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5 Expert Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent

5 Expert Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent

By Michael Lanza

There are a lot of tents out there. How do you choose between them? Backpackers come in different sizes and have different needs and preferences in a tent. In testing scores of backcountry tents for over two decades, for reviews in Backpacker Magazine and this blog, I’ve seen the best and the worst—and gotten a sense of what to look for in a tent and how to help people pick out one they like. Here are my five simple tips for finding a tent you’ll love.

Sahale Camp, North Cascades National Park, one of my 25 favorite backcountry campsites.
Sahale Camp, North Cascades N.P., one of my 25 favorite backcountry campsites.

#1 Read the Reviews

Yes, there are a lot of reviews in the ether and in print. Some of those authors know what they’re talking about; many have little experience. Find sources you consider authoritative and read them for details you can’t glean by simply checking out a tent in a store, like how well it stands up to wind and rain, and whether it has a problem with condensation buildup.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. 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 to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


Death Canyon Shelf, Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park.
Death Canyon Shelf, Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park.

#2 Crawl Inside

Never buy a tent blind—that’s a formula for disappointment. After reading the reviews and identifying at least a few tents that sound good to you, visit stores that carry them. Pitch the tent yourself to see how that goes. Sit and lie down inside it—ideally with your partner(s)—to see whether you consider the headroom and interior and vestibule space adequate. If you don’t like bumping shoulders in the tent when you’re in the store, you’ll really dislike it when you’re trying to sleep in the backcountry.

See my “Gear Review: The 5 Best Backpacking Tents” and all of my tent reviews.

. . .

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews and skills stories at The Big Outside.

See also my stories:

10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier
5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear
Why and When to Spend More on Outdoor Gear

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.


  1. Avatar

    I really like your first tip to read a lot of reviews on the tent you’re thinking of buying. It’s a good idea to find out how it stands up to the weather like you mentioned. I think it’s also worthwhile to consider what tent accessories you’ll need to buy as well and if any of the reviews mention needing any.

    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks, Ken, good points to emphasize.

  2. Avatar

    Can I add ‘if you are going to get a multi-person tent make sure it has two doors’. I made this mistake and when I take my wife backpacking you have to crawl over the person closest to the door to get out. Very annoying.

    • michaellanza

      Good point, relevant to my tip no. 2 above. Many modern two-person tents have two doors and vestibules, which is vastly more convenient. Usually, a tent maker puts only one door on a tent when they’re trying to reduce its weight, so that’s the tradeoff for shaving some ounces.

  3. Avatar

    Great article, thanks for all the great advise!

  4. Avatar

    Your tips will help me for buying a backpacking tent. I got a clear view to which is more important for a backpacking tent. Tent weight is important when we go out for multi-day trips and I also remember other things you told. Nice blog…

    • michaellanza

      Thank you, Holly, I’m glad this was helpful.


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Hi, I'm Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Sign up for my free email newsletter in the blue box above. Click on Subscribe Now! in the main menu (top right) to get full access to all of my stories on America's best backpacking, hiking, and outdoor adventures. And click on Ask Me in the main menu to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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