How much should a backpacking tent weigh? A good weight to aim at for a backpacking or hiking tent is 2 or 3 lbs per person. The type of hiker you are will also determine how much weight you will bring with you. There are different types of hikers. There are casual hikers, very active hikers, which I also call experienced hikers, and a third category for hardcore backpackers.
I have been researching for a couple of days to try and answer how much your backpack should weigh, and I found that there are several nuances to this simple question. Different tents mean different pros and cons, and I will cover which type may work best for you. Also, I will cover some different schools of thought and ways of measuring tent weight. I will also give you some weight hacks which can lighten your load for the trail.
Target weight of your backpacking tent
There is no one correct answer to how much your backpacking tent should weigh, instead, the answer depends on your personal preference. The two extremes are either ultralight tents, often used by experienced backpackers. The second extreme would be very durable 4 season tents for harsh weather conditions. The middle option is often the right fit for your average backpacker, which I will call traditional tents.
Traditional tents (everyday backpacker) average weight: 3 to 4 lbs, the weight of most lightweight tents. (Another option) 3 season tents weigh from either 4 to sometimes 8 pounds and are the most common tent for your typical backpacker.
Ultralight(experienced) average weight: 1 to 2 lbs
4 season (hardcore backpacker) average weight: 5 to 7 lbs, and can weigh up to 15 lbs
A big factor besides budget and weather which determines how much your backpack will weigh is time. How long do you plan on hiking? For a week, a weekend? If you are only going a few days, and you are only backpacking a few miles, then a heavier tent won’t overburden you. On the flip side, if you are going to be an active hiker, and be there for a week or so, then a lighter tent will work better for you.
Pro tip: You can learn about tents weight by eyeballing pictures online if you know what to look for. If the angle of the tent points steeply to the tent’s ceiling, then that’s wonderful! This tent will be more weight-efficient than a rounder tent. What’s the tradeoff? These tents offer minimal room inside the tent, usually enough to sit up towards the center.
Packaged weight vs trail weight.
Packaged weight: This is the total weight of the tent. Total weight includes the tent’s instructions, body, stuff sack, rainfly, poles, stakes, and more. Everything that goes with the tent is calculated and added to the packaged weight of any given tent.
Trail weight (aka minimum trail weight): As the name implies, trail weight refers to how much your backpacking tent will actually weigh when you pack it for your hike. Tents often weigh less than the packaged weight because hikers leave the instructions, and sometimes the stuff sack behind. They may also leave their repair kit at home.
Pro tip: You can reduce the weight of your tent by customizing certain components such as switching steel stakes for lightweight titanium stakes, or getting ultralight tent poles.
These tents are often used by hardcore backpacking ruffians. While these tents do protect against the elements, they also weigh more than most tents. I will discuss more about 4 season tents in depth in the next segment.
Although pricey, average backpackers should consider a lighter load, without going ultralight, or getting a super durable tent able to withstand harsh snow. You should always plan for the worst weather case scenario, although a 4 season tent that protects you against the snow is unnecessary for camping in a desert environment.
Keep in mind that tents with lighter material will have thinner fabrics, tent poles, and zippers. This results in Durability decreasing as thinner fabrics increase. For those who aren’t used to being very careful with their gear or with tent care, you should be warned that you can accidentally damage these expensive products quite easily.
Pro tip: Lightweight summer tents may appear to be the perfect option, but there is more to consider than weight, also consider the weather. Will your lightweight keep out heavy rain, or keep you warm from cold weather if you like to stay warm?
As I mentioned before, ultra-light tents are best suited for experienced backpackers. Since they are very light, they can be damaged easier, there goes an expensive tent from a tree branch ripping it open.
The two cons of this tent then are fragility and price. When would you use it? if you plan on hiking many miles in high elevation areas. Because the tent requires a lot of care and is used for more physically active hikers, these tents are an excellent option for experienced hikers.
Also, ultralight tents can have trade-offs. Oftentimes comfort, ease of use, and durability are lacking in favor of making the tent lighter in weight.
Ultralight tents don’t add pole weight, they figure you will use your trek poles in the place of normal tent poles.
Pro tip: If you want to geek out about your tent weight to make it as light as possible, then you should consider various weights of the tent. Each part of the tent has a weight, so you can calculate each weight individually and add them to reach your total.
For example, there is Component weight, season weight, rain-free, winter protection, bug, fast flyweight, and more. Contact a tent manufacturer to answer any questions you have about the different weights.
Other facts to consider besides weight
Comfort: A great way to test a tent’s comfort is to test it out in person. Go to a local store which sells tents, and ask to set up prospective tents. Picking a comfortable tent is especially important if you are planning on being inside of it quite often.
