Types of backpacking shelters: pros & cons || SD LIVE (Feb 19, 2015)

The stage

The stage

In last month’s SD LIVE event, I discussed the pros and cons of common backpacking shelters — specifically double-wall tents, single-wall tents, tarp systems, bivy sacks, and hammocks. My presentation was a relatively unbiased assessment of the available options, and also intentionally brand- and product-neutral. While I definitely prefer some shelter types over others (refer to my gear lists or The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide), my preferences may not be appropriate for backpackers who encounter different environmental conditions and/or who have a different objective in their outings.

This broadcast was part of a double-header. Later in the afternoon, Michael Glavin, the Brand Manager of Sierra Designs, reviewed the 2015 shelters, including the innovative Tentsegrity line of single-wall tents.

SD LIVE is a monthly, online live event that is meant to be both educational and engaging. Certainly, by being so accessible we are also hoping to build a community and to give Sierra Designs a more personal feel. The next event will be in mid-March, day & date TBA. I believe the topic will be coping strategies for rain. Please plan to tune in!

SD LIVE: Andrew Skurka talks shelters 2/19 from Sierra Designs on Vimeo.

Posted in on March 2, 2015
Tags: ,


  1. Arlo on March 4, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Excellent tutorial, Skurks!

  2. Carlos on March 26, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    Great video, Great questions and awesome answers! Andrew knows how to be effective with the answers. A lot of useful information.

  3. hockmeng on June 1, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Hi any good recommendations for materials that are suitable to be used for tarps? there seem to be many materials(from Nylon,PE,PVC canvas, or even ripstop nylon, poly, etc) guess many sites have stopped short of explaining the rational of the choice of materials… thanks

    • Andrew Skurka on June 2, 2015 at 7:41 am

      The key criteria for a shelter fabric is its degree of waterproofness, measured by hydrostatic head. Beyond that, it’s a debate over cost, weight per square area, durability, and UV resistance.

      For backpacking, the best shelter fabric is Cuben Fiber, no question. It’s incredibly light; it’s very durable so long as it’s not subject to abrasion; and the hydrostatic head is far superior to other lightweight fabrics like sil-nylon and spinnaker.

      • hockmeng on June 3, 2015 at 3:24 am

        i suppose what you meant is Cuben Fiber is more suitable for a tarp/roof overhead then compared to it being used as a ground sheet or a layer that would cover the ground
        any recommendations on the choice of materials for ground sheets given that it has to be durable and waterproof?

        • Andrew Skurka on June 3, 2015 at 11:58 am

          That’s an easy one: Gossamer Gear Polycryo. It’s extremely light, very waterproof, shockingly durable, and cheap. Hard to beat it!

Leave a Comment