tiger Wall and Hornet both are wider at the head and more narrow at the feet, so they have two width measurements. The FreeLite is rectangular, so it has one.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – 86 x 52/42 x 39 in.

The Tiger Wall offers the most interior space of the three tents. It has the longest brow pole, which draws the sides of the interior mesh nearly vertical. That means you’ll have significantly more headroom than the FreeLite or the Hornet to sit up and move around. 

Because of this spacious headroom, the Tiger Wall is the only tent on this list we think is reasonable for two people. It’s still a tight space to share, but we found it was the least cramped of the three tents, especially if users are on the shorter or smaller side. For more space, consider sizing up to the 3-Person version of the Tiger Wall.

MSR FreeLite – 84 x 50 x 39 in. 

The MSR FreeLite has more interior space than the Hornet, but not as much as the Tiger Wall. One key difference of the FreeLite is its fully rectangular floor, which offers more space than the Tiger Wall or Hornet when lying down next to a partner. We found the floor space of the FreeLite was similar to heavier freestanding, 2-person backpacking tents. This design also gives more space for interior gear storage.

However, the FreeLite’s brow pole is shorter than the one on the Tiger Wall (although longer than the Hornet). That means the FreeLite’s walls slant inward, cutting out precious headroom that two people need for livable space in a shared shelter.

For that reason, the FreeLite is more comfortable as a solo shelter, rather than sharing with a partner. It would work well for two smaller or shorter hikers who are okay with less headroom, and it’s an excellent tent choice for solo use. 

NEMO Hornet OMSO – 85 x 51/43 x 39 in. 

NEMO’s Hornet has the least interior space compared to the Tiger Wall and the FreeLite. NEMO uses short brow clips instead of a longer brow pole, so the walls are narrow and come nearly to a point at the ceiling. This design eliminates most of the potential headroom that the Tiger Wall and FreeLite offer.

The Hornet’s floor area is the largest of the three tents, which is fine when you’re lying down. However, we found the narrow walls made it tough for two people to sit up without brushing the side of the tent or bumping into the other person. You could fit two people in a pinch, but it is tight.

Also, the Hornet is not great for backpackers over six feet tall. Our tallest hiker was 6’2”, and they found the 2-person Hornet was too narrow for comfort over an extended time, even as a solo shelter.

We highly recommend the 2-person Hornet for solo backpackers that are under 6 feet tall. For taller hikers, we suggest the 3-person version of this tent. In fact, we like the 3-person NEMO Hornet OSMO so much that we prefer it over the 3-person FreeLite or the 3-person Tiger Wall. 

Winner: Big Agnes Tiger Wall

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall is the clear winner of this section. Its longer brow pole creates a bigger interior space and offers significantly more headroom than the other two shelters. The FreeLite comes in second place with a usable but narrower interior, and the Hornet comes in third due to a lack of headroom for two people.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Floor Area

Floor dimensions alone are not a great way to measure how roomy a tent is. The structure of the tent poles defines how much headroom there will be. However, the amount of floor space is still important. A generous tent floor will provide more room for two people when lying down, and as a bonus offers extra interior space for storing gear. 

To find the square footage of each tent’s floor, multiply the length of the floor by the width. The Tiger Wall and Hornet have a tapered floor shape, meaning they are wider at the head and more narrow at the feet. The FreeLite is rectangular.

  1. MSR FreeLite – 29 sq. ft.
  2. Big Agnes Tiger Wall – 28 sq. ft.
  3. NEMO Hornet OSMO – 27.5 sq. ft.

Winner – MSR FreeLite

The MSR FreeLite is the champion when it comes to floor area. At 29 square feet, the FreeLite is a square foot bigger than the Tiger Wall in second place, and a foot and a half bigger than the Hornet in third place. The FreeLite’s rectangular floor shape gives it a bit more room than the other two, which taper from wider at the head to more narrow at the feet. However, this is a small amount of extra floor space and would not be enough to convince us to choose the FreeLite over the other tents.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Vestibule Area

The vestibule of a tent helps it feel more comfortable and livable. Vestibules provide a dry designated place to store stinky shoes, equipment, and bulky backpacks. It’s also essential for providing weather protection by blocking wind, sun, and rain. A roomy vestibule lends more versatility to a tent as well: it can provide additional seating, act as a private space to change clothes and offer shelter when cooking and eating.

