A guide to help you pick a great camping tent.


Tip 1


The right tent is a real bonus and will provide both great shelter plus a relaxing place to unwind after a long trek.



                                                                            Camp meal


Choosing one will require balancing the desired tent weight and your budget.  It's one of your most important gear-buying decisions. Like most products these days,  backpacking tents come in an wide variety of sizes, styles and colours from minimalist to jumbo.


To simplify choosing the right backpacking tent, you can break the process down into the following decision points:


In order to choose the right shelter or tent, a number of aspects can be considered. These are outlined below:-


Habitability    - how well the overall design caters for the camper including ease of access, time to setup, ease of setup/tear down. actual livable space.

Seasonality     - suitability for different weather conditions based on the tent materials and construction 

Capacity          -  number of occupants catered for.

Pricing          -  from cheap to uber expensive. 

 

Tip 2


Pricing

Tents can be found  from a wide range of prices from the low quality cheap discount store offering to ultra modern professional class with prices to match. If you shop carefully you can still find a good value tent that will fulfill its role at a price that won't need a mortgage! 


Tip 3


Tent Capacity 

Like virtually all portable shelters backpacking tents are normally designed for a number of people from 1 to 4. Manufacturer will usually indicate the capacity. 


Just bear in mind if your party has extra tall or over large people then you will need to consider the tent dimensions and whether to purchase additional tents or a bigger capacity or a tent with dimensions bigger then a required size.  Another option is to find a tent that’s one or two inches wider or longer than average. Some brands offer clues in the name using terms such as  “plus”, "super", "generous" for example. It's a good idea to compare exact dimensions between tents you’re considering, as well overall weight and height and useable floor area. 


Backpacking tents are categorized by capacity: from 1- to 4-person models. Most tent names include a number for the capacity eg Mons Peak IX Trail 43 3 Person And 4 Person 2-in-1 Backpacking Tent. 


 

                                                                                    Mons Peak IX Trail 43


Usually manufacturers design tents to be light weight as most hikers will want to carefully balance the weight of  equipment carried. Hence manufacturers design the interiors that can vary from bare bones to nice and space age cozy. Bear in mind there is no defined industry standard  for the various capacities of backpacking tents. Hence one brand e.g. 3-person tent could be significantly bigger than another.



Some brands also offer ultralight models which are likely to be extra compact and reduced weight.  Most of these will be more functional and hence won't tend to have all the features of a more standard tent such as extra accessories, interior storage pockets, thicker tent bases etc.


Tip 4


Tent Seasonality

Manufacturers will usually offer a range of tents to suit expected weather conditions i.e. seasons. These care range from 1 - 5 season tents.   Most beginners won't intentionally be heading out in the worst weather conditions. Hence the main choice will be between a 3-season and a 4-season tent. The vast majority of hikers, especially newcomers to the outdoors, will choose a three-season tent. Because worst-case weather scenarios won’t be the same for every trip. Most seasoned or expert backpackers sometimes choose to own more than one tent.



                                                                         NatureHike 3 Season Tent


There can be some confusion for newbie's with the terms "season" when used in context of tents. Each brand of tent and each retailer follows their own rules on the season rating, which unfortunately means that even the avid camping community disagrees on what the ratings mean and what they should mean.


Each brand of tent and each retailer follows their own rules on the Season Rating, which unfortunately means that even the avid camping community disagrees on what the ratings mean and what they should mean.


To clarify you just need to be aware that the numbers aren’t necessarily describing the number of seasons the tent can be used in. The numbers are actually the ratings. 1 Season and 2 Season ratings are virtually the same.3 Season is sort of the middle ground. 4 Season is the winter tent. And 5 Season is the expedition tent. While some manufacturers will brag that their 4 Season tent is really an all season tent, you should take this with a grain of salt.  


1-Season Tents

These are the most basic of basic tents and hence also tend to be the cheapest. They are thin, often come without rainfly, and are intended for summer use. You could potentially use them in mild spring and autumn (fall) temperatures if you do not have any chilly weather. They usually have very light waterproofing, which means it could withstand a quick sun shower, but not thunderstorms hence not really suitable in winter or cold snowy climates

1 Season ratings are perfectly fine for people who will watch the weather and will only camp when it is nice and warm outside. 1 Season tents are not commonly found for purchase due to low demand.   


