HOW TO CHOOSE A BACKPACKING TENT
In order for you to choose a hiking tent correctly, the first step you need to do is to determine your needs by answering specific questions that I am going to give you.
In the second step, we will see the types of tents with the advantages and disadvantages of each backpacking tent.
In the third step, we will see the features of choice to help you differentiate the existing tent models.
Finally, I’ll walk you through how to try out tents to make sure you find exactly the right one for your previously defined needs.
Now that you know how this article is going to play out, let’s start with determining your needs.
DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS
In order to determine which model will suit you best between the different tents, you have to start by determining your needs, and that’s what we’ll do now with these questions:
– Is the lightness of your tent a very important criterion for you?
– In what climate do you usually hike?
– Will there be a lot of condensation in the area of your hike?
– How many people do you plan to host in your tent?
– Do you plan to spend a lot of time inside your tent, or will it only be used for sleeping?
– Is ease of access to your tent important to you?
– Will you have the opportunity to pitch your tent poles?
– Is the speed of assembly important to you?
TYPES OF HIKING TENTS
Types of backpacking tents are relatively straightforward: there are single-wall tents and double-wall tents, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, and that’s what we’ll see next.
If most of your hikes will be in a summer climate, opt for a double-walled tent so you don’t get too hot after sunrise. I have seen hikers who ended their night outside of their single-wall tent because the tent did not provide enough insulation from the sunlight.
On the other hand, if you are camping in rather cold and dry climates, I recommend a single-wall tent. They retain heat and are generally lighter.
FORMS OF HIKING TENTS
The seasonality of tents (2 season tent, or 3 season tent for example) is a specification that combines several factors to indicate the level of waterproofing, strength, and type of construction of a tent.
- The tents 2 seasons are made for spring and summer.
- The tents 3 seasons are usually made for spring, summer and fall. Most of the tents available in stores cover these three seasons. When properly installed, they can withstand heavy rain and wind, but cannot withstand snow.
- The “4 seasons tent” designation gives the impression that these are year-round tents, which they are not. These tents are intended to be used primarily in winter. With their hoops and sturdy fabric, they can withstand strong winds and snowstorms. This is why tents of this seasonality are often used in expeditions and in the high mountains.
“3 seasons” tents are a sufficient option for most hikers, but if you are going to climb Mount Everest, you will need a 4 season tent.
NUMBER OF PLACES
The number of places is often indicated in the name of the tent model. For example, Quechua QuickHiker Ultralight 2, Camp Minima 2 SL, or MSR Freelite 2p are all two-person tents.
Most of the time, manufacturers overestimate the number of people a tent can accommodate. This is why it is better to take a three person tent when there are two of you, to ensure more comfort and have a place to store your backpack and your shoes.
If taking an extra place seems too much to you, you can look for tents with values like 2+ or 2/3 people, the indications which means that this tent is intended for two places, but which has a small additional space to shelter your material inside the tent.
Since the number of people shown can sometimes be misleading, if you want to compare tents, it is best to check the length, width, and height of the interior.
But even with these dimensions, it is still sometimes difficult to get a real idea of the interior space, as these only tell part of the story. This is due to the shape of the tent: the more vertical the walls, the more space you gain.
To check this, it is always recommended to enter the tent to get a real feel for the interior space.
Since you will be carrying the tent in your backpack, it is always best to keep the weight as low as possible, but not at the expense of your safety.
Generally, the more the weight decreases, the more durability and interior space decrease, and the more the price increases.
When you compare the weights of different models, remember to compare the same thing, because there are two weights.
- Total Weight: This is the weight of everything you buy… The tent, instructions, pegs, storage bag, etc.
- Minimum weight or trail weight: this is the weight of the tent, poles, pegs, and strings.
Now that you know the different weights, use the minimum weight to compare only what you will be carrying on your back while hiking.
If you can fold the canvas of your tent however you want, that is not possible with the poles, as they always have a fixed length when folded up.
To do this, in order to compare the different models, pack your tent and put it in your backpack to check how much space you have left in it.
FREESTANDING OR NOT
How a tent stand is an important criterion when choosing your tent, as a freestanding tent can stand up in the limited space it occupies. On the other hand, a non-freestanding tent requires more space to secure the pegs.
The second thing about freestanding tents is that freestanding tents can be moved, even when they are full opened, something that is impossible for non-free-standing tents.
The third thing is that freestanding tents can be used even on hard surfaces and do not require a tree to secure them.
The advantage of non-freestanding tents is that they are more resistant to the wind, as they use pegs that are planted in the ground.
