Backpacking Tents Part 4: Capacity and Weight

Capacity/Size: Backpacking tents are made for "1-person" (or "1-man"), "2-person" (or "2-man") and so forth, but the actual internal space varies. I've been in 2-person tents that had zero wiggle room; others that could fit two plus some gear (more like a 2.5-man tent). So it's best to look at the square footage specification.

You'll find that backpacking tents range from 13 to 18 square feet of floor space per person. Near the low figure, you'll be cramped, which is fine to save weight, or for couples. The high number is more spacious (people some gear).

One-person tents tend to range a little higher, around 15 - 25 square feet of floor space. The upper end is bordering on a 2-person tent, which many solo backpackers actually prefer for the extra space. It depends on your purpose. To shed the most pounds, you'll want to get a model with the least amount of extraneous room, which is undoubtedly the biggest factor in tent weight.

So, what to do? In general, unless you know you will be venturing solo AND lightweight a lot, I recommend looking at the 2-person variety so you have more options. There are some really lightweight 2-person models to choose from.

Weight: How much do "light" backpacking tents weigh? What is considered "heavy"? The primary factor is floor space (people and gear capacity). The more floor space, the bigger and heavier the tent. So when comparing tents, look for high square footage and low weight. What about height? Height is really secondary, because backpacking tents are always going to be low profile; you'll be sitting, crouching or stooping.

Today's 3-season, 2-person tents range from around 3 to 5.5 pounds, with floor space ranging 25 to 35 square feet. So if it's close to three pounds, that's extremely light. Beyond 5 and it's on the heavier side. The lightest most likely employ single-wall construction or lots of mesh, or are smaller in size (floor space and vestibule size).

Four-season, 2-person tents range from 4.5 pounds to 9 pounds. Floor space is the same as 3-season tents (25-35 sq. ft.). The lighter models may utilize single-wall construction or won't have as many poles. The heavier tents are typically the bombproof, ultra-sturdy mountaineering or basecamp tents.

Solo backpacking tents, for comparison, range from just barely over 2 pounds (super light) to 3 pounds, with 15 to 25 square feet of space. They can be as light or lighter than a tarp!

Don't automatically discount a tent due to above-average weight. Internal volume and floor space may be a bonus. As well, you may want less mesh for warmth, or more poles for strength, or a larger vestibule. Everything is a trade-off.

Next: Backpacking Tents Part 5: Conclusion

Part 1: Backpacking Tents Intro | Part 2: Intended Use | Part 3: Important Features | Part 4: Capacity and Weight | Part 5: Conclusion
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