Trekking essentials: choosing the right tent

By Justin Walker | September 9, 2014

No matter the duration or destination, there is a core list of items that are vital for any adventure.

Tent design

For general two-up trekking, a three-season, two/three-person tent – with a separate inner and outer section – is ideal. Look for a tent with ample ventilation, space for occupants and gear, and light weight. You will probably have to satisfy yourself with two of those three.

Depending on its country of origin, a three-season tent may offer anything from a full-mesh inner to an inner that comprises a 50/50 split between mesh and material, or one that has an extra material door. This door allows you to cool the tent interior on warm days, but also shut it up snug on colder ones – it adds seasonal versatility, albeit with a slight weight penalty. A tent that has two vestibules, ample dimensions, plenty of tie-down points and an easy set-up will win every time.

The two main tent designs are dome or tunnel, with set-up designs ranging from inner-first to integral (all-in-one). Each has pros and cons: domes are great (and often can be free-standing) at shedding snow/water but, with a larger “face” of material presented to any high winds, can be blown about more readily.

When pitched correctly (in the direction of the wind) tunnel tents are more stable because there is less material taking the brunt of the wind. However, a tunnel tent needs to be tied down – not always easy in rocky terrain.

Tents that pitch inner-first are great if it is hot as you can just pitch the inner (or outer). However, if it is raining when you get to camp, an inner-first design means your sleeping area will get wet during set-up. Integral-pitch tents set up all-in-one and, in wet weather, keep the inner dry. Most two-person tents are best left to couples. There are light three-person tents around and, with the load split between two people, that extra space will be appreciated.

Tent materials

Nylon and polyester, with siliconised and non-siliconised variants of both, are the two tent materials. Polyester is more resistant to UV rays than nylon and also won’t sag as much when wet. Siliconised versions of both materials significantly increase durability.

A tent fabric’s water-resistance is measured in hydrostatic head (HH), which indicates the pressure of water needed to penetrate a fabric; the higher the number the better. For the tent poles, aluminium rules, with varying grades (priced accordingly) as well as different diameters. Never store the tent damp – it will acquire mould, which you can never get rid of.

Purchase: Take yourself and (if you hike two-up regularly) your partner to an outdoor shop to see if you both fit inside comfortably. Be realistic. It’s no use buying a four-season mountaineering tent if you’re going to do overnight treks near home.