Backpacking Tent Buying Guide
Finding the right backpacking tent can be difficult if you aren’t sure what it is you should be looking for. First-time backpackers often make many mistakes and find themselves learning the hard way when it comes to selecting any of their backpacking gear. From the backpack itself to the tiniest of objects, everything you bring with you (or forget to bring with you) on a backpacking trip will make a big difference to your hiking and camping experience.
You may be asking yourself, “Why do I need to read this? I already know that I should choose a small, compact, one person tent.” The truth is that you are partially correct. A small, compact, one-person tent is what you will likely need for your backpacking trip. There are, however, a few other things you will need to consider. Something which many people do not realize is that not all one person tents are backpacking tents and not all backpacking tents are one person tents.
This guide will quickly run through a few of the most important considerations when it comes to selecting a tent for your backpacking excursion. We will look at tent style, tent size, tent weight, and vestibules in this article.
Two of the most popular styles of backpacking tents are bivouac tents and dome tents. A bivouac tent is a one person tent designed to mimic the shape of a cocoon. It takes up a very small amount of space on your campsite, making it easier to find yourself small secluded places and making it optimal for camping while mountain climbing. Bivouacs also take up less space inside your backpack, allowing you more room to store other important items such as food and survival items. Dome tents offer you more headspace and are usually round, oval, or rectangular. Though a rectangular tent isn’t exactly your typical dome style, they often feature rounded roofs, so we will classify it as such for the purposes of this conversation.
Both styles are available in a popup design so that they will not take long to assemble and will allow you to spend more time hiking and relaxing while spending less time assembling and disassembling. Anyone who has ever been on a backpacking trip knows the importance of the quick-assemble tent.
The size of your tent will, undoubtedly, impact both your camping and hiking experience. The larger the tent, the heavier it is likely to be and the longer it will probably take to set up. Of course, things such as material type and assembly will factor into these equations. Some materials are lighter than others, which means that some large tents will actually be lighter than some small tents. Likewise, larger popup-style tents will be faster to set up than small tents which require manual assembly. Therefore, you shouldn’t assume that one tent will be lighter or easier to set up simply based on the fact that it is small; you must also factor in the type of material and the assembly involved.
Now that you will be hypervigilant about its impact on your pack’s weight, you can begin to consider the overall, assembled size of tent you will require. You will want to consider whether or not you anticipate any rain while you are backpacking. If so, you may want to think about purchasing a tent with some headroom, even if it is just enough to read a book at the end of a rainy day.
If you are hiking with one or more companions, you may want to consider whether or not the group of you will be sharing a tent. If you decide to share a tent you will, obviously, need one which is rather large. The extra weight of this tent can be offset by splitting up responsibilities in terms of who carries what.
When considering tent size it is also important to consider the size of the tent once it has been disassembled and packed. Will it fit inside your backpack? If you are planning to strap it to the outside of your pack, is it slim enough for your straps to make their way around it?
Though you may not have noticed, we have been inadvertently discussing weight all along. I have reminded you over and over not to choose a tent which is too heavy for backpacking. How heavy is too heavy? The answer to that question depends on many other things. You may want to consider things such as your strength, any back problems you may have, how many other things you will be carrying with you, the weight of those other things, the distance you hope to travel in a single day. The weight you can carry will depend on all these factors.
As a general rule, it is best to select a one person tent which is no heavier than three to four pounds. Some exist which are closer to the two pound mark, making them even easier to transport over long distances.
A vestibule is a small area of space created by your tent’s rainfly, just outside the entrance to your tent. This area is a great place to store shoes and gear or to change your clothes when it is raining. If your tent will be too small to accommodate both you and your gear or if you anticipate backpacking in rainy weather, you may want to seriously consider a tent with at least one decent-sized vestibule.
There are a few other things to consider when purchasing your backpacking tent. Tent material is very important. For more information on that topic, visit our Tent Fabric Types article. Many other important things you should consider have been covered in our Basic Things to Consider When Purchasing a Tent article.