Choosing the Perfect Hiking Tent: A Comprehensive Guide
Preparing for outdoor adventures is always thrilling, and buying a hiking tent adds to the excitement.
However, choosing the perfect tent can also be quite daunting due to the vast array of options available. It demands a lot of research and a little bit of know-how to make the right decision.
8 Things to Consider When Choosing a Hiking Tent
To help you save time, we've compiled a list of important tent aspects to consider, including weight, freestanding vs non-freestanding, capacity, number of doors, packed size, waterproof rating, footprint and price.
Let's jump into it.
1. Tent Weight
One of the most important aspects to consider is the weight of your shelter. Generally, when it comes to hiking, the lighter you can go, the better. However, it gets slightly more complicated than that.
Weight saving usually comes at a cost, whether it be price, comfort, technical features or a combination thereof. Lighter tents tend to be more pricey and are usually more compact, which means a compromise in comfort. They also tend to use more lightweight materials, which is great for weight saving but at the cost of technical features like waterproof rating.
What's important is to consider the style of backpacking you plan on doing and look for a tent that strikes the perfect balance between compromise and weight.
For serious hikers, it might be worth compromising on comfort and space to achieve an ultralight setup. But, at the higher price point, it will probably be overkill for those planning on doing casual hikes every so often.
2. Freestanding vs Non-freestanding
Next up is to consider the design of the tent. Freestanding refers to tents where the body of the tent can stay upright when the poles have been connected. Non-freestanding tents, however, need to be staked out with guy ropes to keep them from falling in.
While non-freestanding tents tend to be lighter, they are less versatile as more rocky terrain could prevent them from being pitched. Generally, they are also harder to pitch as opposed to freestanding tents.
A last option to keep in mind is hammock tents. Some models offer an ultralight option but obviously their setup relies on the presence of at least two trees or similar structures that are situated at an ideal distance.
Another crucial consideration is the capacity of the shelter. Hiking tents tend to range from one to four-person options, with 1P and 2P models being the most popular among hikers.
1P tents are a great option if you're looking for the most compact, lightweight setup available. They do tend to offer little room for gear, however, which is why many individuals opt for 2P tents instead. 2P tents provide enough room for an individual and their gear with the bonus of being able to share the space when needed.
3P tents are a good option for couples who want to feel less cramped or for small families or couples with for an example a dog.
4. Number of Doors
Selecting a tent with multiple doors can be a huge benefit. Tents with two doors are especially convenient when you plan on sharing your tent, as it provides separate entrances for individuals. This means less crawling over one another to get in and out of the shelter.
Apart from this little luxury, multiple doors usually also mean more space. Tent doors are commonly paired with a vestibule which is the covered area outside the door, and these spaces provide excellent shelter for gear.
5. Packed Size
With space being a rare commodity in any backpacker's pack, it is essential to consider the packed size of your hiking tent.
There is a direct relation between the weight and size of a tent and its packed size. Ultralight tents are usually very compact when stored in their bags, thanks to technical materials that offer top performance while being minimal. This is an obvious advantage as more compact tents take up less space in your pack and make fitting all your gear in a whole lot easier.
6. Waterproof Rating
Seeing that your tent is your home away from home, it is also essential to consider how well it will withstand weather conditions. One important factor is a tent's waterproof rating.
Tent waterproof ratings are measured in millimetres (mm), indicating the water pressure a fabric can withstand without leaking. A tent with a 1000mm waterproof rating will, for example, be able to withstand a 1000mm or one-metre column of water bearing down on it before it starts to leak. The higher the rating, the taller the column of water would be, and in real terms, the higher the pressure the fabric will be able to withstand.
Generally, a waterproof rating of 1000mm is considered water resistant rather than waterproof and will offer protection from light rain for short periods. However, ratings from 1500 - 5000mm are considered waterproof and great options for hiking. A rating of 2000mm is a good standard for protection against heavy rain and wind, while a 3000mm rating is considered a minimum for tents that will be used in all seasons, including heavy rain, wind and snowy conditions.
A tent footprint is a separate groundsheet made according to the size and shape of the tent's bottom that protects the tent from wear and tear. Some tents come standard with a footprint included, while others offer footprints that must be purchased separately. Some tents don't offer the option at all.
The advantage of using a footprint is that it increases the tent's lifespan by protecting the bottom from exposure to soil, moisture and rocks and stones.
Another advantage of footprints is that, with certain tents, it allows the pitching of the flysheet directly on the footprint, removing the need to use the tent inner. This is a great option when you need an ultralight shelter but don't need the protection offered by the inner.
In contrast, the drawback of using a separate footprint is that it adds additional weight to your setup. Typically the weight of an ultralight tent's footprint would be 250 - 350g. Although this is not a significant weight, it might be excessive for ultralight backpacking purposes.
The last important factor to take into account is cost. Tents come at a wide range of price points influenced by their design, materials, technical features, and brand, among others.
Typically tents that are ultralight or have technical designs come in at the higher range, whereas tents intended for more general use, like dome tents, tend to be more affordable.
Let Your Next Adventure Guide You
Narrow down your options by considering the important factors discussed above. Once you have shortlisted the tents that address your needs, let your budget guide you. You will inevitably have to compromise on some aspects, but that will be determined by your budget for your brand-new hiking tent.
The last bit of advice is to avoid analysis paralysis.
Do your homework, get the tent but then, most importantly, get outside and experience the incredible adventure of hiking.