What is a Freestanding Tent?

What is a Freestanding Tent?

Freestanding tents are tents that can stand up by themselves making them easy to set up in different types of terrain from desert sands and snow-covered peaks to wooden tent platforms. Most freestanding tents are double-wall tents that have a separate inner tent and a rainfly to help prevent internal condensation from making your gear wet, although a handful of single-wall freestanding tents also exist, designed mainly by climbers and mountaineers.

If you’re shopping for a freestanding tent, you’re bound to come across some that are classified as semi-freestanding. Semi-freestanding tents are also freestanding but require several tent stakes to set up — mainly to stake out vestibules — while fully freestanding tents can be completely set up without any stakes at all. It’s a subtle distinction and not a terribly meaningful one since you should always stake out a tent to prevent it from blowing away in the wind or in bad weather. Even if tent stakes can’t be used, you should still anchor a tent with rocks or by burying tent stakes in the ground using sand stakes or deadmen. See How to Set up a Tent on Sand for more information on this topic.

Freestanding tents can be further broken down into three categories, which we describe in greater detail below:

  • Double-wall tents where the Inner Tent is set up first
  • Double-wall tents where the Rainfly is set up first
  • Single-wall tents

Here are some examples of each type:

Make / ModelDesignSetupWeightPrice
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2Semi-FreestandingInner Tent First2 lbs 11 oz$450
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2Semi-FreestandingInner Tent First2 lbs 3 oz$400
Nemo Hornet Elite 2Semi-FreestandingInner Tent First1 lb 11 oz$500
MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2Semi-FreestandingInner Tent First3 lbs 8 oz$450
Paria Outdoor Zion 2PSemi-FreestandingInner Tent First4 lbs 2 oz$170
SlingFin Portal 2Semi-FreestandingInner Tent First2 lbs 13 oz$485
Exped Lyra IISemi-FreestandingInner Tent First4 lbs 4 oz$249
Hilleberg Niak Semi-FreestandingRainfly First3 lbs 5 oz$800
Hilleberg UnnaSemi- FreestandingRainfly First4 lbs 7 oz$725
Terra Nova Southern Cross 1Fully FreestandingRainfly First3 lbs 4 oz$746
Exped Orion IIFully FreestandingRainfly First6 lbs 9 oz$649
Big Sky Chinook 2Fully FreestandingRainfly First4 lbs$600
Black Diamond Firstlight 2Fully FreestandingSingle Wall3 lbs$370
MSR Advance Pro 2Fully FreestandingSingle Wall2 lbs 14 oz$550
Mountain Hardwear AC 2Fully FreestandingSingle Wall3 lbs 7 oz$650

Double-Wall: Inner Tent First

Most of the semi-freestanding tents made by US-based manufacturers like Big Agnes, MSR, NEMO, REI, and others require that you set up the inner tent first and then drape the rainfly over it. This is a very easy process, which is why the tents that use it are so popular.

The inner tent is set up first on most American-made freestanding tents
The inner tent is set up first on most American-made semi-freestanding tents

You simply stake out the corners of the inner tent, expand the poles and insert them into grommets in the corners, and then hook the walls and ceiling of the inner tent to the poles so the structure stands up by itself. The rainfly gets laid on top and usually connects the corners of the inner tent. The vestibule doors usually have to be staked out, but this usually only requires 1-2 tent stakes.

The upper part of the inner tent is then hooked to the poles
The upper part of the inner tent is then hooked to the poles

This inner tent first design works well in dry weather, but it can result in a wet inner tent if you have to set it up while it’s raining. But worst comes to worst, you can usually mop up any rain that penetrates the mesh ceiling of the inner tent with a camping towel and use the tent as normal.

Double-Wall Tents: Rainfly First

Many European-made tents including the fully freestanding and semi-freestanding tents made by Hilleberg, Exped, and Terra Nova are set up rainfly first. The tent poles slide into sleeves sewn into the rainfly fabric and the inner tent is suspended under the rainfly. In dry weather, you can also leave the rainfly and inner tent attached when you take down the tent, so the entire structure does up at once the next time you pitch the tent,

The tent poles slide into sleeves on the rain fly while and the inner tent is suspended inside
The tent poles slide into sleeves on the rain fly while and the inner tent is suspended inside. Hilleberg Niak tent, shown here.

While the rainfly-first design prevents rain from making the inner tent wet, this type of tent is generally heavier than those that get set up with the inner tent first. These tents are also generally much more expensive because they’re more difficult to manufacture and made with more durable materials.

You can also pick up and move a freestanding tent from one place to another without taking it down.
You can usually pick up and move a freestanding tent from one place to another without taking it down.

