Whether solo or with friends, backpacking can be a fun and adventurous way to spend a weekend. It gives you a chance to escape the madness of the city, explore a natural surrounding and get some great exercise to boot. One should never go unprepared, however! Take it from me, not having the right gear or equipment can make a backpacking trip go from an exciting weekend to a nightmarish two-day disaster with no end in sight. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a mountain in a sudden and unexpected rainstorm, without the right water resistant protection. One of the most vital items a backpacker should bring to avoid such a watery torment is a good backpacking tent.
Though important, backpacking tents are a tricky commodity; it can be difficult to nail down exactly the kind you should get. If you are planning on going backing soon and are in the market for a tent, here are some simple tips that may give you a place to start.
First of all, the kind of environment you plan to be hiking through is important to keep in mind as you choose your tent. Even if it is unlikely to rain, it is a good idea to purchase a tent that is completely water resistant and closed on all sides. Even though a ‘lean to’ or tarp like tent with open sides is an efficient and simple form of shelter, these kinds of tents can only protect from the mildest of weather conditions. Additionally, most wilderness areas popular for backpacking are havens for insects, such as mosquitoes, and an open tent will offer no protection against these pests.
Secondly, you should consider the length of your trip when looking for a backpacking tent. Also, what kind of terrain are you going to traverse? Are you going for a rough and nearly vertical thirty-mile plus climb, or a pleasant and easy five mile jaunt through the woods? If the latter is the case, weight is not an issue and you can purchase as large a tent as you please. The larger the better; you can house all your equipment inside to avoid damage from morning dew or from nocturnal animals with a sufficiently large tent. If you are taking a more arduous journey, you’ll want the lightest possible tent you can get that offers adequate protection.
Lastly, choose a good brand name. Ask for recommendations at the store you visit, or if you are ordering one online, choose a name that you are familiar with. Backpacking tents are important, and not an area to skimp on financially speaking. If you are pressed for cash, bring cheaper food items. I’d rather eat freeze dried mush while warm and dry in a nice, functional tent, than eat fillet mignon while soaking wet in a heap of junk that fell apart as soon as it started really pouring.
Personally I prefer to sleep under the stars while backpacking, if the weather permits. A good insect repellent (I prefer REI’s ‘Jungle Juice’) can reduce the mosquito problem and there is something refreshing (if not logical) about waking up covered in dew. However, it only took one bad and very wet experience for me to learn that you should always bring a tent on a backpacking trip, whether or not you plan to use it.