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How to choose a tent for a hike in the mountains


How to choose the right tent for a hike in the mountains? The question of choosing a tent for hiking, trekking or climbing has been the concern of every tourist, both beginner and experienced. In this article you will find almost all of the selection criteria that you need to pay attention to when buying. After reading this article, you will be armed with a wealth of knowledge about camping tents. We hope that even connoisseurs will find it interesting!

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Passion for hiking is not only a desire to see and learn new beautiful places, to be in nature, outside the cities, but also a certain challenge to the usual way of life. The traveler, in one way or another, goes beyond the usual limits of comfort. Cooking in the woods or mountains, the vagaries of the weather, the physical difficulties of overcoming obstacles make you reevaluate the meaning of the very concept of “comfort”. Comfortable hiking boots, well fitting backpack, dry, warm sleeping bag and, of course, a reliable tent – these are the main “whales”, which keeps a sense of comfort in the campaign. Today we will talk about tents. But we also recommend reading the following articles:

Of course, there are many kinds of tents – shopping tents, military tents, and even entire pavilion tents of enormous sizes. Here we will look at tents for hiking in the mountains. By a camping tent we mean a mobile shelter that can protect the traveler from the vicissitudes of weather – rain, wind, insects and small animals, cold (within certain limits, of course). Tourist tent must be of reliable design, be simple and easy to install and fold, take up little space when folded, and when unfolded – to provide normal conditions for recreation and sleep.

Twenty years ago and earlier in the post-Soviet tourist area there was little choice – most used a single type of serial design, bulky and heavy, or had to produce their own tents. Foreign models and products of a few local producers were scarce, and they were unaffordable for many. Gradually the market was filled with a large number of models – for every taste and purse. To understand this diversity can be difficult not only for the novice tourist, but also more experienced travelers.


If this is your first tent purchase and you are not an experienced market connoisseur, it is best to make your first purchase at a large outfitting center. Here you will be able to choose from many models, see, feel and even set/fold the model you like. In these stores tend to work true experts in the travel industry, so they sell the best possible fit, functional models, rather than ordering everything in a row, as the major online stores “all in the world. Here you can really help advice when choosing. Sellers usually use the equipment themselves, rather than being theoretical consultants. The main thing is not to get completely under the influence of the seller. A list of trusted stores with discounts for members of the Kuluar programs


Remember, there are very few real “1000-level salesmen” capable of getting into your specific request and selling you what you need.  In most cases, even an experienced hiker climber, aka sales consultant, will sell you equipment “for yourself”. This can lead to the fact that you will fall under the “magic effect of the specialist” and buy something you do not quite need. To avoid this, go shopping as prepared as possible, make up your selection criteria, even write them down. Save the photos of models that came to your mind on the Internet. You know that the picture on the Internet may not look the same as in reality. Forming your desires before buying, avoid a large number of advisors, especially with weak qualifications – you risk getting completely confused. If possible, choose a couple of really smart people, whose opinion you trust, as constructively as possible describe your problem. They will ask you the right questions. After that, go to the store. The chosen tent should be sure to unfold, ask permission to climb inside – to lie on the mat, to sit. If you’re going to be an avid camper, remember – this is your future home in a variety of places and conditions and you need to be confident in it.

Now let’s look at what you absolutely need to know about tents.

Basic criteria for choosing a tent for a hiking trip:


These days, most tents, even the budget series, are made of modern, quite reliable materials. Nowadays almost ALL tents are fully waterproof and have seams sealed with special heat shrink tape. The material is in many cases no longer the #1 criterion to choose from. The only exception may be the cheapest models, the so-called “tents from the supermarket” – they should be avoided. The first thing you will need to decide when choosing – what design tent do you need?

Most modern tents are stretched on a frame. So, by default, your camping tent will have a frame. But there are some tents without their own frame. They are stretched with trekking poles (it is good that you have them) or improvised means. In what cases should you pay attention to such designs?


You are minimalist, who are lightweight and save every gram, ready to sacrifice the comfort of sleeping in favor of weight and compactness. Tent during the trip you will need very rarely or may not be useful at all, you take it “just in case”. Maybe you just need a tent or a bivouac bag. Type of hiking activities inexorably require you to lightweight and maximally compact backpack – ski-touring, complex via-ferats, adventure races, etc.

