Tent Vestibules: Gear Storage With Living Area on Trail

When you are looking at a tent for a thru-hike you need to have some…

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When you are looking at a tent for a thru-hike you need to have some additional criteria you may typically not put much weight in; one of these is that the tent has a vestibule.

What makes the extra storage space valuable to a thru-hiker you may wonder. Let’s dig in and take a look deeper and explain this gear in more detail.

Tent vestibule storage is helpful as it provides extra space to store gear outside the living area. When your shoes are caked with mud and gunk you don’t want to always bring them inside, and a vestibule protects them from the elements.

Additionally, with some tents like the X-Mid, the vestibule area can be nearly as big as the tent itself which allows for more storage but a feeling of more space even when the tent is fully zipped up for battling the weather helping you feel less enclosed.

Dan Durston X-Mid 2P and the open tent vestibule holding the DD40 Liter backpack from Dan Durston
Dan Durston X-Mid 2P Tent with Vestibule Open Holding DD40 Backpack

What is a Tent Vestibule?

Well, when you are new to thru-hiking and maybe backpacking in general you need to learn all this new terminology along with all this new information about the gear itself, what is a vestibule?

Think about a vestibule as a sort of mudroom or waterproof covering and a way to get changed out of the muddy and wet gear before entering your clean and dry tent and sleep system. They additionally give you added space to store gear away from the inside of a cramped tent.

Now that we have answered that question let’s move on and talk about your backpacking tent and the purpose of its vestibule along with exploring more on why they are good for thru-hikers in general.

What is the Purpose of a Tent Vestibule?

Since we now understand that the vestibule can help give you a place to get out of the dirty and grimy, and honestly quite stinky clothing and gear what are vestibules useful for or provide?

The main purpose of a vestibule is to provide a protected area for your use either in front or to the side of your tent body. This space is outside the tent walls but still under the fly providing rain and weather protection which can be ideal.

When you are out on the trail having spaces that can keep gear dry and protected is at a premium. A vestibule or two provides you with much more space to spread out and cook, clean, and relax which are all necessities on a long trail.

Do You Need a Vestibule as a Thru-Hiker?

This may heavily depend on the thru-hiker, if you are going to avoid shelters in most cases and really live in your tent for nearly 6 months you will want every ounce of space for your home on the trail.

In many cases, a vestibule helps you to store gear outside and away from the internal tent body space giving you more space to stretch out and to go through post-hiking processes like rolling out muscles with a cork ball.

I use an X-Mid 1P and the space inside the mesh is truly limited but the vestibule space is just amazingly large, I can easily fit all my gear inside with a load of space remaining to let me maximize the space and also not feel claustrophobic!

On the other hand, if you hike into hiker midnight territory, or late, on most nights and are really minimal to sleeping once the tent is up then cutting weight and minimizing vestibule space could help you get further faster.

Type of Tent Vestibules

The most common tent vestibule types are categorized into front and side. The majority of vestibules are floorless and rely on the strength of your tent to keep them in place.

There are also little-known add-on options but these are frequently used in car camping as they tend to be heavier, but you may still see people building makeshift versions due to the benefits of tent vestibules so let’s discuss the types of tent vestibules below.

Front Vestibule

The front vestibules cover the tent’s entrance while proving space for gear. Vestibules are typically built into the tent body and are useful when bad weather is expected, such as during winter.

Vestibules on the outside of a shelter can be huge, allowing you to store a lot of gear out of the elements.

This is wonderful if your shelter’s inside is cramped or if you have hefty equipment that needs more rain protection.

They also function as an enclosed porch when it rains, so you may carefully prepare meals beneath them without getting wet.

Side Access Vestibule

My preferred type of vestibule space is side vestibules. These are typically on very wide side spaces that allow you to get in and out easily as you can simply store your gear on one side and have the exit door on the other side.

I also prefer the side-based vestibules as on the front vestibule you have to climb in or out over everything you leave in the spot as you typically will only have one front door which heads right out to the gear you left in the way of your own doorway.

Add-On Vestibule

Some tents won’t come with vestibules or may come with super small and compact vestibule spaces, in this case, you could look to buy a specifically built add-on vestibule but for thru-hiking, this would be a silly amount of weight to add.

If you chose to add your own DIY-ness you could carry something that could act as a roof for a temp space, like a tarp or other waterproof fabric that could be set up similar to a tarp providing rain and element protection.

Can You Cook Inside a Vestibule?

To be totally honest cooking inside a vestibule or tent might be extremely hazardous or even fatal.

You could easily burn your tent or get carbon monoxide poisoning by poor airflow and then it is also a clear invitation for animals to investigate your camp spot.

Typically cooking inside or around your tent is a bad idea. It invites the animals to check out the tent spot which can be very dangerous to you or others.

You should always cook at least 100 feet from the camp spot to ensure no food smell permeates the area where you intend to sleep.

For areas where bears exist this is dangerous for you and for them, many of these bears will be put down if they become too friendly and encroach on people without fear and that isn’t fair to them.

Additionally, rodents like mice may decide to investigate smells and eat holes into your gear, from backpacks, clothing, and tents, and leave you with broken and inefficient gear until you can reach the next town.

Should a Footprint Cover the Vestibule Space?

If you don’t know what a tent footprint is I have a very useful post covering what a footprint is over here.

Whether you should have a footprint area in your vestibule may depend more on how the tent lays out and if you bought a tent-specific footprint.

If you instead followed what I wrote and chose to make your own footprint to drop weight and customize your gear then you could cut the footprint to cover any space you want as long as it is covered by the rain fly.

As an important note, you ALWAYS want your footprint not to be seen outside the rainfly as you don’t want it to capture water and bring it between your tent and the footprint, so I normally cut the footprint a few inches short of an edge.

How Big Should the Vestibule Be?

For most thru-hikers, you will have less gear to store like a backpack, shoes, and camp shoes.

It’s not like you have a bike or other larger gear that needs to be protected.

This allows you to have less overall vestibule space for your tent than someone else who is choosing to bikepack, if you were to do this biking long-distance travel you would need a huge space to keep your bike dry.

Most will want enough space to comfortably fit their gear while they change clothes and a place where they can heat up water for something like coffee in the morning.

Final Thoughts on Having Vestibules on a Thru-Hike

Choosing whether you need any vestibule, whether on just one side or on both sides of your tent will be a highly personal decision and none of them is the wrong way to go as each person camps differently.

Personally, I am a fan of 2 vestibules as this allows me to store gear on either side and the other side could be used for entering and exiting the tent without having to shift around your bulky gear.

If you would like to look at what I think are the top options for a thru-hiking shelter take a look at it here, if you are interested in looking into other gear I have a page with nearly all the gear options here.

Josh Koop

I turned 40 and realized I needed to change my life from being a desk-bound IT worker slowly dying in a cubicle. I have been working on ways to build my knowledge and skills, along with gear. I have plans to do a thru-hike on the Lone Star Hiking Trail, Ouachita Trail, and Pinhoti Trail in the next year.

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