To get the benefits of both options, choose a hybrid type, which is both freestanding and offers the option of adding binding with pegs if desired.
NUMBER OF DOORS
I really like the two doors that I have on my two-person tent. Two doors mean
- Ventilation control
- The possibility to enter and exit without disturbing your teammate.
AERATION, VENTILATION AND CONDENSATION LIMITATION
Don’t look for a tent that doesn’t condense, because it doesn’t exist. But there are solutions like opting for tents with enough openings, doors, and mesh vents to promote air circulation.
The denier is a specification that you can occasionally find in product descriptions. It is indicated “150D”, which means that the fabric used is a fabric yarn with a weight of 150 g, over a length of 9000 meters of yarn.
The higher this number, the sturdier but heavier the fabric.
- Fabric materials:
Polyester and nylon are the main materials used to make tent fabrics.
The nylon, which is a polyamide, is a lightweight synthetic fabric, flexible and abrasion resistant. But it degrades more easily under ultra-violet rays.
The polyester, when wet, retains the same form, which is not the case with nylon.
Since it is less elastic, it is more fragile in the face of sudden tensions and also noisier. But it is still used for the outer roof of flysheet tents and the ground, because the nylon absorbs water.
- Tissue structures:
Ripstop is a word you will often find in product specifications. It means a fabric structure that uses two fibers of different diameters. This structure increases the resistance of the fabric to tears.
- The coatings:
Coating is a chemical treatment applied to the surface of a fabric to make it more waterproof, durable and resistant to ultraviolet rays.
The two good types of coatings used by manufacturers are:
- Polyurethane (or PU) coatings: PU effectively waterproofs the fabric. It is applied in a thin layer, but it makes the fabric more rigid, which affects its strength against sudden tensions.
- Silicone coating : if the PU waterproofs the fabric, the silicone also improves its resistance to ultraviolet rays and tears.
Some manufacturers apply two types of coating to gain the benefits of each one. For example, one can find a tent made of a fabric with a silicone coating on the outside to help the fabric resist tearing and ultraviolet light, and a PU coating on the inside to make it more waterproof.
There is a third coating, which is an acrylic coating. It is less resistant and only makes the fabric heavier, I only add it here to know its name and avoid it when you buy it.
- The membranes:
Membranes are a coating added to the inside of the fabric to give it the advantage of being waterproof and breathable at the same time.
This membrane is often used in single-wall tents, to reduce the effect of humidity accumulation.
But don’t expect to be any condensation inside your tent, which uses a membrane like Gore-Tex, because that doesn’t exist.
The seams are the weak areas of the tents, as this is where the rain seeps in.
A good solution, used by manufacturers to fight the rain and prevent it from seeping through this area, is the application of a heat-sealed or heat-sealed tape.
This technique is perfectly waterproof when done well.
When looking for a tent to buy, look for a tent that has poles that bend without breaking.
Among the materials used for the tent poles, we find:
Carbon is a material used in high end tents because it is extremely light and durable at the same time, but it is also fragile, especially in cold weather.
- Glass fibers:
Today, fiberglass is a heavy material and less strong than other materials. It is likely to burst over time. It is for this reason that it is only found in low-end tents.
The aluminum material has good strength in relation to weight. This is why it is more used in high-end tents.
When we talk about colors, we are talking about the color that we see if we are placed outside the tent.
If the light bothers you when trying to sleep, it is best to choose a dark color. On the other hand, if you hike often in the winter, so at a time when there is less light, opt for a light color to promote clarity inside the tent during the day.
For hikers, I recommend that you go for a color like orange or red, to stay visible if you get lost.
HOW TO TRY THE HIKING TENTS
Trying on tents is very important, NEVER PURCHASE A TENT WITHOUT TRYING IT. It’s like buying a car just from looking at pictures.
The points to be checked during the trying are the size of the product, the ease of access, the interior space, and the quality of the product.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for in terms of criteria, let’s pretend you are in the tent aisle in a backpacking supply store.
- Put the tent inside your backpack to get an idea of how much space is left in it.
- Try pitching the tent or ask the salesperson to do it to see how long the maneuver takes, and see if it’s easy or not.
- Head inside to get a real feel for space, and find out if you can sit, kneel, or just lie down.
- At the same time, check the quality of the material of the floor, check that there are no defects in the seams and zippers, and count how many mesh windows you have.
- Store the tent to verify that it returns to its original shape, and verify that the maneuver is easy.
That’s it for this article! Leave me your comments to know how you found my article. If you have a question, feel free to ask me in the comments at the bottom of this article.
Updated on January 23, 2021 by Ben