Choosing a Lightweight Backpacking Tent
If you plan on taking a multi-day backpacking trip, then going light (or ultralight) should be a priority, and having a lightweight backpacking tent can help you limit your carrying weight. Below are some tips and suggestions to keep in mind when buying a lightweight backpacking tent.
Type of Tent
The first thing you want to consider is the type of tent. There are many different types of backpacking tents. Below is a list of the most common types of tents with a few facts about each.
The walls of a dome-shaped tent curve and form an apex at the top of the tent. This is one of the most common types of tents out there, but for backpacking, it might not be the best if you plan on encountering strong winds or rain, as its construction leaves a lot of the tent material unsupported.
These tents are basically dome-shaped with a few modifications, like more poles and/or cross sections that make the tent more structurally sound.
Tunnel-shaped tents have a somewhat tapered design: they are usually higher at one section of the tent and taper down at the other. These tents are incredibly lightweight, but they do not offer much in terms of space.
Single-wall tents are made with a single layer of material that is both waterproofed and breathable. A single-wall tent does not (usually) have a tent fly (the sheet that overlaps and covers the top of the tent) or zippers, making it a great lightweight choice for backpacking.
Double-wall tents have an inner layer that is breathable, and an outer layer that is waterproofed. The inner layer provides plenty of ventilation, and the outer layer provides protection against rain. The space between the two layers allows for both insulation and ventilation of the inner layer.
In addition to the type of tent, you want to consider the season for which it is intended. Most tents fall under one of the three categories below.
These tents usually include a good amount of mesh screening that helps with ventilation and bug protection. The mesh screen obviously helps in situations where you are likely to encounter warmer temperatures and mosquitoes and other bugs. These tents also usually include some type of waterproofed tent fly to help with storms and showers that are more common in the summer.
Three-season tents are good all-around tents that are intended to be used in the spring, summer, and fall. They can be used in the winter as well, depending on the conditions. Three-season tents, however, are not intended to withstand strong winds and heavy snows. So if you plan on doing some backpacking where you are likely to encounter these conditions, you will want to invest in a good all-season tent (see below).
An all-season tent is usually a three-season tent that has stronger poles or other features that make it more structurally sound. These tents are intended to be used in most weather conditions.
The color of the tent might not seem like a big deal, but just remember that light colors reflect light and heat, and dark colors absorb. So go with lighter colors if you are going to be backpacking and camping warmer weather and darker colors if you plan on backpacking and camping in colder temperatures.
Make sure you check the size of the tent. The floor size is important, but you want to make sure you have room to sit up and move around in the tent, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time in it. This is especially important when you are considering tunnel-shaped tents.
The weight is obviously going to be important. Lightweight tents can range from 2-7 pounds, with 4 or 5 pounds being somewhat of an average. Just make sure you can comfortably carry the tent, and if your tent does not come with some type of compression bag with straps, considering buying one so you can clip your tent to your hiking backpack.
Check to see how many poles the tent has and how easy it is setup and take down. One or two-pole tents are easy in terms of setup. If you are going to be on the trail for several days, you want to be able to quickly and easily set up your tent for the night.
Check to see if your tent includes any vestibules in which you can store your gear, clothes, food, or other supplies.
There are many other features that, although unnecessary, can make your backpacking trip more enjoyable. For instance, I like to have side pockets on my tent so I can quickly get to items that are readily needed, like my phone or food. I also like to have some type of loop at the top of the tent so I can hang a small flashlight or other light source.
Remember, although the weight of the tent is important, there are other features you want to consider. My suggestion would be to shop around until you find something that is right for you. Read reviews, and if possible, test out the tent (or at least see it set up) before you decide to buy it.