Category Archives: Tents & Tarps

Check & pack

Checking and packing your tent or tarp

“Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky.” Rick Yancey

It’s good practice to check gear as your pack it to ensure that everything is in good working order and minimise the chance of gear failure out in the bush.

Here are our guidelines for what to look for and how to pack your chosen shelter.

Check What to check for when packing

The four key things to check are:

  • Do you have all the parts? It’s a nightmare to turn up at camp and realise that half of the tent poles are missing.
  • Does it work, and is there any damage?
  • Is it clean? Some gear may pose biosecurity risks if dirty, as there is a risk of transmission of diseases, pollen, spores, seeds and so on into uninfected regions.
  • Do you have a repair kit for that part in case something breaks in the field?

Note, for tents the key components are outer, inner, poles, pegs and ground sheet. Tarps are generally pitched without an inner or poles so key components are the tarp itself (similar to the tent outer), pegs and groundsheet.

Shelter componentAnything missing?Does it work?Is it clean?
Outer (or flysheet)Check all parts are there: zips, guy lines etc.- Check fabric is intact with no holes, tears or degradation
- Check seam sealing still intact
- Check zips work
- Check pole inserts work
Check for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
InnerCheck all parts are there (inner is usually one piece!): zips, attachments etc.- Check fabric is intact with no holes, tears or degradation.
- Check seam sealing still intact
- Check zips work
Check for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
PolesCheck all poles are there including extras (e.g. for vestibules).- Check poles fit together (e.g. attachments smooth)
- Check poles aren’t cracked
- Check elastic connections are intact
Check for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
Pegs/stakesCheck enough pegs are there, including extras if necessary (e.g. for vestibules).- Check pegs aren’t bent, cracked or damagedCheck for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).
Ground sheetCheck all parts are there (usually outer is one piece of material, so this should be a quick check!).- Check fabric is intact with no holes, tears or degradationCheck for any dirt or dust from previous trips (clean if necessary).

Make sure to carry a shelter/tent repair kit. You can get these off the shelf (e.g. Coghlan’s nylon tent repair kit) or make your own.

Typically, your field repair kit will be small, with only those essential items necessary to make temporary in-field repairs. Back home, you can revisit your field repair and decide if you need to do a more thorough job or replace items entirely (e.g. poles).

Pack these items in a ziplock bag to keep them together and dry:

  • Adhesive-backed nylon patches
  • Mesh screen patches
  • Needle & nylon thread
  • Tent pole repair sleeve (also called a ‘ferrule’)

Note, for tarp users, no need to pack mesh screen patches or pole repair sleeves.

Between trips, replace any used items and double check that everything is present and working.

Pack How to pack gear effectively

When packing, the key points to think about are:

  • Can I split up the item to share it with other people?
  • Where should the items go in the pack?
  • Does it need additional protection? E.g. protection from scuffs, wear and tear and water?

Sharing items
Shelters are usually sold with all the components – poles, pegs, inner/outer- wrapped together in one package. However, if you plan to share a shelter with another person on the trip, it may be sensible to spit the tent into pieces to share the load. Or one person carries the tent/tarp, while the other/s takes a larger share of the food.

In either case, it can be beneficial to separate out the components of the tent for ease of packing. This way, the tent components can easily fit around other bulkier objects in your pack (e.g. billy), and there is more flexibility with how the contents (and hence weight distribution) are packed.

Where things should go and how to make sure they don’t get damaged
Where to pack items is based on weight distribution and ease of access. Since shelters are generally only needed at camp, it’s safe to store these in harder-to-access parts of your backpack.

For distributing gear in a backpack, the general rules are:

  • Heavy gear near to your back (e.g. water, tent poles, gas bottles, some foods)
  • Light gear away from your back (e.g. clothes, groundsheet, some foods)
  • Less used items at bottom (e.g. sleeping bag, some clothes, sleeping mat)
  • Frequently used items at top (e.g. raincoat, snacks, small water bottle)

Shelter componentWhere should it go?Needs to be waterproofed?Tips for protecting it from damag
Outer (or flysheet)Depending on tent design, this can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the outer is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around. Ideally yes, but if the outer does get a bit of water it’s fine. The key is to prevent the inner from getting wet (and taking care when setting up not to get the inner wet with the outer).Avoid direct contact with sharp objects (e.g. edges or poles, pegs) as they may tear material. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
InnerDepending on tent design, this can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the inner is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around. Yes. It’s a good idea to keep the inner in a lightweight waterproof cover to keep it dry.Avoid direct contact with sharp objects (e.g. edges or poles, pegs) as they may tear material. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
PolesPoles can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Can be slipped inside pack or strapped onto outside.No, these can get wetPoles are susceptible to being bent, misshapen or even snapped if they are put under pressure. Store poles in a location that minimises damage from other objects and with some padding around them (e.g. groundsheet). Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
Pegs/stakesPegs can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Being small, fit around bulkier items.No, these can get wet.Avoid placing heavy items on top of pegs. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).
Ground sheetDepending on tent design, this can be a heavy item, so aim to get it near to your back. Since the groundsheet is soft and flexible, consider using it as padding between hard bulky objects to stop them moving around. Ideally yes, but if the bottom of the groundsheet gets wet that’s fine. Keep the side that touches the inner dry. Ground sheets are usually pretty robust, but still susceptible to tears from sharp objects. While tempting to strap to the outside of backpack, beware that passing branches may lead to rips and tears. Wrap lightweight waterproof cover around it (usually supplied by manufacturer).

Use in the field

Checking and packing your tent or tarp

“I was born by the river, in a little tent, and just like the river I've been running ever since.” Sam Cooke

Practice pitching your tent or tarp at home first. This allows you to become familiar with all the material and how everything fits together. Remember you’ll be tired after a day of walking and it’s nice to be able to just pop up the tent or tarp rather than having to figure it out for the first time in the field!

If you haven’t used your tent or tarp for a while, you can test if it is still waterproof by pitching it in the backyard and using a hose to spray the tent with water. This is an easy way to determine if there are any leaks (again, much nicer than finding out at 3am in the field!).

Pitching (in standard conditions) How to pitch a tent/tarp in standard conditions

Pitching a tent or tarp in standard conditions is primarily about site choice. Usually, you will have a few sites to choose from, so it’s worth thinking through the following points to find the most appropriate one.

