Buying Your First Backpacking Tent Posted By Brendan on

When most of our high-country snow has melted in mid- or late June, it’s going to be a great time to get out and spend some nights under the stars. And if you want to get under the stars away from other people, hitting the trail and hiking a few miles to a campsite is your best bet. If you’re looking at taking the plunge and buying your first backpacking tent this year, here are a few things to do:

1. Decide on square footage/number of persons: You’ll notice all tents are categorized by the number of people who can sleep comfortably inside — 2-person, 3-person, 4-person, etc. Who are you going backpacking with? Just you and your significant other? A group of friends? How likely is a group of three? You’ll likely have more of an occasion to use a 2-person tent than a 3-person. Three-person tents, for the extra floor space, are usually 1-2 pounds heavier, and at least $100 more expensive, on average. Is it worth packing in the extra pounds when it’s just the 2 of you, or 4 of you? Will your dog actually sleep in the vestibule or insist on being inside like mine?

my dog kona in the tent


2. Check the weight: Most 2-person backpacking tents stay within the 4- to 6-pound range, with a few ultralight tents dipping below 4 pounds. What’s a pound worth? Lighter tents will often be a little more expensive, and often shave ounces by using lots of mesh, eliminating a few feet of tent pole, or a door. The trick is to find the tent with the features you want, at the price you want to pay, at a weight you can live with. Another weight consideration: Can you set it up with only the fly and the footprint, to shave some pounds in mosquito-free areas?

3. Set it up: Many retailers will let you set the tent up on the sales floor. And most Internet retailers have return policies that allow you to try the tent out in your living room for a few minutes and ship it back if you’re not in love with it. Once you’ve got it set up, get it in and ask a few questions:


  • Can you sit up enough to put your socks on, or are you getting claustrophobic?
  • Can you and another person comfortably sleep side-by-side?
  • Is there enough room for two packs in the vestibule, or vestibules? If you’ve only got one door, do you need two?
  • Was it easy to set up, or will it be a pain to set up in the dark, in the rain, or when you’re tired?
  • Does it have all the pockets you need on the inside? Where will you put your headlamp?

4. Buy it, put it in your pack, and go have an adventure!


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