Tuesday 30 November 2021

A Look At Different Types Of Backpacking Tents


This article is expanded from one that appeared earlier in the year as part of a series of articles on tents and backpacking I wrote for The Great Outdoors in conjunction with Hilleberg. I will post the other articles over the next few weeks.

Backpacking tents come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Which is best depends on where and when you’ll be using it and how many people will sleep in it. All lightweight tents are a compromise between space, weight, and stability. Which is most important to you? For low level camping outside of winter I’d go for low weight and plenty of space over stability. For high mountain camping in winter stability comes first.

They are often designated three and four season. The latter tents are heavier but have good snow resistance and stability. For most British use three-season tents are fine.

A key problem with lightweight tents is condensation. In really humid conditions no tent will be completely free of this but ones with good ventilation options will have less than ones without. Of course, in a big storm being able to close vents is essential. It’s more important to keep rain or snow out than to stop condensation. In small tents it’s harder to avoid contact with condensation.

The length of a tent, the angle of the walls, and the headroom all matter. If your sleeping bag pushes against the walls it may get damp from condensation. Walls that angle in sharply restrict living space and being unable to sit up is uncomfortable. Note that inflatable mats are often quite thick and reduce headroom. For the most comfort the highest parts of the inner should allow occupants to sit up without pushing their heads against the fabric.

Whichever design of tent you choose practising pitching it is important so that it’s second nature when you’re doing so at the end of a long, wet day when you’re tired and cold.

Tents may pitch as units, inner first, or flysheet first. The advantage of pitching as a unit is that it’s fast and the inner can’t get wet in rain. With inner first pitching tents you need to be able to erect it really fast in rain to minimise how wet the walls and floor get. An advantage of inner first pitching tents is that you can just use the inner on dry nights, which means no condensation, and which keeps bugs out. It the inner has a mesh roof you can see the stars.

In my view tents suitable for use in the British hills should prioritise weather resistance so I prefer tents that pitch as a unit too or flysheet first.


This traditional design has seen a resurgence recently as trekking poles can be used with it. The ridge runs between two poles and may be horizontal or tapered. The stability of ridge tents depends on the number of guylines and pegging points. If trekking poles are used the weight to space ratio is quite good. However, the angled walls mean headroom is low away from the apex. Ridge tents are easy to pitch.

The ridge may run along or across the tent – the latter is known as a transverse ridge. 

A modern ridge tent design uses a long curved pole as the ridge with a large hoop at the front and a short one at the back. This gives better headroom than a ridge with upright poles.


Pyramid tents, often just called Mids, only require a single central pole, though an A-pole can be used. Pyramids have good stability and a good space to weight ratio. Headroom is excellent. Most can be pitched with trekking poles.


Tunnel tents have two or more parallel curved poles. They have an excellent space to weight ratio and are easy to pitch. Stability is good as long as the rear is pitched into the wind. Side winds can make tunnel tents shake. Headroom is reasonable in two or three person tunnels but lacking in solo ones.

Single hoop

Tents with a single hoop in the centre are ideal for solo use as they have a good space to weight ratio and good headroom in the centre. Because the ends are low good single hoop tents usually have short upright poles to increase the height here. With a good guying system single hoop tents can be surprisingly stable.


Dome tents have two or more flexible poles crossing each other at one or more points. In the simplest versions the poles cross at the apex of the tent. This gives excellent headroom but isn’t the most stable design as it leaves large unsupported panels of material that can shake and depress in strong winds. Domes where the poles cross each other more than once are more stable. There are many types of domes with different pole configurations. Some domes have a short ridge pole for added stability.

Because of their structure dome tents are free-standing – they don’t need pegs or guylines to keep their shape. However, except in calm weather they still need pegging out to stop them blowing away. Domes have good headroom and a reasonable space to weight ratio. They are usually easy to pitch.

Geodesic dome

Geodesic domes are complex designs in which four or more poles cross each other at several points so there are no large unsupported sections of material. Geodesics are very stable and can resist heavy snow loads, making them popular with mountaineers. The space to weight ratio is poor however and they’re not as easy to pitch as other designs.

1 comment:

  1. Read this after the pitch in a storm article. Comparison is odious, but so many are self evident. Not Chris, clear and expert.