  1. Big Agnes Tiger Wall – 8 + 8 sq. ft.
  2. MSR FreeLite- 7.5 + 7.5 sq. ft.
  3. NEMO Hornet OSMO – 7.1 + 7.1 sq. ft.

Winner – Big Agnes Tiger Wall

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall wins for the biggest vestibule. It has the largest vestibule area of the three tents, with almost a square foot more than the Hornet in third place. Even though the Hornet’s vestibule space felt more narrow, these tents are all within 6 to 12 square inches of each other. Overall, these tents offer average-sized vestibules for backpacking tents. We didn’t have trouble finding space to store our gear. The Tiger Wall’s s extra vestibule space is nice, but the slightly smaller vestibules of the other tents would not be a dealbreaker in our buying decision.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Pockets

Shelter storage and organization are vital when camping. Well-designed tent pockets should vary in size and be strategically placed throughout the tent to help you stay organized. Pockets make it easy to quickly access essentials when you need them, whether it’s a multitool or a map, and can keep your shelter clutter-free while maximizing space. 

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – The Tiger Wall has 4 total pockets, the most of all three tents. It features two convenient rectangular pockets near the head of the tent, perfect for storing essentials like a headlamp or chapstick. It also has a wide overhead storage pocket handy for storing items like a hat or phone.

What makes the Tiger Wall unique is the spacious loft pocket at the foot of the tent. It’s the only tent of the three that offers a pocket this big and in this location. The loft pocket is positioned in the foot area that isn’t used to sit up, so we found this wide, stretchy storage is perfect for stashing jackets or other clothes without leaving them piled on the floor or in a vestibule. 

MSR Freelite – The Freelite has 3 pockets. It features two distinctive triangular pockets at the head of the tent for neatly storing gear you want to keep close. The triangle pockets have a convenient feature: a hole at the bottom to run a charging cord from your power bank to your phone. We found the pockets were just big enough to stash the majority of our small essential items. However, if you need more room, the Freelite also has two generously sized overhead pockets that are practical for stashing bulkier things like light layers or stuff sacks. 

NEMO Hornet OSMO – The Hornet offers just 2 medium overhead pockets. It does not have low side pockets like the other tents offer, so you’ll have to find somewhere else to put your sunglasses, earplugs, and toiletries. Instead, the two small overhead pockets offer the only storage in the tent, but they are easily within arm’s reach. These pockets are made of a special light-dispersing material to convert your headlamp into an ambient tent lamp. We found this minimal pocket design provided limited room for a handful of items, but nothing else. 

Winner: Big Agnes Tiger Wall

The Tiger Wall wins first place for a thoughtful pocket layout that we found very convenient and useful. With four pockets of different sizes, the storage in the Tiger Wall guaranteed we would have ample room for organizing gear. We especially appreciated the large loft pocket to keep jackets off the floor. MSR’s FreeLite pockets were also functional and helpful, but in third place, the Hornet was lacking. Its minimalist storage options left us wanting more.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Weather Resistance

You’re bound to run into unpredictable and challenging weather when backpacking. However, these tents will keep you as safe and dry from the rain, wind, or even light snow as any heavier freestanding shelter.

All three tents are built with ripstop, water-resistant nylon blends and include guylines to secure your shelter in high winds. They all include an additional treatment of DWR, silicone, and/or polyurethane to shed water.

