How to Choose a Backpacking Tent

How to Choose a Backpacking TentBuying a tent for camping is relatively easy: You buy the biggest, most comfortable tent you can afford. Choosing a backpacking tent, on the other hand, requires a careful consideration. When you're hauling your tent on your back for miles of rough terrain, size and weight become extremely important. The goal is to get the most comfortable, best-performing tent while also ensuring that it's light and compact enough for your pack.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Decide how many people you're likely to share the tent with. While it may seem lighter to get a solo tent, remember that you can divide tent pieces among several people and distribute the weight. It's lighter to have several people splitting up the load from one tent than to have each person carrying a solo tent.
Step 2
Figure out the size of the people who'll be in your tent. Though you'll find tents designated as "two-person" or "three-person", backpacking tents shed interior space to provide weight savings. In most cases, you should consider sizing up, particularly if you have larger backpackers sharing one tent. While a two-person might be OK for a husband and wife, it won't be great for two large adult males. Look at the dimensions of the floor plan,and consider how angled the walls are when deciding if the tent offers enough space to sleep your party.
Step 3
Determine if you'd prefer a single-wall or double-wall tent. Single-wall tents use one layer of fabric that is breathable and waterproof. These tents save weight by using less material, but can cause problems with breathability and interior condensation. They also tend to be the most expensive type of backpacking tent. Double-wall tents use a tent body that includes mesh for ventilation and then a separate rain fly. While they tend to be heavier, they breathe better, provide better protection in inclement weather and are less expensive.
Step 4
Decide if you'd prefer a freestanding tent. Freestanding tents use poles in providing structure. They can be pitched anywhere and don't rely on outside staking to provide structure (though staking will make them more taut and watertight). Many backpacking tents save weight by eliminating poles and relying upon exterior staking and possibly sticks or hiking poles for structure. Essentially, the choice will pit convenience and easy use against weight savings.
Step 5
Compare packed weights and sizes. Several different weights will be listed, including terms like "trail weight" and "minimum weight". Packed weight indicates the weight of the tent and all the pieces you'll need to fully pitch it. Other weights are useful if you intend to pitch a lesser configuration of tent materials with the aim of shedding weight. Packed size will give you an indication of how well the tent will fit on or inside your backpack.
Step 6
Shop at a local camping store. When buying a tent, it's helpful to pitch it first to see just how big it is. If possible, bring the people you'll be backpacking with and get inside to see if there's enough space. When sizing it out, don't forget that you'll need to store gear, clothing and other items in addition to people.
Step 7
Look for quality build. Your tent will likely be your only available shelter for the length of your trip. Look for aluminum poles and strong reinforced seams. Look for large sturdy zippers that open and close with ease. Look for factory-sealed seams, which provide an extra measure of waterproofing. Ample mesh on the tent walls and doors will ensure proper ventilation.

Tips & Warnings

If you intend to camp in the winter, look for a four-season tent or convertible tent. Consider additional items such as ultralight stakes, tent footprint and vestibule.
If you intend to camp in the winter, look for a four-season tent or convertible tent.
Consider additional items such as ultralight stakes, tent footprint and vestibule.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.