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Advice needed on choosing a tent

 

Hi everyone! So I'm planning on spending another year or so backpacking across... well, everywhere. I'll begin in EU with some friends of mine in Switzerland (visiting as many countries as able) before heading to Africa, then SE Asia, etc. 

I’m carrying an Osprey aether 85 (American version with the detachable day lid)), just broke in a new pair of MOAB IIs, and recently upgraded to a full MSR rig (based on the windburner Duo system). My question is: what tent and sleeping mat should I upgrade to? I’m struggling with the following factors: 

 

  • Single or double person 
  • Single vs. double wall
  • Weight compromise 
  • Multi-season 
  • Setup time
  • Durability (weather resistance) 

 

I’m not sure if I should run a single or double person (the double would be nice for the gear + if I meet another traveler in need of a space, but I’m not sure if the weight offset is worth it). As for the rest, something on the lighter end but still durable in the weather would be ideal. Does anyone have any thoughts / experiences? I’m trying to stay under 450 USD (give or take) if possible. 

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9 Replies

I think you will find many opinions of this topic.  Also, some of these items can be a little tough to show due to some items not being noted.  From a good bit of pieces of information out there, it appears that 2-person tents are favored by backpackers.

As for strength of material, there is some information that notes that Dyneema is stronger than Ripstop Nylon.  Again, getting to details can be a bit fun.  Dyneema though is pretty pricey but ultralight.  I don't know that you would find a Dyneema tent (or tent with some Dyneema) in the price point you indicated.

All of your bullets are likely going to come down to opinions.  There are generally pros and cons to many of those.  You would want to pick items with the cons that you are OK with.

You likely will be looking at a 3-season tent.  Those are probably the most common.  Setup time is likely not noted and would also change with familiarity and practice.  In general, the cheaper the tent the heavier the temp (due to the materials being used).  You likely want a tent with either aluminum or carbon fiber poles (not fiberglass).  Carbon fiber is a bit lighter thus pricier.  Double walled tents are noted as having less condensation issues.  Mostly it is that the condensation happens on the rainfly not the tent (inner tent).

Here are two reviews by Outdoor Gear Lab (one for backpacking tents the other for ultralight tents).

Best Backpacking Tent of 2022 - GearLab (outdoorgearlab.com)

Best Ultralight Tent of 2022 - GearLab (outdoorgearlab.com)

On sleeping pads look at the R-value.  the higher the R-value the better the insulation value.  Here are two reviews for sleeping pads (one is for the Men's sleeping pads the other Woman's).

Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad of 2022 - GearLab (outdoorgearlab.com)

Best Sleeping Pad For Women - GearLab (outdoorgearlab.com)

Enjoy

I strongly recommend going to your local dealer and pitching any tent you're considering, and pretending you're in it for the night. My son did that, and it helped considerably. The first time you pitch a tent, you notice small details about the design that no one bothers to mention in the marketing materials.

As for size, I very much favor a two-person tent, even when I'm traveling alone. You're going to be spending a lot of time in a fairly small space. That extra few square feet can make a huge difference! 

 

My understanding is that camping in the EU is a bit different generally...more organized, more hostels, less public land, less legal "wild" camping.  Unless you have specific plans you may not need a tent. 

One point is that in many places the only way to camp is to do so illegally so stealth camping is something to consider...  having gear with subdued colors...particularly the tent is obviously advantageous.  My recommendations below do not take this into account.  I am not an expert on this.

Assuming you do need a tent,  probably for what you plan a two person tent free standing double wall tent is best. You will probably be spending some quality time in the tent.   A free standing tents can be set up easily on a greater variety of surfaces. There is no reason to get a 4 season (ie winter) tent unless you specifically plan to be camping in the winter in the North or in Alpine areas. 

The weight penalty for a 2P over a 1P is only about 8oz for the same model line of light weight tents...not nothing but livable unless you are planning big miles every day and assuming you are average build. 

I would avoid semi-freestanding tents for your purpose.  They save some weight but the extra faff in the pitch will probably get annoying.  I have one and I like it but...

On the other hand if you will only need a tent occasionally then the extra weight probably doesn't make as much sense and if you know you will mostly be setting up on grass or softer surfaces then a  semi-freestanding or tension pitch tent won't be as much trouble so going more minimal may make sense.

A tension pitch tent aka trekking pole tent (even more setup pfaff) will typically save weight but you probably won't be carrying trekking poles (my guess) so the weight benefits are somewhat diminished...unless you go for Dyneema which is out of your budget.  These are more commonly single wall tents...part of why they are usually lighter.  The main disadvantage of single wall is that condensation is harder to avoid mostly because there is no inner mesh to keep you from it but also possibly because it is more likely to form due to the way the tent ventilates.  That varies with the tent design in general.

There are many choices.  But ~ $450 I suggest you start by looking at the free standing double walled Big Agnes CS UL2 which is $50 more but it is probably best of breed with a packed weight of just over about 3 lbs  (about 1.4Kg). 

https://www.rei.com/product/164193/big-agnes-copper-spur-hv-ul2-tent

It is silicone treated and ultra light tent though so will need to be treated with some care but has excellent features. I had an earlier model.  If you want more robust you will probably have to go heavier. 

