Choosing between a single-wall tent and a double-wall is not easy, especially when planning your next thru-hike. There are many factors to consider, so it can be challenging to know which option is best for you. We will discuss the benefits of each piece of gear so that you can decide on what kind of shelter will suit your needs.
Single-wall tents excel in cold and dry areas, while double-wall tents perform better in rainy and humid areas. For storage, double-wall tents have larger vestibules typically than a single wall, providing more dry space.
For thru-hikers, this means you need to understand the entirety of your hike. You want to apply the 80/20 rule here and choose the gear that can work perfectly for you for most (80%+) of the hike and supplement for the 20% as necessary.
Let’s explore more on single-wall tents vs double-wall tents, the benefits and drawbacks to choosing a tent body for an enjoyable time on the trail, and why many look to single-wall tents on their thru-hikes.
The Freedom of a Single-Wall Tent
As the name says, a single-wall tent features a single wall of fabric between the interior and exterior. This wall must repel water and moisture while being breathable and allowing air to pass through effortlessly.
This means a single-layer tent has to be made very efficiently with thought paid to manage moisture and airflow while also minimizing perforations that could allow in water and moisture.
Most single-wall tents will use the trekking poles carried by the hiker. This helps to eliminate extra weight, as nearly all hikers will have trekking poles, allowing them to become dual-purpose tools.
In addition, single-wall tents will frequently offer a bug mesh at their doors and connect the tent floor to the walls. This can be used to help drop out condensation and provide the occupant with protection from critters.
Why Go Single Wall? The Benefits
There are loads of benefits to choosing a single wall tent for your thru-hike. A significant benefit is that single-wall tents typically weigh much less than a similar double-wall tent, making them ideal when traveling light and fast on the trail.
In addition, they tend to be much smaller when packed, have an easier time in setup, and need fewer stakes, and this allows for setup with minimal impact in the rain.
One huge reason for a hiker to choose a single-wall tent is that they are frequently lighter in weight by a large margin over nearly any similar double-wall tent due to fewer overall materials used to create the single-piece inner, outer, and bathtub floor.
With quality materials comes less space and size when fully packed and added to your backpack. This can help you choose smaller and lighter backpacks to carry or allow you to carry horizontally instead of vertically, helping you consume less interior space overall.
Speed of Setup
Most of these tents use your trekking poles and only a few stakes to be completely set up in near-record time. This can be helpful at the end of a long day of hiking or when in poor weather to get set up and out of it as soon as possible.
Overall, since you don’t have to stake out a rainfly, you can further reduce your stakes to set up or tear down and save some effort.
Can Be Cheaper
Many single-wall tents can be much cheaper than the dual-wall versions since they have fewer materials and less work, which can convert directly into savings in the wallet.
Tub Area Less Chance to Get Wet During Setup
These lightweight tents have their inner attached directly to your outer wall, which means the second you pull it out, you already have the rain protection in place to maintain a dry interior.
Potential Downsides of Single Wall Design
In addition to the benefits of a nice lightweight, single-wall tent, there are some issues with them that, for many, could be game-breakers to your enjoyment.
This is a big issue for many, especially if you are on a rainy or humid trek. Internal condensation builds up inside the single wall, and any bumps or the impact of rainfall can dislodge them onto your gear or you.
I have had some bad experiences with this in the past, and being rained on when trying to get good sleep is a way to learn to hate hiking in general.
The bigger issue is that it can get your sleeping quilt or bag damp or outright wet. This can be an issue if you can’t find a way to dry it out before the next night. The more wet down gets, the worse it performs in maintaining its temperature rating.
Can Be Expensive
For many tents, a single wall setup can be cheaper, but with many of the cottage gear companies creating newer tents from super lightweight materials, like DCF, otherwise known as Dyneema, these prices can be incredibly steep.
Many DCF single-wall tents will go for $500 or more. The material makes for a nearly perfect rainproof outer wall while incredibly lightweight and easy to pack, meaning you will pay heavily for each ounce dropped.
Cold and Drafty
Most will have some form of issue with being drafty. Having large mesh inner walls attached means little to block out the wind when it is blowing hard, which can translate to heat loss when you don’t have enough insulation.
With most single-wall tents, the only way to combat this is to get the height as low as possible to keep the tent walls near the ground to provide fewer draft issues.
Difficult to Pitch Without Practice
Many find their first time attempting to pitch single wall tents a painful experience as you need to have an order to the operations frequently. For some tents, you want to peg out the corners before adding trekking poles to build out the main body of your setup.
This shouldn’t be much of an issue if you go through some trial setups at home where you can tweak and adjust your setup to maximize your speed and ability with the tent.
Single-wall tents provide no way to open up and see the stars or night sky. You are limited in your views, typically to the doorways only, which can mean missing out on amazing views in the wild.
