Choosing a Backpacking Tent
Backpacking Tents on the market vary on different style, design and performance, and it’s easy to get confused, which is the right one for you. Not always the most expensive and high durability tent will serve your purpose, every one of them has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Here’s some information to help you decide what’s best for you.
Before spending money on tent, you should make it clear what tent exactly you’re looking for. You can start with these 4 questions:
1. How many people will be sharing a tent?
Is it to serve it’s purpose on vacation with all family, just for you two with your partner, is it a group expedition or it’s just for you alone? Depending on this you can decide on what size tent you need for your adventures – 1 person, 2-3 person or 4 and more person tent. You also may want to consider getting 3 person tent even if it’s just 2 of you, especially on longer trips. And also remember to reserve space also for your gear.
2. What climate and weather conditions I’m most likely to encounter?
This will help you to decide on what performance to look for and how many season tent to go for. If it’s a tent for mountaineering or expedition you’re after, then you should go for 4-season tent that has plenty of guy-lines and a rainfly that goes all the way to the ground for best weather protection. If you’re most likely to be in a very hot weather, look for tent with best ventilation and less weight. If it’s just a weekend trip at the lake with friends and weather conditions are most likely to be good, and being outdoors is not what you normally do, your tent can be also from the basic range, combining good performance for intended use with small cost.
3. Is it a size and weight I’m most concerned for or is it a space and comfort?
There are many good quality different style tents on the market designed to serve all users needs, is it more comfort or weight. More comfort normally means more features, which adds more material to the tent and therefor extra weight. Lightest tents generally will have clever and simple design, saving weight on every single item possible, but they also tend to be more expensive. If you’re looking for family camping tent, weight shouldn’t be your concern as tent will be carried only a short distance from car to campsite. In this scenario better to make sure you pick a tent that has plenty of room for everyone.
4. What’s my budget?
Generally the more you pay, the lower weight and extra refinements you get. If you camp out infrequently, you don’t have to go for expensive 4 season tent. You can get a very good quality tent that will serve it’s purpose for under $200. If you do like to spend time at the nature often, and outdoors is your passion, then don’t rush with your purchase, research what is best for you and don’t be afraid to invest in a more pricy, high quality tent that will withstand a storm and will be surprisingly light in your backpack.
Tent types – Choosing a Backpacking Tent
Single wall tents
Single wall tents are best in the cooler, drier conditions found above the snowline, and not so good in the heat or high humidity of summer or sea level locations. Their walls are constructed of waterproof, but breathable fabrics, like Gore-Tex or eVent, and for this reason do not need a rainfly. They seal tightly in cold, snowy weather and use vapor pressure to force out condensation.
- Easy to set up
- Lighter than most double wall tents
- Can be stuffy in mild weather conditions
- Not as good protection against rain as double wall tents
- If it happens to rip or tear a hole, you’re then exposed to the elements
- Not as good insulation properties as double wall tents
Double wall tents
Double wall tents have three parts:
1. An inner tent with a waterproof floor and non-waterproof roof
2. A waterproof outer tent called rain fly
3. Tent poles
There are 3 design types of double wall tents:
1. Self-supporting tents have poles that supports the tents structure, while the other parts, such as a vestibule, need to be guyed out
2. Tunnel tents have hoop shaped pole/s and rely entirely on guylines for support. Tunnel tents normally have better space to weight ratio, than self-supporting tents
3. Freestanding tents stand up entirely by themselves and need to be guyed out only to make them more stable in windy weather or to attach a rain fly to make them water-proof. Freestanding tents are great for use in rocky areas or on hard camp space platforms where setup space is very limited.
- Easy to set up
- Usually has a vestibule for covered gear storage
- Good protection in wet weather
- Better insulation than other lightweight tents
- Often heavier and bulkier, than other types of ultralight tents
- Require pitching the inner tent before the rain fly, resulting in a wet inner tent if rains
Tarp tents – Choosing a Backpacking Tent
Tarp tents are single wall shelters, where the walls are part solid and part mesh. For this reason they have good airflow through the tent, which helps to prevent internal condensation. Most tarp tents have a fully integrated bathtub floor, which is sewn to the walls of the tent making it easy to pitch and keep dry in rain. Tarp tents are best for use on flat ground in warmer weather in less windy conditions.
- Easy and fast to set up
- Lightweight and compact
- Excellent airflow – minimal or no condensation
- When pitched in pouring rain, living area stays dry
- Often set up with trekking poles helps save weight
- Bug proof and slither proof
- Many models provide some covered area for gear
- Good in wet or hot weather
- Lower insulation due to increased air flow
- Walls of bathtub floors are not as high as on double wall tents
- Seam-sealing is often required before use
Pyramid tents (Mids)
Pyramids are designed to protect you at high winds from all directions, so you don’t need to repitch your shelter if the wind changes direction at night. Best for long distance travel in hostile environments with little landscape protection. Most mids don’t come with a bathtub floor, but one can be added for more comfort and protection against bugs and insects. Larger mids are pitched with a centre pole and smaller mids can also be pitched with trekking poles. Many mids have top vents which helps vent moisture and reduce condensation. There’s also a less windproof, but popular sub-genre of modified pyramids that have a similar shape and one open side for better ventilation and livability in less extreme environments.
