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Tag Archives | Backpacking Shelter Systems

The primary purpose of a backpacking shelter system is to defend the occupants from environmental factors like precipitation, insects, wind, and ground water that could compromise a night of quality sleep.

It often is, but need not be, a conventional tent — other systems like tarps and hammocks can provide adequate protections while sometimes offering additional advantages like weight-savings, ventilation, or comfort.

In this six-post buyer’s guide, I have detailed my three go-to systems, discussed their merits relative to each other and to other options, created ultralight equivalent setups, and recommended alternatives for backpackers with different circumstances or preferences than mine.

Bottom to top: 1.5-mm sheated Dyneema, 2-mm reflective nylon,  3-mm nylon, and a Bic pen for scale

Top picks: Stakes & guylines for backpacking tents, tarps & hammocks

I will finish this series on backpacking shelter systems with a discussion of stakes and guylines, which have a critical role but which are normally treated as an afterthought. To maximize the usability and performance of your tent, tarp, or hammock, give them some attention. Stakes If stakes are included with the purchase of a shelter, […]

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Nitro Joe with a mid tent made of DCF. It was September so he left the matching inner tent at home.

If cost were no object: My go-to backpacking shelter systems, gone ultralight

The backpacking shelters that I presented in this series — a modular tent, tarp & bivy, and hammock — are middle-of-the-road systems. They are not ultralight or excessively heavy, not cheap or prohibitively expensive, and not benchmark-setting or under-performers. This was intentional on my part. While they reflect what I personally use (in most cases, […]

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An ultralight hammock setup, with a 5.5-oz tarp made of Dyneema Composite Fabric. Hex-shaped tarps are popular among hammock users, but more rectangular-shaped tarps double better as hammock & ground tarps.

Gear List || Backpacking Hammock: Forest & high-use zone specialist

A night of quality sleep in the backcountry depends on multiple factors. A shelter and sleep system that defend against precipitation, wind, insects, groundwater, and cold are the most obvious prerequisites. But equally important is campsite selection, or the art of finding a comfortable location where you can hang your hat. When using ground-based shelters […]

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A tarp & bivy offers full -- albeit adequate -- protection against precip, insects, groundwater, and wind. It's an ultralight and compact package that will be too minimalist for most.

Gear List || Backpacking Tarp & Bivy: Ultralight minimalism

In a normal winter, the Sierra Nevada, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountains get hammered by systems that roll off the Pacific Ocean and drop hundreds of inches of snow. The summers, however, are sunny and dry, with only occasional precipitation related to the North American monsoon. Storms can be violent, but they are normally short-lived and […]

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One of my three go-to shelter systems: the Sierra Designs High Route Tent, which has a full-sided 22-oz fly and interchangeable 14-oz inner tent.

Gear List || One-shelter quiver: Modular double-wall backpacking tent

What is a backpacking tent? I’ll define it as a full-sided, fixed-shaped, and holistically designed portable shelter that protects its occupants from precipitation, wind, groundwater, and insects. A few models do not fulfill this entire description, but it generally works. Tents grossly outsell tarps, hammocks, and bivy sacks. This is partly due to deeply embedded mindsets (“I […]

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This single-wall tent has an integrated fly, floor, and bug netting. If these protections are needed or wanted full-time, this is a good setup. But other users may want more modularity so that, for example, the bug netting can be left behind on bug-free trips.

6 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Backpacking Tent, Tarp, Hammock or Bivy

Questions are normally followed up with answers. But one question that will simply beget more questions is, “What shelter should I buy for backpacking?” Actually, there is an answer, but it’s not helpful: “I don’t know.” Because to nudge you in the right direction I need more information about your preferences, intentions, and budget. And […]

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Making camp in Alaska's Hayes Range during peak bug season.

Buyer’s Guide + my Go-to Systems: Backpacking tents, tarps & hammocks

There are literally thousands of backpacking shelters — multiple styles of tents, tarps, hammocks, and bivy sacks, plus accessories like guylines and stakes — from which to choose. How is a new backpacker, aspiring thru-hiker, couple, Philmont-bound Boy Scout, or even a veteran looking to upgrade, supposed to sort through the paralyzing volume of options […]

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