How to Choose a Tent

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Posted September 17, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Backpacking

There is no best tent, but click on our tent choosing infographic and we’ll help you choose a great tent. Just click on the image below to make it large enough to read.

tent choosing infographic

Why There isn’t One Best Tent

At Rugged Individual we recommend the best products that stand out from all the others. Tents are harder. When we’re asked about tents in person, we feel like we have to interview somebody before giving a recommendation. When asked about particular tents, there are often comparable or better alternatives that costs less. Unlike our other best of recommendations we don’t own all of these tents. We’ve chosen tents based on a lot of experience with other tents from these brands, reviews, and our criteria of what makes a good tent. These tents are all beloved by others, even if we haven’t laid our own heads in them.

Some Tent Buying Tips

Aluminium Poles

All our recommendations have aluminium poles. We’ve owned tents with fibreglass poles and the question is not if they will break but when they will break. We’ve never broken an aluminium tent pole. We think a tent should take a good decade of hard abuse, and fibreglass poles don’t cut it. Fibreglass poles are also very heavy and take up more space. Even car camping where we can deal with some weight, we’d prefer to go smaller and lighter if we can get it at the same level of comfort.

Double Wall

All but one of our picks (the Mountain Hardwear EV-2) are double wall tents. A double wall tent has a separate rain-fly that goes over the tent itself. Even our hammock has a separate rain-fly. Double wall tents protect from the rain better than single wall tents. They also have less condensation, tend to be sturdier, and tend to do better in the wind. The one exception is high altitude mountaineers who might appreciate the lighter single wall EV-2 and will never be anywhere warm enough to rain or get too moist, and who are willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort for moving fast.

Rainfly Covers the Entire Tent

Cheap tents try to put a tiny little rainfly that covers just the top of the tent. This saves money on material. It also protects terribly against rain. Your rainfly should cover all of your tent and go down almost to the ground.

Packaged Weight

I’ve lugged 60 pound tents across fields for drive up camping and I’ll tell you, it’s just not fun. Backpacking is all about going light so you can go fast and every ounce counts. When you look at weight there are two numbers manufacturers will throw at you. The minimum weight is usually just the poles and rainfly, which will not protect you from mosquitos and usually isn’t very tough against wind. I’ve never actually seen somebody carry just the minimum weight of the tent. The weight you care about is the packaged weight, which is the actual weight of the tent.

Recommended Tents

Here’s some details on the tents from the choose a perfect tent infographic. We’ve also included links where you can get a good deal on buying them.

Hennessey Hammock

Best Camping Hammock

Best Camping Hammock

We liked this hammock so much we did make a best of article for it, even if it is pretty short for now. Read the article here.

Kelty Salida

  • We have three arrows pointing to this in our chart. Kelty makes great tents. I’ve seen guiding services use Kelty tents and have been amazed at how they can withstand so much constant use by teenagers.
  • Backpacker Magazine gave it their Editor’s Choice in 2011, which is amazing as it is much cheaper than most editors choice tents.
  • 116 Amazon customers rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Outdoor gear lab gave it a mixed review. They didn’t like that it only had one door, but also called it “a killer deal.” We are fine with one door, especially for the low price and low weight having one door brings.

Mountainsmith Genesee

Hard to spell and easy to love. This tents goes back to tried and true simple design. The result is a great tent that is affordable, durable, and weatherproof.

  • 38 Amazon Customers gave this tent 4.8 out of 5 stars. The lowest rating it got was 4 stars. We read all the 4 star ratings and after reading them wondered why those people didn’t give 5 star ratings.
  • Backpacker Magazine called it “a bargain shelter that’s both light and durable,” and while they liked it overall they did find a few nits to pick as well.

Big Agnes Fly Creek 2


This tent is a bit more money than the Kelty Salida, and for that extra money you get weight savings with no other real compromises except to your wallet.

Kelty Trail Ridge 6


If I were to design a 6 person (6 people would be tight) tent it would look exactly like this. Simple but with some extra poles to make more headroom. Amazon reviewers seem to agree, 36 customers rated it 4.7 out of 5 stars.

REI Kingdom Tent

REIKingdom6
We are generally against tents so large. When you are out in the wilderness you want to spend your time outside and not in your tent. But we have to admit, if we were caught in the rain with a big group of people this is the tent where we’d all want be playing cards and passing around a bottle while riding out the storm.

Outdoor Gear Lab liked it so much they gave it an Editor’s Choice Award.

REI Customers rated it very highly and have made it one of REI’s bestsellers.

Kingdom 6 – $439 ($352 when you have the fairly regular 20% off coupons given to members) at REI
Kingdom 8 – $529 ($424 when you have the fairly regular 20% off coupons given to members) at REI

Big Agnes Fly Creek 1


I have a Big Agnes tent that is a bit older but of very similar design. It’s one of my prized possessions. Again, what your money is buying you here is weight savings without any other real compromises.

REI Passage 1

reipassage1
Simple, light, and really affordable. Skip a night in a hotel and buy this instead.

$130 Retail ($104 when you have the fairly regular 20% off coupons given to members) at REI

Mountain Hardwear EV-2

mountainhardwearev2
The only single wall tent in our recommendations, this tent is not the right tent for 99.99% of people. But for that 0.01% of people doing high altitude mountaineering it is going to be amazing. Ed Viesturs, who we think is the best American mountaineer to ever live, helped design it. Ed Viesturs. This is a sexy tent.
$700 at REI (if you have to ask you can’t afford it).

Hilleberg Nammatj

hilleberg
Hilleberg has a serious reputation as making just bombproof tents. All of their tents. Every last one. It’s a little heavy for backpacking, and pretty expensive. It is however the most versatile and weatherproof tent in our lineup. If you could marry a tent this would be that tent.

Outdoor Gear Lab gave it their Editor’s Choice Award, we think their review on this one is really worth reading if you are in the market for a $700 tent.

$700 at Backcountrygear.com


About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.

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