The Art of Choosing the Perfect Tent: How to Find Your Home on the Trail

Selecting the ideal hiking tent requires balancing weight, space, durability and cost. Learn how to pick the perfect thru-hiking shelter to call home for months on end.

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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!

trail with a zpacks duplex, dan durston xmid 2, and a lanshan 2 tent added to show variety matters.
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Your shelter on a thru-hike needs to be as lightweight as possible while providing you quality protection for all weather you can encounter. When getting your gear for a thru-hike you need to look at what is a good backpacking tent weight .

You want your tent to be under two pounds if possible, though a more optimal size would be 24 ounces and below, which many Dyneema trekking pole tents and a few freestanding tents can match. Most thru-hikers will opt for the big three to be under two pounds apiece.

While you can have a heavier shelter, it’s best to avoid unnecessary weight as you will carry your tent on your back for miles every day.

If you are looking for a new shelter or just getting into backpacking, aim for around 24 ounces or less and you’ll have a good head start.

Finding the Optimal Balance of Weight and Performance

This will be highly personal, for some a four-pound tent will be simple and easy to carry while others will have shoulder and hip pain if they have too much gear weight where each ounce matters.

I would aim to have the lowest big three weight possible to ensure the overall base weight of my gear helps to reduce injury chances and to increase daily miles covered.

Since it is hard to know which of the two examples you are above I would use all the below criteria to make a decision on the tent that fits all your needs.

An important note is that the lighter the tent the faster the cost will increase so you need to know your budget upfront but also remember that this will be your home for months and not make a rash cost-only decision, a huge saying in gear purchasing is buy once cry once, take it to heart.

Criteria To Use To Get The Best Weight to Performance For a Tent

Starting out with the below criteria will help you to think critically about what you need when you are picking your personal shelter.

Many choices will hit on specific criteria, what you may need to do is rank importance to each of these criteria and then use them to select the perfect match for your wants and needs.

The below list is in no order of importance but is what I personally do when deciding which shelter to purchase which ensures something aligned to your needs, I always start with the seasons I will hike in.


Tents are built differently depending on when you will choose to thru-hike, with three-season being the most common overall, Spring to Fall, near all tents will qualify for use.

Should you like or choose to thru-hike in Winter then you need a very different set of criteria and build within a tent, mostly related to extra durability for high winds, more weight, and how it can weather the weight and heft of snow, ice, and possibly hail.

For the majority of buyers, when thru-hiking, I would recommend three-season as your go-to with four-season being an option if you believe you will experience severe weather at some point on your trek.

Single Or Double Wall

Most people have used many double-walled tents in their life, that is a tent that has an internal, normally mesh, wall and a second outer wall in the rainfly. This provides for a lot of airflow and helps to cut down on condensation on the inside of the tent.

Having a double-wall tent frequently allows you to pitch your tent without the rainfly for an amazing sky view all night, this is something a single-wall tent just can’t do.

The downside to this type of setup is that you have two walls to put up which can be tedious. Most double-wall tents will weigh a significant amount more than a single-wall tent due to this extra fabric, zippers, etc.

A single-wall tent has one wall that is made of waterproof breathable fabric such as Dyneema, or DCF. Though there are some tents like this that are built with silnylon or silpoly, these come at a better budget cost but can have drawbacks like they stretch as they absorb water.

The upside to this type of shelter is that it can be easier and faster to set up, normally having just one or two poles. The downside is that condensation can be an issue as the single wall does not allow the same amount of airflow as a double wall.

Interior Space (AKA Livability)

For thru-hiking there are days where the rain may never stop and you just want to zero and take it easy, well this is much more enjoyable if you give yourself enough internal space for good living conditions, this is why the Zpacks Duplex is still loved despite the cost.

Most will choose a 2P, or 2-person, tent as this provides much more interior space for spreading out gear and drying off things as well as plenty of room to stretch out and rest and if needed roll out muscles.

Another key spec many don’t think about until too late is the wall angle, the steeper the angle the more interior space there will be but the more angled the wall the more enclosed the tent will feel.

This is where a thru-hike is different than a car camping experience , living in your tent makes it more like your home, where that extra space is loved when needed and missed when not there.