For a sleeping pad I'd look at the new NEMO Tensor Insulated which has a much improved R value (4.2) over the old version.

https://www.rei.com/product/199935/nemo-tensorultralight-insulated-sleeping-pad

It probably has the best packed size/warmth/comfort/weight ratio of any pad currently.  I have not used one personally.  If comfort is not as big a deal to you then the Thermarest X-lite is a proven performer.  It packs smaller and is lighter.  I have this. Don't forget to pack a repair kit.  That is unless you are super hardy...maybe a back sleeper...and can get away with a Z-lite or Switchback...a more reliable option... but these closed cell foam pads are far less cushy and these may be too bulky for your purpose bulky.

 

 

 

I find most of the 2 person tents not much heavier than the 1 person tents so for me, its so worth 6 more ounces to stretch out and have my stuff inside with me.  Your tent should also be comfortable, and you should gear it to your environment you travel in.  I live in Alaska, its rocky, it has bugs and critters in the summer and a lighter tent retains less heat.  The sky stays light all night, so light tent, eye mask.  Unless I am stealth camping (sssh don't tell) then its green. I use a foot print always when there is no snow, you will want to once you get into pricey tents. (I prefer to camp in ultra cold weather as there are less bears). That Coleman tent may have a floor practically Kevlar but the superlight ones, waaaay not so much.  Your tent depends on what you want and what you want to spend.  If you are going to be in a tent a lot it is ideal if you adore your tent. It should fit your needs.  You need to check zippers- the ones on ultra light are not as sturdy, how are the seams sealed or taped, how deep is your bathtub?  If you live in a wet area, go deeper.  Will you be in a cold or hot climate?  Bugs or ice?  You may need more than one tent. Do you need space and a high ceiling?  Often space doesn't cost more weight.  What kind of poles will you need for your environment. Is the wind continuous or will you be more sheltered.  Its windier in the Midwest than say Arizona. Upgrades are not always about money, they can be fine tuning your wants/needs for each environment.  Also, your sleep system as well as your tent,  needs to be adjusted to the different climates you visit. 

Rain proof, and you may need to extra water proof it before going out, or even Solar proof it (the sun destroys everything, look at people who sun bathe!)  NIck wax who makes all those down and wool washes (I seriously recommend, it saves money in the long run) also makes a solar/waterproofing spray I put on tents, jackets and packs.  Tents can fade pretty fast.  Also with tents, if you are eco friendly you will look into the tents that use eco friendly or no dyes, carcinogens and flame retardents if you so choose. 

 Tent weight is like money budgeted.  Can you carry off a more comfortable lifestyle or is that not necessary? In the end, its all about enjoying yourself. The point is not to suffer, but pull a balance between comfort and practicality.  Like renting a place, you may need to do some juggling with the weight budget if you are  cutting weight. Personally I no longer do ultra light, but its due to age and arctic conditions and special gear.  I am ok with moving on slower.  You may not be so inclined. You can cut weeks off a through trail with a strategy of fast, light and planned refuel stops... Balance what you want to do with best practice.  There are always people at REI to help you, and there are lots of good books but some of them have a one sided focus or are dated. 

I backpack with a very small 2 man and have determined the extra weight (maybe 6 oz) well worth it. When it comes to foul weather and being stuck in your tent for extra time having the extra space for your gear and spreading out is priceless. I have found most one-man tents to be almost a Bivey sack in size. 

Big Agnes Copper Spur XL2 is my current choice 2.1 lbs.

Thanks for the input! 

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Thanks for the advice everyone. For versatility, I am leaning towards the Nemo Kunai. Though I'm a bit worried about melting during the warmer seasons, having the ability to move to colder regions at will is a huge plus. It also seems rather study. My second choice is the Zpack Duplex, though I've never managed non-freestanding shelters before. 

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Unless you are planning primarily on winter or storm camping I think the 4 season Kunai will be a mistake because it is not a very livable tent for 3 season use.  4 season tents are really winter tents.  It has a rather pathetic vestibule apart from anything else.

The Duplex is a very different tent. DCF is very waterproof but it is noted as being very hot to be in during the day.  Non freestanding can be a pain on some locations. It's a livable tent for long distance hiking being very lightweight and roomy but would not be my choice for general use.  It is not a winter tent. The way it ventilates and the way the vestibule doors work is not ideal for winter use. I do not know how well it takes snow load...apart from being very dependent on how you stake it out.

Seems an odd pair to narrow down to but I'm sure you have your reasons.  I'm just pointing out a few things that may or may not matter to you.

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You didn't mention where you will be in the various seasons, but Hilleberg is a very popular and trusted  brand for Europeans in windy/cold weather (especially the nordic countries in winter). Not as light as the best American brands, but they will really withstand rough weather.

 

https://hilleberg.com/eng

 

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