The market for tents has blown up in recent years. In the past you could count on a few household names to put out the best tents on the market, but the same isn’t true anymore. Now, there are lots of outdoor brands and many of them put out some really quality tents and other camping gear. Particularly in the hiking and backpacking tent department. So, the purpose of this article isn’t to recommend a particular brand or tent but to let you in on what the features and benefits of what you should be looking for in any tent that you buy. Don’t worry, though, we’ll be linking to some of our favorites at the end of this article.
Let’s get to it…
Table of Contents
Single Wall or Double Wall Tents?
Many of the tents that we think of when camping comes to mind are the double-walled tents. These are the tents of our youth and other camping experiences, in most cases. The first wall being the main tent build with the zippers, windows. doors and vents. The second wall is that of a weather covering or “rain fly”. Depending on the climate and season you’ll be camping in then we would recommend a double wall in most cases just so that you have that little bit of protection and shelter in the case of bad weather rolling in.
The single wall tents combine the weather covering and the first wall of the tent build into only one fabric. So, they are a more “all-in-one” tent.
The reason we recommend the double-walls is because they are a more versatile camping shelter. On warm, clear nights then having the weather cover off makes for a splendid experience, more ventilation, and cooler sleeping. While in rain and wind, you can throw on the fly and get the protection and shelter that you need. However, there is an issue with space and weight when hiking in a tent on your back so keep that in mind as we move on.
Number of Seasons: 3 or 4?
3 season tents are good for most camping and hiking adventures. These are the tents that hold up well in all but the coldest and harshest of climates. They usually have mesh in areas for doors and windows for increased ventilation. They are also the tents that are usually “tricked out” or “gear up” and even “personally rigged” to include pockets, lights, rain fly vents, doors, etc.
4 season tents are heavier than 3 season tents. They’re also more durable and have better insulation. Many models come with a rigid center pole in order to hold up against winds and heavier, wet and frozen fabric. A distinct difference to look for in 4 season vs 3 season tents is that the 4 seasons should have a weather covering or rain fly that reaches to the bottom of the tent or where the snow pack begins. This is in order to protect you and tent from winds and snow drift impact.
Tent Size and Space: The Trickiest Features of Tent Buying
So, you read the box or online description of a tent that you’re thinking of purchasing and you, like many others, are just seeing a bunch of numbers, right? You know what I’m talking about, the: 75’x85”72″… Ugh.
What most outdoor authorities recommend, and concur are the following measurement needs for your backpacking tent: 25 inches of width per person sleeping. 80 to 90 inches of length is usually good for most people, plus gear and even a dog. However, if you’re looking for a two or three person tent, then buying one that has already been classified by the maker as 2-person or 3-person is usually an accurate assessment of what you’ll need.
Height of your hiking tent is simpler…but at the same a little more complicated. The height annotated or displayed is usually the “peak height”. That’s the highest point of the tent. So, if your tent has a height of 5 feet (60″) then the highest point of a tent with a peak in the middle…is only in the middle. That means you have to be in the center of the tent to have that roominess. However, a tent with a peak height at one end over the other means that you could enter the tent at the low end and as you lay down, or move further into the tent to sit, it will seem much, much roomier.
Backcountry.com brings up another great point: “Similarly, wall geometry is, in my opinion, the biggest factor towards how roomy a tent feels. Imagine two tents, both of which have the same square-shaped footprint. Tent A is a pyramid with angled walls, while Tent B is a cube with perfectly vertical walls. Tent A’s converging walls will make it feel much more cramped than Tent B, even though technically they have the same floor dimensions. The wall geometry has a big impact on the interior volume of a tent. For a roomier feel, look for a tent with more vertical walls. Some tents have poles that start out vertical near the bottom, and only start to converge once they’re off the ground. This pole design is a great blend between roominess and weight savings.”
Weight of Hiking and Backpacking Tent
Remember, the lighter it is the better it is for backpacking and hiking. Think about it, you’re going to have to carry that gear in and out of your destination(s). However, don’t always assume that that lighter is always the better. I know it goes against what I just said, but it’s a sensitive balance. A perfect combination of “lightweight” and “durable” is what you’re going for.
Here’s a great equation to stick to: The tent that you want weighs 2.5 pounds per person. Not to insult your intelligence, but just in case my writing isn’t clear: 2.5 lbs per person or 10 lbs total carry weight for a 2-person tent and 15 lbs total carry weight for a 3-person tent, and so on.
Also, know the difference between the 3 main annotized and advertised weight on camping tents.
Packaged Weight: This is the heaviest listed. It will include packaging and everything that is in or attached to the box.
Trail Weight: The lightest weight as it doesn’t include the stuff sack, guy lines, or stakes.
Fast Pitch: It can be confusing but this is solely the weight of the fly, footprint/bottom, and the poles.
As a tip, unless you’re on a very specific weight limitation then judge the weight by the package weight. No matter how you decide to pack, then you know that the tent will never be heavier than the packaged weight. Also, remember that a tent can be split up between hikers. One can carry poles and rain fly, another can carry stakes and tent body. Or whatever…it just means that it can be split and disbursed using the 2.5 lbs per person rule.
There is an ultra-light camping tent option the market which is great if you don’t want to carry weight and stay light while hiking. In order to save on weight, though, these tents tend to use very fragile fabric, skimp on the storage, and will have minimal entry and ventilation because zippers weigh!
Features to Consider While Tent Shopping:
- Gear lofts to store your head lamp, phone, hat, keys, tablet, radio is always a great feature of tents. You can buy them separately but try to find a tent with the storage built in.
- Ventilation is key for health and comfort. Wet clothes and sleeping bags can get moldy quick. Consider the amount of mesh on the tent when looking for ventilation for coolness and to keep your tent aired out.
- Access is important, too. We recommend one door but having additional doors can be convenient but heavier.
- Does the tent have a footprint? Footprints are a layer of weather proof material that sits under your tent and adds additional protection from wet, cold, and ragged ground.