The decision of taking a tent on a trip or not is one with usually major implications for your style of traveling, the freedom, spontaneity and flexibility.
Should you decide to take a tent, just the easier part is done. The outdoor market is crowded with different models for different purposes and surely a huge span in pricing. Choosing is not easy – this Rough Guide is supposed to give an overview on the essentials.
Like with many things in life, there is no golden way, but rather compromises to be made. First step:
Find your personal spot in the triangle!
The golden way would be a spacious tent with low weight for a low price. This should be nearly impossible to find. Light and spacious tents are usually quite expensive, cheap spacious ones are mostly heavy and…you got the scheme! For most traveling / backpacking people the green area of the triangle should be the compromise to look for – a quite spacious and light tent for a reasonable price. Let’s look more careful:
Logically, less is more. Do you really want to carry 3 kg just for the tent? Guess not. If you are single, you could aim for something around 1,5 kg. Lighter would most possibly be very expensive or go into direction of a tarp (which could be a valid option for minimalists and certain purposes).
Most would probably look for a 2-Person tent. Trying to get below 2 kg should really hurt your wallet. 2,5 kg seems like a fair weight to me – distributed to two backpacks you’d carry about 1,2 kg each.
Whereas the weight factor is linked to your physical condition, the space factor is rather of psychological nature. How much space do you need to feel comfortable?
Most people would like enough height to sit upright, to have some space for luggage preferably in the Apsis of the tent and enough space to sleep comfortably inside. Considering most sleeping mats are of 50 – 60 cm in width, 120 – 130 cm of sleeping space width in the tent seems reasonable. More is luxury! In terms of lenght it surely matters how tall you are, but 200 cm should be the minimum for most people.
Do you personally feel comfortable to carry a 700€ tent around or to pitch it in a pine forest? Honestly, I wouldn’t. Buying a tent you could spent as much as for a small used car or as less as for a shopping in the supermarket. Well…forget about the latter already. Rather buy cornflakes, it will serve you better.
From my experience, the price range of decent quality tents with reasonable weight and space starts around 150€. From my point of view, tents priced much higher than 300€ are unnecessary luxury for the average backpacker (while they surely have a purpose for e.g. high altitude mountaineers). Regarding quality, it is like with most outdoor equipment pieces: The bigger (more expensive) brands deliver.
Out of the abundance of further factors I’ll just select those, that matter the most to myself. Others might have different conceptions!
Hardly a “secondary” factor but something to really pay attention to! I’ll exclude the old fashioned ridge and pyramid designs, as they are nearly not used anymore.
1. Tunnel design:
Offering usually a great space – weight relation, those designs have out of my experience two crucial flaws.
First: You NEED pegs (or heavy objects at least) to pitch them. Sounds like a non factor at first, but how many times have I been in bad weather, trying to quickly pitch my tent all soaked already, putting the first peg, the second and….damn! Something hard in the ground. Changing position. Same procedure. Same result. In short: I learned to love tents that do not need pegs to be pitched, those are called freestanding.
Second: Most designs do not give you the option to pitch just the inside tent (usually mosquito fly). Something you will sorely miss in hot and / or star-studded nights
Still, tunnel tents are an absolutely vaild option for certain areas. They are especially popular as northland tents for cold and rainy regions.
2. Dome design
Being probably the most common current design, it is easy to see why. Simple to pitch, flexible, pretty lightweight and most of the time freestanding, a good dome tent can be had for a fair price and is kind of the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in the tent family.
While usually space is more limited compared to other designs, intelligent modern modifications like different pole crossing points and additional rectangular extension poles start to make up for this.
Additionally, there is a wide range of choices so you can really figure out which dome tent is best for you.
3. Geodesic design
Being pretty much modified dome tents with additional supporting poles, geodesic tents are popular for being very robust even against strongest winds and offering usually more space than dome tents.
The downside: They are usually quite expensive and heavier because of the extra, criss-crossing poles.
As a traveler, I’d rather save the money and extra weight and go for a good ol’ dome.
The poles shouldn’t be made of fiberglass, but out of an aluminum alloy, these are lighter and have better durability.
Am adequate level of waterproofness for the outer fly (at least 1500mm) and a higher one for the ground (>4000mm) should be a given. The inside tent is trickier, for hot climates it is great to have as much mosquito mesh as possible, for colder climates less is better to provide additional wind protection. The seams should be properly sealed and the zippers should be of good quality.
Simple question: Do you want to be seen (for example in emergency case in remote areas) or not (in most other situations of wild camping). For me it is the latter, I rather have a green or dark colored tent than an orange, shiny thing in the nature. Besides that, it is surely a matter of taste.
For any travels in warmer climates make sure your tent has sufficient ventilation. Good are vents that enbable an air circulation inside the tent and can be closed properly in windy / cold conditions. Even in cold weather vents are important to keep the humidity created by breath in the tent low.
The best vents are surely the doors and an inner tent out of mosquito mesh.
What should you be looking for? A tent that…
- weights no more than 2,5 kg (for two people)
- offers enough space to sit, store luggage and sleep comfortably
- is priced in between 150€ – 300€
- is free standing and can be pitched without the outer fly
- is waterproof and has high quality aluminum poles
- has good ventilation
- has an interior tent of mosquito mesh for ventilation and nice views on the nightsky (warm – moderate climate!)
- has a dark color to fit nature and enables you to hide
Two examples we own ourselves: