Non-Freestanding Tents: Why Many Thru-Hikers Love Them

If you’ve decided to take on a thru-hike, one piece of gear is essential to your trek: your tent. Not ... Read more

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Dan Durston X-Mid 2 Pro at a campsite low ground view
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If you’ve decided to take on a thru-hike, one piece of gear is essential to your trek: your tent.

Not all tents are created equal, and if you’re looking for the lightest possible option still to handle the rugged terrain of a long trail, non-freestanding tents offer a great solution. So what is a non-freestanding tent?

A non-freestanding tent is an excellent choice for those hikers who are minimalists: it offers protection from weather and sun but takes only minutes to set up. Rather than using fixed poles, these tents require stakes and trekking poles to keep them steady.

Today we’ll talk about why so many thru-hikers love single-wall and double-wall trekking pole tents and break down their features so that you can determine if they’re suitable for your next big adventure.

Dan Durston X-Mid 2 Pro at a campsite low ground view

Definition of a Non-Freestanding Tent

A non-freestanding tent is a type of tent that requires staking out to keep its shape. Unlike freestanding tents typically propped up using fixed tent pole systems, non-freestanding tents rely on trekking poles and guy lines attached to tent stakes.

These tents frequently have a single-wall construction, meaning they do not require a separate rainfly for waterproof protection, but you can find occasional double-wall options.

I believe that non-freestanding tents are the lightest and most compact for a thru-hike as you don’t require space in a pack for poles as you carry and use trekking poles while on the go helping your gear be more multifunctional.

Types of Non-Freestanding Tents

Non-freestanding tents come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common types are single-wall tents and double-wall tents.

  • Single-wall tents are the most straightforward design, with just one layer of fabric to keep the elements out.
  • Double-wall tents are the most common type, with an inner tent and an outer rainfly that provides extra protection from the elements.

For the person pushing the limits of ultralight, you could go with a tarp and bivy shelter, which can offer the most lightweight choice but requires extra skill when pitching and offers less protection from the elements.

Each type of non-freestanding tent has pros and cons, so it’s essential to consider which is best for your needs.

Single-Wall Tents

Single-wall tents are the most common type of non-freestanding tent. These tents are lightweight and easy to set up, making them ideal for backpacking trips.

Single-wall tents typically require stakes and trekking poles for support and are made with waterproof, breathable fabrics.

The downside is that single-wall tents don’t provide as much protection from the elements like condensation as double-wall tents, and they don’t offer as many ventilation options.

Double-Wall Tents

Double-wall tents are one of the more common types of non-freestanding tents, but unlike single-wall tents, double-wall tents have a separate rainfly that attaches over the tent’s inner.

This provides an extra layer of waterproof protection and often includes extra vents on the sides and top to help with condensation.

Although they are typically heavier than single-wall tents, double-wall tents are easier to set up and break down in the rain while keeping yourself dry.

Tarp & Bivy Shelters

Tarp and bivy setups are a type of non-freestanding shelter that is very similar and offer more versatility than traditional tents.

Unlike traditional tents, tarp and bivy shelters can be erected using just a tarp and cordage using trees and other anchors. However, most still prefer the stability a trekking pole and peg setup provides you.

Tarp shelters are usually used when you have a deep knowledge of the weather, set up, and spot choices on a given trek as you need to be more exacting in setup.

Additionally, they can be pitched in many different ways, depending on the conditions and terrain. This makes them an excellent choice for those who need a lightweight, versatile tent for backcountry camping.

Pros and Cons of Non-Freestanding Tents

Regarding tents, there are pros and cons to freestanding and non-freestanding tents.

Non-freestanding tents require staking out and propping up with trekking poles (or a single tent pole in some cases) for set up, and they are usually single-walled, meaning they use less fabric and do not require a rainfly for waterproof protection.

However, this also means they are more vulnerable to wind and may not be as stable as a freestanding tent in harsher weather.

On the other hand, freestanding tents are double-walled and typically more stable than non-freestanding tents, but they are also heavier and more expensive.

Considering these pros and cons is essential when selecting the right tent for your camping needs.

How to Choose the Right Non-Freestanding Tent

When choosing the right non-freestanding tent for your needs, you will want to consider a few factors.

First, consider the size of the tent you need. Most non-freestanding tents usually come in one and two-person sizes, but they can feel, at times, more cramped depending on the configuration.

Second, consider the tent’s weight and how easy it is to transport within your backpack. Non-freestanding tents generally weigh less than freestanding models, making them easier to carry long distances comfortably.

Next, you want to think about vestibule space. For many thru-hikers, a one-person tent is a plenty, but without storage space, you leave your gear out and possibly exposed.

Finally, you want to consider the type of weather you will be camping in and choose a tent accordingly. DCF tents will tend to be damaged in heavy hails and can be very noisy in the rain.

With the right non-freestanding tent, you can enjoy the benefits of a lightweight, easy-to-transport shelter without sacrificing performance.

Pitching a Non-Freestanding Tent

Pitching a non-freestanding tent requires a bit more effort than a freestanding tent, but with a little practice, you can quickly and easily set up your tent.

Start by staking out the corners and then propping the tent up with both trekking poles or a single pole (depending on the model).

Once the poles and stakes are in place, use the guylines to provide additional stability, and then secure and adjust the tension of the guylines to fit your needs.

Finally, install the rainfly (if applicable), and you’re ready to go!

