How to choose and buy the correct hiking tent Tarp and bivvy shelter from

Author: Paul Howell   Date Posted:13 February 2015 

How to choose and buy the correct hiking tent Tarp and bivvy shelter from Hiking tent design has come a long way over the last few years. Materials have become lighter and more exotic and designs have become more innovative.

Hiking tent design has come a long way over the last few years. Materials have become lighter and more exotic and designs have become more innovative. Both these factors have helped to create tent designs that maximise the internal living area of the tent while keeping it's weight as low as possible.
Even today where manufacturers are coming up with more and more ingenious tent designs the majority of tents will still come under one of the following categories: Ridge Tents, Hoop Tents, Tunnel Tents, Dome Tents and Geodesic Tents.
All of these styles have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The table below has examples of some of the more common designs of tent and lists some of their pros and cons


Tent Style: Ridge Tent Hoop Tent Tunnel Tent Dome Tent Geodesic Tent
Description: A Frame Style Tent Single pole running longitundinally or transversely to the tent. Two or three transverse hoops. Pegged out at each end to create structure. Two or more hooped poles. Each pole is attached from one corner to it's opposite corner. All the poles cross at the apex of the tent. At least 4 hooped poles are arrange to form a free standing structure with multiple pole crossing points.
Example: Ridge Tent Hoop Tent Tunnel Tent Dome Tent Geodesic Tent
Pros: Stable in bad weather Lightweight Relatively steep side walls create good usable internal space Free standing Free Standing
  Sheds Snow   Most have poles that sleeve through the fly, with the inner already attached, great for pitching in the bad weather. Steep side walls offer good useable internal space. Extremely rigid structure
      Lightweight   Can support snow loads
Cons: Sloped side walls reduce usable internal space Sloped walls can reduce internal space, Not free standing Can be unstable in strong winds Can be on the heavier side
  Double skin versions generally quite heavy Can be unstable in side winds Vulnerable to side winds Many models pitch inner first,  Often pitched inner first
    Needs to be pegged out to be pitched      


Selecting a Tent.

So which tent is going to be the best for you?

When buying any tent there are always going to have to be compromises made somewhere. Choosing a tent is about prioritising your requirements and finding a model that suits your needs a closely as possible

It is virtually impossible to find a tent that is perfect in every way and some compromises will generally have to be made in coming to your final decision.

Some things to consider when buying a hiking tent:

How many people are going to be sleeping in the tent and how much room do you require?

When looking through the specifications of almost all tents it will quote the number of people the tent is designed to accomodate.
In the world of lightweight hiking tents, as a general rule of thumb, the number of people recommended that it sleeps is based on how many standard sleeping bag will fit in the tent.
If you have two sleeping in the tent but require some extra room to accomodate gear consider buying a 2-3 or 3 person tent. 
If on the other hand the tent is being purchased as part of a kit list for an adventure race often a 2 person tent will suffice for a team of 4 people. In this case the tent only has to be sufficient to fit everybody in but the main priority is keeping the weight of the shelter low rather providing a comfortable living space.



Exped Venus II Dimensions This diagram showing the dimension of an Exped Venus II uses standard sleeping bags to illustrate how much floor space it has and it's intended capacity.















Is the weight of the tent an issue?

If you plan to be carrying the tent in a pack or on a bike for example the weight of the tent has to be taken into consideration.
Manufacturers generally use a couple of methods in  the battle to shave grammes off their designs. 
Firstly by sourcing new lighter weight materials. For example siliconised nylon is becoming an increasingly popular option as a tent fly material, while aluminium alloys and carbon are used in the manufacture of lighter weight tent poles.
Secondly by reducing the amount of materials used in the tent design you reduce it's weight. A few examples of how this is done are by having a single entrance instead of two, as zippers are heavy and bulky, having a single vestibule, reducing the height of the tent from the head end towards the foot end and using fewer, shorter poles.
















Exped Venus I The Exped Vela I UL illustrates some of the weight saving design features described above. It uses a single main alloy pole plus two very short poles at either end, a lightweight nylon fly, has a single entrance, tapers down towards either end of the tent and has a single vestibule. All these features help to create a roomy 1 person tent that weighs just 1.5kg


Where and in what conditions are you going to be using the tent?

The environment in which you intend to use your tent plays a large part in  the design of tent you will require. If you're winter camping or mountaineering a strong stable tent will be required that will be able to cope with high winds and heavy snow loads. If heading to warmer areas or camping in the warmer months a tent with good ventilation is beneficial. Camping in valleys and low level, sheltered areas doesn't generally require a tent with as many guy points or poles.

Tents are often given season ratings. All of our tents will be classed as either three or four season
A three season tent is designed for year round use except winter, it's fly and floor will be waterproof and it will be able to withstand prolonged rain. It will not necessarily be designed to shed snow or support a heavy snow load. They are usually better ventilated than 4 season tents to help cope with warmer temperatures.
A four season tent is designed to be used in harsher, colder environments, they will be a more stable design, able to withstand stronger winds, shed snow and support heavy snow loads. They generally have more poles and guy points. The inner is more likely to be nylon with a double layered mesh/nylon door as opposed to just the mesh inner of many modern 3 season tents.



