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How Much Should a Backpacking Tent Weigh?

How Much Should a Backpacking Tent Weight?

Tent weight is a frequent area of concern for many backpackers, especially for beginners who are faced with a tsunami of gear choices without understanding what they need for the weather conditions they plan to backpack in, what they’ll like or dislike in a tent, or what’s a reasonable amount to pay for one.

If you’re just getting into backpacking, one rule of thumb is to keep the weight of your first backpacking tent under 2.5 to 3 pounds per person. It can be lower than that, but that’s a good upper limit to shoot for and one that’s still relatively easy to carry in a backpack. That also gives you a range of fairly reasonable pricing options.

If you’re hiking with a partner, you may be able split the components of the tent between you so you each carry half or part of the weight. You can also repackage the tent so it has a more manageable shape than the bag it originally came in. For example, I usually stuff my tents into a stuff sack or even loose inside my backpack to use the space inside my pack more efficiently.

Buying your first tent

If I can offer one piece of sage advice for beginner backpackers when buying their first tent, it’d be:

“Don’t buy the lightest weight tent money can buy.”

While people who tell you that “successful backpacking depends on carrying the least amount of weight possible” are trying to be helpful, they never seem to take into account your needs and desires, the demands of the terrain and weather, where you plan to hike, trip length, what your goals are, or how much disposable income you have to spend on gear. While a lower weight tent weight helps, plenty of people have been very successful backpackers when carrying heavier tents and pack weights.

Everybody has different needs: take the time to learn what yours are before you try to buy the perfect tent, even if that means buying a less-than-perfect one at first.  For example, you might want to buy a tent that can return, even if it’s been used (Hint: REI’s return policy), to get your feet wet. You might ultimately decide it’s a tent you like, but you’ll still have the option of returning it and choosing something different.

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  1. Weight and price in backpacking gear become the focal point of discussion because they are tangible, easily measured, and invite comparison. That’s why so many backpackers recommend gear on those two bases.

    Things like a good night’s sleep from a comfortable refuge that provides a sense of security and room to perform basic camp tasks aren’t quantifiable… but they’re far more important to feeling good at the end of the trip. That’s why the advice above about not buying the lightest tent is probably the wisest backpacking advice for a beginner.

  2. Offer another piece of advice – which goes for many hobbies – if an option go/learn from someone you trust that is experienced and already outfitted and ask lots of questions. This person shouldn’t be a “you should do what I do” but a “this is why I do what I do”.

    And another piece of advice – don’t assume the specification on the tents actually accommodate the number of people it suggests – at least not in comfort. :)

  3. This is excellent advice, even if my experience was the opposite. Going forward, I will share this article with people who ask me this question. It seems that the best gear for your first trip is the gear that gets you out there and makes you comfortable enough that you want to go again. For most people this is probably camping in their own lightweight, good quality 2 person 3 season tent.

    Oddly, when I was getting back into backpacking after almost 20 years away, I picked the lightest tent I could afford, because it was similar to the one a friend had used on the AT. It was the Six Moons Deschutes Plus and oddly l, it has been pretty much perfect for me. All my other gear has changed in the 7 years since then, but I’m on my 2nd Deschutes Plus and it’s never let me down.

  4. Also get a backpacking tent sized for one more person than intends to sleep in the tent.

  5. Saying “ the lightest weight tent money can buy” assumes a linear relationship between weight and price, but that just isn’t true. My silnylon pyramid is both very light (20 ounces) and affordable ($170 at the time). Look for simple designs that do the job. Maybe they won’t be right for you, but they might be in that sweet spot. My MLD Speedmid sure is.

  6. Hi, thanks for the article and maybe you have some advice.
    I’m planning on taking my three kids (ages 13,11, and 9) backpacking on a few different trails this summer in Ontario and around Lake Superior. We’ve done a lot of camping and day hiking in these parks, so know the areas and we are very excited to return and try backpacking now that they are older. They are strong hikers, but still, because of their sizes, can’t carry much weight. (We are going on practice hikes carrying packs to get them ready ?)

