Choosing the best backpacking tent
A backpacking tent buying guide
>> Why do you need a backpacking tent?
Spending time in the great outdoors can take different forms but if you're planning on doing it with a pack on your back and trekking your way to parts unknown you're going to want to consider backpacking tents. Like most camping supplies these are designed to be lightweight, compact and easy to set-up.
>> What type tent is best?
The best backpacking tents offer much more than a place to stay warm and dry when inclement weather strikes. They're your home away from home and as such you will want to consider the importance of size, weight and durability. The answers to these questions are a personal matter for each backpacker to ponder.
- Three season - Perhaps the most popular choice of tents is the three season model. All backpacking tent brands manufacture them in a variety of sizes and styles. These tents are designed for the more moderate conditions of spring, summer and fall. Many of these top rated backpacking tents offer private insect free interiors and outstanding ventilation.
- Four season - Some of the best rated backpacking tents are fully weatherproof and specifically designed for mountaineering and winter weather conditions. They have a slightly heavier backpacking tent weight because they include one or two additional poles to bear the load of winter snow. They usually sport a more rounded design in order to help shed snow.
- Bivy - A backpacking tent comparison must include the smallest and lightest of shelters, the bivy or bivy sack. These are almost instant tents that accommodate little more than you and your sleeping bag. They are waterproof and breathable and have the lowest backpacking tent weight.
- Shelters and floorless - At the complete opposite end of the spectrum from family camping tents are shelters and floorless tents. For the hard-core minimalist these are the best backpacking tents as they are barely tents and barely there. They usually amount to little more than a tarp and occasionally some netting to keep bugs at bay. These models really save on backpacking tent weight.
>> Consider tent size and capacity
When considering which is the best backpacking tent for you, two of the most important factors to keep in mind are size and capacity. Many people are confused, believing these terms to mean the same thing. In reality capacity refers to how many people can sleep in the tent, and size refers to all of the measurements including height which play a major role in spaciousness.
- Sleeping capacity - The sleeping capacity of top rated backpacking tents is determined by how many 72"L x 20"W x 2"H sleeping mats can fit without any overlapping. However many hikers prefer a bit more room and will use a three-person tent for two people. Those who are looking for even more room sometimes pack a four-person tent for two people.
- Dimensions - The floor dimensions are an important indicator of spaciousness and are a vital consideration for people over 6 feet tall. The reason is that many backpacking brands design their tents to be as compact and lightweight as possible which often means they are only a small bit over 6 feet in length. Taller backpackers should carefully review the diagram and dimensions before making a final selection.
- Packed size - Depending on the duration of your trip to the back country, backpack space can fill up quickly with sports and outdoors supplies which is why when making a backpacking tent comparison, packed size can quickly become a deciding factor. It is important to keep in mind that many of the best backpacking tents can have the components split up and carried by two or more hikers.
- Weight - There are two different measurements of backpacking tent weight. The first is minimum weight which includes only bare essentials, and the second is packed weight which is the total weight including all the components. Remember that in addition to these weights you may still be carrying other tents and accessories so use these for comparison purposes.
>> Which tent shapes are best?
There are 6 different shapes of tent to choose from, each with its own advantages. Selecting the best backpacking tent shape is a matter of personal preference and knowing what type of excursions you plan on making.
- A-frame - Once upon a time the A-frame was also known as a pup tent. It is a simple lightweight design that features sloping walls that resemble a capital A. Because of the large surface area of its outer walls these are best in light wind conditions.
- Modified A-frame - These top rated backpacking tents are similar to an A-frame but use a center hoop pole to curve out the walls and create more interior space than a traditional A-frame as well as greater stability in windy conditions.
- Dome - Domes come in a variety of shapes, but usually have arched ceilings that provide excellent interior space and good wind resistance.
- Hoop - Hoop tents are sometimes referred to as tunnel or tube tents and are often one-person tents. These generally require staking in order to acquire their shape.
- Pyramid - Pyramid designs strongly resemble the tee-pees of Native Americans and are assembled around a vertical center pole and staked around the edges to form their distinctive shape.
- Wedge - These are one of the best backpacking tents for one person. They are higher at the head end an lower at the feet. Their low to the ground aerodynamic shape makes them outstanding performers in high winds.
>> Consider set-up construction and materials
When completing a backpacking tent comparison, carefully consider the construction and materials that are used in each of the best rated backpacking tents.
- Pole sleeves - Pole sleeves are pockets that run along the outside of the tent into which the tent poles are inserted.
- Pole clips - Tent pole clips are an alternative method to sleeves for securing poles to the tent. There are several styles of clips and each should be considered on its own merits.
- Rain fly - A rain fly is a polyester sheet that has been coated to better resist stretching when it gets wet and fits over the exterior body of your tent.
- Body material - All of the best backpacking tent bodies are made of nylon taffeta in either 40 or 70 denier weights.
>> Which tent features are most important?
Many features are offered as options as they may increase the weight of the tent. Carefully consider which features matter most and their cost in additional load.
- Netting - Most of the top rated backpacking tents use netting in the doorways of certain models as a barrier to insects.
- Doors - Door configurations vary from one backpacking tent brand to another with some tents having a single front door and others featuring a front and back entrance.
- Vestibules - This feature is generally an extension of the rain fly that extends beyond the front door of the tent to create a covered space for gear to be stored. This feature does add a couple of ounces to the backpacking tent weight.