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How to Choose a Backpacking Tent

From bivies to full blown four-season shelters, Jason walks you through the basics behind choosing the perfect backpacking tent.  We cover the nitty gritty details of bivy sacks, shelters and tarps, ultralight backpacking tents, traditional backpacking tents, and four-season tents—if Jason doesn’t answer your questions, our Gearheads at definitely can.


Video Transcription

Hey folks, it’s Jason at I just want to walk you through how to choose a tent. A backpacking tent is your home away from home out on the trail, so it’s really important to consider where you’re going to be using it, how often you’re going to be using it, and how many people are going to be using it. There’s a lot of different tent styles, but I’m going to walk you through the basics, and we’re going to start with bivy sacks. Bivy sacks are the lightest and simplest shelter option. Obviously, they’re made for one person sitting out a storm. If you’re planning on doing a lot of really fast, lightweight trips, potentially in alpine climates, look for a bivy.

Bivys are supposed to be lightweight and extremely packable, so when you’re choosing one, look for one under two pounds. Another really great feature if you’re spending a lot of time in that bivy is this hood pull option. It gives you a little bit more room, so if you are a person that feels a bit claustrophobic in a small circumstance, it’s going to give you great room. One more great feature to look for in a bivy if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in it, it’s great to be able to vent. So make sure you’re looking for some venting options.

Next up is shelters and tarps. These are really lightweight, extremely dynamic camping options. That’s going to be great for raft trips or through hiking, where you’re going to be encountering camp spots where you’re not sure exactly how to pitch a tent. In those circumstances, a shelter or tarp will go up really quickly and easily. When selecting a shelter or tarp, it’s important to keep two things in mind, you want to look for something that’s very lightweight, and something that has multiple pitch options. And what I mean by multiple pitch options is, as you can see, this tent doesn’t come with a floor. Sometimes, a tarp won’t come with even a pole. But it creates flexibility for setting up your tent in whatever camp environment you run into.

Next up on our family tree of tents is the ultralight. These are fully featured tents. They’re extremely lightweight and great for through hikes and multi-day backpacking. When selecting an ultralight tent, there’s two real big things to look for, the first of which is a multi-pitch option. With ultralight, you can either go with just the tent body if you’re not looking at bad weather, and you can be really lightweight. Otherwise, you can take just the fly and the pole, and the footprint, and stay extremely lightweight. With ultralight tents, manufacturers are really going for a lightweight, non-bulky option, so you’ll notice a lot of these kind of tents will come with only one door or one vestibule. So it’s really important to keep in mind how many people are going to be using this tent, where you’ll be using it, and your storage and space needs. Ultralight tents are not going to weigh you down. That being said, if you have two people, or you’re taking a child, or just need some extra space, consider bumping up to a three-person option. It’s very easy to split between two people, and it’s not going to weigh you down.

Next up is our standard backpacking tents. These tents are fully featured and they’re great for anything from car camping to backpacking out on the trails. When selecting a backpacking tent, look for something that has plenty of room inside, lots of head room, so you and whoever you’re with can hunker in a storm, if need be, or just hang out at night. Another really important thing to look for is a lot of storage space. Big vestibules like this one are going to be great for storing gear with multiple people. Last thing to point out when you’re selecting a traditional backpacking tent is the fact that this thing is going to be your do-it-all, go everywhere, do anything kind of tent. So make sure you’re looking at a very versatile tent option that’s going to fill any role from car camping to backpacking trips.

Last in our lineup of tents is the 4-season option. These tents are created for really bad and really heavy weather conditions whether it’s expecting heavy rain or snow for the entire trip, the 4-season tent is the way to go. when you’re dialing in your 4-season tent selection there’s a couple of really big things to look for. A, [] standing is a must. These are the kind of tents that are going to be standing up to the worst kind of conditions for long periods so it needs to be really sturdy. Also, you look for heavyweight, waterproof, or high veneer canopy fabrics that’ll stand up to those nasty storms.

It’s important to point out that most 4-season tents are single-walled tents. Now these tents can be prone to condensation so whether you’re planning on spending a lot of time in your tent, either you know, you’re waiting out a storm or you’re in a humid environment, you might want to consider looking at a 4-season fly-style tent to reduce that condensation and humidity. In addition to being free-standing it’s important to look for a tent that has an internal pole structure. There’s two reasons for that, A, it’s really nice to be inside of your tent setting up if you’re in really nasty conditions, and B, the internal system creates a lot more support and stability for those really nasty, nasty high wind storms.

So that covers the basics of how you’re going to go about choosing a tent. If you have any further questions about these styles of tents or any other basics of tents, feel free to chat in or call our Gearheads at They’ll answer any questions you have.


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