Single-Wall Freestanding Tents

There are also single-wall freestanding tents that don’t have a separate inner tent and rainfly but have a single skin. These are often fully freestanding and mainly designed for climbers and mountaineers who need tents that are easy to set up on narrow rock ledges in adverse winter conditions where staking out a tent would be impossible.

Freestanding tents are great for using on wooden tent platforms. Shown here: Black Diamond Firstlight 2 single wall tent
Freestanding tents are great for using on wooden tent platforms because they don’t have to be staked out. Shown here: Black Diamond Firstlight 2 single wall tent

The tent poles in this style of tent usually criss-cross inside the tent and you need to crawl inside to insert them in the tent corners. While these tents are very lightweight and convenient to use in cold winter weather, they tend to have poor ventilation and are subject to heavy internal condensation unless all the doors and windows are left wide open.

See also:

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  1. Nice of you to publish this article but with all due respect I think you should have included the BA Copper Spur in the list of examples, if you are using images of it in the article. Not to mention that it is one of the most popular freestanding tents on the market.

    • The list gives the impression that freestanding tents are a lot more expensive & heavier which isn’t necessarily true. Example the Big Agnes Copper Spur.

    • I linked to a review of it t the bottom of the article. But it was easy enough to add to the table. It is a nice tent, although I do think that the Tiger Wall has eclipsed it in consumer popularity because it is lighter weight.

      • Dear Phillip, I agree that you can’t include every tent ever made. However that was not what I suggested. As I mentioned before you induced the image therefore if you are going to make use of it then I believe its fair to say that the details should also be listed.
        I did see that you had included the link to the review for it at the end of the article. However most people reading the article will glance at the list as a summary of the article which included the images & gives the impression that freestanding tents are a lot more heavy & expensive when compared to semi-freestanding.
        If I may & again with all due respect you’ve made a mistake now when including it into the list. The Copper Spur is a freestanding tent not a semi-freestanding tent

      • You’re wrong. It’s semi-freestanding. You need to stake out the vestibules.

      • Ok my apologies then. However it is likely that others like myself might interpret it a bit differently since the inner tent stand on its own on any surface protecting the used regardless of the vestibules. So the vestibules aren’t vital & the doors to it can be rolled out of the way. Big Agnes certainly also views it this way since it lists it as freestanding tent on their website.
        Some of the points you’ve made in the article also indicate it fits as freestanding tent & even more so when used with its footprint:
        “Double-wall tents where the Inner Tent is set up first.”
        “Double-wall tents where the Rainfly is set up first.”
        “You can usually pick up and move a freestanding tent from one place to another without taking it down.”

        Just to list a few points mentioned in the article.
        I’ll reread the article & ponder this further.

      • That’s why I wrote this article to enumerate the important differences. You have to realize that manufacturers and retailers claim that their tents are freestanding so that Google lists them that way so people will be fooled into buying them. The problem is rife on the Internet. It’s like calling a 4 lb tent ultralight. It’s not, but google will still list it as such. Same with Amazon.

      • I agree with your point about the abuse of terminology by some companies specially when it come to “lightweight” or “ultralight”.

      • The examples are rife in the outdoor industry.

        Why do shoe companies number their shoes instead of renaming them. To capitalize on the google search results:
        Altra Lone Peak 4.5
        Altra Lone Peak 4.0 etc.

        Why do companies reuse the names of existing backpacks even after they are changed radically? To capitalize on their existing google search results:

        Gregory Zulu
        Gregory Zulu

        –and so on.

      • Philip – Freestanding backpacking tents with vestibules that must be staked out have been called “freestanding” since their invention and predate the internet.

      • I think not. Why would the marketing maggots come up with the term “semi-freestanding” when they could use the term “freestanding” instead.

    • Copper Spur is not free standing. If you want to use it in the rain you must stake out the vestibules.

      • I agree with you. But the term that the industry and consumers have adopted is semi-freestanding, which I explain in the article. I tried for many years to explain that semi-freestanding tents were not freestanding in the purist sense. While that is technically true, no one cares anymore. Rather than fight city hall, I think it’s more useful, from an educational standpoint, to explain the differences between the varieties of freestanding as I have here.

  2. I have a Tarptent Double Rainbow, which is classified as semi freestanding. On one of the first times I used it, I tried that mode and wasn’t too impressed. It seemed too wobbly and of course, I couldn’t use the vestibules. I went ahead and staked it all out. I was just experimenting with the semi-free standing mode.

    Regarding the need to stake down freestanding tents, I recall a photograph in the “Parting Shots” section on the last page of Outside magazine some years ago. It showed a tiny tent way up in the blue sky with some mountaintops below. The caption read, “Eureka Mushroom airborne over Adirondack Park, New York.” It’s a fair bet that someone wished he’d staked his tent down!

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