A Guide To Lightweight Tent Design

Lightweight tents are designed to be used on multi-day treks and expeditions by people who need to carry all of their kit with them. They are one of the lightest and most compact camping options available but generally don’t offer much space inside and are best suited to short term use. 


When choosing a lightweight tent, there are often trade-offs between weight, pack size and other features. For example, the lightest tents are often made from lightweight fabrics which are more susceptible to tearing. Therefore when choosing a lightweight tent, you need to think about what conditions you intend to camp in, how often you will use the tent and how much weight is an issue. 


The Pros And Cons Of Lightweight Tents:



• Lightweight, compact design makes them easy to transport


• Fewer tent pegs, guy lines and parts means they’re generally quicker to set up


• Depending on the type you buy, they can stand extreme conditions




• With fewer bits to hold them in place they can be less stable unless pitched correctly


• They have limited space inside, so are best for short term us


• They are often made from thinner lightweight fabrics which can be susceptible to tears if not careful

Lightweight Tent Features

Lightweight tents are designed to be used by people on the move so are very different to tents you would use for a holiday. Here we share some key features to consider when choosing the best backpacking tent for you.


Lightweight tents tend to be made from nylon, polyester or DCF fabrics as they are lightweight and water-resistant. However, in more inclement conditions, they are unlikely to provide full protection, so we recommend looking for lightweight tents with a waterproof coating, such as polyurethane which will effectively repel water from your tent.


Another thing you need to consider is the denier of the fabric. The lighter the denier, the more susceptible it is to rips and tears, letting in rain and forming condensation, none of the things you want when out in all conditions. That’s why as a rule of thumb, we recommend opting for a denier rating of at least 15.


Tent Poles

The more tent poles your tent has, generally the more stable it will be, but tent poles add weight and bulk, so it’s essential you think about how you’ll use the tent to get the balance right. If you know you’ll be heading into more extreme conditions, a little extra weight to your pack won’t seem so bad if your tent stays put and you get a restful night’s sleep.


You might also want to look at the different materials tent poles are available in. Tents with carbon fibre poles tend to be very lightweight but can be expensive, fibreglass poles are lightweight but can be prone to damage in harsher conditions while aluminium poles generally weigh a bit more but are durable so can work out as the more cost-effective option.


Although multiple doors on a tent can aid access in and out of the tent, more doors equal more weight. So unless you need multiple access points, we’d recommend looking for a lightweight tent with a door that opens at the front.


Lightweight tents are often made of a single layer of water-resistant material which offers little insulation. The plus is this keeps the load of the tent to a minimum, but if you are planning to camp in wet conditions, then you might want to look out for a double skin tent with a flysheet. Although it will add a little more weight to your pack, a double skin tent offers more protection from both the elements and condensation. 

Interior Pockets

The addition of interior pockets can help you make the most of the space available and help you to keep your kit organised so you can quickly get back on the move.


Think of the vestibule of a tent as a mudroom. It is usually a space at the front of the tent that gives you some room to store some of your outdoor kit, like your boots. Most lightweight tents come with one or have the option of adding one if needed.


If you’re hiking all day, the last thing you want is to be battling with a complex tent construction when you do set up camp, so you need to consider how easy the tent you choose is to put up and take down. 


Construction Type

The way a tent is put together can have a huge impact on its overall weight and packability but also on it’s performance in different conditions. Below we take a more in-depth look at the different types of lightweight tents.


Great For Backpacking

Semi-Geodesic tents have poles that cross in two to four places with an angled roof tapering from the front to the back. Their high-strength, lightweight design makes them popular with backpackers who need stability without weight.


Semi-geodesic tents are generally easy to pitch, and as they are mainly free standing, you can pick them up and move them to a new spot if you’re after a scenic view or want to get out of the wind.


Although generally stable, in high winds, it is best to pitch a semi-geodesic tent with its back facing into the wind to aid stability.


Great For Camping In Winter Or On Exposed Sites

With at least five overlapped poles, the Geodesic design is incredibly stable in strong winds and heavy snowfall but tends to be heavier. 


As a result, Geodesic tents tend to be favoured by people camping in more extreme conditions, for example, when wild or kayak camping where shelter is limited. They are also a popular choice for above the snow line Base Camps, where people tend to camp for longer periods, and weight is less of a factor.


Many Geodesic models are pitch inner first, which enhances stability. But it also allows you to use the inner tent without the outer flysheet in warm and dry conditions for a cooler night’s sleep.


The Best Space To Weight Design

In a tunnel tent, the poles don’t cross and instead run parallel. Constructed with two to three independent, flexible poles, they are straightforward to pitch and generally easy to carry. 


Although not as intrinsically strong as geodesic or semi-geodesic tents, when guyed out correctly, tunnel tents can perform well in windy conditions.


Thanks to the parallel pole and flat roof design, this design offers a more consistent internal height, making it a good choice if you are camping for a few nights. Plus, many come with the option to add an extended porch to increase the amount of useable living and storage space for even greater convenience.

Tranverse Hoop Tents

Great For The Ultra-Lightweight Backpacker Or Adventure Racer

If weight and pack size are the key factors, then a tranverse hoop tent is likely to be your best option. Configured with one or two pre bent lightweight tent poles over the centre of the tent, this design minimises the overall size and weight when carrying in your back pack.


Although incredibly lightweight these tents generally offer the least space, so are best suited to people who simply need to pitch up and bed down come nightfall. 


They are generally quick and easy to pitch, however, they need guying out properly for stability. 

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