Choosing a great location

  1. Find a sheltered flat location
    Select an area sheltered from the wind with reasonable flat open ground. If a pre-existing camping area already exists, use this rather than create another one of our own. Select a flat surface, or surface with the least amount of slope: a slight slope is okay, as long as your lay with your head higher than your feet.
  2. Check it’s safe
    • Look up, check for loose branches or dangerous branches. Avoid pitching directly beneath anything that appears unsafe. Be mindful of potential Sudden Limb Drops from trees, particularly in Eucalyptus trees. This is when an otherwise healthy looking branch will fall from the tree with no warning, usually on a hot day. A good rule of thumb is to avoid pitching your tent or tarp below anything that you do not want falling on you.
    • Check the ground for stinging nettles, sharp object such as rocks, sticks or bindis. Lumpy or sharp objects make for uncomfortable sleeping and can quickly damage the underside of your tent and groundsheet. While you certainly can clear away the odd sharp object or rock, it’s best to find a starting point with as few of these as possible.
    • Scan the immediate vicinity for signs of ants or ant nests. Bull ants and Jumper ants are a few of those creepy crawlies that you want to avoid camping near.
  3. Check for flood risk
    In dry conditions, a site can seem great … that is, until it starts raining and suddenly your tent is a foot underwater. Check that your tent/tarp site is well of typical flood risk zones. Avoid pitching your tent/tarp nearby waterways that are likely to rise after rainfall. Avoid gullies or depressions where water will typically pool during rainfall (e.g. low lying terrain, marshes). Avoid soft ground that will absorb water and turn to mud.

    One way to tell if an area typically collects water is to examine the nearby vegetation. If the vegetation is typical of a marshy area such as rushes, sedges and reeds. Remember that an area may flood even when it is not raining there as water flows from upstream catchments.

  4. Extra things to consider
    Once you’ve found a spot that’s flat, safe and you’re confident that it’s not going to flood, you may also want to consider some of these nice-to-have factors:

    • In summer, opt for a shady spot if you get the choice so that it is cooler during the day and at night. In winter, select a sunny spot to speed up drying the tent/tarp out in the morning.
    • If camping on a hillside, and you have the choice, then think about where you pitch your tent in terms of the direction of the sun: in cooler months, it’s lovely to wake up with the sun directly on the tent; in hotter months, stay as shady as possible.
  5. Then just pitch your tent!
    In nice conditions, pitching a tent/tarp is a fun relaxing process. Although most tents and tarps follow similar principles, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure that you correctly piece everything together and do not damage the materials.

    Some video examples of pitching different styles of tents:

Key points to remember:

  • Tent users, make sure the inner isn’t touching outer fly. Tents stay waterproof by having these two layers separated. Check by running your hands over the inner and outer and tighten pegs/guys to even out tension.
  • Take care when putting tent/tarp pegs in that they go in as far as possible to keep the tent most secure. Put pegs in at an angle (about 90 degrees to the pull on the rope), place the hook on the outside, not facing out. For soft ground you can push it in with your fingers, if it’s harder ground use a rock or hammer if it’s really too hard (do small hits so you don’t hit tent and damage it by accident, and hit directly inline with the shaft to avoid bending).
  • Keep any zippers done up tight to prevent creepy crawlies from getting in during the pitching process.
  • Create even tension across the tent/tarp to protect it from wind and rain. Do this by making sure the pegs and guys are held securely into the ground.
  • When folding and unfolding tent poles, start from the centre of the pole structure and work outwards so that the elastic inside stays even.
  • Keep organised, place extra poles and pegs (and other leftover gear) into the tent bag. Close the bag and place it in a tent pocket. Don’t let the wind blow it away while pitching your tarp or tent!

Pitching (in non-standard conditions) How to pitch a tent/tarp in non-standard conditions

The reality of bushwalking and camping is that you will probably not end up with a perfect campsite location, and you’ll very likely have to pitch your tent or tarp in challenging conditions (at least some of the time).

Rain and wind are the main conditions that make things hard, but gear failure such as a broken pole is another example of a challenging condition that requires a bit of ingenuity and patience to solve. Here we problem solve a few challenging scenarios.

Most tents and tarps are longer on one side (i.e. not symmetrical), and so have one side that has a larger surface area compared to the other. Usually the foot/head direction is the narrow one, and the body length is the long one.

If the long side of the tarp or tent is pitched directly facing the wind, a large surface area of the tent will get hit by wind and the whole structure will be more significantly affected than if a smaller side of the tent or tarp is facing directly into the wind. Think of your tent/tarp like a sailing boat: if the sail catches the wind it’ll take off. Similarly, your tent can get caught by the wind, so pitch your tent/tarp in a way that lets the wind flow past in the easiest way.

Another reason to consider wind direction in how you orientate your tent or tarp is to avoid smoke blowing from the fire into the tent/tarp. If you are camping downwind from the fire, try to have your tent/tarp opening away from the fire to minimise the amount of smoke blowing in. Ideally, you want the door of your tent to be downwind to making getting in and out easier and to protect the gear inside.

Rainy trips can still be a lot of fun. Here are a few tips to stay happy in the rain. If you are carrying a tarp, set this up first to create a dry working area and place for the group to shelter. Simply having a nice dry place to hang out when you come into camp can make all the difference. Pitch the tarp so that it creates a high ‘roof’.

Most importantly when pitching a tent in rain, avoid getting the inner wet! Some tent designs have the inner and outer attached (e.g. dome tents) so the outer automatically keeps the inner dry for a short time whilst pitching. Other tent designs have a separate inner and outer. Often, it’s possible to pitch the outer tent as a skin first, and then crawl inside and attach the inner. It’s not a bad idea in heavy rain to simply pitch the outer part of the tent and use the inside as temporary shelter, wait for the rain to ease, then pitch the inner later on.

Try to keep the inside of your tent as dry as possible by removing all boots and wet clothing before getting inside the tent (tents with vestibules make this far easier to do). Use a small tea towel or t-shirt to dry of wet things before putting them down in your tent.

