By Michael Lanza

The choices in tents for backpacking seem to get better every year, with lightweight models continually getting lighter and other advances that make tents sturdier and more livable without adding weight. But with all the options out there, how do you choose? The answer is simpler than you might think: It comes down to understanding the key differences that distinguish tents from one another—which will help you understand what you need.

Like tents, backpackers come in different sizes and their needs in a tent vary depending on their style of backpacking and where they go. In testing scores of backpacking tents over a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear—formerly as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine for about 10 years and even longer running this blog—I’ve acquired a sense of what to look for in a tent and how to help people pick out one they like.

The five simple tips in this article will help you find the tent that’s best for your needs. Please share any tips of your own or your questions in the comments section at the bottom of this story; I try to respond to all comments.

See also my story “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Tent for You,” which explains specific details and design differences that apply to all tents.

See “The 9 (Very) Best Backpacking Tents” and all of my backpacking tent reviews.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker at Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascades National Park.
” data-image-caption=”David Ports at Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascades National Park. Click on the photo to see my 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?fit=300%2C177&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?fit=900%2C529&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”529″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?resize=900%2C529&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker at Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascades National Park.” class=”wp-image-37162″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?resize=1024%2C602&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?resize=300%2C177&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?resize=768%2C452&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?resize=1080%2C635&ssl=1 1080w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cas7-220-Sahale-Camp-North-Cascades-NP.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />A backpacker at Sahale Glacier Camp in North Cascades National Park. Click on the photo to see my 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.

#1 What Kind of Backpacker Are You?

Is tent weight your top priority, or weather resistance, or
interior space and livability? You’ll spend
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