Choosing the right tent is a critical backpacking decision. A tent has to keep you comfortable at night and protect you from the weather when you sleep. The right backpacking tent will do all that plus more.
You also need to consider the weight, size, bulk, ease of set up, materials and features when choosing a backpacking tent. Depending on the weather and the level of comfort you require, you might be able to get away with floorless tents that are lighter. However, this type of tent fails to keep out the bugs. It’s a good option to go for when backpacking at a place and time that’s without bugs.
If you’re only camping in spring, summer, fall and mild winter, a 3-season is a good option. 4-season tents are heavier but they do well in winter because they can withstand stronger winds and sheds snow better.
As for size, it is commonly known now that the size rating of a tent is based on campers with average height and weight. Another problem with size ratings is that they don’t take into account the extra space that most people require to sleep comfortably. If you were a corpse you would definitely rest in peace but if you like to wiggle a bit when you sleep get a tent that is a least 1 person bigger than number of people that will sleep in it. This applies to most backpacking tents but not all.
Don’t expect to be able to stand up inside the tent because a good backpacking tent is not likely to have sufficient headroom to do so. If you want a tent with enough headroom to stand up straight in, then go for cabin tents or a very large dome tent but they’re too heavy for backpacking. Remember when you look at the height of a tent that the wall slope in towards the top so you have less usable headroom.
The fabric of a tent is the biggest contributor of weight but one that is lightweight may have reduced durability and strength. This is an area where tent manufacturers are racing to improve. The rainfly and floor should always be tough and water tight if you want to stay dry. It’s also important to make sure that the poles are strong enough. Choose one with aluminum poles instead of fiberglass. Fiberglass poles can break and you seriously don’t want that on a backpacking trip.
In general, backpacking tents are easier to set up than large family tents. Some cabin tents are faster to set up but they’re too bulky and heavy for backpacking. Backpacking dome tents that use a clip system to connect the poles to the tent body are easy to set up but they compromise on strength. The advantage of using a clip system is that they leave more room between the rainfly and tent body so that air can circulate so much better. Some tents use a combination of sleeves and clips.
Packed size is an important consideration because of limited space in your backpack. A tent may look big when it is fully pitched but can be small when packed. This is especially true with tunnel tents because of their structure and design.
Backpacking tents usually have less extra features than family tents but there are some that you’d want to look for including double doors for easy access, pockets and places to hang you camping lantern and vestibules for storing gear.
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