Gear failure or forgotten items
Rips and tears to tent and tarps happens. That’s why it’s handy to carry a repair kit and know some tips and tricks for minor repairs in the field. See our Tent maintenance post.

Forgotten equipment is another thing that probably will happen to you at some point in your bushwalking career. If you can’t pitch your tent/tarp during dry summer weather, it’s probably not an issue as you’ll likely stay warm and dry enough in the open. However, in cooler weather, wet conditions and alpine areas, then not having a shelter can be extremely risky as you increase your risk of exposure and hypothermia. Here are some options to improvise replacements for forgotten tent items:

Forgotten itemReplacement options
PolesDepending on your tent design, you may be able to find a suitable stick to hold up part of your tent. Or a walking pole may also act as a tent pole replacement. Failing this, consider pitching your tent differently, making use of trees or rocks around: perhaps you can turn your tent into a tarp for the night?
PegsSticks, cutlery or rocks can replace missing or damaged pegs (see section below on using rocks instead of pegs).
InnerDepending on your tent design, you may be able to still pitch the outer part of your tent and use that as a protective shell. This still leaves you exposed to insects (no mozzie net) so consider applying insect repellent, and using a neck scarf and hat to protect your skin.
OuterForgetting your outer is a problem in rainy conditions and high wind. Select the most sheltered spot you can - perhaps a cave or overhang, or area with lots of vegetation overhead. Consider pitching a groundsheet, foil blanket, raincoats or taped together garbage bag to for a roof.
Ground sheetYour groundsheet is there to protect your tent from damage by providing an additional layer. Depending on the size of your tent, you may be able to use a rain jacket or poncho instead, or large garbage bag to provide some protection. Take extra care to not pitch on any sharp objects.

ideally your campsite is flat, but sometimes you just have to pitch where you can and if that means halfway across a slope, then so be it. There are a few things you can do to ease the scenario. Firstly, pitch the tent such that it minimise the slope that you will be sleeping on. This may mean pitching across the slope at an angle. Have your feet lower than your head and use your pack at your feet to prop up your body and reduce the amount you slip downhill overnight.

Pitching on a slope in rain means that you are likely to get reasonable flow of water under the tent, consider where the water will flow to minimise the amount under (and through) the tent/tarp.

Pegs not going in
Some surfaces are really hard to drive pegs into (e.g. hard soil or rocks). If the ground it really hard then avoid destroying all your pegs. When driving a peg in apply any force at the end of the peg directly along the saft. Any sideways force once the peg is partly in the ground is likely to bend the peg. Gently hammering with a rock allows you to keep this force in line, but will make the end of the peg rough. Using your foot to drive in a peg can work, but it is harder to keep the force in line and more likely to lead to bending.

If the ground is impossible to get the peg into, consider tying the guylines to vegetation or rocks. If using vegetation, avoid ringbarking and damaging the plant by using padding, and not strangling the plant with the rope. If using rocks (or logs), return them to where you found them when you leave. If pitching several tents/tarps, you may also be able to use the tents/tarps to anchor each other.

Pitching tent in the dark
You’ll probably have to pitch your tent/tarp in the dark at some stage – hopefully not the first time you use it! It pays to know exactly how your tent/tarp goes up, so make sure you practice first at home to avoid getting caught out.

Still do all your safety and sites checks even though it’s dark (check the area is safe, there are no sharp objects, ants nests or nettles on the ground, and that the area you are pitching is low flood risk).

Use a head torch to help see what you’re doing, and stay organised with where all your gear is (e.g. try not to misplace items such as pegs as they can be challenging to find at night).

Snow conditions require different tents and techniques to non-snow conditions. There are additional risks and safety checks that you must do to stay safe.

  • Check site for avalanche risk – do not pitch in an avalanche zone.
  • Find a sheltered spot and use a walking pole (or ski pole) to check that the ground is solid (no risk of snow collapsing).
  • Level out the surface by stamping on it or using a snow shovel to create a low platform. Allow the platform to harden for about 30 minutes before pitching your tent.
  • Pitch tent and use snow pegs to secure it.
  • In windy conditions build a small wall up wind to direct the airflow over the tent.
  • Dig a ditch in the snow around the base of the tent walls and keep fresh snow from building up against the tent.
  • Avoid wind blowing between the inner and outer of the tent, but do maintain gentel air flow to reduce condensation in the tent.
  • Increase visibility of your campsite by standing ski’s (or other objects) in a cross uphill, to reduce the risk of others skiing into you.

In-field repairs Simple repairs in the field

Inner and outer tent
Small rips and tears to the inner or outer tent (or tarp) can generally be fixed using a tent repair kit with patches and adhesive glue.

Broken or bent pegs are a little more challenging to repair in the field. You can try straightening the peg with a rock, although once a peg is bent it is significantly weakened. Use spare peg or improvise with other items.

For snapped poles in the field, use a ferrule to make a temporary repair:

Tent repair kits usually come with ferrules that are adaptable enough to fit most tent designs.
Failing this, tape can be great for making a temporary repair:

Neither tape nor a ferrule will last forever, but they are great ways of making temporary fixes in the field. If you do not have a ferrule, you may be able to improvise with a tent peg, cutlery or stick.

Care and maintenance

Care and maintenance of your shelter

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds.” Dave Barry

Back home, there are some simple ways to care and maintain your shelter to make sure that it stays in good condition for the next trip!

Here are our guidelines for what to look for and how to care for and maintain your chosen shelter.

Poles Tips to care for your tent poles

Cleaning and drying
To prevent spread of unwanted spores, fungi, bacteria and so on between natural areas, clean off all natural material such as mud, earth, sand etc. from poles. The easiest way to do this is by running a damp cloth over the poles to remove any mud or earth that has stuck to the poles. Make sure to clean both the outside of poles and the joints. Sand and grit can easily get caught in the joint, which can over time cause wear and tear to the pole material, so be sure to get this out.

Transfering of fungi or bacteria between natural areas can cause great devastation with diseases such as Phytophthora. As bushwalkers we can take steps to improve biosecurity even further by spraying our equipment suchs as poles and pegs with a 70% methylated spirits mix (with water).

Poles should be completely dry before packing away. Lay out poles in a warm, dry area deconstructed to air out both the joint and poles.

