Tips on choosing a lightweight camping tent

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This guide is primarily intended for use by those who are looking for a lightweight tent, although many of the following notes also apply to other tents.

At first sight, a tent just seems to be a simple piece of kit that offers protection from the elements and an area for storage. But there's much to ponder over before parting with your hard earned cash!
As with most backpacking gear, you should expect to pay a premium for lightweight kit, whatever it may be, and tents are no exception.

Be honest about your reasons for wanting a particular tent - how often you intend to use it, where it will be used (UK or further afield?). You may want to think twice about that all singing, all dancing ultra lightweight model, if all you want use it for is for a few nights each summer in a nearby location. On the other hand, if you're thinking of planning an expedition to the Scottish Higlands (or even further afield), then you need to ensure the tent you choose be up to the task and as lightweight as pssible.

So, "What's the best tent"?
Well, how long is a piece of string? There's no "right" answer as there are to many variables to consider. Lots of factors come into play and a final decision is likely to involve a compromise involving price, weight, intended use, personal preference, durability etc.

1) DESIGN
Over the years, tent designs have become ever more complex with varying degrees of basic styles. Fortunately, they are all generally easy to pitch and derive from just 4 key design options. Most incorporate a waterproof outer (flysheet) and an inner tent with sewn-in groundsheet, although single-skin tents  are available with breathable fabrics.
  • GEODESIC. These offer excellent structural strength by way of intersecting poles to form a self-supporting structure with ample internal space.
  • DOME. These are simple, popular, aerodynamic and stable. They are designed to shed wind, rain and snow.
  • HOOP / TUNNEL. These are usually available in single, double and three-hoop styles, depending upon the size. These are excellent lightwieght tents with a low profile and plenty of room inside.
  • RIDGE. This is the classic tent that most children draw - the A Frame tent.

2) SEASONS
The season rating of a tent should just be taken as a guide only as it becomes pretty irrelevant when you consider the context, weather and altitude you will likely encounter. Example: Camping in the far Northern Hemisphere at sea level in the Spring, is considerably more demanding than sea lea level in the Mediteranean in the Summer or Autumn. As with sleeping bags then, season ratings for tents should be only used as a very rough guide.

3) ROOM & SPACE
It's a good idea, before buying a two-person tent for a long trekking adventure with your partner or best friend, to get into the tent together (with your gear!) Now try to imagine what it would be like when the light starts to fade, it's wet & windy, supper has still to be cooked, your clothes are wet and your rucksacks are full. Not a pretty sight!
Most manufacturers are supremely optimistic when it comes to their assessment of the space needed for two to three people to live side by side in a tent without coming to blows!, so take your time when making your decision. Obviously, more room means more weight. You can overcome this by splitting the load between you.

4) DOOWAYS & PORCHES
Most tents have just a single doorway with the flysheet forming a porch for storing your gear. Many also have an insect mesh screen on the inner door (an essential feature in our opinion) so that you can watch the world go by without fear of being bitten by the ever present bugs & mozzies!

5) POLES & PEGS
As a general rule, although not exclusively, the more your tent costs, the lighter & stronger the poles are likely to be. There will usually be some simple pegs included with your tent but it's a good idea to purchase a few different kinds to takle the various ground conditions that you'll encounter.

6) MATERIALS
The vast majority of lightweight flysheets and groundsheets are either made from nylon fabric or a harder wearing polyester. Groundsheets, by their nature, need a somewhat slightly heavier fabric for increased abrasion resistance. Nowadays, both flysheets and groundsheets are coated with Polyurethane (PU) to make them waterproof. As these coatings are non-breathable, condensation needs to be reduced through adequate ventilation.

7) PITCHING
Before you rush off on your escapade, take a few moments at home to become familiar with your particular tent - it's easier to do it now than later when all you really want to do after a long hard trek is to sleep!
Firstly, read all the instructions and ensure all the pieces are present,  then pitch your tent in the garden (if possible) and note how long it takes to errect - allow at least 50% more time to errect it when "in the field".
Unless you want to give yourself water tourture, don't pitch you tent too close to running water. It might seem like a good idea, but you'll soon weary of the noise through the night! Also, if the water level rises appreciably, you could end up in a floating sleeping bag (or worse!)

Unless you want to live like a bat, sleep with your head at the highest point if pitching on a slope.

Remember to pitch your tent with the entrance facing away from the wind and peg the tent down temporarily (to avoid it blowing away) before making the final adjustments.

You DID remember to bring different types of pegs - didn't you?

Avoid pitching at the very bottom of a slope - water run-off and cold air flowing downhill can really spoil a comfortable night.

Although an Englishman's home is his castle, this does not mean you should build a moat around your tent to avoid water ingress. It not only damages the soil but incourages erosion too. Just take a little time and a lot of care to pick a good pitch.

Think you'd like to pitch your tent under a tree? DON'T. If lightning or a falling branch don't get you, then the incessant drip, drip, drip from above will drive you absolutely nuts well after the rain has stopped! And have you ever tried to remove sap and birdlime from your fly? If you have, then you won't be pitching under a tree again!

DO NOT!
A few essential no-no's to bear in mind.

If you want your tent to last, do not store it wet - it will not only smell horribly but it will become mouldy too. Ensure your tent is completely dry before storing it for any length of time.

If you need to light a fire, ensure it's well away from the tent and downwind too, otherwise you'll end up with an expensive and useless colander (at best!)

Use a battery lantern rather than a gas lantern.

However much you want to, do not cook inside your tent - it will either poison you with carbon monoxide or destroy the tent - or both. Although most tents are now fire resistant, this is not the same as fireproof.

If you pitch your tent on stony ground, then expect to ruin your groundsheet. Take a few moments to clear the ground below your intended pitch (and for a few metres around it too) from stones, gravel, twigs and any rubbish inconsiderately left behind by others.

Do not wash your tent in strong detergent - it will seriously affect it's waterproofing ability.

When packing your tent away, put the tent in the bag BEFORE putting the poles in to avoid catching and tearing the fabric.

Now you can enjoy happy camping!

See the JURA Tent here!
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