Semi-freestanding tents made from nylon do have some downsides. They are more susceptible to high wind because of the minimal pole structure. In addition, all three tents tend to sag in cold and wet weather because of their nylon construction. In general, nylon doesn’t hold shape as well as a DCF shelter, sil-nylon, or a thicker, more durable material. Because the nylon used in these three tents is thinner and the foot of the tent is staked out, you’ll likely need to re-tension your guylines and re-stake your tent as inclement weather moves in and the material sags.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – The Tiger Wall excels in weather protection thanks to its full-coverage fly and long brow pole. Where the Hornet and FreeLite both have one side where the rainfly is cut out, the Tiger Wall’s fly extends to the ground on all sides, ensuring moisture is kept at bay. The Tiger Wall also has six guylines, two more than the others, for even more stability and resistance to strong winds. Because of Big Agnes’ unique dying methods, the Tiger Wall is UV resistant and won’t lose color as quickly as the Hornet or FreeLite.

We found the material of the Tiger Wall sagged most of the three tents when it came to cold and wet conditions. We were never concerned that the material would fail, and the tent was superior at keeping out moisture, wind, and the elements, but you may need to adjust the tension of the guylines as temperatures drop and the rain picks up. 

NEMO Hornet OSMO – The Hornet’s tent material sagged the least. We found NEMO’s polyester and nylon fabric blend, called OSMO, didn’t droop as much as the others in rain, snow, wind, or below-freezing temperatures. Like the FreeLite, it offers 4 guy-out points.

Unfortunately, the narrow brow clips at the top of the tent do not provide much coverage from rain when getting in and out of the tent. That means the vestibules and interior tent are prone to getting sprinkled when doors are open during a storm. The four guyline attachment points are helpful for keeping moisture out.

Another downside is that like the FreeLite, the Hornet has a single-wall section at the head of the tent where the rainfly is cut out, turning just the foot area into a single-wall tent. We found this was a rare issue and the tent dried quickly, but in wet and cold weather, this lack of rainfly coverage drew more condensation than the rest of the tent. 

MSR FreeLite – The FreeLite uses “rain gutters” on the rainfly. These are flaps placed next to the zippers that run from the top of the tent to the bottom of the rainfly to help guide moisture away. This would be especially helpful when opening the tent after a storm since water still on the rainfly doors would roll towards the zipper and into the vestibule. 

On paper, this is a great feature. In practice, we didn’t notice that the rain gutter was any more efficient at shedding water than the Tiger Wall or Hornet.

Like the Hornet, the FreeLite also has 4 guy-out points and a single-wall section at the foot of the tent where the rainfly is cut out to save weight. We found this area gathered more condensation than the rest of the tent, but it wasn’t a significant issue. The FreeLite kept out rain and blocked wind.

Winner: Three-Way Tie

This is a three-way tie. We found all three tents were comparable and very reliable in rain and wind. They each stand out for a different reason: the Tiger Wall has a full-coverage rainfly, the Hornet sags less in cold and wet weather, and the Freelight adds a gutter designed to help shed water. These tents have kept us reliably dry, and our gear protected in the vestibules, no matter what the conditions were outside.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Durability

These tents prioritize low weight over durability. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 are not burly by design: they use slim aluminum poles and thin fabric to offer major weight savings for ounce-conscious backpackers. 

Denier is a way to measure not only how thick or dense a fabric is, but how strong it will be. When a denier number is high the tent fabric is stronger, harder to see through, and heavier. At lower denier values, fabric is lighter, more transparent, and less durable.

All three tents use 10 and 15 denier ripstop nylon (or a coated nylon blend) for the floor and rainfly, and polyester for the mesh. 15D is only slightly more durable than 10D, but both are ultralight and impressively weather-resistant. It’s worth noting these materials are as light and thin as you can possibly go without sacrificing all durability, and 10D and 15 fabrics are standard on most ultralight tents.

It’s true that a motivated critter could chew through the material on any of these tents to reach a late-night snack in your shelter. We’ve also found that a rogue branch or sharp rock can do some real damage if you don’t select a clear campsite. We highly recommend purchasing the coordinating footprint or a sheet of Tyvek home wrap for all three models to add an extra layer of protection between you and muddy, wet, or rough terrain. If you’re hard on your gear or looking for a super durable backcountry shelter, these tents will fall short. 

