How to Choose a Tent for Backpacking

Last Updated on September 27, 2020

How to choose a tent

There are many forms of travel. For us, the one that allows us to be more connected with nature and feel freer is the one we like the most.

That’s why we never give up traveling with a tent for backpacking. But choosing a tent is never easy, the offer is huge and there are always many questions about which characteristics to prioritize: igloo or tunnel?

Weight or size? Water column or ventilation?, 1 door or 2 doors? Price? The list is endless and in the end, one ends up asking the last of the questions: what if I do not buy it and I stay in a hostel? Well, as I am a psychotic of market studies, I think I can share some tips to make the right purchase.

For What?

The first thing that we must define is the use that we are going to give to our tent for backpacking. It is necessary to stop well at this point because of the reflection that we do will depend much on which characteristics we will prioritize.

It is very different than your travel plan is a 15-day solo expedition to the Himalayas, a 2-month trip with 4 friends along the coasts of Central America or a 2-year couple trip around the world.

So, define very well your priorities and the type of trip you are going to make, so you will be able to determine how specific or versatile your tent should be.

For this article, we will give you references based on our example: a couple on a long trip as backpacking with best coleman tents, with a variety of climates (although mostly warm or very warm) and a fairly intensive use.

Size and Weight

This is one of the indispensable characteristics for long trips and, of course, will determine a lot the final price of the site. As a general rule, for a backpacker couple on a long trip, the ideal tent should not weigh more than 2 kg. (ours weighs 1.98 kg.), although in the market you can find some very interesting up to 2.5 kg.

Regarding the size, we are of the opinion that everything we wear must go inside the backpack, since carrying things hanging or on the outside can cause your backpack to get stuck with something, you can suffer an undesirable tug or simply make you uncomfortable to walk.

That’s why we always prioritize those that have a rather small volume, ideally no more than about 8 liters.

Mark and Quality of Materials

This is the old story. There will be someone who says “cheap is expensive”. Others will ensure “with the price of one I buy three.” We are of the opinion to look for a lot and find good offers, but always of quality. After all, it is possible that your tent is your roof for months.

If you count: $ 5 night x 2 people x 30 days = $ 300. As references of brands, we can recommend: Black Diamond, Kelty, Ferrino, MSR, Vaude, North Face, Marmot, ALPS, Sierra, Coleman, Doite or Quechua, although some can only be found in the United States or Europe.

In terms of materials, always prefer synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester, which reduce weight and better withstand climatic conditions. Always check that they have solid seams and heat-sealed on the floor and ceiling, to prevent the passage of water. Duralumin rods and picks are the best.

Structure and Interior Space

There are 4 fundamental types of tents: structural, Canadian, tunnel and igloo (within this category are also the new asymmetric ones). We can firstly discard the first two for their size and weight and focus on the igloo shops and the tunnel shops.

Here you will have to ask again what type of use you are going to give it. If the important thing for you is to have a place to sleep, discreet and that you can arm and disarm quickly, maybe the tunnel is your option.

If, on the other hand, you need more space to make life, spend a few hours, cook or even do some physical activity with your partner;), our recommendation is the igloo.

If you opt for the latter, it is very useful that the tent and the double-bed are independent. And absolutely essential that it be self-supporting or freestanding, which means that it can be assembled without the need to drive spikes.

You’ll appreciate it at fire stations, churches, tolls or even some camping areas, where sticking a pickaxe is harder than getting Donald Trump to say ten sentences in a row without offending someone with two fingers.

Look carefully at what are the interior dimensions (not the double-skin). It is also important to consider the number of access doors and space for the backpack. It is always better to have two, to have your own luggage at hand and not wake up your partner if one night you take a couple of beers.

Climate and Insulation

This is a point of vital importance for us because in our trip we are going to meet with a great diversity of climates and we are going to face, surely, several important rains and cold days. Sites are usually classified as 3 and 4 stations.

The “4th season” is winter, therefore, if you are going to travel through Europe in January, a 4 station is yours. We opted for a 3 stations since we will travel trying to follow the warm weather.

As we have said, having a backpacking tent with mosquito net interior, which can be mounted without a doublet, is a great advantage for warm climates. You can imagine the summer nights on the beaches of Oaxaca and Yucatan. It is also important that you have good ventilation spaces to avoid condensation in case of rain and heat.

Regarding the insulation, the impermeability of the sites is measured in “water column” . To be sure, we should look for a tent with about 4000 mm of water column for the ground and about 2500-3000 for the roof.

Although if we do not go to Southeast Asia during the monsoons, with figures a little more discreet we can fix. Again, notice that they have thermo-sealed seams; and if they have flaps in the lower part, better than better!


It might seem a question only aesthetic but the truth is that the color in a tent for backpacking is an element of vital importance. Camping anywhere without awakening the suspicions of authorities or friends of others is much easier if your site is opaque colors, which are easily camouflaged by nature.

The colors green, gray or brown are the most result ones and they will allow you to be able to camp in Europe without fines (in many countries, free camping is forbidden).

Sometimes it is not easy to find technical stores of these colors as manufacturers prepare them for expeditions in the Himalayas, where a fluorescent color can save your life. In the final section of recommendations, we give you some ideas.

How to choose a tent

Other Advice

The tents, like all mountain material, require some technical knowledge for their assembly, disassembly, and maintenance. Here are some of them to give a long life to your tent:

  • Tents need cleaning, especially after rainy days that generate humidity and mud. But do not do like my friend Nelson and the metals to the washing machine, it’s a bad idea. A damp cloth and patience are the right tools for maintenance. In case of disaster, hose and time to dry.
  • If for some reason your backpack tent slits, they sell repair kits, accessible and relatively compact; or you can use ultra-resistant adhesive tape, much cheaper and versatile (you can also fix clothes or cuts in your backpack).
  • Carps that are a bit old, that have received a lot of sun, tend to lose their impermeability. They sell waterproofing sprays that can be a good solution.
  • Interesting also is to get compressor covers to optimize the space in the backpack.
  • Always as advice to possible rains, try to fill a bit with vegetation the part of the ground and prepare a groove around that allows draining the water and that does not accumulate under your tent.
  • In case of strong wind, it is important to build the complete tent, using the ropes (“winds”) that have to fix it more solidly.


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