It’s been a long day – you’ve covered miles of trekking through the woods which has left you parched, tired, and your feet are sore. You’re yearning some nice dinner and a peaceful night ahead.

Such a happy ending after hiking for hours is the desire of every backpacker – that’s why choosing the right backpacking shelter is critical.

We dug deep into every rabbit hole to bring you all the fantastic backpacking shelter options. We’ll take a look at the various shelters in a moment, but first, how do you determine the best backpacking shelter?

Choosing a backpacking shelter takes into consideration a myriad of factors. Your safety, while connecting with nature, comes first. Comfort is everyone’s cup of tea. But some shelters serve it cold with the wrong combination. Backpacking shelters, if well picked, complete the backpacking puzzle perfectly.

Types of Backpacking Shelters

There are four categories in backpacking shelters, which we shall delve into, including their pros and cons shortly.

  1. Double-walled tents
  2. Single-walled tents
  3. Tarps
  4. Hammocks

While what you pick heavily relies on personal preference, other factors have a say in it too.

For example, weather elements, location, weight, and last but not least, size matters a lot. Did we mention the price? Yeah, this is the mother of all determinants depending on how deep you are willing to dig into your pockets. 

But if comfort is a no-compromise for you, who are we to say otherwise. Dig the deepest and get the best. After all, what’s an experience if it’s not the best you can get?

Let’s dig in.

Double-Walled Tents

Double Walled Tent
Photo by MSR

Spending the night in a tent, or a tent cot is a popular option among backpackers. 

As the name suggests, a double-walled tent has two walls, typically the tent body and a rainfly. The outer wall (rainfly) protects you from the rain, while the inner one (mesh) covers the bugs and ventilation.

If those itty-bitty bugs irk you, these tents will take care of that. Simply slide the rain fly away and peacefully count the stars on a dry night.

They come in one or two-person sizes. If you love more room or just sleep all over the bed like a baby, then this is ideal for you. Moreover, you can crawl up onto your tent, spread your gear everywhere, and still have room for a visitor.

Additionally, double-walled tents have a vestibule for extra storage and covering – not to mention cooking space away from the rain while keeping you warm inside. 

A significant drawback of this type of backpacking shelter is the terrain. Steer clear of tilting ground. A nice beautiful flat spot offers a relatively good night’s sleep.

Comfort comes with extra material affecting weight – this means a heavier backpack load. Furthermore, it requires a longer set-up time for the two separate pieces. 

Single-Walled Tents

Single Walled Tent

The rain fly and mesh get combined into one here. 

Some high-quality backpacking shelters are made from Cuben Fiber (Dyneema) – a strong lightweight and waterproof material. A perfect option as it knocks off the extra weight, keeping your luggage lighter. Other tent fabrics include Nylon, Polyester, Cotton, and Polycotton.

Keep that extra buck in the pocket. Your trekking poles will do the job—no need to purchase designated tent poles for these.  

In a rainy situation, the set-up is quick compared to double-walled tents.

The only problem is that you won’t be able to gaze the night away into the stars, this might be good if you’re not a fan of the creepy crawlies though!

These backpacking shelters can feel like an oven, as some lack proper vents which result in dampness once the humid air gets condensed. Although partially unzipping the door should minimize the effects.


Photo by cnort

If you love being one with nature and don’t mind a few bugs roaming around, then you have a winner with the tarps. They are just that, tarps.

There is no floor, just a cover for you and your gear. However, that doesn’t mean you sleep on the floor. 

A ground cloth made from Polycro helps you avoid contact with the ground.

Thanks to technology, they are made from featherweight fabric (Silnylon or Cuben fiber).

Additionally, you can use a bivy with your cloth. A bivy is a “cocoon” bag that your sleeping bag slides into. It is made of waterproof and breathable material, which keeps you dry from both the rain and body moisture while asleep.


Your trekking poles make for adequate reinforcements when pitching the shelter.

A considerable downside is the skill required to set it up. Yes, it seems easy laying it on the ground, but not for first-timers. Sandy soil means the stakes might not hold – which implies that it can be blown away in windy weather. Your location is something to consider.

If you also want to mind your own business and keep private, well, tarps throw all that out of the window.


Multiple hammocks

At the mention of the name, you feel like it’s an exclusive club, right?

Consequently, if you love watching things from a higher ground while swinging, by all means, this backpacking shelter offers all that. They are also great options for uneven or rocky ground where a tent may not suffice.

They are both fun and lightweight. With two stout trees for anchoring, you are minutes away from enjoying sleep with a view.

If you marry a tarp and a hammock, weather elements have no chance with you. In the event there are no trees, which is a downside here, the hammock can be turned into a single-wall tent or integrated into a tarp system.

Hammock and tarp

Factors Affecting What To Pick

As mentioned earlier, some factors play a part in choosing a backpacking shelter.

Safety and Privacy

First-time campers can bank on double-walled and single-walled tents for security, comfort, and privacy.

Our counterparts, the tarp, and hammock, on the other hand, care nothing for the above. They are best left alone for veteran campers and nature lovers. 

Weather Elements

A three-season (spring, summer, fall) tent serves the purpose if you are getting started on camping and don’t want to break the bank. 

In extreme weather, tarps and hammocks are best left in the garage while you cozy up on the sofa with some hot chocolate.

Size & Weight

Anything under three pounds should be functional and easy to move around.

Hammocks and tarps are ideal for saving on some space for other essentials. Besides, they use trekking poles for set-up – a clear indication that they won’t bulge in unnecessary weight.

Double-walled tents can be massive with all the extra material.

Camp Location

While tents defy the weather, location can tame them. For example, rocky, sandy, hilly, or marshy land are a definite challenge with these backpacking shelters.

If camping in the desert or beachside, your hammock has no fair play. Also, tarps might need firm ground for the stakes to hold in place.


Finally, having gone through the above, money is the final breaker. Tarps made from costly material are expensive and may not fully serve the purpose of keeping you safe. 

However, hammocks are cheap, but you’ll need a netting system to keep bugs away which definitely adds some cost onto it.

Comfort translates to luxury. Tents are sleek and very functional, so expect the tag to be a bit high.


Each backpacking shelter carries advantages and disadvantages and are dependable on where you are backpacking. Ultimately, safety, comfort, and peace of mind come first.

Kelvin Mwathi