Avoid agressively flicking poles out or quickly constructing/deconstructing them as this is likely to weaken and split them over time.

If you’ve been camping near saltwater, wash poles with fresh water to remove any salt crystals and reduce the risk of rust. You can also spray a thin layer of silicon spray over the poles.

Inspect poles for any damage to the poles themselves, the joints or the elastic connections. If the poles have any damage, it’s best to replace them. The elastic on the other hand is something that you can get away with being damaged in the field as it is non-essential for holding up the tent, but rather provides a convenient way to hold the poles together when threading through the body of the tent, and keeps pole sections in the correct order.

Both pole and elastic repairs are straightforward.

Snowy’s provide an excellent article outlining how to repair a broken pole.

For broken aluminium poles, try to avoid cutting materials. Instead, purchase the correct spare part for your tent/shelter model.

Long term storage
Fold down poles from the middle sections outwards as this keeps the elastic most evenly distributed throughout the pole sections and prevents long terms stretching. Store your dry, clean poles in a protective cover (usually provided by the tent manufacturer) in a cool dry place.

Pegs Tips to care for your tent pegs

Cleaning and drying
Clean tent pegs using hot water to remove all organic material. Dry thoroughly before storing as any moisture over time will damage and degrade pegs.

Tent pegs are at great danger of transfering of fungi or bacteria between natural areas can cause great devastation with diseases such as Phytophthora. Once cleaned of obvious dirt please spray or wash your pegs with a 70% methylated spirits mix (with water).

The most likely damage to tent pegs is bending, particularly if they’ve been forced into hard ground or against rocks.

The internet is full of forum discussions on the best way to straighten pegs (e.g., lifehacks and backpackinglight), with opinions varying from ‘just bend them back into shape with your hands’ through to non-ferrous alloy metallurgy academics endorsing a DIY annealing process.

The tricky thing about most metals is that that they become weaker after they have been bent, so the very process of straightening can further weaken or snap the pegs. Ultimately, it comes down to the material that the pegs are made from. For steel pegs, straightening is OK, but for aluminium breaks are much more common unless the metal is first heated up. This process is called annealing.

Annealing, where you heat the metal up close to boiling, can be done at home, but requires exceptional care to be taken so as not to burn yourself.

For most, the easiest and safest option is to manually straighten using an aid of some kind, either wooden blocks or a metal object with a hole in it (e.g. a spanner with a ring). Consider replacing the pegs, you can buy a bag of lightweight pegs fairly cheaply and replace them as needed.

Long term storage
Dry thoroughly before storing as any moisture over time will damage and degrade pegs.

Inner Tips to care of your tent inner

Cleaning and drying
The inner tent usually stays relatively clean during a trip as you try to avoid dragging too much earth and mud into it, and generally shake it out well in the field before packing up. However, in order to keep your tent lasting a long time, it’s worth spending time back home checking and cleaning. This prevents mould growing and will ensure your tent lasts for many years to come.
Check that the material is clean by opening up the tent and inspecting the inside as well as the walls and base. Remove any mud, earth or sand using warm water and non-detergent soap.

Air out inner thoroughly (using indirect sunlight) and make sure it’s completely dry before packing away in a cool dry place. Never use artificial heat or direct sunlight to dry the inner as this can melt or damage the materials.

Repair any rips or tears in the fabric using a tent repair kit. If the tear is through the fabric mesh, then get replacement mesh and sew a patch on. It won’t look pretty, but it’ll do the job just fine!

Long term storage
Make sure that fabric is clean and bone dry before storing in a cool dry place. It’s a good idea to store the fabrics loosely to allow a small amount of airflow and prevent mildew buildup.

Outer Tips to care of your tent outer or tarp

Cleaning and drying
The outer fly of a tent (or tarp itself) is fairly prone to picking up mud and dirt on trips so it’s worth spending time cleaning it well when you get home and before packing away in long term storage.

Check that the material is clean by running your hands over both sides of the material and removing any mud, earth or sand using warm water and non-detergent soap. Check zippers, guy lines and any other attachments too.

Air out the outer fly or tarp thoroughly (using indirect sunlight) and make sure it’s completely dry before packing away in a cool dry place. Never use artificial heat or direct sunlight to dry the material as this can melt or damage the materials.

As with the inner, repair any rips or tears in the fabric using a tent repair kit. Check that the sealant is still intact, and periodically apply DWR (durable water repellent) to the fabric.

Long term storage
Again, as with the inner material, make sure that fabric is clean and bone dry before storing in a cool dry place. It’s a good idea to store the fabrics loosely to allow a small amount of airflow and prevent mildew buildup. It is worth storing all the parts of your tent in a single bag, so you know where all the parts are for your next trip.

Selection (choosing; in the shop)

Selecting an appropriate tent/tarp

“Happiness is a dry, cozy tent.” Unknown author

Selecting a bushwalking tent or tarp can be a daunting experience. There’s a plethora of information on gear websites advertising specific brands, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what is really important in a tent verses a new fad or fashion.

To help, we’ve produced this article. We are not going to tell you which tent to buy or even go through specific tent brands. Instead, you will learn about all core aspects of tents and tarps so you can choose a shelter that best suits your needs.

ItemMain considerations
Capacity and price
How many people does it hold and does it provide value for money?
What weather conditions does it typically work well in
Weight and pack sizeWhat is the total weight including all pegs and poles, and how much volume does it pack down to
Doors and vestibulesWhere are the doors located (one entrance or several) and is there a vestibule area to store wet and dirty gear
General ease of use and liveabilityIs it generally comfortable and can you see yourself being able to bunk down in it for some time in bad weather?
Single and double layersIs the fly and inner two separate parts or is there simply one waterproof outer layer? Does this match well to the typical conditions you’ll face? I.e. wet and humid (double) or cold and dry (single)?
VentilationIs there good ventilation to prevent condensation but also provide protection against windy conditions?
MaterialsAre the materials lightweight and sturdy enough to meet your needs?
Pitching optionsAre there different ways to pitch the tent to match the needs e.g. additional vestibule entrances?
ShapeHow streamline is the shape and does it match the conditions you are likely to face?
Accessories - pockets etc.What other perks does the tent have?

