Lightweight Backpacking Tents, Tarps and Bivy Sacks
By Steve Gillman
Lightweight backpacking tents weigh less than 3 pounds. I
just invented that standard, but it seems reasonable for most
common circumstances. The pup tents we used as kids were only
about three pounds, and were as big as some of the new shelters.
So with all the new materials available, it should be possible
to keep it under three pounds without all the interior condensation
problems of the old tents.
Fortunately there are a few lightweight backpacking tents
out there that meet my standards, as well as tarps, bivies and
other options. At the bottom of the page you'll find an example
of each (I haven't used these particular items).
Do You Need a Tent?
Can you get by with a tarp or a bivy sack? It really depends
on the nature of the trips you take, the terrain and climate,
and your own needs for comfort. You need a lightweight backpacking
shelter that you enjoy using.
Since even some of us who primarily use tarps like a good
tent from time to time, we'll start there. A tent has obvious
advantages. It keeps you out of the weather more effectively.
It gives you more protection from insects. It gives you more
privacy. It can even be a few degrees warmer in a tent than under
a tarp, because it is harder for the wind to blow away your body
heat. The main disadvantage is obvious too; Even a good lightweight
backpacking tent is heavier than your other options.
Saving weight is what got me started using a tarp for backpacking
trips. I assumed that everything else about a tarp would be a
disadvantage compared to lightweight tents. What I discovered
is that I was able not only to stay dry and warm under my tarp,
but I enjoyed the view too.
I also found that It was quick to set up and take down, once
I got in the routine. I could dry it off more easily too. I prefer
a tarp to a tent, and I would even if they were the same weight.
The exception is when there are a lot of mosquitoes. Then I wish
I was in a tent. If it is buggy, I'm okay with my head net, but
only if it's cool, since I have to stay covered.
A bivy sack used to be the lightest backpacking shelter you
could use, but some of the ultralight backpacking tarps are lighter
than bivy sacks now. A good bivy sure is simple though. Roll
it out and climb inside.
Tents, Tarps, or Bivy Sacks?
This is another one of those tough choices. Each of these
options is covered in more detail on it's own page.
Tents has information on the latest lightweight backpacking
Tarps covers not only where to get them, but how to use them.
Since mosquitoes are sometimes an issue, I'll tell you where
you can get lightweight bug tents that can be pitched under a
Sacks is about the lightest, the cheapest, and how to use
Your Own Backpacking Tarps And Bivy Sacks discourages you
from the former, while showing you how to do the latter in just
Note: My 2011 update on the lightest gear: Lightweight
Lightweight Backpacking Tents - Making the Choice
So which ultralight shelter should you carry? It's a matter
of place and time and personal preference. I love the open feeling
of life under a tarp, at least until the mosquitoes come out.
If it buggy and I'm not trying to go far, lightweight backpacking
tents are a cinch to win. See the other pages for more specific