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Choosing such a design, it is worth bearing in mind the pros and cons.

Pros of a frameless tent:

The disadvantages of a frameless tent:

Frame tent designs

Most modern frame structures on the market have a self-supporting frame. In other words, they are free-standing tents, and in calm weather they require little or no stretching. In many models, however, it is still necessary to stretch out some of their parts to give the right shape and maximum internal volume. The use of a free-standing tent is also possible on camping decks, asphalt and concrete ground, soft sand – where it is problematic to fix the stretching. Also, stretch structures are very common, which can only be set up with the help of stretching tents.

Frame material


Used for tents in the lower price range. The worst option is black, matte, opaque fiberglass. If possible, choose a frame made of reinforced plastic – it is more reliable and durable. Plastic frame is suitable where weight, maximum wind resistance and usage at subzero temperatures are not critical. If you do not want to spend a lot of money on equipment, go camping not very often and in warm seasons – this is your possible choice.


The most balanced material for the frame. Keep in mind that the budget structures use simpler grades of aluminum than the more expensive ones. They are somewhat heavier and have less strength, elasticity. More functional aluminum grades and aluminum alloys are used on more expensive models. Top models can be equipped with scandium frames and even CARBON. Some well-known and expensive manufacturers order the frames from specialized developers for maximum reliability and give their products a touch of “elite”. The most well-known manufacturer of tent frames is the company DAC. You should know that this famous creator of the strongest frames has both simpler and more expensive lines. Check with your salesperson on this point.


For now, such tents are still so rare that there is no point in writing about them.



The most common solution. The frame is located between the inner and outer tents. The inner tent is suspended on it, and the tent is simply stretched over the top and fastened.

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Advantages of a tent with an inner frame:

Disadvantages of a tent with an inner frame:


A recent invention. It is mainly used in the models of the segment “ultralight”. The main feature – the presence of “hubs” – frame connections to optimize its overall length, volume, and hence weight. As a rule, is used as an internal frame. The main advantages – low weight with a large internal volume of the tent. The main disadvantages are worse wind resistance and higher cost. Often, the hub frame is a design all-in-one – all elements of the frame are connected to each other by an elastic cable, forming a kind of complex arc. Such a frame is easy to fold, even for a beginner.


Located on top of the entire structure, the arcs are visible. The inner tent is attached to the outer tent. There are two basic options for attaching the tent to the outer frame. With the help of LAT-POCKETS. These are peculiar sleeves made of mesh or fabric, where the frame is inserted, and then it is fixed with lugs in special eyelets. On the one hand, it is the most wind-resistant design, the most evenly distributed the load, on the other hand – the most time-consuming installation. Sometimes the final placement (tensioning) of the tips in the eyelets involves so much effort that some girls or teenagers are not able to do it! So practice before you buy. The second option is with hooks or carabiners. Reminiscent of attaching the inner tent to the frame in models with an inner frame. Such a system has unsurpassed convenience and quick setup! If you have bothered to attach the inner tent to the outer tent in advance (or if you have a single layer tent), it takes only seconds to set up. This can be especially appreciated in stormy conditions. That said, the carabiners do not provide the phenomenal load distribution of the first option. It’s up to you to choose.

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Advantages of a tent with an outer frame:

  1. Ability to set up the inner tent along with the outer tent.
  2. Ability to set up the outer tent without the inner tent and without the bottom as a tent.
  3. Good wind resistance, easier to pitch in the wind.
  4. If the frame breaks, the tent is usually intact, easier to repair.
  5. When pitching in the rain, the inner tent stays dry.

Disadvantages of a tent with an outer frame:

  1. You can’t set up an inner tent without an awning!
  2. The frame is relatively longer and heavier than the first option.
  3. Traps snow and debris (leaves, branches, serves as a basis for weaving spider webs, etc.)
  4. Considerable effort is possible during installation.
  5. Usually such structures are equipped with floor straps that connect the places where the ends of the arcs are attached. The straps can become tangled and make installation difficult.
  6. Installation from scratch, without an attached inner layer is quite time consuming.

CONCLUSION: For most campers, the inner frame version is preferred, as evidenced by the sales volume. Tents with an external frame are more suitable for professional use – in the mountains, in cold climates, in bad weather conditions.


