Tips on Choosing a Backpacking Tent

Tips on Choosing a Backpacking Tent"The biggest factor in my past misery has been picking the wrong shelter," says Steve Casimiro, in National Geographic's "Gear Guide: Ultralight Tents." Choosing a backpacking tent is a matter of balance: space with weight; hubbed pole setup with pack volume; double-wall protection with seasons you hike; features with price.
First, some terminology: An ultralight tent weighs 4 lbs. pounds or fewer and costs $300 or more. Light backpacking tents weigh about 4-8 lbs. and cost $200 to $600. Bivvy sacks are waterproof tubes to pull over a sleeping bag. Good bivvies (pictured) are in the $200 range. Tarps are flat waterproof sheets, usually with grommets, sometimes in custom shapes, priced from $20 to $200. Many manufacturers make models in each category.

The Bodies Inside

Think about who will use the tent, then look at floor space, head space and the sleeping configuration map. If you are tall, consider only tents with above-average length and head space.

On extended backpacks, 6 extra inches of space may be worth carrying. If you are a weekend backpacker, a smaller tent is adequate.


Identify Your Preferences

Note tent pitching configurations. Handily, many backpacking tents can be pitched with only rain fly and footprint. Some use trekking poles instead of tent poles.

The Manufacturer and Vendor

Some companies steadfastly support their products and will repair or replace defective parts. Some even drop-ship to wherever you are. Regional chains often sell a quality house brand tent for a little less than major manufacturers' analogue.

Tent, tarpaulin and bivvy sack manufacturers include: Big Agnes (tents), MSR (all), Sierra Designs (all), The North Face (tents, bivvies), Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) (tents), Mountain Hardware (tents, tarps), Black Diamond (all), Marmot (tents, bivvies), NEMO Equipment (tents), Kelty (tents, tarps), Integral Designs (all), Rab (tents, bivvies), Montbell (tents), TarpTent (tarps, tents), Golight (tents), Gossamer Gear (tents, bivvies), Six Moon Designs (tents, bivvies), Oware (bivvies), Bozeman Mountain Works (bivvies, tarps), Granite Gear (bivvies, tarps)


Backpacking shelters balance durability with weight. Notice material, seam construction, waterproof coating, bathtub floor, zippers, custom footprint, poles, nails and guy line fasteners. Compare both the manufacturer's description of components and what owners say.

Most backpackers agree that a two-door tent makes tentmates tolerable. Ventilation also is important. The last consideration is what extras are included: gear lofts, side pockets, flashlight loops and the like.


Take the "love it" factor into consideration. This will be your home when you're exhausted, exhilarated, sore and hungry. Since it's a compressed space, liking your digs will help your mood.



Article Written By Lani Johnson

Lani Johnson is a hiking, writing musician. Recent published work includes journalism, poetry and research. See her online writing at or at

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