Think about how often you are planning on being in the tent. If you aren’t going to be in your tent as often then comfort won’t matter nearly as much as using your tent for shelter during snow or rain for hours at a time.
If you love space you should get a two-person tent which will provide more room. The same logic works for two people, if you don’t want to be squished like a sardine, then consider getting a three-person to have plenty of elbow room.
Convenience: Here is an example. Consider whether you want a two or one-door zipper. If you have one door with two people in the tent, opening the door may be awkward. If you are on the farther end of your tent, leaving it can be difficult. There are two options, wake up the person next to you to open the tent or reach over them to unzip the tent door.
Protection: Select a tent that will be well equipped to handle the worst-case scenario you expect to encounter during the trip.
Pro tip: Set up your tent once or twice before trying to do it for the first time on your trip. This tip isn’t just helpful for convenience’s sake but serves as a safety suggestion. If you are suddenly caught in the middle of rain during your hike, erecting a tent becomes a nightmare!
3 season vs 4 season tents
4 season (Heaviest): One word separates 4 season tents from 3 season ones, and that’s snow. 4 season tents offer snow protection, and are usually used during the winter. Also, these tents are stronger and heavier than any other tents.
3 season (lighter; Popular): Because of their lightweight design, and affordability, 3 season tents are a popular option among hikers and backpackers. Unless camping in harsh snow is your goal, anything beyond a three-person tent is unnecessary for most backpacking trips. Backpackers use 3 season tents the most during warmer seasons.
Trekking pole supported structures
As the name implies, you only need trekking poles to support the tent. Since trekking poles are lighter than normal tent poles, tents lose weight from swapping a heavier ordinary pole for a trekking pole.
The angle behind trekking pole-supported shelters is that you don’t have to lose interior space, or fabric strength to have a very light tent. How light? tent weight can reach as low as 1 lb for some tents.
Pro tip: Plastic Pole clips are lighter and easier to attach than pole sleeves. Poles sometimes get stuck temporarily and you have to carefully guide the pole through each sleeve. A clip saves a lot of time and trouble, lift it and clip it, boom done! Clips also let the airflow enter underneath the rainfly, which helps combat condensation.
How to pack your tent into your backpack
Check if your tent is dry before packing, because water is heavy, and it will add significant weight to your backpack.
Your tent may weigh very little, but it may still feel uncomfortable. For example, if your tent is big, and you can’t easily slide it into your rucksack, then use a compression bag.
You don’t want to be packing your tent, and cramming it in your bag during a stormy downfall of rain.
Learn more about how to pack a backpacker’s backpack, which has helpful info on shedding unnecessary weight for your next trip.
Pro tip: You can use carbon fiber poles as well to save weight.
How to decrease tent weight while backpacking
Weight is different for every type of hiker. Some carry more weight than others, and some prefer to divide the weight between their hiking group. If you are hiking in a group or with your family, the weight will not be a priority because splitting up weight is easy within larger numbers of people.
Dividing the weight: Splitting up the weight will help your bag become much lighter. Divide the tent by having someone take the tent and stakes. Then have another person take the poles and the tent fly.
Dividing with Kids: Either tent stakes or a fly is a good weight for them to carry while on the hike. Remember that not all people are equally strong. Ask the people in your group what they are comfortable with carrying, and distribute the items accordingly.
Pro tip: A-frame tents are some of the best tents available if you want something lightweight, and if you are willing to only sit up in the middle of the tent. These tents are triangle-shaped, or A-shaped if you remove the middle line between the A. Another pro for A framed tents is the fact that they are by far the easiest tents to erect because they have fewer poles and a simple design.
Weight affects backpackers differently, depending on how strong, old, how active, and what type of backpacker you are. A factual answer to how much a backpacker’s tent should weigh would simply be this, around 2-3 lbs and the highest weight should be at 4 lbs. You can carry more than 4 lbs if you feel comfortable carrying it, just remember this, listen to your body. If you feel sore, then shed some weight by dividing it between your group.
Remember that the duration of your trip is one of the biggest factors which will determine how much your backpacking tent should weigh. The second factor is the weather, remember to plan according to the worst-case scenario. The third factor is your budget. Also remember there are other factors to consider besides weight such as comfort, convenience, and protection from bad weather.
What to do next?
Select the tent you will need for your backpacking trip based on your particular needs. Will you need an ultra-light trek pole tent? Or a bigger tent which can withstand harsh rain and wind but not snow?
Adding to this, you may not be going out in a place where it snows, which makes a 3 season a better fit than a 4. You see, there are many different situations to consider, and with these facts, you can learn what will work best for you. Enjoy your next backpacking trip, and stay safe!