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Backpacking tent buying guide

tent-200x148.jpg“Most people think of a tent as a place for staying out of the rain,” says Eagle Scout John Mead, president outdoor gear retailer Adventure 16. ” The truth is all the natural elements are important to guard against. You want a tent that will keep out wind, snow, sun and flying and crawling critters, too. And a tent is a nice place for privacy.”

With so many things to consider we decided to ask Mead, an award-winning tent designer, to give us the inside scoop on buying a backpacking tent.

DESIGN: Tents come in many shapes like domes, tunnels and wedges. Some are freestanding, meaning they can stand on their own without stakes. Others require guy lines and stakes for set-up.

Dome tents are popular because they are freestanding and roomy, but they tend to be heavier than other designs. Wedges are usually lightweight but less roomy. Tunnels provide good space for their weight and are generally better in bad weather.

“Shape is most important if you’re camping in high wind, heavy rain or snowy conditions,” Mead says.

A good rule: The more poles a tent uses, the sturdier it will be.

Finally, some tent designs are easier to set up than others. Those with pole sleeves, hub-style poles and quick clips will be simplest to pitch.

SPACE AND WEIGHT: The best way to tell if a tent has enough room is to lie down inside. Solo tents usually have 15 to 25 square feet of space. For two- and three-person tents, add an extra 10 to 15 square feet per person. Some tents also have a vestibule that gives you extra space for storing backpacks, boots, even your dog.

“When backpacking, I always recommend taking a tent that can be shared with someone,” he says. “That way you can also share the weight. One Scout carries the tent body while the other carries the pole and rain fly.”

Aim for a tent that weighs no more than three to four pounds per person.

PRICE: “The biggest mistake people make when tent shopping is not matching the tent up with their needs,” Mead says. “Why buy a $500 tent if a $100 model will work just fine for what you’re doing?”

The price difference is usually noticeable in the quality and durability. In general the higher the price tag, the lighter-weight and more durable the tent and its poles will be.

BREATHABILITY: Airflow inside your tent is the key to comfortable sleeping. If you’re camping in hot conditions look for a tent with lots of mesh panels. For rainy conditions, make sure there’s plenty of space between the rain fly and the tent. Without proper airflow, you’ll roast inside.

Even if a tent is freestanding, Mead says it’s essential to stake it out properly. That way you’ll have enough airflow and avoid pesky leaks and condensation on the inside of your tent.

THREE-SEASON VS. FOUR-SEASON: Most tents are designed for three-season use, meaning they’ll work for everything except winter conditions. Four-season tents are sturdier and designed for camping in snow, but Mead says they are often heavier and less breathable.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY: “Make sure you set the tent up in the store and crawl inside,” he says. “Most stores don’t set up all their tents because of space limitations. But insist on setting it up before you buy it. If they won’t let you, go to another store.”

Pitching it in the store will give you a better idea of how easy it is to set up. You can also make sure that no parts are missing.

75 Comments on Backpacking tent buying guide

  1. Penguinboy // April 7, 2009 at 10:35 am // Reply

    Yeah, I brought the Kings Peak No Limits tent on a backpacking trip and it was great, its aluminum poles still folded up even though they were frozen. Just a thought, it takes a little time to set up by yourself but it still is great for the price, size, and weight.

  2. My scouts use Tyvek or lowes home wrap for ground cloths, we pooled our money and bought 1 roll for 98.00, we then got a grommet kit and some small diameter bungee cord. we used the method above to trace our footprint, make sure you cut the footprint smaller than your tent base. fold the corners over and stick a grommet there, use the bungee to make a loop from the grommet hole to your tent stake, what you end up with is a ground cover that is taught under your tent, and they can be reused forever, they can be washed, but air dry. They can also be decorated however you want. great project for any age scouts. also make sure to put the emblem side to the ground and the clean side up. These type ground cloths weigh ounces. Happy scouting

  3. A great article! Regarding the Kings Peak No Limits tent; I took it backpacking in the Colorado Rockies. I picked one up on sale, and the second was purchased at full price. Be advised, you MUST drive stakes for it to function. A great tent for a great price.

  4. One more thing about the No Limits Kings Peak tent. Buy a 10×10 tarp and spread it out. Set up tent on tarp, without rain fly on and trace outline of the tent with a permanent marker. Take down tent and cut out the tent shape. Using duct tape seal edges of cut tarp to stop unraveling… Instant footprint, helps keep tent bottom clean and also stops rain from soaking underside of tent with rain fly on. Happy Camping!!!

  5. I AGREE with the No Limits tent. VERY TECHNICAL tent without the high price.

  6. I bought a Kings Peak No Limits tent and it works pretty good. It only weighs 5 pounds and it is made for 2 people! It only cost $60 at Academy Sports. I went on a camping trip where we had a torrent of rain and some people had to get a towel to wipe up the water, while only about 30 very small drops got into my tent and I will tell you, it was raining hard! The only problem is that it is not a free standing tent, so if like 4 of your stakes come out it might fall on you.

  7. good info, but could you give us a list of tents

  8. thanks for the info. my tent is okay…for 3 people. now i know what to look for when i get my solo tent

  9. thanks for that info for our trip to Minasota,and for tips about tents!!!

  10. That is useful. I have been planning on getting a tent.

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