However, we’ve found that with regular maintenance and preventative care, all three tents can and will last many years. To extend the life of your shelter, see our guide How To Care For Your Tent: Cleaning, Repair, & Storage Tips.

MSR FreeLite – The FreeLite felt secure in all weather thanks to a thicker tent material. Like the Tiger Wall, it uses 15-denier nylon for all parts of the tent:  rainfly, walls, and floor. This is an incremental difference in material thickness that offers a bit more durability.

The FreeLite also features 4 guylines, one for each corner, to add stability in high winds. Additionally, MSR uses metal grommets for the tent pole ends to nestle, whereas the Hornet and Tiger Wall use plastic. We’ve never had an issue with plastic grommets, but this is a small element that could add longer life to the FreeLite.

NEMO Hornet OSMO – The Hornet is durable thanks to its proprietary OSMO material. This is a blend of polyester and nylon that outperformed the FreeLite and Tiger Wall in wet and cold weather. The 10 rainfly and 15D interior OSMO fabric held its shape the best and sagged the least of these three tents, making it feel more durable and trustworthy in storms. Like the FreeLite, the Hornet also has 4 guyline attachment points. Like the Tiger Wall, it uses plastic grommets for the tent poles. Plastic grommets work well and likely save an incremental amount of weight, but in theory, plastic is more likely to break or deteriorate than metal.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – We found the Tiger Wall’s material was the least durable of the three tents.  Big Agnes uses 15D ripstop nylon, which should be comparable to the FreeLite for performance in cold temperatures and rain. It has 6 guyline attachment points for extra security during storms. 

But in our experience, the Big Agnes fabric sagged the most of the three tents during wet weather. We had concerns that the rainfly – which is almost see-through – was too thin, but it still performed well against moisture and wind. We’d highly recommend a ground cloth or footprint to add longevity to the Tiger Wall in particular. Though it still worked well in all weather, we question the long-term durability of The Tiger Wall’s material.

Winner – MSR FreeLite

The winner for durability is the MSR FreeLite. Its slightly thicker 15D nylon construction and use of metal grommets put it ahead of the competition, ensuring a longer lifespan in the outdoors. The Hornet is in second place and the Tiger Wall is in third.

When it boils down to durability, none of these tents are a great choice. Their lightweight design and high-performance materials are not built to last for decades. But where you sacrifice durability, you gain portability, and these tents are as light as it gets.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Versatility

A versatile tent complements a wide range of outdoor adventures. It’s not easy to find a shelter that keeps you just as comfortable in the wild backcountry overnight as a reserved frontcountry site. Semi-freestanding tents straddle the line between freestanding and non-freestanding options in this regard.

Freestanding tents – Freestanding tents are the most versatile for sleeping near an alpine lake or next to your car bumper. The weight of most freestanding tents makes them functional enough for backpacking, especially when splitting the weight with a partner, but feature-rich enough for car camping thanks to ease of use and speed of setup.

Non-freestanding tents – Non-freestanding tents are the least versatile. They are designed as simple as possible for backpacking, which is exactly what you need for a low base weight. But for camping almost anywhere else, you sacrifice comforts like pockets, headroom, and durability. Non-freestanding shelters don’t make sense anywhere except the backcountry: they are expensive, the most time-consuming and challenging to pitch, and are known to fill with condensation overnight. They also have a large footprint, since all guy lines need to be staked out, so they can’t be set up in as many locations. 

Semi-freestanding tents – Semi-freestanding tents land in between the two. Like freestanding tents, their small footprints and few guylines make them easy to set up anywhere there’s room. In frontcountry and car camping situations, they won’t provide as much durability, comfort, or interior space as a typical freestanding tent, but they offer similar features like pockets, headroom, and weather resistance for versatility beyond the backcountry. Semi-freestanding tents are easy to use because of their simple pole structure, so they’re fast to set up for a first-timer. And like non-freestanding tents, they offer very low weight. 