Capacity and price Selecting the right sized and priced tent

We refer to the size of a tent/tarp in how many it sleeps. Sometimes, this means the configuration when people are side by side (2 person), sardined together (arranged head to feet), or in the case of the four person example below, three sardined and one perpendicular.

Tent/tarp capacity can vary greatly between tent/tarp designs, with some feeling a lot more spacious than others depending on floor area, height of tent, or how much space there is to store gear. Taller people may have trouble stretching out fully in some tents, but plenty of room in others. So the actual floor area measurements is something to keep in mind and compare between tents. Basically, it’s a matter of trying out a few different designs to get a sense of what works well for you.

As tempting as it is to get a three person tent for two people in order to have a roomy experience, remember that this adds considerable weight per person to your load.

Other things to consider:

  • Tent height: Sometimes, bushwalkers retreat to their tents for the day (or several days) if the weather turns undesirable. Under these conditions, having room to sit up and move around makes for a much more pleasant experience, however, the trade off here is more material/poles means an overall heavier tent weight.
  • Wall steepness: as above, less steep walls (such as a ridge or pyramid design – see chapter below) can mean less room to sit up in the tent (unless sitting in the very middle).

Price is definitely a consideration when it comes buying a tent or tarp, with prices ranging from Target’s $7 2 Person Dome Tent (not waterproof) right through to the MSR Remote 2 Tent at over $1100.

For some, a cheap 2-season option is the right thing, particularly if they are mostly walking in summer and dry weather. For others, that are tackling trickier terrain in more variable weather conditions, then investing in something that is lighter, smaller, more durable and able to withstand more extreme weather conditions is best.

The last thing to say is that there is no point in spending a fortune on the very best tent/tarp, and then being afraid to take it out bush for fear of damaging it! Buy something that you are comfortable with getting thrown around a little bit, after all, you’re bound to get dirty on a bushwalk! Do consider looking online for second hand well-loved (or not much-used) tents/tarps – you can save a lot of money and get a better tent/tarp than you could otherwise afford.

Season Choosing a suitable season

Tent season refers to the durability and safety of that tent in different weather conditions. For instance, a two season tent is one that is suited to calm summer conditions, whereas a four season tent can cope with significant snow and windy alpine conditions.

Tarps are generally for warmer conditions as they have open sides, so are not generally rated to a season in the same way that tents are.

As a general guide:

2For warm and favourable weather. Some can handle a small amount of rain and wind, but anything more is likely to damage tent materials or snap poles. Not generally recommended for most walking conditions.Target’s $7 2 Person Dome Tent - Blue
3Can handle heavy rain and windy conditions, and generally has stronger stitching and guy ropes designed for securing the tent. Materials are all generally stronger than 2-season tent.MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Tent
3-4In between 3 and 4.NEMO Kunai 2P Tent
4Designed for snow conditions and alpine areas with heavy snow and high winds.The North Face Mountain 25 Tent

Season rating chart
(adapted from

Feature2-season2-to-3 season3-season3-to-4 season 4-season
DesignDome, cabin or instantDome or cabinDome or A frameDome or A frameDome or tunnel
Ceiling meshLotsLotsSome to lotsSomeMay have vent controls
RainflyHalf or 3/4Half to fullFullFullFull
Rainfly & wall materialNylon or polyesterNylon or polyesterNylon, polyester or cottonNylon, polyester or cottonNylon, polyester or cotton
Rainfly & wall waterproof ratingUp to 800mm800 to 1200mm1200 to 1500+mm1500+mm1500+mm
Floor materialPolyethylene (tarp)Nylon or
taffeta or oxford
Nylon or
Nylon or
Nylon or
Floor waterproof rating1000 to 2000mm800 to 1500mm1500 to 3000+mm3000+mm3000+mm
Guy-out loopsNone or at tent cornersAt each poleOne or more
at each pole
One or more
at each pole
One or more
at each pole
# Poles (for
dome tents)
22 (low profile) to
3 (high profile)
Pole MaterialFiberglassFiberglass or
Carbon fibre, aluminum or
all steel
Aluminum or all steelAluminum or all steel
VestibuleNot commonNot commonCommonCommonCommon
Price vs sizeInexpensiveModerate to expensiveModerate to expensiveModerate to expensiveExpensive

Weight and pack size Tents come in all weights and sizes

Tent/tarp weight is an important consideration on overnight trips. Tent/tarp material and design can greatly influence the overall weight, and generally, the higher the price tag, the more likely the manufacturers have put effort into lightweight design.

Put simply, the larger the tent/tarp, the heavier it is in total (assuming same materials), however, if it sleeps more than one person, the carrying load can be shared and the overall weight per person is less.

Take for instance, the MSR HUBBA (lightweight and pricey) range:

  • The 1 person ‘Hubba Nx’ weighs 1.12 kg (i.e. 1.12kg per person)
  • The 2 person ‘Hubba Hubba Nx’ weighs 1.56kg (i.e. 0.78kg per person)
  • The 3 person ‘Mutha Hubba Nx’ weighs 2.07kg (0.69kg per person)

Per person, the 3 person tent is the lightest, so if you regularly walk with other people that are happy to share a tent, then it might make sense for you to get a three person tent and share the load on the walk in and out. But on the other hand, if you can’t reliably find other people to share with, you’ll be carrying in more than 2kg of tent, so in this case a 1 or 2 person might be better. Also, if you prefer your own sleeping area at camp, a one-person tent may suit you best.

You may also come across the term ‘minimum trail weight’ which describes the total weight of a tent minus stakes, stuff sacks and any documentation. Realistically, you need to take into account the pegs, but it can be a helpful way of comparing between tent manufacturers. Some people do opt to replace the manufacturer’s pegs with lighter ones.

The types of trips you are doing and your budget will most likely depict the weight of tent you end up buying. In general, lightweight gear is much more expensive, but this in turn doesn’t indicate quality and durability to weather conditions alone. It’s important to also read about the seasonality of the tent to understand if it will suit.

