The Backpacking Tent Guide provides easy to follow information on how to choose the best backpacking tents to suit your needs and the types of backpacking tents available.
Backpacking tents have to provide us with a sufficient shelter from mother nature’s elements, whilst remaining light enough to carry on the trail.
While some will choose lightweight backpacking tents or ultralight tents, others will carry the extra ounces to keep tent features needed for comfort.
Backpacking Tent Considerations
The main three factors to consider when choosing a backpacking tent will be weight, room required and costs.
Weight to expect
Tent weight ranges can differ although a useful guide to use is about 2-3 lbs for solo-camping backpack tents. A two person backpacking tent usually ranges from 2-6 lbs but closer to the 3-5lb range. There are not as many choices available for 3 or 4 person tents because they will weigh much more, although from the choices available its best to share the weight, by splitting the poles and rain fly.
What is the actual Tent weight?
When buying any camping tents most tent weights are advertised as trail weight, minimum weight or packaged weight.
Packaged weight: Overall most stores and the sizes given on this website will use packaged weight meaning tent, poles, stakes, stuff sack, tent instructions and any other items a tent manufacturer can include. The tent manufacturers determine weights not the outdoor stores.
Minimum weight: This means the tent, tent fly, and poles without stakes etc. This is also known as trail weight. What the tent manufacturers determine here could be wrong by a couple of ounces either side.
Room – How many people sleeping?
Many complain that there tent did not sleep two very well, whilst advertised as a two person tent. Its worth keeping in mind that most tents especially backpack tents are made to be a snug fit.
We advise if your wanting plenty of room to always choose a tent + 1 or + 2 above the actual size. However, when you step the size up you’ll increase materials used which, of course increases weight.
How much to spend on a backpacking tent?
Costs for backpack tents are various, of course, although most quality backpacking tents will cost between $100 – $500.
Usually the more spent the better the materials used that provide more strength and less weight. There are a few one person backpack tents under $100 but around about $200 is affordable for most and they start to become great quality.
Backpacking Tent Types
A Bivy sack is suitable for a mountaineer or the gram counting minimalists. These are a basic shelter that’s similar to a sleeping bag, but they can also protect against weather conditions. Used also as an emergency shelter.
A bivouac in the simplest form is a waterproof shell (a sleeping bag cover). The bivouac shelter is within the lightweight backpacking tent’s category, that provides minimal shelter with a small opening for a campers head or can be seen as a very low rise tent.
These over the years have suffered condensation problems, although many have improved by using breathable and waterproof fabrics such as gore-tex or pertex quantum.
If you do not fancy a tight space and get claustrophobic, or want storage space, then other options are more suitable. These are suitable for the adventure seeker looking for basic lightweight backpacking tents and minimalists wanting the ultralight advantages and small pack size.
These offer the opportunity to sleep under the stars, whilst still being protected from mother natures elements.
Tarp Tents- Tarp Shelter
Now, on a hot weather camping trip or camping in the summer, knocking up a tarp shelter for a couple of nights in the wilderness will suffice, as long as you are not afraid of the creepy crawlies.
The tarp tent is a single skinned shelter that’s lightweight and basic to protect a camper from various weather conditions. These can be seen as similar to a rain fly that’s a few inches from the ground without a tent footprint, although there are various styles that include a bathtub floor.
These are lightweight backpacking tents that can also be made at home if you like the idea of putting together your own basic shelter. However, with any open shelter you have less protection from the bugs.
As the name suggests this is a hammock that needs to be suspended to a tree. This is a lightweight option for those seeking the experience of a hammock for camping. Some of these convert from a camping hammock to a bivy style tent that will provide a shelter if no trees are available.
Dome Backpack Tents
These are the most popular style of tents for backpacking and usually provide the most comfort and room. Many of these will provide a space for storage called a vestibule;
Some vestibules are smaller than others for storing hiking boots or wet clothing. These have many designs from a two pole criss cross upto 4 or more poles, although many of the backpacking tent types have a two pole set that’s freestanding.
These are a good option if you go backpacking alongside base camp or car camping trips.
Freestanding Backpacking tent
Freestanding is a style rather than a comparison between a dome tent or tunnel tent etc. Freestanding tents are set up and can stand without guy lines and stakes. Although, securing the tent in poor weather conditions will still be required.
These have an advantage when used for various seasons, as they can be used with just the inner tent within the summer for stargazing and a 3 season shelter with an inner tent and fly for harsher conditions.
A bug shelter is something similar to an inner tent that’s freestanding which is just netting that can be used with trekking poles to protect you from the bugs and nothing more.
There are a couple of options that use these as an inner for a tarp tent. These are also an ultralight backpacking tent option.
The Outdoor Research bug bivy to the right is a good example of a net protection to keep out the mosquitoes, by just placing a sleeping bag inside.
Each backpacking tent style’s, from lightweight backpacking tents to all rounder backpack tents will also have various features that need to be explored before deciding which is the best tent or shelter option.