Picking a tent for your backpacking adventures can be a bit overwhelming, with the amount of choices there are these days. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on your backpacking tent. No one tent fits every situation, but with a few points in mind, you can find that home away from home that will give you a good night’s sleep.
PRICE – You shouldn’t have to spend a fortune to get a great backpacking tent, but there are some expensive options out there. If you backpack a lot, it may make sense to spend more on a quality product that will get many years of use. If you’re looking for choices that will be easier on your wallet, think about secondhand backpacking tents. Plenty of options out there for a secondhand tent
WEIGHT – A few grams here and there might not seem like a big deal, but keeping pack weight down is critical for enjoying backpacking trips. Lightweight tents make hiking more fun, and that’s what it’s all about. Your tent will be one of the four heaviest items you carry (shelter, backpack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad), so it’s a great place to keep weight to a minimum.
PROTECTION – A backpacking tent that doesn’t protect against the elements is worse than worthless, it’s dangerous. So be careful about extreme budget tents you’ll find elsewhere. Every tent on this list will provide excellent storm protection to keep you safe, dry, and warm when properly used.
INTERIOR SPACE – Backpacking tents keep weight to a minimum by limiting interior space (and thus, use less material). Most two-person tents have room for two sleepers and a few stuff sacks, with backpacks and extra gear stored in the vestibules. If you want more interior space for camping comfort, you may want to go up one size in your tent (for example, buy a 3-person tent to fit 2 hikers). Just remember, interior tent space is a tradeoff between comfort and weight. If you prefer hiking light and crushing miles, stick with a 2-person model for two hikers. If you’re willing to carry more weight for camping comfort, you may want to go up one tent size.
CAPACITY – 1-Person tents are great for dedicated solo adventurers looking to hike fast and light. 2-Person tents tend to be the most popular, because they strike a good balance between weight and interior space, just don’t expect the interior to be palatial. 3 & 4-Person tents tend to get crowded and impractical, though they can be a good fit for 2 or 3 hikers wanting more interior space for gear storage and extended hangouts.
SEASON RATING – 3-season shelters are the most popular backpacking tents. They’re built for spring, summer, and fall trips where you’ll need to keep bad weather out while promoting air circulation. 3-Season tents can usually handle a little snow, but they’re not made for heavy snow and winter conditions. But a solid 3-season tent can handle a lot of winter conditions, with the correct sleeping bag.
DESIGN – A single design flaw can easily ruin an otherwise solid backpacking tent. Great tents keep design elements simple and include multiple doors, adequate vestibule space, lots of headroom, air vents to reduce condensation, and interior pockets for gear storage. Personally I prefer a 2 door design, but the trade off is that the tent will weigh more because of additional door and zippers.
SETUP – Freestanding tents are generally prefered because they’re easier to use and quicker to pitch. They come with a fixed pole system that can be set up almost anywhere, even on solid rock. Non-freestanding tents use stakes, guylines, and trekking poles for pitching. They save weight by cutting out tent poles, but require more time and space to pitch, and will take more practice to master.
WALL CONSTRUCTION – Double-wall tents come with two separate parts – a mesh tent body and a rainfly. The mesh inner-tent acts as a barrier from any condensation that forms on the inside of the rainfly. Single-wall tents reduce weight by ditching the mesh inner-tent, but that leaves hikers vulnerable to interior condensation in wet and cold conditions. Rubbing up against a wet tent interior is not fun. We recommend double-wall tents, unless you generally backpack in dry climates.
DOORS & VESTIBULES – If you plan on sleeping two people in your tent, it’s more comfortable to have two doors and vestibules. Having separate entrances will ensure that you’re not climbing over a tentmate and two sets of gear every time you want to get in or out of your tent.
DURABILITY – The main tradeoff with certain tents styles is that they’re built using thinner materials that tend to be less durable than heavy-duty shelters. That said, ultralight tents will last for thousands of miles if treated with a little care. It’s also important to remember that a sharp stick will go through just about any kind of tent fabric.
FOOTPRINT – Most tents don’t come with a footprint these days and many backpackers view them as unnecessary. The main benefit of a footprint is adding durability to the floor of your tent. A footprint will protect your tent floor from abrasion, so it will last longer and need fewer repairs. If you’re willing to carry some extra weight to extend the life of your tent, consider picking up a footprint.
Whatever your backpacking condition or trail may be, a tent can make or break the trip. On a recent trek in Taiwan, the day conditions were extreme with the amount of bamboo bashing thru daily. By the end of the day we just wanted to get in the tent and relax. Our Marmot Limelight 3p tent was our relaxing villa on this intense trek!