Choosing The Right Backpacking Tent

Camping with Backpacking Tents

Out of all the gear you generally bring along on a backpacking trip, the tent is considered to be among the most important. Backpacking tents provide a transportable way to bring a sort of mini-shelter with you during your trip, which gives you a temporary home to rest in when you aren’t on your feet.

Backpacking tents are no ordinary tents, however. While standard tents are often large, bulky, and heavy, backpacking tents are specifically designed to compact down to incredibly small sizes -- sometimes as small as the palm of your hand. This not only saves you space, but valuable weight as well. These tents are no-frills in nature, offering only some covered space, and room for one to three people.

Man Standing Next to Tent

You certainly have your options when it comes to picking out a backpacking tent to call your own. Knowing the key factors to look for can steer you to the right path for choosing the tent that is right for your own unique needs and preferences.

Best Backpacking Tents on The Market

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Four Main Factors For Choosing a Backpacking Tent

The main criteria in choosing your tent can be narrowed down to four key factors:


How many sleepers do you plan on accommodating? Carrying fewer tents in your group can free up pack space, but that means that your tent will need to be big enough for 2-3 people. Otherwise, you’ll only need enough space for yourself, resulting in an even smaller and lighter tent.

Inside Look From a Tent

Regardless of capacity, your tent is still likely to fit snugly, and the ceiling will be low no matter what. This saves space and weight.


The tent’s construction and materials in relation to anticipated climate and weather. You may be able to get by during colder outings with a general use tent, but if you’re going to be backpacking in snow, you’ll need a tent specifically made for winter conditions.

On the other hand, if it’s hot where your backpacking trip is taking place, a thinner, more breathable tent is needed. You get the idea.

Tying Shoelaces in Tent

Seasonality can generally be broken down into three categories.


Perhaps the most popular of the three, 3-season tents are lightweight, and suitable for more temperate climates during spring, summer, and fall. Although not designed for severe weather, 3-season tents can withstand light snow and downpours when used with a rainfly.

Other characteristics of 3-season tents includes mesh for airflow and insect protection, higher walls for more headroom, and a smaller amount of poles.

Extended Season

Also known as 3-4 or 3+ season tents, these tents are perfectly fine for summer use, but can also be used in cooler locations that may have snow or higher wind chills at night. These tents give you a similar look and feel that 3-season tents offer, but with a lower amount of mesh, and slightly thicker material for heat retention when needed.

Backpacking Tent in Snow

4-Season (Mountaineering)

These tents are made from thicker material and can withstand both high winds and fierce snows. This does result in a substantial lack of ventilation, so using them in warmer climates can be fairly uncomfortable and stuffy. They are used almost exclusively as winter backpacking tents.

Some other main characteristics of 4-season tents include more tent poles, rounded domes to withstand snow accumulation, and rainflys that extend all the way to the ground.


Overall weight of the tent. Higher quality tents will be incredibly light, without sacrificing durability, sturdiness, and features.

Holding Tent in Hand


Do you prefer your tent to be a little more plush? Perhaps you’d like some extra features? Livability refers to the ratio of comfort and added features that makes your tent either a basic shelter, or a comfortable and relaxing space that you don’t mind spending some extra time in, while also offering come added versatility.

Here are some of the common features that affects a tent’s livability :

  • Interior Volume - The refers to the overall space inside. If the roominess of your tent isn’t that important to you, look for tents that have sloped walls, a small floor area, and low peak height. The smaller size will save weight in your backpack.
  • Rainfly Color - This may seem a little silly, but the rainfly color matters. Lighter colors will transmit more light inside, making the tent appear more spacious and creating a more pleasant environment. That is a welcome feature if you get stuck in the tent during bad weather.
Blue Color Tent Rainfly
  • Doors - The more doors, the easier access you have in and out. This is especially helpful if your tent is sleeping multiple people.
  • Vestibules - Rainfly extensions can give you sheltered storage for your gear.
  • Ventilation - Stuffy tents are very uncomfortable, regardless of the climate. Tents with easy access ventilation give you the ability to create circulation. Lighter tents that include lots of mesh provide a more natural ventilation.

Variations of Backpacking Tents

Innovation and improved materials have yielded some specialized versions of backpacking tents that offer alternatives and their own unique advantages.

Man And Dog with Tent by The Creek

Ultralight Backpacking Tent

Ultralight backpacking is a backpacking type that places an emphasis on breaking a minimal amount of gear that also weighs the least amount possible. This enables the backpacker to travel faster while using less energy due to a lighter load.

Tents made for ultralight backpacking are often very small, contain no extra doors or compartments, and are almost always a 1 person backpacking tent, although there are some 2 person backpacking tents available.

Hammock Tent

Backpacking hammock tents are rapidly increasing in popularity. These tents are more hammock than tent, but they can still be used as a sort of shelter and bed all at once.

Man Laying in Hammock Tent

Backpacking hammock tents give you a lighter option that also gives you versatility when ground conditions aren’t ideal. These hammock allow you to sleep off of the ground, sparing you from damp, rocky, or uneven ground. Some hammock tents include mosquito nets, poles that can pop out and provide a dome over you, and added compartment. Tarps can be setup over them to give you added shelter.

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