How to choose a perfect backpacking tent
Is it about time to start taking your children along with you for backpacking trips? How exciting! It is a joy to spend time with family and share the love of the outdoors with them. And now it is time to upgrade backpacking gear for the family. Buying a tent for backpacking is a lot more complicated than buying a tent for car camping. A backpacking tent is your home in the backcountry, and there are many things to evaluate before making your final decision about your packable home. Besides weight, you may like to consider styles, designs, sizes, features, and cost.
There are several reputed brands offering highly comparable tents for the backpackers. Tent selection is a deliberate decision to meet your family’s needs, budget, and comfort – the comfort of sleeping in it and carrying it on the trail. Cutting corners on a backpacking tent can leave you unprotected from the elements which are obviously not the kind of adventure your family may be looking for. Steer clear of big-budget cuts on tents for the safety and the well-being of your family in the wilderness.
Where and When do you plan to backpack?
The first consideration is the type of weather conditions and the overall climate that you are going to be using your tent in.
3-season for mild to moderate weather conditions.
4-season for rough, high altitude, alpine conditions.
What is the size of your family?
The next factor depends on the size and stage of your family. With young children, you may prefer to share one tent, whereas teens may appreciate their own space after spending a whole day with you. Also, you may want to be sure there is enough covered space to keep your shoes and backpacks dry on a rainy night.
Tip from the trail: It is advisable to sleep in one tent with your kids, until they are careful enough with zippers, etc. Pitching a 4-person tent may be a bit challenging sometimes, as it needs more space. Nonetheless, we chose a 4-person because it is fun to gaze at the stars or listen to the cacophony of nature together (and snuggle together!)
What type of setup style is the best?
Backpacking tents come in various styles – freestanding, semi-freestanding, and tarp-tents. Freestanding tents are usually dome-shaped with sturdy poles. These can be set up without being staked. Semi-freestanding can stand up on their own though they must be fully staked to function properly. Tarp tents must be staked using trekking poles for structure.
You can easily conclude that tarp-tents are suitable for solo backpackers, who also have the option of bevy-tent and hammock. Semi-freestanding tents are also usually good for solo backpackers depending on the terrain. My personal experience has not been very pleasant. High winds pulled the stakes at night and it just collapsed on me.
For 2-person and above, free-standing tents are the best choice, they have more room and can be used mostly on all terrain.
What is the overall weight?
While choosing a backpacking tent, weight is the most critical factor, especially for multi-day backpacking trips. The weight of a tent is inversely propositioned to its prices, i.e. lighter the tent, the higher the price tag. It is highly recommended to use a footprint to protect the tent from any sharp object, which will add a little more weight.
What must-haves and nice-to-have features to consider?
There are many features to consider besides the shape of the tent. Some features may be a compromise on cost or weight. Consider each feature carefully, as you and your family will be spending many nights in it. Do I really need to discuss the importance of a well-rested body on the backpacking trip?
Easy to setup/pitch and easy to pack – that makes it a fun family activity and of course an essential feature during bad weather days.
Provide good ventilation – on humid nights it gets terribly uncomfortable without cross ventilation, not to mention smelly feet!
Dome style – you would appreciate having enough room to sit straight, especially in a 4-person tent.
dual doors – great to have easy access from both sides.
Storage pockets – kids will never lose their stuff and life will be easier.
Vestibule area – keeps your shoes, slippers, and poles dry.
Bathtub floor – provides better protection from water by extending the waterproof material a few inches up the walls.
Tip from the Trail: If you are planning to make backpacking trips a family habit, you may like a tent with all the additional features. We have survived bad rains because of the bathtub floor, and the vestibule had kept our shoes dry. Dual doors and storage pockets are vital features for our family. It is a good idea to buy a footprint for added protection.
What are the warranty details?
A tent is a long-term purchase and a good warranty to back up your purchase is crucial. A good brand and a good product will surely have a good and solid warranty on it. This is yet another reason not to hold purse strings for tent purchase.
Tip of the trail: It is a good idea to buy your tent from a local store because it gets easier to bring you a tent in for repairs, replacements, and returns (in case it did it work for you).
What do other users have to say about the tent of your choice?
You want to make sure that you find a product with a solid all-around reputation in the marketplace. Be sure to read reviews and watch videos.
Tip of the trail: A trip to REI is valuable, the staff is very knowledgeable, and you will get good advice. It will help you to get started with your research at home.
Our home of the trail
If you have not guessed it already, our home sweet home for our backpacking trips is Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 4 Tent. We love this tent because it has beautiful terracotta and silver color, which looks amazing in every landscape.
And a few other reasons are:
- Ample living space for my family, where everyone can sit and move comfortably.
- It’s easy for my kids to pitch and pack it.
- Vents allow cross ventilation keeping it fresh. Much appreciated when four stinky hikers are sleeping in it.
- It is highly durable, with two high energy kids in it, it has endured a lot.
- Whatever mother nature has thrown at us, it has never failed to protect us from elements.
- It has plenty of pockets to keep headlamps, phones, retainers, books, watches, eye-glasses, hats, gloves, and whatever you need to keep handy.
Here are some field-tested tips to start hiking/backpacking with kids. Take your family to your favorite outfitter store and try different tents to get a feel for space and livability. If you are looking to buy more backpacking gear, read this guide for backpacking gear.
I wish you all the best in finding your perfect shelter on the trails.