Ask Me: Can We Use a Non-Freestanding Tent in the Grand Canyon?

Hi Michael,

I’ve been reading The Big Outside for a few months now and have really enjoyed it. My brother and I are taking a trip to the Grand Canyon this year and decided to follow the itinerary you laid out in this post: Your tips on getting permits and planning for a trip to the Grand Canyon have proven invaluable, particularly after our last trip there (in October 2013) was essentially canceled due to the government shutdown at the time. Needless to say, we are really looking forward to going! I do have one worry, however. We are both using non-freestanding tents—I’m using a Sierra Designs Flashlight 1; my brother is using a Tarptent Rainbow—and I’m unsure of how difficult pitching will be in the canyon.

Some online resources claim there won’t be any issues, while others seem to have really struggled and highly recommend freestanding. I was hoping that since you have spent a good amount of time there you would be able to provide some insights on what we can expect and whether or not we should bring a freestanding alternative!

Thank you for your help and for providing such a great resource through your website. I’m an amateur photographer as well, and looking through your photos has provided a ton of inspiration.


Chicago, IL


Campsite near Royal Arch in the Grand Canyon.
Campsite near Royal Arch in the Grand Canyon.

Hi Zach,

Thanks for following The Big Outside (I hope you subscribe). Good on you and your brother for planning that Grand Canyon hike down the New Hance Trail and back up via Horseshoe Mesa and the Grandview Trail—awesome hike every step of the way. The New Hance is surprisingly rugged, but it means you’ll see far fewer other people out there.

I think your tents will be fine. In fact, I used a non-freestanding tent, the Tarptent Double Moment, on the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop (photo above). I don’t mind sacrificing the convenience of freestanding tents as a tradeoff for having a lighter tent, and you typically get a higher space-to-weight ratio with a non-freestanding tent. No, it’s not easy to pitch a non-freestanding tent on rocky or sandy ground, but if you have trouble getting stakes into the ground, just use rocks in place of them. Check out my video showing you how to do that.

The Big Outside is proud to partner with sponsor Osprey Packs, which supports my mission of inspiring families and others to get outdoors. Please help support my blog by liking and following my sponsors on Facebook and other social media and telling them you appreciate their support for The Big Outside.

You’ll camp the first night at the Colorado River campsites next to Hance Rapids (gorgeous, see lead photo at top of this story), where you’ll either be on beach sand (which won’t hold stakes) or on firm dirt; and then at Horseshoe Mesa, where you may encounter firm dirt or rocky ground, or maybe get lucky and have dirt that accepts stakes.

Plus, if you get clear nights, you could even just sleep under the stars!

Have a great trip. Thanks for writing. Get in touch anytime.



Dawn at Horseshoe Mesa in the Grand Canyon.
Dawn at Horseshoe Mesa in the Grand Canyon.


Thank you so much for your response! This trip probably wouldn’t have been possible without the help of your blog.

We are both really looking forward to it, especially after our first permit request (for the more popular hikes) was denied.



I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.

Got a question about hiking, backpacking, planning a family adventure, or any trip I’ve written about at The Big Outside? Email it to me at For just $75, I’ll answer your questions via email or in a phone call to help ensure your trip is a success. See my Ask Me page.

—Michael Lanza


I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

See also my stories:

“Why and When to Spend More on Gear: Part 1, Packs and Tents, and Part 2, Rain Jackets, Boots, and Sleeping Bags
The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun
Buying Gear? Read This First
My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews
5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear
Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

—Michael Lanza

Wind4-016Did you enjoy this story? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, and I appreciate connecting with my readers. I invite you to subscribe to this blog by entering your email address in the box at the top of the left sidebar or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button at the top of the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.



Facing the Biggest Challenge: Friendship and Climbing in Joshua Tree

Seven People, One Mountain, and Hundreds of Kids Getting Outdoors


Leave a Comment