Buy the Right Backpacking Tent the First Time
Obviously, a backpacking tent’s purpose is to provide protection from the elements. In order to determine which option is the right choice for you, you must think about the elements you are likely to need protection from.
For instance, a tent perfectly suited to the Sahara desert would be found sorely lacking at a base camp on Mt. Everest. On the next few pages, we will explore several options.
Each of the options we choose will offer three basic attributes:
How Light is "Lightweight?
Lightweight, for our purposes, refers to less than 3 pounds per occupant. All of the options that we will explore will fit nicely into a lightweight regimen.
Traditional 3 Season Tent
A traditional three season tent provides the most coverage from the elements. It is fully enclosed including a floor. It is probably most like what you remember camping in as a kid. Modern technology has made these tents lightweight and practical as an ultralight backpacking tent. The advantage of this model is the emotional comfort of “having always done it this way.” Disadvantages include weight. They are heavier than other lightweight tents. Other disadvantages include price and ventilation. A 3 season tent that fits into our definition of lightweight (< 3 pounds per occupant) is expensive. Because the tent is completely closed, air flow is decreased. In hot, humid conditions a completely closed tent can become an uncomfortable sauna.
A hammock ultralight backpacking tent is just what you would imagine. It is a hammock hung between two trees with a rainfly attached over the top. This sleeping system is a study in ingenuity. If your usual hiking destination is a forest full of sturdy trees, this system deserves consideration. In addition to being lightweight, a hammock tent can be used as a chair while eating—a nice benefit if the forest floor is wet or muddy from a recent rain shower. Disadvantages include an unconventional sleeping posture and the propensity of heat to leach out from under your body.
A tarp tent is an example of improvisation. You can certainly purchase an engineered tarp tent model. However, with some practice, you can learn to pitch a large sheet of nylon into a serviceable tent—quite a benefit to the budget-minded. Unlike the other models listed here, this one takes a bit of practice to properly pitch. Practice this one in your backyard until you are comfortable with it. In addition to the difficulty factor in pitching this tent, you will need to consider the fact that it gives little to no protection from bugs. Also, a shift in the wind can result in the necessity to re-pitch in the middle of the night to avoid a breezy or even wet night’s sleep. Proper choice of a campsite is a definite plus with this one.
There are a few bivy models available. Basically a bivy is a tight shelter, fitting quite snugly around your sleeping bag. They often have a hoop over one end which holds the shelter off of the occupant. This is a very minimalist shelter. It is surely lightweight, however, there is no room for eating, cooking, or even sitting in an upright fashion. Some hikers that usually hike without a shelter use a bivy as an emergency shelter should weather conditions become intolerable for outdoor sleeping.
Assess Your Needs
There is much to consider in choosing a lightweight backpacking tent. I would recommend that you first determine how much protection you desire. Consider where you are likely to camp most often and choose the most suitable style for your specific needs.
If you have always used a traditional 3-season backpacking tent, give one of the lighter options a try. Your back will thank you for the lighter load. Who knows, you might even make more miles and see more incredible sights.,
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