When camping and backpacking, your tent is your home. It keeps you protected from the elements, gives you a comfortable space to store your gear and rest after a long day, and provides a sense of security when sleeping under the stars. There's nothing better after a day of hiking, climbing, mountain biking, or even just hanging out at camp than crawling into your tent at night. But with thousands of tents to choose from, selecting the perfect one to call “home” can be challenging. In order to sift through the various tent shapes, sizes, and features and narrow down the options, it's important to understand four major tent categories: ultralight backpacking tents, comfort backpacking tents, car camping tents, and family tents.
Ultralight Backpacking Tents
On a long backpacking trip or thru-hike where you're walking double-digit miles day after day, every ounce that you are carrying (or not carrying!) matters. A tent or shelter is an essential item to have, but it's also one of the heaviest items. Luckily, your tent doesn't have to weigh you down! While there isn't a set weight that classifies a tent as “ultralight,” tents in this category are typically one or two-person capacity, weigh around or under three pounds, and can be as light as one pound!
In order to keep the weight light without sacrificing the durability of the tent, lightweight materials and creative designs are used. While double-wall tents are the most common, many ultralight tents are single-wall. This means that there is only one layer of fabric between the inside and outside of the tent, rather than having a separate rain fly. Single-wall constriction cuts back on weight quite a bit, but doesn't provide as much versatility. Another way that a tent can shave ounces is by having a one-pole or hubbed pole design. This not only keeps the weight low, but makes for a fast and easy set up! In addition to using fewer poles, the poles and stakes that come with ultralight tents are often made of lightweight materials.
Ultralight tents are typically a bit less durable than heavier (and therefore sturdier) tents of the same capacity, and they also tend to be more expensive. As a backpacker or thru-hiker, it's important to determine your personal priorities before shopping for gear. For one thru-hiker going on a multi-month trip, keeping the weight to a minimum may be worth the extra cost and decreased durability. For another person hiking the same trail, carrying a slightly heavier but more reliable tent may be worth the extra pound. And for another, budget restrictions may be too great to surpass.
Comfort Backpacking Tents
While some backpackers opt for the lightest tent possible, there are plenty of backpacking tent options that don't fall into the “ultralight” category. As mentioned above, different people may have different gear priorities, and for many, space, durability, and cost are more important than shaving ounces. Tents that weigh in the four-to-five-pound range fall into this category. Advantages to carrying the extra weight of a comfort backpacking tent include more space, added durability, extra features, and more price points to choose from.
The vast majority of ultralight tents are meant for one or two people, and oftentimes space is tight for the advertised tent capacity. For larger and taller people, a few extra inches is the difference between having to sleep in the fetal position and having enough space to stretch out. People who backpack with their pup may want a few extra square feet to ensure space for all members—both human and canine—of their party.
A quality ultralight tent is durable enough to last for hundreds of uses if it's properly taken care of, but some people may still opt for a sturdier, more reliable option. A double-wall tent offers more protection from the elements and more versatility since you can choose to keep the rain fly on or off. For backpackers, mountaineers, and hunters who are expecting winter or extreme conditions, a durable, four-season rated tent is necessary. With a four-season rating comes added weight to ensure the tent can withstand high winds and accumulating snow.
Many comfort backpacking tents will have features that an ultralight tent won't have. Vestibules are perfect for storing gear and shoes overnight without taking up precious space in the tent's interior. While a rain fly may add a few ounces to the packed tent weight, it provides protection from the elements, including rain, wind, and cold. A tent footprint extends the life of the tent by protecting its floor. While a standard tarp can be used in lieu of a footprint, and compatible footprints can often be purchased separately, many comfort backpacking tents will include one.
Car Camping Tents
While backpacking often rewards your effort with solitude, car camping allows you to enjoy the outdoors with luxuries such as plentiful food, extra blankets and pillows, camping furniture such as tables and chairs, and a heavy, spacious tent.
While you still don't want the largest tent option out there—you have to fit the packed tent in your car, after all—size and weight don't need to be your priorities when choosing a car camping tent. Instead, you may look for extra square footage or a taller peak height, or features such as two doors, large vestibules, internal pockets, and gear lofts. Car camping tents are the most variable. They can be large or small, heavy or light, have various shapes and designs, and have features as fancy as electricity.
When camping with the whole family, a spacious, durable tent is a necessity! Not only does there have to be enough interior space for everyone to have a spot to sleep, but with more people and children, there are other factors that may warrant a need for extra space as well. A large interior space makes a tent a great place for children to hunker down, hang out, and play games on a windy day or during a passing rainstorm. A tall peak height also makes it easier for children (and adults!) to change clothes. If you are camping with babies, you may want a portable crib or pack'n'play to fit inside the tent. When camping with the family, you need a tent large enough to not just sleep in but also live in.
Family tents can be as large as 10- or 12-person capacity and come in various shapes, designs, and at all different price points. While weight is certainly not the priority when shopping for a tent this large, it's still important to take the packed size and ease of set-up into consideration. Just like with car camping tents, you still have to fit the tent in your car and you may still find yourself pitching it with just two people.
In addition to space, there are plenty of extras and desirable features that larger tents offer. Some large tents have dividers inside, creating separate “rooms” and therefore privacy. Internal pockets and gear lofts make it easy to store and access smaller items. An awning over the tent door creates a shady, protected space to hang out.
When purchasing a house, you wouldn't settle for something that didn't satisfy all of your “must-haves”. So when shopping for your next tent, find something that meets all of those needs! Reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated for help narrowing down the options. With so many tents to choose from, there's no reason not to make your little home away from home (aka your tent!) perfect.