Key areas that manufacturers reduce tent weight include:

  • Fly and inner material – amount and type
  • Pegs/Stakes – number and material
  • Size and material of footprint or groundsheet
  • Guylines – number and type of material
  • Tent poles – length and material
  • Packaging – bag size, material and weight

Each year, tent manufacturers bring out new tent models with slightly different designs saving a few grams here and there. The concept of ‘ultralight’ hiking has emerged and is a popular term to describe a philosophy based around reducing weight wherever possible. There are no exact numbers around what makes something ‘ultralight’ versus heavy, it really comes down to how the user describes it themself.

ConsiderationUltra-lightweight tents (pros/cons)Heavier tent options (pros/cons)
WeightLight, ideal for longer trips, particularly across difficult or uneven terrainHeavier, but often still fine for many types of ontrack overnight bushwalking experiences.
PriceExpensive, better choice for someone that is regularly bushwalking and knows exactly what they want and works well for themCheaper, easier as an entry level tent for beginners
DurabilityDepends on fabric and seasonality of tent. There is a misconception that the lighter the material, the more likely it is to rip or degrade. This isn’t always true, it comes down to the seasonality of the tent and what it has been built for (a 4 season ultralight tent will fair much better in snow than a 2 season heavyweight tent).

Here are some examples of different weight options and weight per person:

OptionExampleWeight [kg] per personSleeps how many?
Ultra-light REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent1.31
Ultralight Insanity: NEMO Hornet 2P Tent0.522
Medium Zempire Mono1.7 1
Mont Moondance0.862
Heavier Outrak Otus 1 Person Hiking Tent1.921
Outrak Strix 2 Person Hiking Tent1.352

Pack size
Some tents/tarps can be really bulky, while others pack neatly down. Pack size is again a trade off between price and capacity. Generally, more pricey tents/tarps use lighter materials that pack down into a small volume. And of course, tents/tarps with higher capacity will have a larger pack size due to the additional material.

It really comes down to what price tag you are willing to pay and what capacity you realistically need for an overnight trip, depending on if you typically camp solo or with a friend/partner.

Doors and vestibules Getting the right number of doors and right sized vestibule

Everyone needs to jump out of the tent at some point to use the bush bathrooms, having additional doors can make it easier to get in and out (and hopefully avoid the whole tent waking up during the night). Again, the trade off here is that more doors means more material and zips and hence overall heavier tent weight.

Consider the location of the door, some tunnel style tents will have doors at the end or on the sides. Side doors tend to be wider and allow access to the full length of the tent. Doors at the ends of the tent require more crawling or shuffling to access the main area of the tent. So it is worth considering what your agility will be like at the end of a days walking, or nights sleeping.

Vestibule area
The vestibule area is handy for storing gear, or sheltering in rainy conditions. Vestibules are super useful for keeping wet gear outside and dry sleeping gear inside. Also useful overnight for preventing outdoor items like boots from getting wet from dew. Again, the trade off here is a larger vestibule means more material and overall heavier tent weight. This area is not idea for storing food or rubbish as it is still accessible by wildlife.

General ease of use How easy and liveable is the tent

Some tents/tarps are extremely liveable – easy to use, simple to pitch and pack down and rarely break. Whereas others can have one problem after another. When selecting a tent/tarp, it’s worth considering just how easy and liveable the tent is. Ask the following:

  • How many people does it take to pitch it and will you always have this number of people willing to lend a hand?
  • How easy is it to pitch and can you do it in the dark, wind and rain?
  • Is it an intuitive design so that anyone in the group can pitch it?
  • Is there space to store gear you and your gear comfortably?
  • Will you be able to reliably find space to pitch it? For instance, it will be far harder to find a spot for a 10 person tent compared to two 3-man tents and two 2-man tents.
  • Is there enough room to sit up and get changed?

Single vs double wall design Choosing between designs

Some tents have a double wall design with the outer and inner being separate, whereas others have just a single wall of waterproof material. Tarps always have a single layer.

The main advantage of a double wall is that it helps with ventilation, by creating a space for air flow that avoids moisture build up and dampness inside the tent. By comparison, a single wall tent is more prone to accumulate moisture on the inside (condensation in colder weather) but being only one layer, is a much more lightweight design.

Generally, single walled tents are best used in cool dry (less rain) climates such as alpine regions where rain (as opposed to snow) is unlikely and moisture build up can be controlled with good ventilation. Double walled tents are best for wet and humid conditions where you want to keep your gear as dry as possible and have space to store wet gear. For trips with wetter conditions forecast, select a double wall design. This will change over the years as the technology of the material allows it to become more breathable.

Ventilation Why ventilation is important

Good ventilation through a tent is important for two reasons:

  1. Prevents condensation forming on the inside of the tent, making your things wet and preventing wet gear from drying out.
  2. Prevents the tent getting stuffy, giving you fresh air to breath.

Condensation is the reverse of evaporation,condensation is where water dissolved in air condenses back into a liquid. When we breathe out, not only do we release carbon dioxide and nitrogen, but also some water in gaseous form also. As the hot air comes close to cold surface (i.e. the outer layer of a tent), it condenses and turns into a liquid. This is why we often find a layer of water on the inside of our tent in the morning.

The literature is ambiguous, but it appears that the average person can exhale anywhere from 250mL up to 2L of water per day, suggesting that over an 8 hour sleep period, there is a substantial amount of liquid that can condense. Good air flow throughout the tent is the easiest way to prevent condensation.

However, the trade off here is that any open air flap allows water or rain to get in, and lowers the overall temperature in the tent (a problem in alpine conditions where you’re trying to keep as warm as possible). So the key here is to select well placed air vents to maximise air flow, minimise condensation and prevent too much outside weather getting in.

A double walled tent design separates the inner (where your sleep) and outer by a wide air gap. Usually, the inner comprises of a series of mesh panels to allow for moist air to flow out of the sleeping quarters. This means that any condensation occurs outside the sleeping quarters minimising the chance of water condensing on sleeping gear.

Some things to look out for:

  • Does the tent have a double or single wall design (i.e. is the outer separate to the inner)? If single, how likely is it that your gear will get wet inside?
  • How many and where are the air vents placed?
  • Can you access the air vents from inside the tent (e.g. Mont Moondance 2 internally assessed ventilation).

Condensation is less of a concern for tarp users because it has open walls so generally good airflow.

