Finding a great backpacking tent can be hard. With so many options it can be difficult to even know where to begin.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a new backpacking tent:
Where and when you plan on backpacking:
Time of year and terrain will both play a big role in helping you decide what kind of tent you should buy.
- Terrain: Do you plan on camping in for forest or the side of a mountain? The surface you continuously place your tent on will play a factor in how long the bottom of your tent lasts. Keep in mind durability when accommodating for your terrain.
- Time of Year: Climate and weather patterns will play a big role in deciding what kind of tent to buy. Three main types of tents are:
- Three Season Tent – lightweight option suited for Spring, Summer, and Fall. They are made durable for these seasons but will probably not hold up during tough conditions.
- Extended Season Tents – these tents are suitable for Spring, Summer, and Fall, but are also made extra-durable for winter’s colder seasons.
- Four-Season Tents – these tents are made to withstand harsh winter storms and heavy snow loads.
Backpacking tents come in 1-4 person capacity models. Notice that when looking at tents, most include a number in the name, this refers to the capacity.
Keep in mind that when it comes to capacity dimensions, there is no industry standard. To make sure that your party will fit comfortably inside the tent, ask to see a model before purchasing.
If this is not an option, consider purchasing a tent that has a one person larger capacity than you need.
If you are backpacking for any considerable amount of time, you are going to want to take into account weight and size. Every single item you carry along with you is going to make your trek that much more intense, and take away something else you could be carrying. That said, there are many tent options available today that are high-quality, pack small, and are low-weight.
Something to note when determining your tent’s quality is its seasonality. A 4-season tent will likely last you longer, but may rank higher on the weight-scale.
You also have the option of going ultralight. These tents start at around 1 lb, but lack many of the comfort features other, heavier, tents offer.
Before you buy, take a good look at the tent’s specs. A few things to consider are:
- Interior Volume – how much space is there to move around?
- Exterior Vestibules – does the tent have a place to keep your shoes/outdoor gear dry?
- Doors – look at door shape, zippers, and size.
- Ventilation – make sure there are adequate vents for moisture to escape the tent. You don’t want added condensation and a stuffy sleeping space.
Determine whether it is important for you to have a freestanding tent or a tent with poles.
- Freestanding tents – can stand without the use of reinforcements. These are easy to set up and reposition. The downside is that some freestanding tents may be heavier due to their need for a more sturdy infrastructure.
- Pole tents – use stakes to make the tent stand. These generally take longer to set up and are more difficult to set-up and take down. However, as mentioned previously, they are generally the lighter tent option.
Generally, waterproof tents are made out of either coated polyester, coated nylon, or Cuben fiber. Previously, you’d primarily find tents made out of cotton, however these are rarely used today for backpackers due to the lack of water resistance and the high weight.
- Polyester – the most common fabric for today’s tents, look for a polyester with a breathable coating. Pros to polyester is that it isn’t much affected by sunlight and is not prone to shrinking or slacking.
- Nylon – in many ways is like polyester in terms of durability, however nylon tends to slacken when exposed to water. If using a pole tent, be sure to tighten up the lines when water strikes.
- Cuben Fiber – the lightest, strongest, and most durable of today’s common tenting fabrics. Before you start calling cuben fiber a miracle fabric however, note that it is also the most expensive option.