Winner: Three-Way-Tie

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 are designed first and foremost for lightweight backpacking, but they are also versatile enough for the frontcountry. Thanks to their unique blend of low weight, rich features, and ease of use, each tent is versatile enough to handle the most punishing months-long thru-hike, but would also thrive near a picnic table and a fire pit.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Ease of Use

For ease of use, semi-freestanding tents are the perfect balance between freestanding tents and trekking pole tents. 

Freestanding tents are almost always the fastest and easiest to pitch since they can be set up on most terrains. Freestanding tents use familiar designs and have convenient features like color-coordinated buckles and clips that make the shelter setup a breeze.

Trekking pole tents are the most difficult and time-consuming to set up. They don’t have a dedicated framework of tent poles and rely on your trekking poles as the support point. That means the steps to achieve the “perfect” pitch with guylines and tension can be complex and slow depending on the slope, obstacles, and space available.

Semi-freestanding tents are fast to set up since they require being staked out at the foot of the tent. Like a freestanding tent, the uncomplicated pole structure is easy to understand, and the rainfly attachments are intuitive for fast setup or tear down. Unlike Trekking pole tents, you can pitch semi-freestanding tents in more locations thanks to the smaller footprint. 

Winner – Three-Way Tie

This is a three-way tie. We found the Big Agnes Tiger Wall, NEMO Hornet OSMO, and MSR FreeLite tents were remarkably easy to pitch. Semi-freestanding tents still require choosing a campsite carefully, especially when they are ultralight like these tents, but their small footprint, simple design, and minimal stakes make them great for both beginners and seasoned campers.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Packed Size

Having a tent that packs small is crucial for portability. The less space your tent takes up, the more room you have for other essentials. Plus, a smaller backpack profile is more comfortable and maneuverable. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall, NEMO Hornet OSMO, and MSR FreeLite tents pack down very small. If packed size is your top priority, any of these tents could work.

NEMO Hornet OSMO – 12.5 x 7.5 x 3.5 in.

The Hornet packs down the smallest. At a mere 12.5 inches, the Hornet’s pole segments fold into significantly smaller sections than the 18-inch poles of the Tiger Wall or FreeLite. Most tent poles are too long to be packed inside the backpack, so they are stored on the outside while hiking – but not the Hornet. It packs so small, we fit the entire tent and poles easily inside of our backpacks. The entire package fits well horizontally and vertically.

We don’t recommend storing poles inside your bag long term to prevent damaging other gear, but having the option opened up valuable outside storage that is dedicated space for the FreeLite and Tiger Wall. This kind of size versatility is unique to the Hornet and a huge advantage for backpackers.

MSR FreeLite – 4.5 x 4.5 x 18 in.

The width of the FreeLite when packed is 4.5 inches, but it’s tied with the Tiger Wall for the length of poles at 18 inches. You could reduce it even more with a different stuff sack and the poles stored separately.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – 5.5 x 5.5 x 18 in.

The Tiger Wall has the biggest packed size of the three tents, measuring an inch wider than the FreeLite.  Consider using a different compression sack and storing the poles on the outside of your backpacks to reduce the amount of internal space used.

Winner – NEMO Hornet OSMO

The NEMO Hornet OSMO handily takes the prize for the smallest packed size. We are impressed with how small the Hornet can get, making it the most versatile for carrying in your backpack or storing at home. With poles almost six inches longer, the FreeLite comes in second, and the Tiger Wall is third because it packs the widest. However, we think all of these tents offer a remarkably small packed size and would complement most backpacking kits.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Doors & Zippers

We prefer tents with two doors. Whether hiking with a partner or exploring trails solo, tents with two doors are helpful for dealing with limited campsite space, orienting to a specific view, and offering an alternative exit in an emergency. Two doors can also improve ventilation by allowing air to move through the tent. Dual entrances make a tent more livable and versatile for sharing space with a tentmate and organizing gear.

