How to pick a tent

Tents are the most commonly used form of shelter on the trail and there are a number of things to consider when considering how to pick a tent that suits you.

  • Size and shape. Clearly, your tent needs to fit all the occupants but also consider where your gear will reside whilst you sleep. Many tents have vestibule areas or overhangs to allow your pack to be somewhat protected from the elements. This might not be sufficient in a downpour and damp/wet ground can gradually get into your pack if left overnight. Consider the height of the tent. Low tents typically need much less support because they catch much less wind, this means less material and fewer poles. If, however, you decide to ride out some poor weather in your tent, you’ll be grateful for a little space to move around.
  • Freestanding ability. Tents are secured to the ground through a mixture of cords pegged to the ground and poles. In some circumstances, the ground may be either too hard to get a peg in, or too soft for it to stay in under a load – either the tent itself or the wind. Completely free standing tents can be completely erected and stay up without any pegs. Semi or non-free standing tents will need at least some pegs to form the shape of the tent. Even free standing tents will need either some weight inside or pegs to secure it to the ground. Freestanding tents can be erected in one position and more easily moved to another without dismantling. Freestanding tents typically require more poles to create and maintain the tent’s shape. Some tents may make use of your walking poles to save on weight.
  • Weight and Cost. A tents weight depends on the two items above and the materials used. These materials will significantly impact cost and durability. A tent with aluminum poles and canvas material is likely to be low cost and very durable but not very light. Lightweight rip-stop nylon and carbon fiber poles will be lighter weight, more expensive and less hardy.
  • Extras. Footprints are usually sold separately from the tent itself. Footprints are groundsheets which provide an additional vapor barrier and usually tougher protection between the base of the tent and the ground. Homemade footprints can be made from Tyvek sheets. Some tents come with or can be ‘pimped up’ with lights and extra pockets – generally unnecessary. The only extra/upgrade which might be worthwhile is to change your cord for new cords with reflective properties. This helps avoid tripping over your lines in the dark.

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