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How to choose the right backpacking tent
4 Min Read
20 August 2013
How to choose the right backpacking tent

Backpacking tents are for people who like to pack all their camping gearing in a rucksack and set off into the hills for a wild camping experience. A backpacking tent will also suit people who enjoy walking tour holidays or who walk between campsites on holiday. This is very different from car-to-campsite camping, where weight and size of tent matter much less. There are three basic factors to decide when choosing a backpacking tent:

  • Price
  • Weight
  •  Space.

Other factors play a role in the choice of your tent, such as:

  • What will the weather be like ie warm European summer or unpredictable Scottish mountains
  • Design and layout
  • Number of features.

So you will need to consider these variables:

  • In general terms, for a lightweight and high quality tent the price will go up.
  • You can save weight by cutting the space of a tent.
  • You can save money by buying a lower quality tent that will be fine for mild conditions but might not withstand high winds of torrential rain.
  • More features, such as internal pockets and built-in groundsheet, will bring greater levels of satisfaction when camping but every feature will usually add to the price.

How the weight is reduced for tents

To create a lighter tent it stands to reason that cutting fabric and pole sizes will reduce weight. This means tat backpacking tents will often feel snug. If you are two big adults hoping to share a two-man tent you should think about how cosy you like to be (!) and whether a three-man tent might make more sense. Remember you will also need to stow your rucksacks and kit somewhere in the tent while you sleep.

The right weight for a backpacking tent

As a guide a backpacking tent should weigh no more than 3kg per person, and less is much better. But less weight often means less room inside the tent and can mean a compromise on quality. Less weight can also mean a higher price tag. So you need to balance weight, quality and comfort in terms of space and price. Good quality backpacking solo tents range between 1kg and 2kg, while two-man tents can weigh up to 5kg. To find out how much this actually weighs head along to an outdoors store and pick up a tent pack that weighs 5kg. Then imagine carrying this yourself in a rucksack with all your other camping kit and clothing. If there are two of you camping you can split the tent in half for carrying so someone takes the poles and pegs and the other person carries the tent fabric. Remember that the longer you carry a heavy item on your back the heavier it starts to feel. less is definitely more but you generally need to pay for that premium.

The tent in your rucksack

Some tents are compressed into a small and neat package for easier packing into backpacks. This is a really useful asset if you are hoping to keep your rucksack to a manageable size and weight when on a walking-camping holiday.

The price for a backpacking tent

[caption id="attachment_8651" align="alignleft" width="204"]Lightweight backpacking tent Lightweight backpacking tent[/caption] Prices range hugely and will vary between brands let along quality. The more robust a tent the higher the price (as a rule), so a four-season tent will cost more than a two-season tent. You can also expect different designs of tents, for example geodesic and classic A-line, to be on a scale of prices, while extra features such as internal groundsheets, inner pockets and vents will add to the cost. Expect to pay between £150 and £650 (and upwards) for a one or two-man backpacking tent.

Choosing the right “season” of tent

If you are backpack camping in warm weather on the Continent you will be fine with a two or three-season tent. These are meant for milder conditions. They are still rain and wind-proof but will not be as robust as a four-season tent. Of course, a more robust tent will also cost more. And, naturally, the feather-light weights of summer tents will be very appealing for backpackers but will they keep out the cold, wind and rain if you happen to come across such weather? In general, it’s sensible to buy a tent that is equipped to handle the worst conditions you expect to encounter.

Backpacking tent features to think about

The tent doorway can make a big difference to your camping experience. One single door at one tent end will be a lot more confining – especially if it’s a two-man tent – than a double door at each end. A porch is very useful for stowing rucksacks and kit and cooking.  Two-way zips are useful when trying to get in and out of a tent A hanging feature for attaching your torch as an internal light can be a bonus.

The tent set-up

These days most modern tents are fairly easy to put up. The most popular and easy to erect is a freestanding design. This design allows you to insert poles to (usually) colour-coded pole sleeves and once the tent has taken shape you then peg it down and, lastly, sort the guy lines. As a general rule, the more pole sections a tent includes, the more complex its setup will be but once you have erected one tent style once you will usually find it is much simpler the next time. It becomes almost instinctive! A top tip is to practise putting up the tent at home in the back garden before heading on holiday.

Tent shape and comfort

There are all kinds of tent designs to choose from including the more rounded geodesic and dome, the classic A-frame and also tunnel-shaped tents. Again you will be balancing weight and shape with comfort while camping. Most tents will have a similar ground area but if you take a closer look at the design you’ll find that each design offers a different “air” space. So the more rounded your tent design then generally it will have better head space and room-to-move. Likewise, sloping walls on an A-frame tent will reduce sit-up space but these tents will be among the lightest and easiest to erect. You need to think about how you camp. Do you spend most of your time in the tent lying down and asleep or will the tent need to be a living area, too? If you are tall then check what the length and sit-up height of the tent is before buying it.

Packing away the tent

You might not think this is important – until you come to do it! Some tent bags seem to defy possibilities and require try after try to repack the tent. If you are in a rush, sleep foggy or packing the tent in rain this will become all the more frustrating. A tent that comes with a roomier bag, which can be compressed with straps once the tent and poles etc are inside will save your stress levels!


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