2-Season Tents

Like 1 Season tents, 2 Season tents are also extremely basic. These come with our without rainfly, but even with a rainfly, it won’t hold up to heavy storms or winter conditions.


Most outdoor experts and retailers group 1 Season tents and 2 Season tents as the same thing. While there isn’t much of a difference, you should be aware that you can see tents rated 1 Season or 2 Season.  Just to clarify,  2 Season tents, despite its name, is best for summer! 

For example some come with product descriptions such as Alpine Mountain or Alaskan but are described as well ventilated with a mesh roof. Not exactly you would take hiking through the snowy Alps or Alaska.  


                                                                                Tent in sunny environment  


3-Season Backpacking Tents

These tents are the most versatile tents, and therefore the most commonly bought and sold tents. If you are looking to pack the biggest bang for your buck, buy one of these for your trip.


These tents balance the need to keep weight low with the need to handle the wide range of conditions that spring, summer and autumn(fall) can unleash on backpackers and hikers  Properly pitched, 3-season tents can withstand downpours and light snow but are not built for sustained exposure to harsh storms, violent winds or heavy snow. Although they are not ideal for winter, you could use of them in mild winter weather but expect some water to leak in. These also normally come with a rainfly.


Typically a 3-season would offer features such as ample mesh panels to  keep out insects and boost airflow. They will also tend to have more upright walls to create more interior headroom. In addition, they will offer fewer poles and lighter fabrics to keep the tent weight low

 

3-4 or 3+ Extended Season Tents 

You may come across tents such as these- though not very common. 

These in-betweener tents  which are suitable for summer use mainly. However, they can also be used in early spring and late autumn(fall) trips where you may encounter snow. Basically, they are also suitable for trips to bare, high-elevation destinations where snow can surprise you.  main  features often you find is that the fabric panels can zip over mesh areas to keep out blowing snow, and hold in more warmth. Also, additional poles added to provide additional strength.

 

4-Season Tents

Possibly the most misleading rating, 4 Season tents are not really meant for four seasons! They are most often meant for winter weather conditions or withstand fierce winds environments only. You might be able to use them in early spring and late autumn(fall), but they will almost certainly leave you all hot and sweating in the summer. Indeed, even ones that guarantee to give breath-ability throughout the entire year, can miss the mark in warm climates.




Main features are:-

Fabric will often be double layered, heavily weatherproofed and waterproofed.

More heavy-duty fabrics and additional poles.   

Rainflys that extend close to the ground.

Rounded dome designs that can sustain winds and eliminate flat roof spaces where snow can collect.

Have fewer mesh panels or zip fabric panels that let you cover the mesh panels when needed.

Four-season tents also include lightweight single-wall tents that have waterproof//breathable walls and no rainfly. In humid conditions condensation can accumulate inside, so a single-wall tent is best for cold, dry conditions. 

 

5-Season Tents

These are also known as expedition tents or professional use tents, are meant to withstand the harshest of harsh winters. Typically high end priced e.g. over $1,000. This type of tent boasts double walls that protect from cascade snow dumps. Their proprietary poles are “virtually indestructible” even in the severe weather.


These 5 Season tents are designed with purpose. As such, they will not likely suit you well for anything other than moderate to harsh winter conditions. They also pack the biggest price on the high side. You shouldn’t even consider buying one of these unless you are a professional or an aspiring professional camper with deep pockets.



Tip 5


Tent Weight

The weight of your backpacking tent is a big part of your overall load, so tent designers work hard to keep weight low. Your biggest trade-offs to cut weight are having less space, fewer features and less durability over the long haul. If you choose carefully, though, you should be able to find a lightweight tent that feels reasonably roomy and comfortable to you.

One example of a ultralight tent is the Naturehike Upgraded Cloud Up 2 Ultralight Free Standing Camping Tent For 2 Persons With Free Mat . 