Peak Height

Part of the interior the peak height is vital as this is the highest point in the tent, you would prefer this measurement to at least be a few inches higher than your height when sitting plus your pad height for comfortable sitting.

The location of this peak will also matter, many tents will have this point be towards the middle or head-side of the tent, what is important here is if you are taller you want this point to be above your head when laying down and not right in the middle of the foot area.


Another part of the living space is the vestibule area, this is space for storage that is outside the enclosed area but added to give you a place to store gear in close proximity for convenience and to keep the inside of your tent clean.

If you have ever used a one-person tent then you know what I mean, normally this is just enough room for your pack and boots and not much else.

This area can be extremely important when it comes to getting in and out of your tent during a rainstorm, especially if you choose not to have a double wall, as you don’t want to bring all the wetness and mud from outside inside when possible.


Tents will fall into one or two-door configurations, many beloved tent options have only a single door but many thru-hikers love two doors as this provides them a side for gear storage as well as another door to enter and exit so they don’t need to move gear around.

Additionally, you can have zippered doors and non-zippered, the non-zippered are what are helpful to drop weight but also one less possible hardware failure.

The zipper doors will be what most are familiar with from experience, these provide a good seal when closed but can be problematic if the zipper fails or gets jammed with mud, etc.

Freestanding or Non-Freestanding

Most thru-hikers will bring trekking poles, they help to take some of the load off your feet and this can help cut down on injury. This along with the thru-hiking mantra that you want multi-use items to cut down on weight makes them a smart use for your shelter too.

These trekking pole tents can be exceedingly lightweight versus the freestanding options, but what they lack is the ability to be setup without the use of trekking poles without issue, should you break a trekking pole you will need to find a temporary stick or other similar MacGyver solution.

Freestanding tents are also much simpler to just pick up and move if you find your tent spot selection was poor and there is a better place where a trekking pole tent will need to be taken apart and re-setup instead.

The final part of this decision comes down to weight, typically the freestanding options are going to be much heavier but what this buys you is the ability to set up your tent even in poor areas as it doesn’t need to be anchored to the ground.


The material most thru-hikers will want will be DCF, Dyneema is a high-performing material but comes at a huge cost.

Materials like DCF are what is important to focus on when you choose to cut down on weight, they will shave ounces and sometimes pounds off your total weight.

There are other materials such as silnylon which was once the go-to for ultralight options but has in recent years been replaced by many more modern materials in the thru-hiking sphere.

Silnylon is amazing, but it is hydrophilic, meaning it will absorb water and this extra weight can be problematic, as well as it can take significant time to dry out when it becomes soaked, making it worse for wet trails like the Appalachian Trail.


While tent weight is important each person has different capabilities and needs as to what they choose to bring.

Most thru-hiking tents will be three pounds or less, very rarely do people go with four pounds or heavier as this is just extra weight to lug around each day and there are so many good deals for lighter weight options.

There are some sub-one-pound options on the market, like the Zpacks Plex Solo, but they often cut out “extras” or features that people want or need such as second doors and other livability factors.


This may seem like a small thing but how you can fit your tent inside or outside your pack matters over a long-distance trek, with some tents being able to fit horizontally inside a pack while others take up a huge vertical section.

You need to decide what is important to you and what are you willing to give up, for example, I am willing to have my tent inside my pack as long as it can be easily compressed so it does not take away from what I can fit in the rest of my backpack.

I tend to pack in layers, so the tent goes on top as a first need once to camp but I want my tent to sit shoulder to shoulder and not be a vertical spire inside my backpack as it helps distribute weight better.

Other hikers may want their tent to sit in a pocket or to attach outside of their pack for quick access, or they may not mind if it takes up a larger section inside the pack as long as it is not adding on too much extra weight.

When looking at how a tent packs think about what you are willing to give up, either internal or external and what you need to ensure you are as comfortable as possible on the trail.

Ease of Setup

The process of setting up a tent can be critical, some are simple with one pole while others have multiple and require time to set up.

What you don’t want is to waste time in the rain or setting up in the dark as this can lead to mistakes and a poor night’s sleep.

So finding a tent that needs only a few minutes to set up or allows for a rainfly first setup to get you out of the elements is important.