For the Doors and Zippers category, we ranked external rainfly doors and interior tent doors separately to determine the winner.

RAINFLY

MSR FreeLite – We found the FreeLite’s rainfly doors were easy to open with a single zipper and effortless to move through. The medium-sized brow bar helps keep the door flaps off of the interior tent, so lingering rainfly condensation never leaves the vestibule. The FreeLite’s rainfly tie-backs are in an intuitive and functional location that keep the doors out of the way and allow a little more ventilation.

NEMO Hornet OSMO – The Hornet’s large rainfly doors also feature a single zipper. We like the placement of the Hornet’s door tie-backs over the Tiger Wall, but less than the FreeLite. The tie-backs are placed low, which sometimes causes condensation to drip on us or gear while trying to pin the door back. The Hornet’s doors could also flap into the vestibule and against the interior of the tent, an issue when the doors were wet with condensation or rain. We like the triangular shape and size of the rainfly doors for ease of use.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – The Tiger Wall comes in last place because of the location of the door tie-backs and clasps: they are very low on the tent. This unusual design means if you’re inside trying to get the rainfly flap out of the way to exit, you’re likely to brush against condensation or a soaked rainfly, dousing both you and your gear. We also found the door design was too low. We had to duck carefully when entering the tent to avoid brushing or bumping our heads on the tent. The Tiger Wall rainfly doors have two-way zippers, the only tent of the three that offers this configuration. Two-way zippers can help with ventilation, but this wasn’t enough to move the Tiger Wall out of third place.

Winner – MSR FreeLite

The MSR FreeLite wins for the best rainfly door. A combination of well-placed tiebacks and smart design put its large doors at the top. The Hornet comes in second, and the Tiger Wall in third.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

INTERIOR DOORS

Big Agnes Tiger Wall The Tiger Wall has two zippers on interior “L”-shaped doors. One zipper runs vertically, the other runs along the base, and they meet at the corner. This design makes for easy, one-hand door opening and gives the flexibility to access the vestibule by just opening the zipper at the bottom, even while lying down. The Tiger Wall also has the biggest interior doors. The interior door tieback is set high, which keeps it completely out of the way to make getting in and out easy.

MSR FreeLite – The FreeLite’s interior door is triangular and L-shaped, but the is smaller and at a sharper angle than those of the Tiger Wall. Tiebacks are intuitively located in the middle of the door and hold back the tent material. Like the Tiger Wall, the FreeLite also offers two zippers that meet at the corner for easy open-and-close with one hand or accessing gear outside.

NEMO Hornet OMSO – We found the Hornet’s doors were more cumbersome and less functional than the other two tents. The Hornet’s interior doors are a half-circle shape and only have one zipper. We found the doors are hard to open with one hand because of their shape and the design of the tent. Without using two hands, fabric bunches up and prevents a smooth zip. The tiebacks are long and positioned well to keep the door out of the way when needed.

Winner – Big Agnes Tiger Wall

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall has the best interior doors of these three tents. They are big, easy to open with one hand, and the two zippers are convenient and functional. The FreeLite comes in second and the Hornet in third.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Ventilation

In general, semi-freestanding tents do not offer great ventilation compared to freestanding models. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2, NEMO Hornet OSMO 2, and MSR FreeLite 2 don’t offer luxury features typical of freestanding tents like kickstand roof vents or adjustable rainfly heights that can help mitigate condensation even better. The mesh uppers of the interior tent certainly help with airflow, but ventilation is limited once the tent is fully zipped up.

Due to the lack of ventilation, condensation can build up overnight in all three of these tents, especially during wet and cold weather. We’ve never found condensation to be a major issue because the double wall design manages this moisture well. Unlike a non-freestanding tent, the air gap between the interior mesh and the rainfly effectively keeps condensation away from you and your gear. These tents are made with thin performance fabrics that hold a surprising amount of moisture but dry quickly in the sun.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – The Tiger Wall offers two zippers on the rainfly, so you can open the top section of the fly for airflow while maintaining some privacy. However, this is not practical during wet weather. Like the FreeLite, the interior tent also offers two zippers, allowing campers to leave one open for a bit more ventilation.

