You’ve been a camper for years. You know all about setting up a tent and sleeping outdoors. Now you want to expand your outdoor activities to include backpacking. All you need is a backpack; you can use the tent you already have, right? Well, maybe. And maybe not. What you want in a backpacking tent may be different from what you want in a camping tent.
If you’ve never backpacked before, chances are you drove right up to your campsites in the past. Your biggest concern in choosing a tent was probably size; you wanted plenty of room to move around and store your gear. You set it up and left it up for several days while you pursued your camping activities. On a backpacking trip, the tent is set up and packed away nearly every day. For a backpacking tent, you’ll still want to consider size, but also weight, style, and design.
Size. Backpacking tents come in smaller sizes. Are you backpacking alone, or are you sharing the tent with someone? A solo backpacker only needs a one-person tent, although many choose a two-person tent for the extra gear storage space. Two people can sleep in a two-person tent, but it’s a close fit. A tent for backpacking is designed with poles that break down into shorter lengths to take up less space in the backpack.
Weight. A car camper isn’t much concerned with the weight of the tent, but a backpacker will be carrying a tent for many miles. Ten pounds over a mile isn’t so bad; at the end of the tenth mile, however, that tent feels much heavier. Backpacker tents are designed to be as light as possible. A two-person tent should be no more than five or six pounds.
Style. Camping tents are almost always free-standing and used on a level surface created especially for camping, while backpacking tents can also be found in a non-free-standing design. These are usually smaller and lighter tents. The drawback is that when you are backpacking, you don’t always have a convenient, level spot for the tent. If the ground is too rocky for tent stakes, it is hard to erect a tent that does not stand by itself. A free-standing backpack tent is easier to use on a hard surface and can be moved around to the best spot even after it is set up.
Design. A camping tent usually has plenty of headroom, large doors that are easy to move through, and a rain fly that covers just the upper part of the tent. It may have heavier fabrics in the walls and floor, and be challenging for one person to set up. A backpacking tent, on the other hand, is designed to be an easy setup tent because after hiking all day you won’t want to struggle with your tent. Because of its space-saving size, there is not much room to move around, and you’ll have to crawl through the low doors. The rain fly covers more of the walls, sometimes even reaching the ground, and often provides a covered vestibule to protect gear without having to drag it into the tent.
Of course, each of these considerations affects the others, and you’ll have to decide your own priorities. Some people backpack in order to camp off the beaten track. They don’t hike as far and are willing to carry more weight in order to be more comfortable during their time in camp. Others camp because they are hiking a long distance. They are more concerned with being comfortable with the weight they carry than being comfortable in camp. Probably the most common on the trail are 2 person backpacking tents, which come in a wide range of styles, designs, and weight. Some of them may even be camping tents, but now you know the differences to watch for.
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