The MSR Fury and Mont Epoch tents are 4 season tents. Both feature extremely stable pole layouts with multiple pole crossing points and have many guy points. Both tents are designed to withstand strong winds and heavy snow loads.


How easy is the tent to pitch?

This is especially important to consider for when it has to be pitched quickly in bad weather or when pitching it in the dark.
Some tents have their inner already attached to the fly and poles that sleeve through the fly. This means whole shelter can be erected quickly whilst protecting the inner from the elements. Many tunnel tents can be pitched in this manner.
Tents that are free standing can generally be pitched pretty quick and anchored to the ground with a minimal amount of pegs. They can also be moved easily if the need arises.
Generally the more poles a tent has the more complicated it will be to erect. 



Exped Venus III DLX The Exped Venus III Dlx Plus is a large three person tent. By having the poles sleeve through continuous single ended pole sleeves on it's fly and having the inner already attached this tent can be easily set up by one person in a matter of minutes


However complicated to put up the tent you decide on is, the more you practice putting it up the easier the process will become.
Make sure that you put the tent up in your garden or local park several times before heading off for your first trip. Make sure you check all the parts are there and everything works as it should, familiarise yourself thoroughly with how to put the tent up.

Other things you may want to consider:

Do you need a tent that you can pitch in different configuations?
Some tents can be pitched as the complete tent, inner only, fly only or fly and groundsheet. This offers options for reducing the weight of the shelter depending on the type of trip you are doing.



msr hubba hubba light weight hiking tent The MSR Hubba Hubba can be pitched in several different configurations for added versatility


Do you want to be able to organise gear?
Hiking tents come with a range of different levels and methods for storing and organising gear including mesh pockets, mesh gear organisers and tent lofts, these help to keep you gear organised but bare in mind that all these additions will add to the overall weight of the tent.



Exped Venus III DLX Plus The Exped Venus III Dlx Plus has a large mesh organiser located on the vestibule wall offering an excellent way of keeping your personal belongings in easy reach


Do you want two doors and vestibules?
As soon as you have more than one person living in a tent having two doors makes for an easier life mainly because it gives the occupants more options for exiting the tent, reducing the need to climb over people to get out, it also offers better options for ventilating the tent and having two vestibules are great for providing greater storage space for gear. More doors and vestibules will again lead to a weight increase of the tent.

Other Types Shelters



Tarps are a popular lightweight option for hiking and camping.

The advantages of tarps are: 
Pack up small
Offer good coverage against the sun or rain
Better ventilated than tents
Accumulate less condensation than tents
There are no poles to carry, you can use walking poles, trees, branches, paddles etc.,
Many different pitching options to vary the amount of ventilation or protection from the weather
Make you feel more at one with nature

Disadvantages of tarps
They don't offer any protection from bugs
No protection from damp/wet ground
Can require some skill to get set up to avoid pooling of water when raining. 
Can be vulnerable to high winds
If trees etc. are unavailable you may need to buy additional tarp poles for pitching


Hennessey Hammock Expedition A-Sym

The hammocks we stock are the Hennessy Hammocks. These are lightweight, come with a fly sheet and have mesh over them.

Advantages to a Hennessy style hammock
Small pack size
Low environmental impact
Comfortable to sleep in
Don't need a level campsite.
Away from any ground dwelling critters
Wet ground doesn't matter
Can be set up in a very small area
Tarp protects from rain
Mesh offers protection from flying bugs 

Disadvantages of Hammocks
Require trees to set them up
Don't offer any insulation beneath the occupant, require a sleeping mat when used in colder environments.
Cannot store gear inside them
Can take some time getting used to sleeping off the ground

Bivvy Bags:

Outdoor Research Alpine Bivvy

Bivvies are a minimal shelter designed to protect you and your sleeping gear from the elements.
Bivvies come in different fabrics, depending on the type of environment they will be used in, from lightweight water resistant fabrics, mainly designed to offer you and your sleeping bag some extra protection from moisture, for example dew or a light shower, to full, heavy duty, waterproof Gore-Tex or Event Bivvy bags designed for heavy rain, snow camping and mountain use. Some bivvies come with hoops that help to hold the bivvy off the head.

Advantage of bivvy bags
Small pack size
Small footprint
Easy to set up and pack away
Don't require any additional gear to use them eg. trees or pegs.
Feel more at one with nature

Not good for sheltering from prolonged bad weather
Can be claustraphobic
Can build up condensation inside them due to poor ventilation

At we try to supply you with as much information as possible on our ranges of tents, tarps, bivvies and hammocks to try a help you make as informed a decision as possible when purchasing your next shelter. If though you still have any questions regarding our range please don't hesitate to give us a call on 1800 303 353 or email us and one of our knowledgable sales team will be able to answer any of your questions.

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