How to Pick a Backpacking Tent
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Investing in a backpacking tent always requires research to ensure you get the one that is best suited for your needs. But when you intend to backpack and camp, you’ll need to spend a little extra time finding just the right one. There are several reasons for this.
For starters, as all backpackers know, you need to consider how you’ll get the tent from your starting point to your campsite. Obviously, if you’re backpacking, you’ll be carrying it, meaning whatever tent you choose needs to be compact and lightweight.
You’ll also need to consider that the tent is your absolute only option for shelter. If you are driving to the campsite, you have the option of taking refuge in your vehicle should a bad storm come upon you. But when you’re backpacking to your destination, your tent is not only your primary means of shelter, it’s your only means of shelter. Therefore, you need to choose a tent that you can count on when there is no plan B.
Make the Tent Fit Your Needs
Finally, you need to find a tent that fits your overall needs. Are you looking for a two-person tent or a three-person tent? Are lightweight tents or something that is ultralight your primary need? How many square feet of floor space do you need for you and your gear? Are you considering single-wall tents or more of a four-season tent? Will it need a vestibule and a rain fly and what is your preferred fabric? Will you be joining thousands of other backpackers on serious travels or just on a quick weekend trip? It needs to offer protection from the elements and the most rugged floor you’ll most likely encounter. Ultimately, however, it needs to fit your budget.
Now that you have a general idea where to begin your search for the perfect backpacking tent, you can consider the specific details that will help you choose the perfect tent.
A Bit More on Tent Weight
It’s easy enough to assume you need a tent that is ultralight when you plan to backpack with it, but what exactly does that mean?
The truth is, if you’re backpacking, you’re going to be carrying some weight along with you – and require a decent amount of gear storage at the same time for trekking poles, boots, food, clothing and so on. The key is to choose each item carefully and conservatively. Most guides recommend looking for a tent that weighs no more than three pounds for a single camper and no more than six for two campers. If you have more than two people along with you it’s better to invest in two tents or more and plan to have more than one person carry a tent.
Also, keep in mind that the weight of a tent might appear different on different tent packages. For instance, some tents advertise their “trail weight,” while others list the packaged or minimum weight. Packaged weight is the most common weight given and it includes the tent itself, as well as the weight of the stakes, poles, instructions, and anything else you’ll be carrying along.
The trail weight or the minimum weight is the weight of the tent, fly, and poles without stakes.
It’s important to check to make sure the weight you think you are getting actually isn’t a few pounds heavier when you add in the equipment you need to pitch the tent.
Type of Tent
Next, you’ll want to consider the type of tent that’s going to work best for you. Of course, most high-end tents are great and incredibly durable while offering great weather protection. But you have a few options and choosing the best one requires you to consider how much space you need, the conditions in which you’ll be camping, and whether or not you have any special preferences.
The most common types of backpacking tents available include:
- Tarp Tents
- Dome Tents
- Freestanding Tents
- Hammock Tents
- Bug Shelters
Backpacking tents range from rudimentary shelters to traditional camping tents that allow space for a sleeping bag and possibly even standing up. Of course, the more you get, and the bigger it is, the more you’ll be carrying with you while backpacking.
The key is finding the balance between comfort and weight that works for you. For some people, it’s worth a heavier pack to get a few creatures comforts for an overnight stay at a campsite, while others want the weight to be as light as possible, even if it means having nothing more than protection from insects while they sleep.
Next up you’ll want to consider where and when you’ll be backpacking and what that means in terms of a backpacking shelter.
Most tents are three-season tents, which means they will offer protection during the spring, summer, and autumn months, but don’t provide enough protection during heavy snowstorms or bitter cold nights. Three-season tents tend to have good ventilation which makes them cooler and dryer in the hotter months.
If you plan to backpack in cold temperatures, you’ll want to invest in a winter tent. However, if you also plan to camp during the summer, you’ll need to have two different tents because winter tents are extremely uncomfortable in the hot summer months.
Features of Your Backpacking Tent
In addition to the basics—weight, and protection—you’ll also want to consider a few extra options when choosing a backpacking tent. This includes things like whether the tent has doors and windows and, if so, how many? Can you unzip and get screen-views of the night sky? What type of flooring does the tent have? How much protection does it offer from leakage? Is there enough storage in the tent for your gear?
All of these things are nice to have, but they are personal preferences and you should feel free to prioritize them however you choose. The best backpacking tent might vary from person to person. For instance, if you are camping in the desert, you’ll have fewer concerns about water protection than you would if you’re camping in a damp environment. That said, you always want your tent to offer minimal protection from water to keep your environment comfortable and healthy, to determine what’s necessary and what’s “nice to have.”
Finally, you’ll want to have a budget in mind before making your final purchase. Money should never be your first concern when choosing a tent, but you don’t want to waste money on unnecessary features. You also don’t want to “cheap out” and end up spending the night in the wilderness without enough protection. Your best bet is to make a list of necessary features, as well as a list of features you’d like to have and then, based on your budget restrictions, choose the tent that has as many of the latter category as you can afford without sacrificing any of the items listed in the former category.