Hiking Tents – Tips on choosing a tent for mountain hiking


What to look for when selecting a mountain hiking tent

Tents come in a large variety of shapes, sizes and prices. When planning a trip, choose the best tent for the type of hiking that is intended. All tents commonly used for mountain walking have a few common features that are worth noting.

Hiking Tent Construction

Most mountain hiking tents today have a double wall construction, which comprises of an inner tent, usually suspended from the poles and then a flysheet pulled over the top. The inner layer is made of lightweight, breathable fabric while the outer is of fully waterproof material. The idea of this construction is so that the inner is a dry breathable area to live in, while the outer keeps the interior dry and wind-proof. The flysheet can build up condensation on the inside of the fabric but the inner sheet will help keep one from touching the wet outer layer.

The inner-sheet should be attached to a thick and very waterproof ground sheet. This ground sheet should extend about 10 cm vertically on all sides to prevent water getting in during very heavy rain periods.

The flysheet should on the other hand extend right to the ground, which helps to stop water splashing up and inside the inner tent. A flysheet that extends like this is also very important in stopping wind from getting under the tent and possibly causing the fabric to rip.

All good quality mountain tents have the flysheet extending down in this way on all sides of the structure. Beware of any tents where the flysheet is open to the wind on one end, which is often the case with cheap hiking tents.

The entrances of good hiking tents also have zip closures, which are in turn covered by a flap of fabric held down with Velcro or press-studs. The flysheet and ground-sheet seams should also be sealed with either tape or seam-sealer glue.

Hiking Tent Shapes

Dome / Geodesic type shapes are very popular today. They have the advantage of providing the greatest volume for a given area making them very comfortable and roomy. Most of them will also stand up without the aid of guy ropes, making them easy to set up on rocky or icy ground. The poles for these tents are either made of fibreglass or aluminium. The latter are stronger, lighter and are less likely to break especially in cold weather. Dome tents tend to be heavier than ridge tents.

A good example of this type of tent is made by E3 Gear in the form of the 2 person Element tent and the Echo one person tent also by E3 Gear. (RAM Mountaineering)

Ridge / A-frame shape tents tend to not be as ridged as dome models and the living space is not so roomy. They do not stand up without being pegged down which can be a problem on hard ground. They do have a distinct advantage over dome tents in that they are usually lighter and stand up to high winds better. Examples of these were the now old Backpacker Kestrel series, which is till being used by some people 25 years on.

Ridge Tent

Ridge Tent

Dome Tent

Dome Tent

Pitching your hiking tent

Try to find a flat area of ground or if this can’t be done try to put the side of the tent where your head will be to the upward slope. Also check for rocks or sharp grass ends that may push through the ground-sheet. Also do not pitch it in a place where water will naturally drain through, such as a slight depression or gully.

The ground needs to be firm but not too hard that pegs do not go in easily. Try to position the door facing away from the prevailing wind and bad weather. Take all the guy-ropes and peg them as to their maximum length if possible.

If high wind is expected or possible take rocks and place them all around the edge of the fly-sheet to help keep it down and to prevent wind from getting underneath. If camping in snow, then soft snow can also be shovelled up around the edges to make a wind break.

Lastly do not pitch your tent on a flood plain or anywhere near a river, where a storm upstream could cause flooding.

Gavin Raubenheimer

Gavin is the owner & operator of Peak High Mountaineering. He is a certified Mountaineering Instructor (M.I.A.) endorsed by the Mountain Development Trust of SA. He is a NQF National Mountaineering (level 7), Cultural and Nature Guide (level 4). Gavin is a past President of the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of SA. He has been involved in mountain rescue since 1992 and since 2005 has been the Convener of Mountain Rescue in the province. Want Gavin and his team at Peak High to guide you on a hike? Put yourself in the hands of the certified and experienced experts in mountain hiking, guiding and climbing. See Gavin's Google + profile