This is why I love my X-Mid 1P and 2 Pro, both are incredibly fast to set up and get you under cover but frequently sold out for just such reasons.


Tent lifespan is also something you want to consider, a thru-hike can be hard on gear and your tent will be no different.

Zippers can and will possibly break, poles can snap, and fabric tears are all possible so looking for a model with double stitching in high-stress areas or thicker material overall will help to increase its lifespan.

Dyneema is one of the most durable materials used in modern tents but is also the most expensive so keep that in mind when looking at what will work for you.


Tent ventilation is important as you don’t want excessive condensation, especially on single-wall tents as this buildup can ruin sleep quality, increase the risk of hypothermia, or just make for a miserable and wet night.

Many newer models have great ventilation built in but older ones may require some additional help through the use of gear like a tarp to increase airflow and to keep your space dry.


Probably the one most want to aim for but really price is last and the price you pay will be based on what you ACTUALLY need from all the above criteria.

I think many incorrectly start with price and then start to remove what they need instead just to save money.

Don’t get me wrong, price is important and you will have a budget but what I would encourage you to do is figure that out AFTER you know what your actual needs are so you don’t overspend or underspend on what could be your home for months.

It will be your home, your place to seek refuge from the storm or to just relax and enjoy the night so take your time, make a list of what you need, what you want, and what would be nice to have, and then find what fits into your budget.

Defining the Maximum Acceptable Weight

When looking for your thru-hiking or backpacking tent there are loads of inexpensive cheap options, so how heavy is too heavy for a backpacking tent?

For most thru-hikers you will be looking for a sub-three pound backpacking tent, this allows you many more budget options while still maintaining a solid performing shelter.

Understanding Key Tent Weight Specifications

Packaged weight is what’s listed as well as “minimum trial weight” on packaging when purchasing a tent so understanding the difference between these two numbers is important in making a decision.

The minimum trail weight is the weight of the core items of the tent: the tent body, rainfly, and poles.

The issue with this is most tents will need stakes and additional guyline weight so it is more of a baseline if you buy other tent stakes or tweak, which most thru-hikers will do.

Packaged weight is the all-in weight if you use the tent body, rainfly, poles, stakes, and guylines they provide.

Also note this won’t include a tent footprint in the weight, personally, I would replace any manufacturer footprint with a Polycro or Tyvek for durability as they are much more lightweight.

But packed weight includes things many leave at home like a tent pole bag, with most removing the bag and just carrying the poles alone outside the pack.

Comparing Top Tent Options by Weight and Type

Tent NameCostMaterialWeightDoorsSetup
Zpacks Duplex (2P)$$$$$DCF18.5 oz2Trekking
Zpacks Plex Solo (1P)$$$$$DCF13.9 oz1Trekking
NEMO OSMO Hornet Elite 2 (2P)$$$$SilNylon29 oz1Semi
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (2P)$$$$SilNylon40 oz1Semi
Gossamer Gear “The Two”  (2P)$$$SilNylon32.0 oz2Trekking
Gossamer Gear “The One” (1P)$$$SilNylon22.9 oz2Trekking
Dan Durston X-Mid 2P (2P)$$$SilPoly39.4 oz2Trekking
Tarptent Dipole 2 Li (2P)$$$$$DCF26.45 oz2Trekking
Near-Zero Ultralight (2P)$$$SilNylon60 oz2Free
3F UL Lanshan 2P$$SilNylon42.9 oz2Trekking
Outdoor Vitals Fortius (2P)$$$$SilNylon34.5 oz2Trekking
Comparison Of Tents By Weight Side By Side

Tent Recommendations for Every Budget

This article provides a focused look at the weight of tents . However, I have also taken the time to pick the best trekking pole tents based on a variety of factors, including budget, space, and much more.

Final Thoughts on What Makes a Good Thru-Hiking Tent Weight

In the end, choosing your tent is highly personal and budget -driven, but don’t skip out on things that will improve your quality of life on the trail, especially on bad days. These little things you choose to think about now will pay off in the long run.

I hope this article helped better understand what factors go into choosing your best option for a thru-hiking tent and what makes a good weight for one.

When searching for your perfect model don’t just think about price but also research what others have to say about the model, check out reviews, and really make an informed decision on what will work best for you and your hike.

Happy Hiking!

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