Best Backpacking Tent Buying Guide

In recent years there has been a boom in camping and camping styles. One of the most important pieces of camping equipment is the tent. Your tent becomes your shelter while camping and you should consider construction, weight, size and the features of a possible tent before investing in one. While this article will cover the particulars of tents it is important to remember that every camper has their own needs.

Single Walled or Double Walled

One of the most basic questions about construction is single and double walled. When you think about a tent you are probably thinking about a double walled tent as these have become a popular favorite. The double walled tent is made from the main shell of the tent and a second flap or tarp that is used to cover mesh sections normally found at the roof of the main shell. This gives you the choice to leave the tent open on clear or hot nights or to cover it on cold or rainy nights. The double walled tent offers a versatility that single walled tents do not.

Why bother with a single walled tent?

A single walled tent is one piece of fabric that combines both the shell and the weather protection. This simple change lowers the weight of the tent, giving it appeal to campers that carry their gear over a long distance. The problem with a single walled tent is condensation. Because there is less ventilation in these tents condensation can build up on the inside walls of the tent.

Three Season Tents vs. Four Season Tents

A three season tent is not suited for winter camping, but are great for camping during any other time of year. This type of tent will have more mesh sections that improves ventilation and normally requiring it to be a double walled type. The mesh does lighten the load a bit and offers the benefits mentioned for double walled tents. Tree season tents will typically have extra features like a second door or gear pockets.

The four season tent can be used year round, but it is ideal for winter camping. They are designed to endure through high winds, heavy snow and the cold. These tents are heavier than three season tents as their poles will be sturdier and there will be much less mesh.

They can be found as both single and double walled. A double walled four season tent will have a rain tarp or flap that stretches down to the ground to cover more of the tent and block out chilling breezes. Many four season tents will have pole supports inside. This will make it easier for you to setup in bad weather.


The tent serves as your home away from home and knowing how much space you need is a must. There are a number of factors that go into figuring out what size tent you want. The slop of the walls, the space available for gear outside the tent and of course the width, length and height of the tent all play their parts.

For the listed sizes on your tent you’ll want to look for at least two feet of space of width per camper and seven and a half feet of length per camper. If you’re taller or camping with man’s best friend you should look to add another foot of length to the need dimensions. Normally tents list the number of occupants they can accommodate. This is a good indication of what you’ll need.

Choosing the peak height of your tent is an important note. Most tents are tall enough that a camper can sit upright comfortably. The location of the peak height does impact that comfort. A tent with its peak height in the center will be more comfortable for the person sitting in the middle of the tent. Tents that have a peak height on one side or the other will be more comfortable when sitting on that side. Some tents do have a larger peak height area that provide a larger section for more sitting comfort.

The shape of the tent and slop of the walls is the biggest factor in the roominess of your tent. A tent that has sharp slopping walls will feel more closed than a tent with vertical or gently sloping walls. When choosing your tent consider how roomy you want it to be. For a nice roomy feel look for a tent that has a high peak and near vertical walls.

There are some tent designs that have poles that are at first straight and then begin to curve close to the roof of the tent. This creates a more cube shaped tent.Some tents will offer a covered amount of space outside. This space is great for your gear. It will protect your gear from some weather and free up space inside the tent. Tents will two doors typically offer more covered space.

Let’s Talk Weight

There are several schools of thought about tent weight. Some people like a lightweight tent with fewer features and others like to have a big tent packed with all the extras. It really is up to you, but consider how, when and where the tent will be used before buying it.

A light weight tent can be more appealing to someone hiking into their campsite. The drawback is that light weight means the tent was made with less durable materials. A heavier tent is more than acceptable for people camping near their car and it will tend to be more durable. For beginners a great starting point is two and a half pounds of tent weight per camper.

Tents are packaged with three different weight listings. Understand what these weights mean can go a long way to understanding the weight you’ll be dealing with.

Fast Pitch is the weight of the rain tarp, poles and the footprint. It does not include the main tent shell itself.

Trail weight is the lightest the tent will be. It includes the rain tarp, poles and the tent itself. This is the weight the tent should be when in use.

The packaged weight of a tent is the heaviest it will weigh. The tent, rain tarp, poles, stuff sacks and everything else that in included with the tent when you buy it is the packaged weight.


For the camper who doesn’t like heavy lifting an ultralight tent is perfect. They are normally more expensive than other tents, but they offer a balance between weight and comfort. Ultralight tents are made with more delicate fabrics, typically have more mesh panels and few zippers. Due to the materials used they are more suited as three season tents.


The bivouac tent is an extremely lightweight option, but it comes at the price of roominess. A bivouac is really just a casing for your sleeping bag. There is no real space beyond your laying in your sleeping bag and they are not built for the claustrophobic.

This simple design can come with different luxuries to offer some comfort. Some come with a mesh panel flap to keep bugs off you if you want to sleep with the tent open. There are also poles that can be used to lift the fabric of your face.

Car Tents

Car camping is becoming much more common and of course there are tents to help encourage this. Car tents connect to your car so that you get to enjoy the great outdoors from the comfort of your back seat. They are heavier than other tents as they are not intended to be carried. This means they will be cheaper than a tent the same size meant to be carried.

Other Shelter Types

You don’t have to have a tent to go camping. If you’re not expecting bad weather and you’re adventurous you could go camping without a shelter at all.

A popular option for campers heading out on their own are hammocks. These lightweight swinging beds keep you off the ground, but provide little protection from the weather. However, you can add a bit of rope and a tarp to the setup to fend off the rain. You will be reliant on trees for hanging your hammock, but if you know your campsites then you should be able to gauge how reliable it will be.

There are also freestanding shelters. These shelters are a lot like other tents, but they don’t have a complete pole system, if they have one at all. They can be complex to setup and rely mostly on rope and stakes.

The Details

Got your options narrowed down? Still wondering which one to get? Consider these extra features and details.

Storage inside the tent is always a nice bonus. Pockets and hooks inside the tent offer a nice place to keep small essentials, like Chap Stick, keys or a flashlight. A gear loft is a small mesh shelf that hangs from the roof of the tent. This loft is a great place to keep flashlights for night lights.

Good ventilation is a promising sign. Look at the amount of mesh paneling the tent has and any other venting features it has. More ventilation also lets the cold in with fresh air. If you’re going to be camping in chilly weather less mesh is a plus.

Most tents only have one door. This keeps the weight down, but if you’re camping with someone else a second door is nice in the middle of the night when someone has to rush to the bush. Also, remember that tents with a second door can also offer more exterior coverage for your gear.

Does the tent come with a footprint?

The tent footprint protects the tent’s floor and adds an extra layer between your and the ground. While it isn’t necessary it is going to add to the life span of your tent. If none of your choices come with a footprint you can always buy a simple tarp to complement your investment.

A tent that is brightly colored or has reflective components can be a nice extra. Chances are you will trip over the corner of your tent at least once, but a bright colored tent or reflective lines can keep this to a minimum. It will also make your camp site visible to other campers or hikers who may be passing through or looking for a campsite of their own.