Materials Selecting appropriate tent materials

Tents are made of a variety of different materials and each of the main components of tents are different:

  • Outer (or flysheet)
  • Inner
  • Pegs/stakes
  • Poles
  • Ground sheet

Certain materials are better suited than others, but usually with a trade-off for weight and cost.

Outer (or flysheet)
The key job of the outer is to provide shelter. Here are the different types of materials with pros and cons:

PolyesterPolyester is one of the most common tent materials on the market today. It can be made to many grades and weights. Polyester behaves similarly to Nylon, however, it does not stretch as much nor is affected as badly by UV light.
NylonNylon is extremely similar to polyester and another common material used by tent manufacturers. Nylon tents are typically coated with materials such as silicone, polyurethane or acrylic to enhance it’s waterproof properties. The big downside to nylon is the tendency for the material to ‘ladder’ with a hole or tear in the fabric. Some higher end tents have ‘ripstop’ thickener fabric to prevent holes damaging a large area of fabric, but cheaper ones generally do not.
Polycotton or coated-cottonPolycotton is a lighter alternative to cotton with a rainproof coating.
CottonCotton was the primary tent fabric of choice pre-1960s. Today, it’s only specialist manufacturers that tend to use cotton.

These tents are generally bulky and heavy so rarely used by modern bushwalkers that tend to favour lighter fabrics.

Cotton tents do not need an inner as it breathes well and rarely collects condensation. However, new cotton fabrics need to be weathered before use to prevent leaking: this is a process that involves soaking the material to allow the threads to mesh and become water-tight.

Ultralight-weight materials are increasingly popular with the bushwalking community. Some include
(adapted from

NameWeight (grams per square metre)DescriptionPrice
  • Nylon impregnated with silicon for waterproof properties

  • Very common

  • Cheap

  • Ripstop fabric

Gore Tex, eVent, and Momentum~100 (varies depending on brand)
  • Waterproof and breathable

  • Commonly used for rainjackets and gaiters

Dyneema X70-170
  • Super high denier nylon fabrics (i.e. 140-210D)

  • Ripstop fabric common on backpacks

  • Two types. The lighter one is common for DIY rainear and is waterproof. The heavier is exactly what is used on building sites and is a harder crinkly waterproof material.

  • Inexpensive and readily available.

Cuben Fiber10-98
  • Extremely lightweight waterproof option.

  • Expensive.

  • Not very durable. Lighter grades are prone to holes.


The key job of the inner is to provide comfortable sleeping quarters with a waterproof floor and breathable material such as mesh to ensure maximum ventilation. Cotton tents generally do not need an inner as they breath well, however, polyester, nylon and poly-cotton materials are common for tent inners.

Tent pegs and stakes can vary dramatically in size, weight and shape depending upon the materials used and what the intended purpose of the peg/stake is.

Tent stakes,: MSR Cyclone (35g),Toughstake (33g), MSR Snowstake (22g), DAC Y (14g), Easton Nano Nail (9g), DAC V (11g), MSR Mini Groundhog (9g), Hilleberg Tri-peg (8g), Vargo 6.5&#34, Titanium (8g), MSR Carbon Core (5.5g), Easton Full Metal Jacket (5.5g). Image source:

Here are some different options:

(Images source:
The Standard Roundwire PegThis is by far the most common and abundant tent peg. It is sturdy, reliable and comes in a variety of sizes depending on the tent design.

In windy weather, consider using two pegs so that they cross over just below the surface to provide extra security and strength to the fixing.
The Skewer PegSimilar to the roundwire peg, this peg has a twisted design to provide extra traction and security in the ground.
The Ripple PegThe ripple peg is good in sand or gravel because it has a larger surface area and greater drag resistance in both upwards and sidewards directions.
The Delta Peg (Ground Anchor)Delta pegs work well in extreme conditions as they hold well under strain. It sits flush against the ground to reduce the likelihood of tripping over them!
Plastic PegsPlastic pegs are ideal for use in softer ground surfaces without rocks. Being plastic, they are lightweight and cheap. Bent pegs can be remoulded with boiling water.
Groundsheet PegThe groundsheet peg is a flat design to hold a groundsheet down without presenting another trip hazard.
Halfround U PegThese steel pegs are extremely strong for use on hard firm ground. This peg comes in several lengths.
Rock PegRock pegs are specialised nails for hard surfaces. They can be banged into the ground using a hammer. Check if appropriate to use in your camping area (i.e. not appropriate in National Parks as this approach does not follow the Leave no Trace principles.
Screw type rock pegsSimilar to rock pegs, this variation has a screw thread for increased grip and stability. Again, check if appropriate to use in your camping area.
Screw PegsScrew pegs are not hammered into the ground, but instead screwed by hand (or using a cordless drill). They hold well in the ground and work well in moderately hard ground.
Biodegradable PegsBiodegradable pegs degrade naturally if left in the ground by accident. Not as strong as metal peg, but an alternative for festivals or camping in calm conditions. Even though they may degrade overtime, do not intentionally leave them behind.
Tent StakesStakes are lightweight options common in backpacking and hiking tents. Extremely versatile and strong, these are great for saving on weight.
Harpoon PegHarpoon pegs grip soft ground well and provide a large surface area to prevent drag. Excellent on grass, gravel and sand.


Glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or fibreglassFibreglass is one of the most common materials used to make tent poles as it is lightweight, cheap and flexible. The one disadvantage is that broken poles are a mess with lots of splinters.
Steel Steel poles are strong but heavy. They are generally not very flexible, so usually only used on straight sections of tent (i.e. not dome tents).
Aluminium alloyAluminium poles are lighter than steel and flexible, and often used in lightweight overnight backpacking tents.
Carbon fibreCarbon fiber poles are high end tent poles: lightweight, strong, flexible ... but pricey!

Groundsheets (also called footprints when designed for specific tents) are used to protect the underside of the tent from damage and water, and can be made from a variety of different materials including PVC or Nylon. They help protect the tent from sharp rocks, sticks, spiky plants etc.

Breathable materials (e.g. polyester) are preferable as this keeps any grass or vegetation beneath the tent in better condition for future campsite users.

Some tents (e.g. MSR hubba range) have a footprint, which is a specially fitted groundsheet to the exact size of the tent. Being the correct size, it saves on weight and sits neatly, protecting the tent from water and damage.