NEMO Hornet OSMO – At the foot of the Hornet, the rainfly is cut out. This saves weight, but it creates a single-wall section on the tent. Even though this area is prone to condensation because it creates a large nylon section instead of mesh, this single-wall section of the tent helps with breathability.

MSR FreeLite – Same as the Hornet, the FreeLite has a single-wall section at the foot of the tent where there’s no rainfly. This helps incrementally with ventilation. 

Winner – Big Agnes Tiger Wall

The Tiger Wall’s double zipper on the rainfly and double zipper on the interior tent offer just a bit more ventilation than the FreeLite and Hornet. It’s worth noting that this is a small amount of extra airflow. All three tents use thin, breathable material, but are ultimately lacking in ventilation features.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Eco-Friendly

The outdoor industry can be incredibly wasteful. Manufacturing tents often requires raw materials like petroleum to produce synthetic fabrics and aluminum for tent poles. The process of manufacturing textiles is resource-intensive, creating enormous amounts of water waste. In addition, Fabric treatments use chemical coatings and sealants that can be harmful to the environment. Transporting products all over the world adds to carbon emissions.

It’s a paradox: the very items we use to enjoy the outdoors can harm the environment during their production. Companies that focus on sustainable material sourcing, recycled fabrics, responsible and humane labor practices, domestic manufacturing, and using less energy and water can make a positive impact on the local and global environment.

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – In 2021, Big Agnes changed the way it dyes all of its tents with a method called solution dying. It dyes materials before they’re processed, instead of afterwards. This dying technique reduces energy consumption by 80% and water use by 50%. That means the Tiger Wall is produced with as few carbon emissions and chemicals as possible. And, its tent poles are fully recyclable.

Big Agnes facilities run on 100% electric energy. The company doesn’t use any flame retardants in its products, utilizes certified Responsible Down Standard for sourcing down, and prioritizes 50-100% recycled insulation for use in its jackets and sleeping bags. Big Agnes has also reduced its number of poly bags for items like furniture and stakes. Check out its long list of eco-friendly initiatives.

NEMO Hornet OSMO – The Hornet uses OSMO fabric, a blend of polyester and nylon that is free from forever chemicals like fire retardants, PFAs, and PFCs. The tent is Blue Sign approved and guaranteed free of toxic materials.

NEMO pledges to cut its emissions in half by 2030. Their office runs on 100% renewable energy. NEMO offers a lifetime guarantee and repairs, so when your Hornet needs a fresh zipper or the floor requires more than just a patch, you can repair your tent instead of adding it to the landfill. NEMO has introduced a number of 100% recycled and recyclable products. The company launched its Endless Promise Program, which is a commitment by the company to make gear more recyclable and reduce waste with a closed-loop system: recycling, repairing, and reselling materials and products.

MSR FreeLite – Both the nylon fabric and aluminum of the FreeLite are made from recyclable materials.

MSR’s production and office facilities are powered by a minimum of 25% renewable energy. All products are free of BPA, PFAs, and harsh chemicals. MSR sources all packaging materials local to its US-based production facilities. Domestic manufacturing makes their environmental footprint much lower versus producing internationally. It also has a robust repair program for its tents, backpacks, and some clothes, and boasts an 85% or higher rate of repair for all products returned to them for fixing. Read more about their commitment to sustainability

Winner – Big Agnes Tiger Wall

The Tiger Wall is the winner for eco-friendliness because of its Solution-Dyed Fabric. The dramatic reduction in resources used to produce such a quality tent, combined with Big Agnes’ commitment to reducing emissions across all facilities and products, makes it unique. 

But none of these companies are slacking when it comes to thinking about their environmental footprint. Big Agnes, NEMO, and MSR have all made significant strides over the last decade to reduce energy consumption, focus on recyclable products, and transition to eco-friendly dyes, chemicals, and production practices. Each company has its own educational initiatives and conservation partnerships. Big Agnes, NEMO, and MSR are at the forefront of the conversation around how to reuse or repurpose outdoor products instead of sending them to the landfill.

