Backpacking Gear List – Shelter Jabber

My BASE WEIGHT is about 14 pounds, with my SHELTER representing 17% of the weight at 2.5 pounds.

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Blog - Shelter3

To shelter or not?

If you prefer “Cowboy Camping” or sleeping under the stars,  you can enjoy a few less pounds of weight in your bag and a lot fewer decisions, that is unless a thunderstorm comes along . . .

Types of shelter:

  • Tent
  • Tarp
  • Hammock
  • Bivy

Tent decisions:

(1) RATING:  3-season tents are most common, with 4-season reserved for those doing winter camping. You definitely want waterproof vs water resistant.

(2) SIZE:   Interior dimensions are usually a much better indicator of size than the generic “one or two person” label. I recommend you pay special attention to floor or footprint dimensions, as well as height dimensions, especially if you are tall, large or claustrophobic. Tip: Tape out the dimensions on your floor then lay down with your mattress and gear to get a better idea of size.

(3) SET UP:  I prefer free-standing tents as they can be set up anywhere, can be relocated easily, and are usually quicker and easier to set up than stake-dependent shelters, which tend to weigh less and pack smaller but can be problematic in rocky and hard soil areas.  Tip: If you’ll be hiking in inclement weather, consider tents that allow for dry set-up.

(4) ENTRY:  Side or front entry is really a personal preference. For me this is one of those “line in the sand” decisions. It’s side entry or nothing!  The reason for this preference is ease of getting in and out of the tent. Front entry requires crawling, while side entry allows for swinging your legs out of your sleeping bag and into your shoes, as well as plopping your fanny on the bag (and pad) upon return to remove your shoes, and with a quick swing of the legs your back in your bag. A wonderful luxury especially for those middle-of-the-night escapades.

(5) CONSTRUCTION:  My preference is double-wall (aka rain fly) construction; however, the weight and packed size of single-wall construction make it a more difficult decision. The negatives of single wall can be condensation problems, resolved primarily by lots ventilation which can result in drafts, chillier sleeping, plenty of dust or sand during storms, and needing to avoid the sides of single-wall silnylon tents to avoid water penetration. Single-wall tents are usually only sold by cottage manufacturers. Tip: Look for taller bathtub walls to minimize drafts and rain splash.

(6) WEIGHT & PACKED SIZE: Several factors affect weight, most significant are size, fabric, construction and frame. Packed size is based on similar parameters. The most common waterproof, lightweight fabric today is silnylon (silicone coated nylon). Cuban fiber is lighter, but is also significantly more expensive. Denier nylon, taffeta and polyester are the mainstay of medium weight backpacking tents. Single-wall silnylon will have sealed seams (many times done by user), while cuban fiber and double wall have taped seams.

(7) STORM PERFORMANCE:  I can’t emphasize enough my recommendation to read reviews about the performance during a storm. Wind, rain, hail, thunder and lightening WILL happen in the mountains. Go prepared!

Ground Cloth Decisions:

(1) You can save weight and space by going without one. Most tents have fairly tough floors, but you’ll need to be more careful about site selection.

(2) Most big name manufacturers will sell matching footprints. These tend to be expensive, and weigh a bit more than other options but they may allow for a dry-tent setup and/or an option to forgo the tent body and use the fly and footprint for shelter.

(3) Tyvek is an extremely durable choice and many times can be picked up for free from a construction site, can be purchased at your local home improvement store, and from many of the ultra-light tent manufacturers. Tip: To soften the Tyvek, wash and dry in your home washer and dryer.

(4) Polycro is the lightest, most compact option and it’s surprisingly durable. It’s also quite inexpensive.

MY tent experiences:

My first backpacking tent was bombproof, but at 5lbs it was not a feasible long-term solution. I replaced it with a Tarptent Rainbow. The reasons I selected this tent were weight, size, and it’s free-standing option. I used this tent for about five years but never grew to love it. The drafty ventilation at shoulder height was my biggest complaint. I also wasted time futzing with the guy lines trying to get perfect corners. I don’t think it’s a good option for perfectionists.

MY wish list for a PERFECT tent:

  1.   Side entry, both sides
  2.   Double wall construction
  3.   Freestanding design
  4.  Tall bathtub sidewalls, all sides
  5.   360 mesh top two-thirds of tent
  6.   Less than 2 pounds
  7.   Compact packed size
  8.   Reasonable price

The Copper Spur UL1 is MY compromise tent:

  1.   Side entry, both sides
    • NO, but it has one side, good enough for me!
  2.   Double wall construction
    • YES, it’s cozy and secure
  3.   Freestanding design
    • YES, I love being able to move the tent after it’s been erected
  4.  Tall bathtub sidewalls, all sides
    • YES, I feel secure in rain and wind storms
  5.   360 mesh top two-thirds of tent
    • YES, am really loving the open-sky views and above-body ventilation
  6.   Less than 2 pounds
    • NO, but at 2.25 pounds (4 ounces more than my previous tent), I’m not too unhappy
  7.   Compact packed size
    • YES, but it could be better (the poles are bulky)
  8.   Reasonable price
    • NO, but it’s all about compromise

Other Compromises:

  • Size
    • It’s slightly smaller than my previous tent both in height and width
  • Color
    • I’d prefer a more stealth color
  • Rain Set Up
    • My previous tent was definitely easier to set up in the rain while keeping the inside dry


For me, most gear needs a bit of tweaking to make it mine. For example with the Tarptent Rainbow, I revised the top bar construction so the tent body could easily be wadded into my pack pocket. The changes I’ve made to the Big Agnes Copper Spur are:

  • Replaced zipper pulls
  • Replaced guy lines and tensioners
  • Replaced stakes

Lightening My Load

YES, I know there are ways I can lighten my base weight. Beyond replacing my tent, I could eliminate the ground cloth which would save 1.4 ounces. BUT I like having a separate ground cloth, so for now I’ll carry the weight.


Grams = Ounces, Ounces = Pounds, Pounds = Pain

Choose your pain wisely!