- Good wind and weather protection
- Top vents help limit internal condensation buildup
- Bottom edges can be used to provide an air gap for better ventilation
- Most are large enough to cook inside with adequate ventilation on canister stove
- Angled walls shed snow well in winter
- Provides excellent privacy
- Most pyramids use center pole, which reduces the internal space available
- Must be pitched on a level surface
- Requires a large footprint and difficult to pitch in tight spots
- Requires some form of bug protection such as a bug net or bug bivy
Almost all tents on the market are 3 or 4 season tents, but you might come across a 2 season tent too. Basically, the higher the season number, the more durable the tent, and the more durable the tent, it also weights and costs more. That’s why it’s important to find balance between tents performance at your needs and cost.
- A 2 season tent will most likely only be designed for camping in relatively good weather in sunnier times of the year. It will cope with mild rain and wind, but anything more heavy could push it beyond its design. It also may have ventilation flaps that you can’t close to keep you cool when it’s hot as well as stop mild rain.
- A 3 season tent is most popular choice among backpackers, designed for the relatively temperate conditions of spring, summer and fall. They are usually equipped with ample mesh panels to boost air flow, keep insects out and reduce condensation. Properly pitched with a taut rainfly, 3 season tents will cope well with downpours, but not with harsh storms, violent winds or heavy snow.
- 3+ season or extended season tents are designed for prolonged 3 season usage, also suitable for trips in early spring and late fall, when moderate snow may be encountered. Typically they include 1 or 2 more poles and fewer mesh panels than pure 3 season models, which makes them a little bit sturdier, warmer and a bit heavier too. While very sturdy, they are not designed for harsh winter weather as 4-season tents.
- A 4 season tent is designed to cope with seriously inhospitable weather, like fierce winds and substantial snow loads, especially in winter or above treeline, it can be used in all seasons. It may have no ventilation flaps to keep very fine snow out of the tent, instead they may have a panel at the top of the inside tent that can be opened to provide some ventilation in warmer climates. The main purpose of the tent is to protect you against harsh elements rather than provide features for warmer climates. Therefor it works best in miserable weather, but might be not the best choice for warm climates in good weather.
Some useful tips:
- With bigger tents, marking poles, grommets or other parts makes them easier to use. A piece of colored tape on a pole can make setup easier in the field.
- Most tents should not be washed in a washing machine with detergent. This will damage the coated nylon used on the floor and fly. If you do need to clean your tent, consult with a professional dry cleaner.
- Don’t forget to stake your freestanding tent, even with personal items inside, a stronger wind can loft your tent and contents.
- Before you take your new tent out for your first trip, set it up in your backyard to get familiar how to pitch it up. This way you might avoid trying to figure it out in a cold rain or dark.
- Pack a small repair kit. This should include a few sewing supplies, seam sealer, pole repair parts, and waterproof tape.
- If you can, use a tent footprint, which will protect your investment and provide an extra insulating layer between you and the cold, damp ground.
- Avoid an open flame inside your tent. Nylon is combustible and ignites easily.
- Prepare the tent site before pitching the tent, sweeping the area for any sharp rocks, sticks or other debris.
- If the tent site isn’t at perfect level, remember to sleep with your head elevated, not your feet.
The flysheet is the barrier between you and the elements. A tent’s flysheet has to be lightweight, but waterproof and durable to keep the weather out so that you remain dry and comfortable.
Vestibules are the areas protected by the flysheets outside the inner tent. These areas provide storage for your kit as well as extended living space for sitting out bad weather
Guy line attachment points are areas which allow you to attach guy lines to your tent. Guy lines are used to add additional contact points between your tent and the ground to provide more support and security.
The inner tent is designed to keep the occupants as comfortable as possible, while the flysheet keeps the elements out. Fabrics has to be lightweight and also highly breathable and inner tents will feature a combination of solid fabric and mesh for ventilation. Models intended for year round use will allow you to cover any mesh panels for comfort during colder nights.
The groundsheet of the inner tent should be fully waterproof to prevent water seeping through from the ground. Seams will be sealed and the tents often feature bathtub designs, which keep the major perimeter seams off the floor for increased protection.
Poles form the structure of a tent. For demanding, regular tents use aluminium poles which offer a high strength to weight ratio and excellent durability. Many poles are made up of a number of sections linked together by elasticated cord so that they can fold down to a small size to make them easy to pack.