When multi-day hiking, a good night’s sleep is essential and a good tent together with a sleeping bag and a pad takes care of that need.
But you may ask yourself: How to choose your hiking tent?
A tent that will be adapted to its requirements while providing the necessary protection and comfort?
Each tent has its own advantages and disadvantages, it is good to assess its needs before making a purchase.
The different types of backpacking/hiking tents
In this topic, we will focus on
- The different elements of the tent
- The different types of tents,
The different elements of a tent:
- The “room”: it is the space where you will sleep. It will, therefore, be necessary to choose it large enough to be comfortable (avoid that your feet touch the end).
- The double-wall: it is the layer that protects the room. It protects you from outside elements (rain, snow, wind)
- The vestibule: space located in front of the tent, sheltered by the double wall. It serves as a general rule to protect bags, do the cooking in case of bad weather.
- The poles: they will create the structure of the tent. The poles are easily assembled and disassembled for easy storage.
- The tent pegs: metal elements which allow the pitching of the tent and the tension of the double wall.
- The ventilation windows or mesh doors: facilitate the movement of the air and therefore allow to avoid condensation.
- The guy ropes: strings that will allow the tension of the tent to optimize wind resistance.
The different types of tents:
There are tents of all dimensions and forms which makes it difficult to define the categories clearly. However, we can categorize as follow:
The “Tarp” Tents
These tents (or rather these “shelters”) are composed of one or two straight poles with fine protection of the type of “light tarpaulin.” They are mainly used for fast bivouac with favorable weather conditions but can protect against light rain.
These tents are more and more used by the ultralight backpacking trend, for their extreme lightness and their quick assembly. It should be noted that often the two poles are nothing less than the walking sticks.
In the mountains, this type of tent is however rarely used because the protection against the cold and the wind is not ensured.
The “Tunnel” Tents
As their name indicates, these tents have the form of a tunnel. One, two, or three hoops create the tubular pocket. These tents are not self-supported but have the advantage of being very light.
The “tunnel” tents are generally designed for one or two people and, they do not have a vast space. The sitting position is often difficult (little indoor tent height).
The “Dome” Tents
The major part of tents on the market are dome tents.
Big advantage: Their assembly is easy, and they are self-supported.
There is substantial protection against the rain and the wind. The volume is big enough, and these tents are therefore very comfortable.
The “Geodesic” Tents
Nothing less than “dome” tents to which we add additional poles to increase stability and resistance to the wind.
Having more hardware often means more weight. But that is the price of comfort and security.
In addition to these main tent structures, there are a lot of hybrids tents that combine one or the other of the above characteristics.
The aim is to mix the strengths of each of the structures used to reach a more robust construction.
“In the mountains, the self-supported dome tents are often the most suitable.”
The characteristics of backpacking/trekking tents
In this topic, we will focus on the characteristics of the backpacking/trekking tents.
1. The self-supporting
The tent that you are going to buy will be either “self-supported” or “fixed.” A tent called “self-supported” has the particularity to stand upright without pegs and guy ropes.
Self-supported tents offer several advantages:
- You can move them to another location without having to disassemble and reassemble the tent.
- You can easily drain or dry them by flipping the top upside down.
- You can put them in a place where the anchoring of pegs is difficult (rocks, very fine sand)
It should be noted that all the tents, including the self-supporting type, are in general anchored to the ground with pegs and guy lines, to offer better stability to the wind.
2. The level of protection
Their level of protection characterizes the tents.
- The 4 season tents are designed to be used throughout the year and can resist the most severe snowstorms.
- The 3 season tents protect you against difficult conditions in summer, spring, and fall. However, they will not be able to protect you in rough winter conditions.
- The 2 season tents: perfect for use from the end of the spring until the beginning of the fall, but they are not designed for harsher conditions.
3. Capacity: number of persons fitting in the tent
Today, manufacturers of tents give an estimate of the exact number of people that the tent can accommodate. Beware of these estimates because in most cases you will be crammed like sardines.