Photo credit: Dave Collins (CleverHiker.com)

Winner

Our winner in the comparison of the Big Agnes Tiger Wall, MSR FreeLite, and NEMO Hornet OSMO tents is the Big Agnes Tiger Wall.

  1. Big Agnes Tiger Wall – 8 points
  2. MSR FreeLite – 7 points
  3. NEMO Hornet OSMO – 5 points

Overall Winner – Big Agnes Tiger Wall

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)

Bottom Line

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall, NEMO Hornet OSMO, and MSR FreeLite tents are some of the best ultralight tents available. All three tents are tied for outstanding weather protection, versatility, and ease of use. We think each tent offers a reliably dry and safe shelter in wet weather and high winds. They are exceptionally light, simple to set up, and versatile enough for most camping situations. 

Big Agnes Tiger Wall – The Tiger Wall is our favorite tent overall because of its roomier dimensions and generous pocket structure. Interior space matters in a backpacking shelter, and the Tiger Wall offers the most headroom. It’s the only feasible option on this list for two campers. The Tiger Wall also has the largest vestibule space and biggest interior door, and we like that the rainfly covers all sides of the tent. Its unique loft pocket makes it easy to stash bulky gear like jackets. Big Agnes’ dedication to eco-friendly initiatives is a bonus.

The Tiger Wall’s fabric does not feel as durable as the Hornet or the FreeLite because it sags the most in cold and wet weather. Its rainfly door design could be improved by putting tiebacks in a better location. It also packs the biggest of the three tents. However, the Tiger Wall offers almost everything we want in a semi-freestanding and ultralight tent, making it the winner.

MSR FreeLite – The FreeLite works best as an ultralight solo shelter. It weighs the least of the three tents but still has convenient pockets. It feels the most durable thanks to the combination of metal grommets and 15 nylon material. We like the rainfly on the FreeLite because of its intuitively placed tie-backs that keep the doors out of the way. It offers the most floor area to spread out gear and get comfortable on its wide, rectangular floor and stayed in second place among these tents for packed size, interior space, and vestibule size.

The FreeLite has less headroom than we would like. Its rain gutters are a nice feature, but they don’t seem to help shed moisture better than the other tents. We found the triangular pockets are functional, but not as spacious or dynamic as the Tiger Wall.

NEMO Hornet OSMO – The Hornet is an excellent option for single hikers under 6 feet tall who want an ultra-packable, no-frills tent. We like that the short pole sections, at ⅔ of the length of the Tiger Wall or FreeLite, make the tent so small that we could stash the entire shelter and poles in our backpacks. The Hornet is comfortable and sets up quickly. We are impressed that the material doesn’t sag as much as the FreeLite or the Tiger Wall in cold and wet weather. The Hornet is also the most affordable of these three tents.

But the Hornet comes in third place due to a lack of pockets and interior space. Two ceiling pockets aren’t enough to stay organized and declutter the tent, especially compared to the Tiger Wall or FreeLite. The Hornet also has the smallest vestibule space, floor space, and interior of the three tents. The narrow headroom and a tight pole structure are small for two people. Also, the interior door shape and single zipper are not as easy to use as the other tents.

All three semi-freestanding tents are exceptional, feature-rich shelters. They are more affordable than a trekking pole shelter but lighter than a freestanding tent. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2, MSR FreeLite, and NEMO Hornet OSMO 2 are on our Best Backpacking Tents Guide for the right reasons.

When the competition is this stiff, consider your personal priorities. Whether you’re after the tiniest packed size, the biggest doors, or the most headroom, one of these tents is tailor-made for your next backcountry adventure. No matter where you’re headed next, these shelters will keep you safe, dry, and comfortable – without the extra weight.

Photo credit: Heather Eldridge (CleverHiker.com)