Another lightweight option used by bushwalkers is Tyvek™ material. This is a lightweight building sheet that is extremely effective at providing a waterproof protective layer. It can be purchased by the metre and cut down to meet the exact dimensions you need, hence saving on weight. It’s also extremely cheap at less than $10 per metre.

Pitching options Different pitching options for tents

Tents have quite a few different pitching options depending on the size and style of tent.

One major difference between tent models is whether or not the tent is free-standing (e.g. MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Tent) versus a model that falls over when not pegged in (e.g. some Tunnel Tents). The advantage of a free standing tent is that you do not need to secure pegs into the ground to pitch it, meaning that you can easily shift it around, and also disregard a peg if it’s too tricky to put in (assuming conditions are fairly mild).

Another consideration is speed and difficulty of the tent setup. A tent that is quick and easy to pitch is far more desirable at the end of a busy day than one that takes physical and mental effort to erect.

For wet weather conditions, having a setup where the inner can be pitched after the outer is great because you can easy keep the inner dry and sheltered when pitching in heavy rain.

In general, a tent that has a few different pitching options and arrangements will ultimately give you more flexibility to match the tent set up to the specific settings (e.g. flexibility in pitching options for entrance and doors). However, in general, with more flexibility, comes more weight, so there’s a trade off to be made here, especially for overnight bushwalking.

Tarps also have a few different ways to pitch them, depending on their design and what is available to use to support the tarp.

Name Video exampleImageWhen’s it good
A-frame on both sides of tree.
Conditions not too windy.
Half pyramid trees to pitch tarp again. Windy conditions where you want to be protected.
Flying diamond trees to pitch tarp again. Windy conditions where you want to be protected.

Shape Tents come in all shapes and sizes

The five most common tent designs for lightweight hiking are:
1. Geodesic
2. Dome
3. Tunnel
4. Ridge
5. Pyramid

NameImageDescriptionProsCons2 person tent examples
Geodesic Geodesic tents achieve high strength and stability through the use of geodesic design, that is, a series of triangles formed by overlapping poles and minimal unsupported fabric.- Strength and stability
- Good for extreme climatic conditions including snow and high wind
- Generally heavier due to extra poles and sturdier materials
- Smaller frame to withstand strong winds (generally less than 150cm high)
Budget ($):
Bora 2 Person Tent v2

Midrange ($$):
Vango Halo 200 2 person

Dome Dome tents generally have two crossing poles and are freestanding, meaning that they don’t need guylines to hold in place. They are reasonably spacious, with relatively high ceiling so that tent feels spacious and sitting is comfortable. - Free standing so can be pitched on ground that is hard to use pegs in
- Can cope with change in wind direction
- Small vestibule
- Poles add weight to tent design
Budget ($):
Target’s $7 2 Person Dome Tent - Blue
Midrange ($$):
Roman Escape 2 Dome Tent
Explore Planet Earth Spartan 2 Person Hiking Tent
TunnelTunnel tents are spacious relative to their weight, often with large vestibule areas for storing gear and preparing food in bad weather. They are not freestanding, requiring pegs and guy lines to hold their position.- Large vestibule, great for storing gear and preparing food in bad weather
- Quick to pitch in poor weather (often the inner is stored within the outer, keeping it dry when pitching in wet weather)
- Large volume tent for low weight
- Usually only one small entrance
- Not freestanding, must be able to secure pegs
- Sensitive to changes in wind direction and strong side winds
Budget ($):
Coleman’s Ridgeline 2P Hiking Tent
Mid range($):
Vango Ark 200+ 2 Person
High End ($$$):
Nordisk Oppland 2 Si Tent
RidgeTraditional tent design commonly used by military in the past. Tent with two poles at either end with guy ropes supporting. - Simple design, rigid poles can be replaced with sticks if poles forgotten or broken- Not a lot of usable space in tent due to sloping wallsNowadays, this is quite a unusual tent, so best to seek from a specialist supplier. (likely price $$$).
PyramidSimple design, common. - Simple design, rigid poles can be replaced with sticks if poles forgotten or broken- Not a lot of usable space in tent due to sloping wallsBudget ($):
Aricxi T
Mid range ($$):
Luxe Mini Peak II
High End ($$$):
Ultamid 2 – Ultralight Pyramid Tent

Other types of tents include:
1. Pop up
2. Inflatable poles
3. Hybrid dome/tunnel tents
4. Single hoop

Pop upPopular with car campers, really quick setup and takedown.- Really quick setup and takedown- Not very stable in high winds or heavy rain
- Bulky when packed down
- Heavy
Caribee Get Up 2 Man Instant Pop-Up Camping Tent
Inflatable Hybrid design, common with larger tents to provide more space in outdoor vestibule area.- Extra space- Probably need several people to pitch the tent (vestibule not freestanding)
- Heavy
Coleman Raleigh 5 Berth Dome and Tunnel Hybrid Tent
Hybrid dome/tunnelHybrid design, common with larger tents to provide more space in outdoor vestibule area.- Extra space- Probably need several people to pitch the tent (vestibule not freestanding)
- Heavy
Coleman Raleigh 5 Berth Dome and Tunnel Hybrid Tent
Single-hoop designCommon design for 1 or 2 person tents, the single hoop is a simple design to provide additional space.- Really quick setup and takedown
- Lightweight
- Not a lot of room inside the tentVango Zenith 200 2 man berth person camping backpacking hiking tent - 2017
A-frameClassic style of tent.- Really quick setup and takedown
- Lightweight
- Not a lot of room to sit up in the tentEureka Timberline - Tent
Trekking pole tentSet up using trekking poles, which saves weight of carrying regular tent poles.- Really quick setup and takedown
- Lightweight
- Many have a small area inside the tentMSR’s FlyLite tent

Accessories Some extra features to consider on tents

Some additional features that are worth keeping an eye out for are things like the number of windows and location of storage pockets.

Tents get messy quickly with gear strewn everywhere so it can be helpful to use storage pockets to keep things in check. Also, very handy for keeping torches and glasses overnight for ease of locating in the dark!

Some tents have windows on the side that provide great scenic viewing, as well as ventilation opportunities (particularly in larger tents).