    So in looking for backpacking tents, I’ve definitely been looking at weight a lot, since it will be a huge factor in making this doable for us, as I will be carrying a big portion of the gear for all of us.
    I’m planning on two, two-person tents for being versatile for future backpacking if not all of us go.
    I also have to really consider moisture and mosquitoes – there definitely will be rain, and definitely intense mosquitos (to the point of insanity in some places) where we are going. I am therefore not considering tarps. I am also thinking I want a seperate rainfly (not one piece) as I’m thinking it will have less chance of our sleeping bags getting wet from condensation.
    So I would love for it to be very light weight, but also need it to have good ventilation and be durable for kids (they are careful, but still…)
    Any suggestions for me? I’ve been researching this in circles, and it’s a huge investment for me.
    Thanks for all the info you post, it has been helping me a lot. Can’t wait for summer!

    • You’re going to have a really hard time finding tents that weigh less than 3 or 4 pounds each and are affordable. If price isn’t an obstacle, buy two Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 tents…but they are big bucks. If you are willing to carry heavier tents in the 3 or 4 lb range to save money, I’d buy the REI Trailmade 2 or the Passage 2, which you can still get in the outlet. If you need to go lighter than that and stay affordable, I’d suggest the 3F UL Lanshan 2, which is a great deal at $189, but it’s a trekking pole tent, so they’ll be harder for your kids to set up. All of these are double wall tents and will provide plenty of insect and rain protection. Hope that helps.

    • Ontarian here – big fan of the Copper Spur, but don’t discount MEC’s Spark or Volt if you live in Canada. You won’t see as much reviews and articles on them because of MEC being a Canadian-only brand, but my previous backpacking tent was the old (now discontinued) MEC Tarn and it was fantastically durable – I only replaced it because both my income and tent materials had advanced so much in 20 years that I wanted to splurge on something better.

    • I have had good luck finding tents and backpacks on the used market.

      As mentioned in the article sometimes a tent just isn’t right for a person’s needs and needs to go.

      Also gives an opportunity to try things at a lower risk, since already used gear tends to flatten out in value

  7. Ideally you would borrow a few tents from friends to learn what matters to you. Alternatively go spend a couple of hours in a store setting up and lying down in tents. Specs can help narrow choices down, but nothing beats using a tent.

  8. Good question.
    For 3 + season -> About 20.2 oz., the weight of my Tarptent Notch Li. Plus 2.4 oz for Ground Hog stakes.

  9. The ubiquitous ‘lightest you can buy’ advice and guideline is part truth, part marketing hype and has a lot to do with both status and context (where are you using the the gear? What level of performance do you need? How much cash can you spend? What compromises – comfort and durability to name two – are worth sacrificing? etc). It applies to lots of different types of gear in lots of different activities. I’ve totally fallen for the hype and allure of the lightest gear many times. Your advice about not buying the lightest is so sound, so refreshing and so valuable. Ouch! My wallet hurts!

  10. ROLLY, You are keerect about hype v.s. need and usability. In the TT Notch Li I don’t have the lightest 1 person Dyneema tent like the TT Aeon Li but I do have a tent that will withstand a freak, unseasonal snowstorm, which happens sometimes here in the mountain west. And as an octogenarian with the disposable income I absolutely want very light gear.
    In fact I’m seriously considering selling my current Osprey EXOS pack for the 11.5 oz. lighter PRO version. C’mon, that’s a decent weight reduction for a pack that gives me a lot of comfort when loaded to 28 pounds at the start of a 6 day backpack. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

  11. I have had good luck finding tents and backpacks on the used market.

    As mentioned in the article sometimes a tent just isn’t right for a person’s needs and needs to go.

    Also gives an opportunity to try things at a lower risk, since already used gear tends to flatten out in value

  12. gawd..I rember the earth standing still when MSR introduced the original Hubba Hubba at 4 lbs.

    Still have and use mine..with new fly via warranty to replace the stickiness the early ones suffered from.

  13. I think weight is an individual decision for all gear carriers…I like external frame backpacks but if you ask many people today what they think about using them, many will have a negative opinion without even ever have tried one. . .you can’t make an informed decision if something is right for you if you have never put up a piece of gear through its paces long-term for a while. Then you can say if you like something or not.

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