The number of ultralight double-wall backpacking tents available today has grown significantly, driven by consumer demand and advances in material technologies. If you prefer a double-wall tent over a single-wall tent because it’s more spacious, warmer, less drafty, and has a separate inner tent and rainfly to prevent internal condensation transfer, you can have it with just a slight weight penalty compared to a single-wall tent. While ultralight single-wall tents will always have their advocates, the vast majority of backpackers prefer freestanding and semi-freestanding tents that don’t require much practice or more advanced site selection skills to set up. Ease of use often trumps a few ounces of added gear weight when it comes right down to it. See for yourself, below in this sortable table.
Tent Fabrics and Materials
The lightest weight ultralight double-wall tents are made with DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabrics) which is more of a synthetic laminate than a fabric. In addition to being very lightweight, it’s much more waterproof than conventional tent fabrics and doesn’t sag when it gets wet. The downsides are that it’s very expensive and nearly transparent, so it gets very hot inside when placed in direct sunlight.
Most ultralight double-wall tents are still made with more conventional fabrics including ripstop nylon. These are usually coated with PU (polyurethane) or its variants including PeU (polyether urethane), which is becoming increasingly popular. Silicone is also used in conjunction with these coatings. For a detailed discussion of the benefits and technical differences, I’m going to refer you to an article published by SlingFin on the topic by Tim Hunt, titled Waterproof Fabric Coatings 101: PU vs. PE vs. Silicone, which goes into much more detail than I have space for here. One important thing about these waterproof coatings is that they permit tents to be factory seam-taped so you don’t have to seam seal them yourself, something that a number of single-wall tent manufacturers, including Six Moon Designs, Lightheart Gear, and Tarptent require to this day on their silnylon and silpoly tents.
Some of the tents listed above, including those from Big Agnes and MSR, also include carbon fiber tent poles to save weight. These became available about 2 years ago and have proven reliable for consumers use, so more and more tent manufacturers are adopting them.
To summarize, there are more ultralight and lightweight double-wall tents available today than ever before. If you’re in the market to reduce the weight of your backpacking tent, but hesitant to get a single-wall tent instead of a double-wall one because you’re concerned about tent condensation or ease of use, rest easy. The weight difference between ultralight double-wall and single-wall backpacking tent has narrowed considerably and you can stick with a double-wall tent with only a slight weight penalty.
Double-wall Tent Advantages
- Easy to set up
- Inner tent prevents internal condensation from making your gear wet
- Can be used in all three-season weather conditions and mild winter weather
- Vestibules provide covered more gear storage in poor weather
- Deep bathtub floors prevent flooding if water pools underneath
- Less drafty because less airflow is required to mitigate condensation
- Easier to set up on rock ledges, sandy soil, or wooden tent platforms
Double-wall Tent Disadvantages
- Tent poles can be bulky and awkward to pack
- Warmer in hot weather
- Take longer to dry because they have more surface area
- The inner tent may become wet when pitched in rain (shelter specific)