We are more supporters of a comfort tent where we feel at ease.
If you are three, take instead a tent with the indication “3+”, this will allow you to have more space and if needed to keep your backpacks with you during the night.
Of course, this choice is often made to the detriment of the weight.
The vestibule (space located in front of the tent, sheltered by the double roof) also has extreme importance.
This space will allow you to store your backpacks, your shoes (preferably packaged in a plastic bag, we never know) or also to do the cooking if the weather is horrible.
We, therefore, advise you to opt for a tent with a vestibule which offers a large volume. You will not regret it.
4. Backpacking tent weight
One of the essential elements to be taken into account before purchasing a tent: the weight. Unlike traditional
Therefore prefer tents rather light, especially if you go on a touring trek.
So, how much should a backpacking tent weigh?
Manufacturers have made significant efforts when it comes to saving on weight. You can even find on the market tents, in the ultralight category, weighing 1.5 kg for 2 persons.
The lighter the tent is, the more expensive it is. It is up to you to find the best compromise for the use that you make of it.
5. Stability in the wind
In the mountains, it is not uncommon to have difficult conditions (strong wind, gust). Your tent must, therefore, be able to resist these conditions.
6. Ventilation / breathability
Condensation is a common problem. The tents with double waterproof walls and a breathable inside room provide better protection against condensation.
Better understand the condensation of his tent in the mountain, and how to fight against this condensation:
7. Difficulty in mounting the tent
The effort that it takes for the mounting differs from a tent to another (especially in difficult conditions where this factor may prove to be significant).
A tent that takes a long time to mount with difficult handling can become a real ordeal in the mountains.
There is any range of price for the backpacking/trekking tents (from simple to quintuple). Make your choice depending on your use and your pocket.
For more information on prices and models read this essential guide:
Tent Buying Guide – How to Buy a Backpacking Tent?
Before buying a tent, we need to ask the right questions.
- Outside conditions: what type of weather will I encounter (wet, windy, ….)? What is the duration of the Trek?
- Capacity: how many people will fit in the tent?
- Weight: am I able to carry a heavy tent or should I opt for a lighter model (therefore generally more expensive)
“Take your time before buying your tent! You will live in it a minimum of 10 hours per day!”
Outside conditions: level of protection and type of tent
You are not going to choose the same model if you are going to temperate forests (a tarp will sometimes be enough), or on a weekend in August with your children (a 2 season tent will be sufficient), or if you go 3 weeks of itinerant hike in the Pyrenees in May (a 3 season tent seems necessary).
You are heading for a country where the weather is rainy (countries of the North or located on the equator)? Choose a tent with a double-roof with a high waterproof rate and who has a floor mat that goes high enough to protect against “underground” waters.
If you go to a country where insects are present, make sure your tent is equipped with mosquito screens on the frontal opening.
This is the case for most of the tents on the market. It allows you to efficiently aerate the canopy without finishing with a spider in the sleeping bag or mosquitoes that will prevent you from sleeping all night.
The capacity of the tent
That is the fundamental question of course. It will be necessary to choose a model that can accommodate you and your henchmen (unless you have made an idiot bet, making you sleep under the stars).
But more importantly, ask yourself the question of whether you need additional space for your backpacks, the food, storage of other equipment (shoes in particular).
In this case, it may be wise to add a person to the capacity of your tent (or to have a large vestibule).
The weight of the tent
As we have already said, in the mountains, you carry your tent (and yes, the car or the bicycle stays in the parking ;-).
The weight is therefore often a crucial criterion to take into account at the time of purchase of your future backpacking tent. We emphatically don’t recommend heavy tents; you will regret it.
The lighter your backpack will be, the more pleasure you will have.
The ideal is to opt for a light tent but in which you will feel comfortable (and not too narrow) and with a vestibule to put your backpacks or do the cooking in case of rain.
Also, check the stitching with particular care because they can be possible weak points and sources of leakages in your tent.