Backpacking tents, tents (usually nylon) designed specifically for hikers and backpackers in mind, can be a backpacker’s best friend. Sure, there alternative ways to spend a night in the woods. Many fast and light hikers are relying on bivy bags to keep themselves warm, nesting their sleeping bags inside waterproof bags and eschewing a tent all together. However, these weight watchers often wake up in sleeping bags soaked with condensation, even if the sky was clear all night. Other hikers spend the night under ultra light tarps or in hammocks, but when it starts to rain most of them find themselves flooded out, all too happy to share your dry, waterproof tent.
Backpacking tents aren’t the heavy, leaking, cumbersome shelters they once were either. Construction from nylon shells and fiberglass or carbon-fiber poles mean that today’s tents are smaller and lighter than ever before. No more hassling with mismatched tent poles in the middle of the night either; most manufactures now string their break-down poles with bungee cords which allow the pieces to snap together quickly. These poles, combined with color-coded snaps on the tent body, mean that most tents can be set up by one person in minutes, even if that one person is stumbling into camp in the dark as it’s starting to rain.
Once the tent is set up, you can be assured a dry night. The rain flies of modern backpacking tents are waterproofed and seam-sealed, so you won’t wake up at 3am to that tell-tale drip-drip-drip of a leaking seam. They’re ventilated too, allowing the moisture and condensation from your breath to carry outside and avoid wet tent walls in the morning. Another handy, common feature is a vestibule, allowing you to leave your muddy boots and pack outside your tent but still out of the rain.
Other small touches abound. Many backpacking tents are equipped with gear lofts, utilizing the extra space at the top of the tent’s dome for storage of small items and bags. Others have attachment points for flashlights or lanterns, though it’s important to keep sources of flame or heat away from the synthetic materials. Small pouches sewn into the inside of the tent serve as handy places for pocket change or eyeglasses.
When storm clouds roll in it’s good to know that you can easily carry a warm, dry shelter in your backpack, which can be ready to keep off the rain and snow for years to come.