Most tents sold have a two-layer construction. As a rule, it is an inner tent, equipped with a bathtub-like (going over the walls) waterproof bottom and a lightweight, breathable top, part of which is made of lightweight mesh. In tents for use in warm and hot seasons, practically the entire top can be made of netting, while models for colder conditions have a much smaller amount of netting, and it can be closed with a denser fabric with a zipper. The outer tent, as a rule, is a protective tent made of a waterproof, durable fabric with fixed stretching straps. With the inner tent is connected, usually through a frame with special fasteners or other fixing devices, equipped with a tensioning mechanism. It allows you to stretch the tent as tight as possible, which is often necessary during rain or wind. A double-layered tent creates an air space between the inside and outside of the tent. This makes it more comfortable to stay in both hot and cold weather and prevents condensation to a greater extent in the living area, which is very important for keeping your belongings dry during the hike.

A 1-ply tent is either a very cheap and extremely simplified “supermarket” option, or a specialized design for certain tasks. Virtually all single-ply tents have problems with condensation, even when using special breathable fabrics, so their use is mostly limited to winter, the mountains and other places with low temperatures where condensation is not so critical. Also, single-layer tents are colder in the cold, and hotter in the sun than their double-layer counterparts. In return, they offer ultimatum low weight and volume, ease of installation and folding in extreme weather conditions, minimal size in the installed form, which allows them to place on the smallest flat area. As you have already realized, it is not an option for everyone! It is also worth considering the often very high cost of such structures.

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Tent Dome

Dome structures are the most common. For decades such tents faithfully serve tourists, climbers, hunters and fishermen. The simplest design of the dome is formed by crossing the frame of two poles in the middle. Such a tent is simple to set up, lightweight. At the same time can not boast a spacious vestibule (one or two). Often, to increase the functionality (inner volume, wind resistance) in the design add one or more arcs of the frame or special frame struts. The more intersections the frame elements make with each other, the stronger the tent is. 

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Tent half a barrel

The second most common type of tent today. In popularity lags behind the dome by orders of magnitude. The appearance of such a tent is clear from the name. The main drawback – the tent is not free-standing (self-supporting), stretching is required. Installation is usually more difficult, especially for beginners. The main advantage – excellent wind resistance (with proper installation), good internal volume, low weight. Such a tent is rarely chosen by beginners, mostly its owners are experienced campers, able to take advantage of the advantages and compensate for the disadvantages.

Tent marquee

A classic that looks like an Indian tipi, tepee, or yurt. Usually installed on the central pillar, although there are other options. The option is very common in North America, in our country is in little demand. In the former Soviet Union such a design is used mainly for winter hiking, usually skiing, because it is convenient for using the ski equipment as a frame and install the stove. Often come across versions without a floor.



Once a non-alternative option for Soviet hikers. The construction is usually single-layered. Not widespread now because of low habitability, dependence on stretching and installation difficulties. Rare guest on store shelves. In the new interpretation it’s a compact unframed tent, mounted on trekking poles, a frequent choice of survivalists, bushcraft enthusiasts and beginner hikers.


Many people are used to the fact that a tent must have one entrance (exit). It is nice when the entrance to the tent allows convenient use in the rain.  Practice shows that two entrances are much better than one. Therefore, if possible, choose a model with two entrances. If you don’t anticipate using your tent often on narrow sites, it’s better to choose a model with side entrances (assuming you have a 2-3 seater tent; if your tent is larger, head/foot entrance is a good option). What’s the best way to organize your storage space? Of course, trivia and some clothes are better to keep on hand in the tent itself, for which you will be useful pockets in it and especially nice “mezzanine” – shelf under the ceiling.

Backpacks, shoes and bulky/dirty things are convenient to keep in the vestibules. In theory, the more of them (ie, two is better than one) and the greater their volume (for example, good, when the vestibule “responsible” for a separate arc of the frame), the better. In practice, you are constantly balancing the useful volume of the tent and vestibules against its weight/size/cost. Think about what will be important to you and base your choices on that. Where do you want to shift your focus – towards comfort or low weight?