Less Space / Minimalistic
The interior on a single wall can be much more minimalistic, offering fewer pockets, lines, or areas, in general, to hang out and weather a bad storm without starting to feel claustrophobic.
Single-Walled Tents – Tips or Hints For Better Performance
Venting Is Key
With any single-wall tent, the only way to lessen condensation is to learn to vent your tent effectively. This will come from a few setup tweaks to help get you more consistent airflow to pull out the air and eliminate the moisture build-up with trekking or tent poles, guy lines, and door or exit placement.
This means looking at the weather and site placement with anticipated winds and figuring out how high you can push the tent off the ground to lower condensation chances and how low you need the tent to keep that valuable warmth.
This skill will grow over time, but to have an enjoyable trek with a single-wall tent, you will want to master this simple yet technical skill.
Example Single-Wall Tents
Interested in a single-wall tent but would like some examples? Then you’re in luck as I have assembled a good selection of tents for you to compare.
|Make / Model||Material||Poles||Weight (oz)||Price|
|Zpacks Duplex||DCF||Trekking Poles||19||$699|
|Zpacks Altaplex||DCF||Trekking Poles||15.4||$675|
|Zpacks Plex Solo||DCF||Trekking Poles||13.9||$599|
|Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||26||$230|
|Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||43||$375|
|3F UL Gear LanShan 1P Pro||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||24||$134|
|3F UL Gear LanShan 2P Pro||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||37||$157|
|Tarptent Protrail||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||26||$229|
|Tarptent Protrail Li||DCF||Trekking Poles||17.7||$529|
|Gossamer Gear The One||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||17.7||$300 / $539|
|Gossamer Gear The Two||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||23.5||$375 / $589|
|REI Flash Air 1||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||20||$249|
|X-Mid Pro 2||DCF||Trekking Poles||21||TBA|
The Comfort of a Double Wall Tent
Unlike single-wall tents, a double-wall tent features two walls between you and the outside. The first will be the rainfly, a solid waterproof fabric to stop rain and moisture from entering the living area.
The second is the inner fabric and bug netting as a complete enclosure around the living space, and this can allow you many tents on a nice night to pitch without the rainfly to have bug protection and a view of the sky.
These two layers have an air gap to ensure good airflow and allow any internal condensation to catch on the outer layer and flow down to the ground without dropping inside on the interior.
Why Choose Double Wall? The Benefits
As with the single-wall tents mentioned above, there are a lot of benefits to choosing to carry a double-walled tent for a thru-hike, depending on what you will encounter and where your comfort lies.
Freestanding / Semi Freestanding
Many double-wall tents can be freestanding or, at a minimum, semi-freestanding, where they can be set up and then re-adjusted to fit the space and environment without being taken apart again beforehand.
Ease of Setup
These feature a simple internal pole structure to hold the tent up. They are easier to set up for many hikers as they don’t require managing guy lines, trekking poles, and perfect pre-setup positioning.
Warmer and Less Drafty
Due to having two independent walls, you have a better air circulation chance to help deflect any drafts. In addition, many tents offer different inners that could allow for a more solid wall fabric for winter or the usual mesh for three-season use.
Pitch Without Rainfly
When you have some brilliant, beautiful nights, you can pitch the tent with the bug mesh inner only to maintain protection from the bugs but without the rainfly so that you can take in the beauty of the stars and sky.
Pitch Rainfly So Inner Stays Dry
While not for all double-wall tents, many feature the ability first to set up your rainfly and then attach the inner afterward, helping to keep it from exposure to the weather, making sure it stays dry and good for rest.
The Compromises of Double Wall Design
While there are excellent benefits provided to you when you choose to carry a double-walled tent, there are some issues and penalties to carrying more gear.
When looking at standard materials like SilNylon and SilPoly, the price of these style tents will be more than the similar material single-wall, which means you will be paying to have the additional wall protecting you.
For many of these tents, you will carry more overall weight. Since they have two layers of fabric, it is hard to bring the overall weight down to the same levels as a single wall would offer.
Bulky to Carry
Due to the extra fabrics and layers, the tents take up more space when compressed into the storage sack, this, in turn, means moving more gear around in your pack or maybe even carrying a bigger, heavier backpack.
Speed of Setup
For hikers, the speed to set up camp is vital to getting food and restful sleep. After 8+ hours of grueling hiking in all kinds of weather, it is nice to be able to put up shelter fast and efficiently.
Unfortunately, for most double-wall tents, this is near impossible as they have complex pole structures and hooks to get the main body into place, and then you have to attach items like the rainfly, guy lines, and more to get proper protection in place.
Longer to Dry
Multiple layers mean that you have more fabric to air out and dry out after a long night, the humidity and rain will build up, and most fabrics can sluff off some of this moisture, but much needs to be dried to keep it clean and mold-free.
