Picking the Right Tent For Backpacking and Camping

By Alexander Popp



They say that “Home Is Where The Heart Is”, but in the wilderness home is almost always four walls of weather-resistant materials that protect you from the elements and give you a place to lay your head for a night or two.

Man and woman set up backpacking tent.
WBA Guide Jason and a guest set up a backpacking tent at a campsite in North Carolina.

Tents, Hammocks, and Tarps are what most people think of when they consider shelter in the backcountry, but far and away the most popular option is the tent. Go online and you will find literally thousands of different tent brands and styles, with options for everything you could possibly imagine. 

So how does a savvy backpacker or camper pick the right tent for their needs? Answer: By reading this World’s Best Adventures Guide to picking the right tent, of course! 


Four Major Considerations



What you can afford is a big consideration when picking out a tent because there is a huge range in tent pricing and one can spend thousands on a new tent with no surefire promise that it will fit their needs. 

  • In general, you should expect to spend between $200 and $500 when buying a quality new tent, but obviously, that price range can go up or down depending on other factors below. 


Most tents can be used for a variety of purposes, both traditional car camping and wilderness backpacking. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to pick a tent that best suits the purpose you’re likely to put it to. 

  • Traditional Car Camping tents are typically much heavier than backpacking tents, and are typically constructed of much heavier duty materials that provide more insulation from the elements. Car Camping tents also typically have many more features than backpacking tents, like large windows, covered vestibules, and storage areas. 
  • Backpacking tents on the other hand are typically constructed with an even balance of weight, durability, and protection in mind, and typically favor materials with a high strength-to-weight ratio. Backpacking tents typically also pack down to a much smaller size than typical car camping tents, so they are easily carried in a backpack. 


In Backpacking, you normally won’t be sharing a tent with much more than one or two other people, but in Traditional Car, Camping tents can be massive and are sometimes meant for whole families to share. Regardless, having a tent that fits your family and desired use is a smart move. 

  • With Traditional Car Camping tents we suggest getting a model that’s just a little bit bigger than what your family needs to leave room for extra people, gear storage, and rainy day hangouts. 
  • For Backpacking tents, we suggest picking a tent that exactly fits the number of people you’ll be bunking with. You won’t want to carry much more than the space you absolutely need, because weight adds up fast in backpacking. Another really good idea is to test any tents size before taking it out in the field because the last thing you want is to be crammed in with no headroom on a cold rainy night. 


Speaking of cold rainy weather, one of the biggest things to consider is how your shelter, your tent, will stand up to the elements that might be thrown at you. Tents normally come in two varieties; Three Season or Four Season, and are generally rated for seasonal weather within those categories. Three Season Tents are designed for use during the Spring, Summer, and Fall, while Four Season Tents are designed for year-round use (as their name implies). 

  • Pro Tip – If you regularly backpack or camp in areas with specific predictable weather conditions, like rain, snow, or heat waves, make sure that you pick a product that has been reviewed and tested against those conditions. We suggest using a rating and review source like The Gear Lab, for up-to-date, reliable, and unbiased reviews of outdoor gear.


Learn more backpacking tips from World’s Best Adventures! If you like these tips and want to learn more, join World’s Best Adventures on a trip this spring. We take beginning backpackers, families, groups, and hikers of all skill levels on guided backpacking trips to some of the most beautiful locations in North Carolina. Learn more here.

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