Sizing Your Non-Freestanding Tent

When sizing your non-freestanding tent, you want to consider the distance of your hike, the number of people using the tent, and the amount of gear you need to store.

If you’re planning on traveling with a partner, you’ll want to find a tent with enough space for two people to sleep comfortably or two individual tents to ensure you both have full shelter.

The only other key thing is the peak height which can mean a big difference in sitting on your rear or leaning while standing up, and the length, which matters a lot for you, the taller you are.

Materials Used in Non-Freestanding Tents

Non-freestanding tents are typically made from lightweight, mostly breathable, and waterproof fabrics designed to keep you safe and dry outdoors.

The most common materials are nylon and polyester, which provide good durability and reliability at an excellent cost.

  • Nylon is usually a bit more expensive but is more lightweight and has better tear strength.
  • Polyester is usually more affordable but is more prone to abrasion and sagging over time.

There are also specialty fabrics like DCF, which we speak about below, which ultralight gear is frequently made from as it is nearly waterproof and extremely lightweight.

Additionally, many non-freestanding tents also feature taped seams and have PU or similar waterproof coatings to ensure maximum protection from the elements.

Dyneema Composite Fabrics

Regarding materials used in tents, Dyneema Composite Fabrics (DCF) is a supremely popular choice, especially in the thru-hiking community.

DCF is a waterproof material made from Dyneema fibers and polyester. This material is incredibly lightweight and robust, making it an ideal choice for tents.

DCF is also highly abrasion resistant, so it can withstand the wear and tear of being used consistently on a four to six-month thru-hike.

Additionally, DCF is known for its excellent waterproofing capabilities, meaning you don’t have to worry about your tent leaks in wet weather.

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SilNylon is a particular type of nylon used in the construction of tents as it is siliconized to provide waterproofing.

Its ripstop fabric is highly resistant to tears and abrasions, making it ideal for tent fabric and mostly waterproof, lightweight, and breathable.

This makes it an excellent choice for backpacking and camping tents, as it offers the perfect balance of durability and comfort.

SilNylon also has a much longer lifespan than traditional nylon fabrics, making it a strong option for those looking for a long-lasting tent.

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You get tents made from polyester when you want gear that tends to sag less than SilNylon. This material is very affordable and provides reliable protection from the elements.

SilPoly fabric has also become popular among outdoor enthusiasts, as it is incredibly lightweight and with waterproofing is perfect while offering excellent breathability.

Either way, finding the right tent that meets your activity needs is key to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience in nature!

Repairing a Non-Freestanding Tent

The durability of non-freestanding tents makes them ideal for long-term use. However, if you find yourself needing repairs, it is crucial to know how to do so.

Depending on the type of tent, the repair process might be a bit different.

The process is relatively simple for single-wall tents, as there are fewer parts to fix or, worst case, replace.

However, double-wall tents may require more effort, as they require the repair or replacement of both the inner and the outer.

In both cases, make sure you have the suitable materials and tools, such as patches, guy line, needles and thread, fabric glue, sealant, and tape.

To ensure a successful repair, double-check the instructions provided by the manufacturer before starting. If you don’t feel comfortable with the repair process, it is best to take it to a professional.

If you want to learn more about the parts of a tent, please take a look over at my Tent Anatomy: The Different Parts of a Tent Explained post.

Tent Accessories for Non-Freestanding Tents

When it comes to tent accessories for non-freestanding tents, there are many options available. Stakes are essential for keeping your tent secure, as they provide the tension necessary to keep it upright.

Adjustable tensioners are also available, allowing you to create a more secure and stable setup. Trekking poles can also be used to prop up the tent, and specialized poles are available for those who need an extra bit of support.

You may also want to invest in a footprint or groundsheet to provide extra protection from the elements.

Finally, you may want to consider purchasing a tarp or flysheet to provide additional rain and sun protection.

With the right accessories, your non-freestanding tent can be set up quickly and easily, giving you all the protection and comfort you need for your outdoor adventure.

Tips for Using a Non-Freestanding Tent

When using a non-freestanding tent, there are some tips you should keep in mind to ensure a successful trip:

First, make sure to stake out your tent correctly. This will help ensure that your tent is securely held and will not blow away with the wind.

Also, take into account the weather conditions when staking out your tent. If the ground is tough, use longer stakes to make sure your tent is securely held in place.

Another tip is to check the area where you plan to set up your tent for any sharp objects or rocks that may puncture the bathtub or floor of your tent.

If you find any, remove them before setting up your tent, this can also save your sleeping pad from an early end of life.

You should also make sure to use the groundsheet underneath your tent to protect it from the elements. A groundsheet will also add extra insulation from the cold ground.

Finally, carry a few spare stakes with you if you need to replace a broken stake or find a better location for your tent. Carrying extra stakes is always a good idea, and you will almost certainly break one.

Final Thoughts on Non-Freestanding Tent

Non-freestanding tents offer an exciting way to travel and camp outdoors without carrying extra poles or a heavier tent.

They are generally lightweight, easy to set up, and can be used in various conditions.

However, it is essential to remember that non-freestanding tents require extra effort when pitching and that tents with different shapes and sizes may require different staking techniques.

Additionally, it is crucial to choose suitable materials for your tent and make sure to check regularly for any damage that may need to be repaired.

With the proper knowledge and practice, non-freestanding tents can be a great way to experience the great outdoors in style.

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