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Why Your Tent Color Matters

If you’re looking for highly technical information to help you select a high-performance tent, you’re in the wrong place.

This article is about looks, superficially and simply. We’re here to talk about choosing the color of your tent.

There are two main camps (so to speak) when it comes to choosing the “correct” tent color: a bright side and a dark side. Those on the bright side pick colorful tents like orange, yellow, green, and even white. These bright colors let in light, so even if a hard-hitting storm puts you in a permanent tent timeout, you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a pit of darkness. Bright colors keep your spirits up. Cards and whiskey can only keep you going for so long if you’re trapped in a lightless shelter for a day or two.

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Bright tents are easier to find, day or night, so when you return to camp after bagging a peak, you don’t have to scour the landscape for your camouflaged tent. This is especially valuable during winter storms when white-out conditions turn everything into a grey blur. Plus, bright tents aren’t just easier for you to find; they’re easier for everyone to find. If you get really lost (like search-and-rescue lost) or injured, a bright tent can make you easier to spot.

Bright tents aren’t all sunshine and rainbows though—there are cons, so those on the dark side have a few good reasons for eschewing bold fabrics. Some of those reasons are even true.

There’s a lot of talk about brightly colored tents attracting bears. That isn’t exactly true, but it’s not exactly untrue either. Bears can see color, just like us. So, while they might not be specifically “attracted” to bright colors, if a tent is easier to see from a distance, it’s more likely to catch a bear’s eye. Bears are curious. But as long as you’re following smart bear-country protocol—correctly storing your food, keeping your sleeping area smell-free, and making a healthy amount of human noise—your tent color won’t have much of an effect on the likelihood of a bear encounter.

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The dark siders are dead-on about one thing though: bright tents stick out. That’s why they choose neutral tones that blend into the environment. It’s the Leave No Trace mentality on a visual level. If you’re heading into the wild in search of solitude and every meadow you come to is hosting a baby circus tent, it’s kind of hard to feel alone. Tents with natural colors blend into the natural scenery. You might pass by them without even noticing that anyone else is around. This means more people can utilize the same area without ruining the feeling of being alone in nature. Think of it as choosing a “low-impact” color.

Ultimately color takes a backseat to function, and by the time you’ve narrowed down the exact features and size you want, you might only have a few colors to choose from. If you can, pick a color you like. If you want to blend in, blend in. If you want a brighter tent so you feel happy when you’re stuck inside, pick a brighter tent. Luckily, most tent manufacturers are starting to balance brightness with natural subtlety. They pull light greens and yellows that blend in with forested surroundings and light oranges and reds that are great in desert environments.  A mostly mesh tent with a neutral fly lets in light without broadcasting your presence. It’s not difficult to get the light your soul needs in a tent that won’t look turn your camp into a Vegas-style neon sign.

Related

How to Choose a Backpacking Tent

Leave your Tent Behind: Alternative Backcountry Shelters

Backpacking 101: Planning and Outfitting Your Trip

Low-Impact Camping Principles

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5Comments

Here's what the community has to say.

Julian A.

Julian A.

Great article, Another issue it is if you live in a non secure country like I do, you not want to be spotted from far away, avoiding attracting robbery and assault or Guerilla. Like happens unfortunately here in Colombia.

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Russell K.

Russell K.

Nice article. The author captured both sides of the tent color argument very well. Personally, I come down on the bright side of the fence. I love the color green and I would love to own a green tent to match my backpack. But.....there is no getting around it....dark greens make the tent a cave inside if you're stuck in a rainstorm with overcast skies. The lack of light can also make it hard to locate small items inside the tent. And frankly the safety orange color of the rain fly on both my tents make them easier to spot on return to camp especially at dusk or in a rain or snow storm. The orange is also easier for rescuers to spot if you ever find yourself in that situation.

Like I said, green is my favorite color but, I've stuck with bright colors so far for purely practical reasons rather than aesthetics.

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Erin Radford

Erin Radford

I think someone could make a killing manufacturing aftermarket ultralight rainflys or a dye service.

I love my Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 - it's practically perfect but the color is such a disappointment. I strongly prefer camo and neutral colors but the specs won me over.

Meanwhile my dad picked a Marmot almost entirely based on the Hatch Cedar color (dark green). He now regrets the >5lbs weight penalty but when we shop for lighter tents, all he can say is how ugly and bright they are.

I actually dig some brightly-colored tents - I wish Big Agnes would have just committed to bright orange all over the Copper Spur - beige? gross. Marmot gets it right a lot. The Hatch Cedar is my top choice but when Marmot goes bright green or bright orange on the whole rainfly, their tents look spectacular.

Color matters. I don't think people are being overly-fussy. A lot of backpacking is about the scenery and our tents become part of it for better or worse - they need to add to the experience, not detract.

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jasonsrx

jasonsrx

I have always stuck with bright colors for visibility so I can find my tent easily especially in winter. I have started changing my mantra and prefer a stealth camping approach and try to stick with neutral colors, and yes sometimes camo, for much of my gear. My gear then does double duty with this approach so if I feel like I'm in an area where I prefer my presence goes unnoticed then I have that option. Plus it does align better to LNT principles. And for you "preppers" you can use your backpacking gear for your bugout gear too.

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Ronnie Lowry

Ronnie Lowry

Thanks for writing this! Well written and brought up a lot of things I hadn't thought about before. I like my tent to communicate, "A man is dwelling in here." It's an interesting study about how color plays into a tent consumer's thought process. When I was in the auto industry, I learned quickly that you could show a customer car A, which was faster and had more features, but it was brown, and the customer would consistently choose car B if it was candy apple red, even if it was much less of a car. One would assume that campers would be more practical than the average consumer, but how much so? Rally the research goats!

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