Ultralight Tents: Minimize Your Overall Weight
Ultralight tents are essential for backpacking, and the three factors that are going to affect the pack weight are your shelter, the sleeping bag and the pack. If your main objective is to travel light then it’s worth investing in a light tent, and while there are a number of different materials and styles to choose from, this guide will clear things up for you.
Double wall tents have three components, the poles, a waterproof outer tent and a waterproof floor with roof. There are three types:
- Self-supporting tents have poles that provide support for the tent while the other parts need guy lines.
- Tunnel tents have at least one pole shaped like a hoop and depend on guy ropes for support. The space to weight ratio on tunnel tents is higher compared to the self-supporting types.
- Freestanding tents are durable and ideal for use during winter or when you’re base camping.
Double wall tents are easy to set up and provide sufficient protection from adverse weather. These tents are also comfortable, but the drawback is they are heavier compared to other lightweight tents.
These tents have single walls and come with a bug netting and built in floor. Compared to double wall tents, tarp tents are faster to set up while providing adequate protection from the weather. If you are going with this option make sure the design is not susceptible to moisture. You can think of tarp tents as somewhere between an ultralight shelter and backpack tents. If you’re really after an ultralight tent then you should check the following.
The A-Frame tarp is the lightest, most condensation resistant and adaptable shelter available today. As far as performance goes the A-Frame is hard to beat due to its catenary curve poncho tarps. The catenary curve is the fabric between the supports and it is responsible for getting rid of sagging, plus it generates a tight pitch with stiff and smooth walls that handle wind well.
Most A-Frame tarps are wider near the head and have a couple of open ends, so it is essential you find a good campsite in case it rains or there are strong winds. The open ends can be a drawback and beneficial depending on the situation. If the area doesn’t have protection it becomes vulnerable in areas where there is strong wind.
However, the open ends also let you pitch the tent in various ways: you can use it as ground cloth if the weather is good, set on a picnic table or high off the surface. You can also improve the storm resistance of these tarps with a beak or modular inserts, and they’re versatile enough to be pitched with carbon fiber of aluminum poles as well as paddles and trekking poles.
Generally speaking, tarps are the safest type of tent you can use in the event of three season storms as they’re near the ground, plus trekking poles are more durable compared to pre-tensioned poles.
These can also be categorized as lightweight tents and can be very effective when it comes to weather resistance. They are usually pitched with a couple of poles (dedicated sectional, paddles or trekking poles) that encompass every side. These tents have steep walls for shedding wind and snow, and the design offers solid protection.
These are comparable to four season tents and thus suitable for use in the wilderness, and yet they are flexible enough to be used like any three season tent. The limitations of pyramid tarps is the configuration is usually just one and they are a bit heavier compared to other tarps, but they provide superior weather protection compared to an A-frame. It’s for this reason why pyramid tarps are often used by mountaineers and it is something you might want to consider as well.
Materials and fabrics
The materials used for light backpacking tents vary, but the floors and flies are, from the toughest to the lightest: cuben fiber, coated nylon and coated polyester. Nylon is usually more durable than polyester and is more resistant to abrasion, but both need special materials to make them waterproof.
Take note also of the denier (D) as that serves to indicate the weight per square area, with the lighter ones at 10D and the heavy floors at up to 70D. If you are on a budget then get a backpack tent made from polyurethane (PU) coated fabric as it provides you with an affordable waterproof solution. If you’re going to use the tent in wet conditions constantly, you need to make sure that it is high quality so it doesn’t become vulnerable to hydrolysis as that can destroy the waterproof protection.
SilNylon or silicone elastomer coated nylons are now widely used in high quality backpacking and mountaineering tents, and for good reasons. SilNylon is temperature stable, UV resistant, elastic and water repellant. Compared to PU it is more durable and is also somewhat more slippery, making it ideal for use during winter as snow and rain will slide off.
The disadvantage with SilNylon is the price, as it is more expensive than PU. Another issue with SilNylon is it’s a bit harder to stick materials on them so factor taped seams are not possible. For this reason the silicone coated nylon that manufacturers use have PU inside and nylon coating on the outside. Compared to PU and silicone combinations though, double side silicone coating is more durable and lighter.
Wrapping Up Our In-Depth Look Into Ultralight Tents
To find the best lightweight tents you need to consider your comfort above all else. As was pointed above there are several options available, but what it all comes down to is the manner in which you hike or backpack. If you are often on the move and carry the tent in your backpack, an ultra light shelter will be the ideal solution, but if you spend a lot of time inside the tent and camp for extended periods, a larger but portable tent will be more useful.