Although heavy-duty materials make a tent more durable, ultralight tents can be surprisingly sturdy especially with modern designs and materials. If you want a premium ultralight tent, you’ll pay more. Also, the term “ultralight” is used differently by various brands. If wish to save every single gram, then you will need to check tent specifications carefully.


Key Tent Specifications


Packaged Weight  

This is the actual weight of all the various  components you get with a tent purchase. This will include the main body, poles, stakes, rainfly carry bag, pole bag, instructions and more. The weight you’ll carry on the trail will be somewhere between this and the minimum weight.


Packed Size 

The amount of space the tent takes up in a pack also relates to how easy a tent is to carry. You can reduce this space by splitting up components. Simply share the components between your team mates or partner. You can also save a few extra grams by leaving the tent storage bag at home or in your vehicle.


Minimum Trail Weight: 

This is the actual weight of the tent body, rainfly and poles only. Basically the bare essentials that are needed. You will likely pack more tent-related gear (e.g., stakes, footprint), but this is the best spec for comparison.


 

Minimalist Shelters

Most backpacking tents have a double-wall design that includes a main tent body (also known as the canopy) plus an exterior rainfly. If you’re a hiker who focuses on saving every possible ounce, you have additional options.

                                                                   


Fly/footprint Option 

You can find may brands that offer double-wall tents, have an ultralight setup option. This is where the footprint (usually sold separately), poles and rainfly can be pitched together without the main tent canopy.


Tarp Shelters  

This wide category includes ultralight rainflys that shield you from the rain and snow, but not bugs or damp ground.


Hammock Tents

This is a type of hammock that, at a minimum, also includes a tarp-like rainfly and bug netting.



                                                                        Hammock Tent


Bivy Sacks

Short for bivouac sack, this is a waterproof, breathable barrier for your sleeping bag.


                                                                    Bivouac Sack


Bug Shelters

Most bug shelters consist of netting and some poles, but no floor. More elaborate models are tents where the entire canopy is made out of bug netting.


Tip 6


Habitability

This is really a catchall word for features that make the time you spend inside your tent more enjoyable. A big part of livability is how roomy or cramped a tent feels. Generally, backpacking tents tended to have steeply sloped walls, minimal floor space and hardly any headroom. This helps keep the weight low, but the tradeoff is comfort. Thanks to advances in materials and designs, tents today feel much more open and inviting.


Test-Pitch Tents: Visit a store and ask to set up prospective tents so you can pop inside them and view the interior structure.  

 


To further assess a tent’s interior space, you can also look at the following aspects:


Floor dimensions (floor plan): Length and width measurements offer a rough idea of floor size. Many tents don’t have perfectly rectangular floors, so you might see dimensions like 85” x 51”/43” (L x W head/foot). A tapered floor provides needed room for shoulders and arms, while also saving weight by having a narrower foot.


Floor area: This number indicates total square footage of floor-level space. This is only partially helpful for comparison between tents types. However, this figure by itself won’t tell you how efficiently the space is laid out.


Peak height:  Many people won't like to bump their heads when they sit up. Peak height, however is measured at a single spot, so you can't rely solely on this figure to assess overall headroom. The test pitch (as above) is much better way to assess that.


Wall shape: This is an even bigger factor in head and shoulder room and hence overall tent habitability than peak height. The more vertical the walls, the more open the tent’s interior will feel. If you’re unable to go to a store to test pitch tents, then study the pitch of a tent’s walls in online photos: If they angle steeply toward the tent's ceiling, you're looking at a more weight-efficient tent (which is good news) that offers only modest interior volume (the tradeoff).


 

Additional Features That Improve Tent Livability

A rainfly ventilation window on a backpacking tent

Doors: Tent designers focus on door shape, zippers and other adjustments. However, the most important question is How many? It’s nice when every sleeper has a door. Choosing a multi-person tent with a single door, though, cuts weight and cost.

Rainfly colour: Light, bright fly colors transmit more light inside, making the interior brighter. That will make a tent feel more spacious and make it a more pleasant place to be if a storm keeps you tent bound for an extended time.