SilNylon, for example, absorbs a decent amount of water, making it heavier to carry on subsequent nights and making it much longer to air out in the sun and dry.
To give your tent its best lifespan, you must take care of it, even on the long trails, by taking time daily to dry out the tent and anything wet.
Double-Walled Tents – Tips or Hints For Better Performance
Finding a dual-walled tent that allows you to first set up the rain fly and then once in place go inside to connect the inner will pay off a lot in helping keep you and the gear inside much drier over the long run.
Additionally, finding a double-wall tent that uses trekking poles can help you drop nearly 8-16oz of pure tent pole weight, so choosing a trekking pole tent can help you make better use of the gear you will bring already!
Example Double-Wall Tents
Interested in a double-wall tent but would like some examples? Then you’re in luck as I have assembled a good selection of tents for you to compare.
|Make / Model||Type||Poles||Weight||Price|
|StratoSpire 2||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||45||$359|
|StratoSpire Li||DCF||Trekking Poles||29.5||$699|
|Nemo Hornet 2P||SilNylon||Tent Poles||31||$370|
|Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2||SilNylon||Tent Poles||35||$400|
|Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2||SilNylon||Tent Poles||43||$450|
|Dan Durstan X-Mid 1||SilPoly||Trekking Poles||31||$220|
|Dan Durstan X-Mid 2||SilPoly||Trekking Poles||40||$300|
|3F UL Gear Lanshan 1||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||32||$101|
|3F UL Gear Lanshan 2||SilNylon||Trekking Poles||43||$123|
Why Thru-Hikers Choose Single Wall Tents
For the vast majority of people, getting condensation dripping onto your face and causing you to wake up may make you think you would never want a single-wall tent, but there are solid reasons for the choice.
Most thru-hikers will choose a single-wall tent due largely to the massive weight savings they achieve paired with a very fast setup. The DCF tents, now a staple of YouTubers, are almost weightless, coming in at nearly under one pound!
When hiking for thousands of miles, the difference between a three-pound tent and a one-pound tent will be felt. The lighter the tent, the smaller the space it needs, which allows you to get a smaller pack, saving more weight.
When you hike this length of time, the cost for a $500-600 tent is a pretty small cost for a home over a 5 to 6-month hike, meaning you are spending only $100 a month for a high-end residence to end your day in, it sounds less painful to buy when you think in this way.
Why Thru-Hikers Choose Double Wall Tents
The other set of hikers always want to have a double-walled tent. For many, this is the best option as it provides the best cost to weight for those who can’t, or won’t, spend on DCF fabrics.
Double-wall tents make excellent shelters from consistent rainfall, and these tents are typically freestanding or semi-freestanding tents with poles to set them up.
Many thru-hikers like freestanding tents to adjust after setup and know their tent will work should they break a trekking pole.
When you are out on the trail hiking day after day for weeks on end, you need to have the perfect place to end your day.
There are many times when a freestanding tent will help you easily adjust your spot for maximum airflow or minimum drafts into the tent.
For nearly all these tents, you will have SilPoly or SilNylon as the material used to make the tent; both are durable and much less expensive than DCF, many times being nearly 50% lesser in cost.
Seasonality Matters on Tent Choices
Knowing the season you are thru-hiking is crucial if you spend your nights in a double or single-wall tent. Most hikers should choose a DCF or SilPoly tent if they encounter more wet weather conditions.
The reason for this is simple: SilPoly is water-resistant and doesn’t absorb as SilNylon does, so you won’t get the same issues with sagging over time. DCF is the most waterproof material that can be found currently in a backpacking tent.
Three-season tents are for Spring, Summer, and Fall. They tend to be made of mesh and tend to be larger and more spacious than four-season tents. They are great for ventilation but may not offer as much protection against the wind and rain.
If you’re thru-hiking in three seasons, a single-wall tent will fit your needs without much issue, though the double-wall may be more suited for you if it’s going to be exceptionally wet and rainy outside, like the Appalachian Trail typically is.
Most long-distance hikers won’t be out in winter on typical trails, but for those who like to go thru-hike in those icy conditions, you want to choose a more reliable and warm tent.
These will typically be double-wall, with the inner being another layer of fabric and less no-see-um mesh to help conserve all the heat radiated out from the body for those long, cold nights.
Final Thoughts on Double Wall vs Single Walls for Thru-Hiking
Experienced hikers want to save as much weight as possible. In this case, modern tents like the Zpacks Duplex will be your best bet to minimize your packed weight and space savings, as well as give you large vestibule space for outer gear storage.
If you don’t mind carrying a little additional weight on your back or for those heavy winds, wetter days, or if it is supposed to rain consistently where you hike, then the double wall might work out fine for you.
It’s important to think about the expected weather along with how many miles of hiking per day you will be doing. These will influence what kind of shelter will keep you and any gear dry from the rain.