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Backpacker's Guide - How To Choose A Tent For Your Next Backpacking Trip

By Edited May 31, 2016 1 1

A backpacker's tent is one of their most important pieces of gear.  It keeps the weather out and provides a little privacy in the big world of the great outdoors.  When choosing your tent for backpacking, price, weight, weather, and size are four main factors that you will need to consider.  Read on to help guide you through the process to find the best tent for your next backpack. 


How much are you willing to spend on a quality tent?

Most backpacking tents range from $100 and up.  As the price climbs, tents will usually weigh less, become more durable, or a combination of both.  If you intend to use your tent frequently over the coming years, you should at least be looking for a mid-range tent in the $200 range. 

Make sure that you do not look for a “bargain” tent at discount places like Wal-Mart.  You might be able to find a tent well under $100, but these tents should never be used for backpacking.  They are usually heavy and are not nearly as durable as tents made for the backcountry.   


Are you a backpacker who likes their gear as light as possible, or can you add on some extra weight for additional comfort while you sleep? 

Most backpacking tents will weigh about 3 pounds per person.  So, if you have a two-person tent, your tent should weigh no more than 6 pounds.  Some tents can be found that weigh significantly less, but this decrease is usually at the expense of the tent’s interior size. 

There are a number of one and two-person ultralight tents on the market that weigh much less than even traditional backpacking tents.  In addition to being a snug fit, these tents often lose the weight with lighter fabric.  Special care must be taken to not tear the tent’s floor and walls, which could easily be punctured by a foreign object. 

If you are extremely conscious of the weight of your backpack, you should look into a bivy sack.  These “tents” are essentially glorified sleeping bags with a waterproof shell.  There is very little room in these shelters, but they will significantly reduce your weight.


What are the harshest weather conditions in which you will use your tent? 

Three-season tents are the best selling tents on the market as they will work well during the late spring, summer, and early fall—prime camping season.  These tents can usually withstand rain and light amounts of snow.  They are usually lighter and better ventilated than four season tents, but they usually cannot withstand extended exposure to harsh weather conditions. 

Four-season and extended-season tents can be used well into and throughout winter.  These tents are normally dome shaped leaving no places for snow to collect.  They will withstand most extreme weather conditions quite well, but they leave little room for ventilation.  If you ever plan to camp in the wintertime, you should purchase an extended-season tent at the very least.  You should always purchase a tent according to the most harsh weather conditions that you intend to encounter. 

Since four and extended-season tents are more durable, they will also be much heavier than the traditional three-season tent.  Chances are, these more durable tents will have extra poles, heavier fabric, and a larger rain fly.  If you are only going to camp in the summer months, there is no need to purchase one of these much more expensive tents. 


How many people will accompany you on backpacking trips?

Although three person and solo tents exist, two person tents are most commonly used for backpacking.  Most tent manufacturers will allot about twenty inches of width per person, which is quite small. However, many tents are available with a little more elbowroom in length and width. So, if you are larger, taller, do not like confined spaces, or are a restless sleeper, you should look into a longer or wider tent. These width and length measurements are all readily available in the manufacturer’s specifications so be sure to understand how much space you desire in your tent.

You should also consider the available head room with your tent purchase.  Some tents shed weight by lowering the peak of the tent and thus decreasing the amount of material needed to make the tent.  If the slope of your tent is low, it could make sitting up a difficult task. 

Again, you must balance your priorities.  A tent with more head space and width will add weight to your pack.  Most hikers like a balance of both world, but ultimately, it is up to your personal preference. 

Other Considerations


Simply, some tent fabrics are built better than others.  Usually, as you move up in price, you will get better tent material.  Make sure that your tent can withstand the harsh conditions of camping. 


If you camp primarily in the summer or in hot and humid climates, tent ventilation will be extremely important.  When a tent is not well ventilated, the moisture from your breath will condense on the tent walls, and your tent can quickly become stuff.  Some tents have windows to improve ventilation and give you a view to the outside world. 

Ease Of Use

Most dome tents are extremely simple to construct, while other tent designs can get a little more complicated.  Before you ever set out on a camping adventure, make sure that you pitch your tent at least once to understand how it is built.  If and when you pitch your tent as the sun is setting, this little practice exercise will be very helpful. 

Vestibules and Doors

Most tents feature some sort of vestibule to store extra gear and give you some extra room on the inside of your tent.  Stakes or poles usually create a vestibule by pulling the rain fly away from the tent walls.  A small sheltered area is left to act as a buffer between the inside and outside.

Two-person tents will have either one or two doors to get inside.  Having two doors will allow one person to enter or exit the tent without disturbing the other person in the tent.  This may seem like a superfluous feature, but it is a good comfort feature that adds little to no weight to a tent. 

Read these other helpful articles for your next backpacking adventure:



Feb 15, 2012 9:45pm
It's a such a wonderful, specific article, telling me lots of information when choosing, setting up a tent and so on. Thanks very much.
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