Types of Tents
Tents come in all types of different shapes and sizes, each of which are meant for a specific purpose. Below is a list of different types of tents. None of these groups are exclusive so any one tent can fit into several of the categories listed.
A freestanding tent has the ability to retain its shape without stakes and has several key benefits:
- You can pitch the tent on any kind of ground because you aren't required to stake the tent down.
- A freestanding tent is easy to remove dirt and debris from. Hold it up in the air with the door open and shake everything out.
- Freestanding tents do not rely on all the stakes to remain standing. If one or two stakes fail during a storm you will typically be okay. In a non-freestanding tent you'll end up getting wet in the same situation.
A non-freestanding tent relies on stakes and guy out points for structural integrity like the tent pictured below.
The primary advantage of a non-freestanding tent is that they are typically much lighter in weight than a freestanding tent (because they have fewer poles or allow you to substitute a tree or hiking poles), but they are not as strong as their counterparts in inclement weather.
# Person TentOne Person Tent
- Big enough for a maximum of one person. The height of the tent is often too low to sit up. These tents are designed for lightweight backpackers. These tents are not appropriate if you plan to spend an extended period of time in the tent. All gear must be placed in the vestibule.
Two Person Tent
- Big enough for two people who don't mind sleeping shoulder to shoulder. All gear must be placed in the vestibule. Generally they are high enough to allow you to sit up in the middle of the tent.
Three Person Tent
- Large enough for two people and some of their gear. Three person tents are often nicer for a party of two if they plan to spend multiple days in it (and can tolerate the additional weight). Three people is tight and gear must be placed in the vestibule.
Four+ Person Tent
- Traditionally, many tents larger than a three person are meant for car camping and/or family camping.
Three Season vs. Four SeasonThree Season
- A tent meant for Spring, Summer, and Fall. Many people use three season tents for winter use as well (for milder temperatures). Three season tents are made to vent off heat, so they stay a lot cooler than their four season counterparts. Also, because of the added ventilation, a three season tent is less likely to build up condensation on the tent walls during warmer seasons.
- A four season tent is usually characterized by having small mesh windows (for limited ventilation) that have the ability to zip shut, and a beefy pole system designed to take a snow load on top of the tent.
Double Wall vs. Single WallDouble Wall
- This is the most typical tent construction type. It has a rain fly as the outer most layer, and an inner wall inside that. Advantages of a double wall tent are:
- Better ventilation than a single wall.
- It keeps the rain fly away from the people inside, so condensation doesn't occur easily on the walls.
- The rain fly is removable for hot days with clear skys.
- Any openings in the rain fly can potentially let water inside a double wall tent, so they have to limit them accordingly.
- A single wall tent has the principle advantage of being inherently lighter weight than the double wall variety. The biggest disadvantage though, is the lack of ventilation that they have.
A vestibule is a spare room in a backpacking tent that does not have a floor. Vestibules are used to store gear so that the main room (where the campers sleep) is not crowded with gear.
When the front door is closed, the area in front of the tent is protected from rain. I highly recommend selecting a tent that includes one, if weight is not the first priority.
A basecamp tent is used by people needing a strong tent, typically at the base
of a mountain, where weight isn't an issue.
Hammock tents have been around in some fashion or another for a long time, and are one of the best choices for the ultralight backpacker.
Hammock tents' biggest advantage is weight. Not only does an ultralight hammock have no poles (which is a big weight savings by itself), but it eliminates the need for a ground pad. For example, if you normally carry a Thermorest Prolite 3 Short pad it weighs 13 ounces, in addition to a very lightweight tent that will at best weigh between 3 and 4 pounds (48-64 ounces, but over 5 pounds is about average for "lightweight tents") compared to a hammock tent which can easily weigh in at 24 ounces and do the job of both of the previously listed items. So, if you convert to a hammock tent, you can save between 2.3 and 3.3 pounds. If you convert over from your old Boy Scout Eureka Timberline (8 pounds of fun) you automatically save between 7.3 and 8.3 pounds, and that kind of weight savings is hard to ignore.
Another issue that needs to be considered before you switch over to a hammock tent, is site placement. I've personally heard many objections like, "where I go there aren't trees big enough" etc., but it's the opinion of this author that you gain more than you lose. You are able to pitch your hammock tent over brush, over uneven ground, over rocks, over cactus and so much more.
Because there is no layer of insulation underneath you in a hammock, it severely limits the effective camping time to warm months only, but it makes sleeping on a hot night all that much easier.
Another important thing to consider is the way you sleep in the hammock. You can't sleep on your side, and you have to sleep diagonally across the hammock (you sleep flatter that way). If you sleep directly in line with your head pointing towards one tree and your feet to the other, it will bend your spine in a very unnatural way.
Ultralight sleeping systems are designed for backpackers who want to travel
'light and fast' (or just light). Ultralight tents have no frills or features. They are simply light.
Bivys are an ultra-lightweight waterproof sleeping setup. Bivys are just large enough for your sleeping bag.
This will keep you dry for a modest 12-20 ounces.
Bivys are designed for one person and most do not include room for your gear. Bivys are not appropriate if you are claustrophobic. An example is bottom, left.
For lightweight, reductionist, summer camping, a shelter can be a good choice. Many shelters, like the one pictured to the bottom, right, use trekking poles
instead of standard tent poles. Tarps are incredibly competitive as far as weight goes, but offer far less protection
then hammock tents or any other fully enclosed tent.
The ground tarp is a durable waterproof material that is placed below your tent to protect the tent from water and punctures (from sticks, rocks, etc.). To make their tents look cheaper, most tent manufacturers sell the ground tarps separate. Ground tarps are required if you are doing anything other than sleeping in your backyard.
IMPORTANT: (This is a common mistake) When setting up your ground tarp, make sure that all of the tarp is under the tent. If necessary, fold the tarp so it is completely under the tent. If any section of the tarp is not covered, rain will fall onto the tarp and soak the bottom of your tent. If the tarp is placed correctly the ground will become wet and the ground tarp will protect you from the moisture.
Always place at least one stake at each corner of the tent. Extra stakes can be used for extra support during high wind conditions. In extremely windy conditions it is a good idea to collapse your tent if you are going to leave it for an extended period. If you do not have heavy gear, place rocks in your tent to prevent it from flying away.
Do not bring a hammer to nail in your stakes as the extra weight is unnecessary. Rocks work just fine and you don't need to carry them with you.
Purchasing durable (but light) aluminum stakes is well worth it. Cheap stakes are heavy and bend when you need them most.
Most high end backpacking tents come with a patch and a small metal pole sleeve. The pole sleeve can be slid over a broken pole at the break point, then duct taped in place (it is a good idea to always bring ten feet of duct tape). For long distance expeditions, extra patches are helpful.
Tents break, especially in high wind conditions, so do not leave your repair kit in the car.