Vestibules. These rainfly extensions offer useful sheltered storage for boots and other gear. An oversized floor area would offer the same advantage, but it would also create a heavier tent. Most tents have vestibules and their size is included in the specs. Bigger is better, but cavernous vestibules can add weight and cost. Hence, you have to decide to balance your  needs with likely item weights.

Ventilation: While you exhale moisture as you sleep and a tent needs ways to deal with that. That’s why features like mesh windows or panels and adjustable rainfly vents are important in tent design. They let you increase airflow to prevent condensation buildup inside. Being able to roll up rainfly doors or panels can also boost ventilation and interior lighting.


Tip 7

There are 2 main categories of tents

Freestanding

Guyed or non-freestanding


Guyed Tent

This is a tent with minimal poles that is supported by its guy ropes. It has to be staked to the ground or the pole hoops fall over. They tend to be slightly lighter.  Note some areas or regions e.g.  US west, southern EU, southern EU   it may be very difficult or not practical to drive a tent stake into the ground or you may find the ground unfirm e.g. sandy or boggy. 


You might have the option of tying guy ropes around large rocks as anchors. Some places have too many rocks or no rocks at all.


Freestanding

Hence,  another solution is to use a freestanding tent that stands up by itself. You don't need guy ropes (although they help to pull out walls and form vestibules and keep the empty tent from blowing away).


Unless weight is the absolute decider, you can go for a freestanding double-wall tent with a mostly-mesh inner layer. Make sure it's functional minus the fly (some rely on the fly as an integral part of the structure). That way when it is dry you can just camp under the stars. 




Tip 8


Tent Setup

If you are new backpacker or not familiar using your new tent, its a good idea to practice pitching the tent at home or other suitable location.  It’s always wise to set up a tent once or twice before trying to do it in the wilderness. Regardless of where you pitch it, the following features can make setup easier:


Pole Hubs: These take the guesswork out of assembly. You take the folded pole sections out of the bag and unfurl the skeleton, seating segments as you go. Smaller cross poles might be separate from the hub, but those are easily identified after the main pole assembly is complete. The other major benefit of hubs is that they allow tent walls to be more vertical to create a more livable interior space.

Pole Clips: Poles connect to tent canopies via clips, sleeves or a combination of the two. Pole sleeves’ fabric tension provides a stronger pitch, but threading poles through them can be a challenge. Pole clips are lighter and easier to attach. They also allow more airflow underneath the rainfly, which reduces condensation.

Freestanding Design: Simply means the tent can stand without the use of stakes, hence speeds up setup and makes a tent easy to reposition—just lift and move it to a new spot. Most tents are freestanding for this reason, though non-freestanding tents can be lighter because the pole structure doesn’t have to be as robust.

Color Coding: Basically an aid to assist you to quickly orient each pole tip to the correct tent corner and helps you find which sleeves or clips go with which pole sections.

 


Tip 9


Tent Materials

Poles: These tents have high-strength, low-weight aluminum poles. Sometimes you might also find tents with fiberglass or carbon fibre poles or other materials.

Tent strength. The strongest tents have strong poles and fabrics, and combine them in a sturdy overall design architectures. The only specification that relates to strength, though, is a tent’s seasonal rating. A 4-season tent will be stronger than a 3-season tent.

Fabrics and Denier: A wide range of specialized nylons and polyesters are used in tents. One spec you occasionally see is denier (D), which is a fabric yarn’s weight (in grams) based on a 9,000-meter length of the yarn. More rugged fabrics have higher denier numbers, while lower deniers are found in more lightweight and less durable fabrics. Don’t compare denier unless fabrics are identical, though, because inherent differences in fabric properties have a greater effect on strength than the denier spec.



After your trip, when you are at home, dry the tent out and store it loose (not rolled up tight). 


After using after a season, give your tent a once-over cleanup. Check and repair any holes with seam sealer. Also, use mild soap and water to remove any stains but first check if there are any special cleaning instructions that came with tent. Check the poles and guylines for any damage. Lastly, store the tent in a nice dry place above the ground and away from damp areas.


A tent is your home away from home. A good one will enhance your outdoor experience. And a great one will become a dependable travel partner.