SEASON RATING – 3-season shelters are the most popular backpacking tents and the style we focus on in this guide. They’re built for spring, summer, and fall trips where you’ll need to keep bad weather out while promoting air circulation. 3-Season tents can usually handle a little snow, but they’re not made for heavy snow and winter conditions.
DESIGN – A single design flaw can easily ruin an otherwise solid backpacking tent. Great tents keep design elements simple and include multiple doors, adequate vestibule space, lots of headroom, air vents to reduce condensation, and interior pockets for gear storage.
SETUP – Freestanding tents are generally prefered because they’re easier to use and quicker to pitch. They come with a fixed pole system that can be set up almost anywhere, even on solid rock. Non-freestanding tents use stakes, guylines, and trekking poles for pitching. They save weight by cutting out tent poles, but require more time and space to pitch, and will take practice to master.
WALL CONSTRUCTION – Double-wall tents come with two separate parts – a mesh tent body and a rainfly. The mesh inner-tent acts as a barrier from any condensation that forms on the inside of the rainfly. Single-wall tents reduce weight by ditching the mesh inner-tent, but that leaves hikers vulnerable to interior condensation in wet and cold conditions. Rubbing up against a wet tent interior is the pits, so that’s why we mostly recommend double wall tents, unless you generally backpack in dry climates. For ultralight hikers open to the idea of single-wall shelters, have a look at our ultralight tarp and tent recommendations.