Tent bottom material

Most camping tents have a fabric bottom. The bottom is constantly under a lot of stress – you lie on it, put pressure on it, push it with your elbows and knees. That said, your tent rarely sits on a perfect surface. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a heavy-duty fabric bottom. The current trend of weight reduction has many manufacturers chasing a lighter product rather than its strength and durability. In some ways, it is to the manufacturer’s advantage to have your tent wear out faster and be replaced with a new one. If you also chase the weight and buy an ultralight tent, be especially careful when using it. I also advise you to use FUTPRINT (bedding) on suspicious surfaces. The material of the bottom should not only be very strong, but also have an increased water resistance. In the classic European measurement system, a value of 5000 mm should be considered as the minimum water resistance for the bottom of the tent. But remember that by pushing with your elbow you create more pressure and the tent might leak. A value of 10,000 mm of water column is considered absolutely reliable. At the same time, for an awning, a performance of 3-5000 mm is sufficient. American manufacturers report much more modest figures. But, firstly, they are guaranteed for life for the fabric, and secondly, the system of evaluation of water resistance over the ocean is somewhat different from the European one.

On cheap tents the floor can be made of structured polyethylene, which looks like a clingy bag from the supermarket.  There is nothing terrible about such a floor when used infrequently. It is heavier and a bit more cumbersome, but it is perfectly repairable with mounting tape. This kind of floor is good for not too picky and frugal travelers. I lived in a tent with polyethylene floor and fiberglass frame on Mount Elbrus at an altitude of 4200 meters for a couple of nights in moderate weather, and the tent stood the test. However, polyethylene can really freeze to the ice.

Tent material processing

In nature, especially in the mountains, the tent is exposed not only to mechanical stress, but also to strong solar radiation. To resist ultraviolet rays and better moisture protection, most tents have an additional fabric treatment. The best resistance to ultraviolet and moisture is a silicone coating. For internal impregnation and impregnation of the bottom often use polyurethane coating fabric. Different types of coating have their own advantages and disadvantages, which we will not dwell on in the review article. It is also not unreasonable to use fire retardant impregnation of the awning and the inner tent. This will help avoid damage from sparks or careless handling of the fire inside.



Be very careful and cautious! Unless absolutely necessary, avoid using burners inside the tent. If this cannot be avoided, cook in the vestibule, making sure that there is plenty of air flow and that no part of the burner or cookware comes into contact with the tent material. Avoid cooking in the tent on integrated systems such as a jetboiler, reactor, and similar – they are extremely dangerous. Many accidents have been known to occur in connection with these.


You don’t always have to fold the tent into the cover. You can separate the tent parts and carry them separately from each other. A wet tent can be placed on the backpack while you are on the move to dry it out. When packing the tent without the cover in the backpack, make sure that it will not be damaged by sharp objects.


Современные палатки изготавливаются из синтетических материалов, они очень неприхотливы и требуют минимум ухода. При этом могут служить вам очень долго. Все же, палатку нужно, как минимум, сушить после похода. При складывании избегайте стереотипных (привычных) перегибов – в одних и тех же местах. Ремонтируйте палатку как можно быстрее после возникновения повреждения, используйте подходящий ремкомплект.


A very relative characteristic. Extreme tents are often referred to as “all-season” tents, with summer use often being uncomfortable. At the same time, two or three-season tents are often used successfully in winter and in the mountains. Nevertheless, you should understand some things. So, one of the main characteristics that determine the possibilities of use is the wind resistance. A tent with a weak frame and a large sail is hardly worth taking for difficult weather, it will not be able to withstand the increased wind and snow load. If you have a warm sleeping bag, you can use a tent with a lot of mesh inside in colder conditions, but it is important that it has enough strength, and the tent as low as possible to reach the ground. Contrary to the beliefs of some campers, a snow skirt is not at all a necessary attribute of “winter” tents, although it can often be of great use in the snow and in high winds. Nevertheless, many very well-known manufacturers sell “winter” tents without snow skirts. Experienced campers know that a good windbreak can often be a more important factor than a skirt or a very strong tent.

You have to understand that today’s super-tech tents of the ultra-light segment may not be able to withstand serious stresses and take that into account in your travels. You also need to know that even the most expensive, heavy and durable super extreme tent can be torn and simply destroyed by hurricane winds.

Hiking wisdom, knowledge and developed intuition are often more important than the newest and most expensive gear. And while waiting for the arrival of all these important qualities and gain the necessary experience, try to use the equipment strictly for its intended purpose, consider the positioning of the manufacturer and always be guided by common sense.

Have a good choice and enjoy your travels!

The author of the article is Sergei Lakhotsky.


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