Like many, James’ journey into multi-day hiking started with finding the right lightweight tent. There’s no secret to what makes a tent fit for overnight hiking, but it can be a daunting decision and there are a few important considerations. James unpacks them below!


For years I wanted to get into multi-day hiking but didn’t. Anyone relate?

I heard great tales, watched inspiring films and heart-reacted loads of #campinginspo. But, I didn’t ever get out there. I did exciting day walks, but never stayed the night. The reason was I didn’t have a tent.

Because I didn’t have a tent, I didn’t overnight hike. Because I didn’t overnight hike, tents were intimidating and overwhelming and so I never got a tent. The cycle continued for years.

Thankfully I broke the cycle, and you can too. How to choose a hiking tent starts with answering the questions below.

As with all outdoor gear, there are also three important considerations: lightweight, durable and cheap. Oftentimes, you can only pick two. So determine whether you want cheap and cheerful or an ultralight, long-term investment. There’s no wrong answer, it’s all about finding what works for you.


How many people are going to use it?

It might sound ridiculous, but this question is critical. No point looking at two person tents if there are three of you going.

Legend used to say, ‘a two man tent is actually for one’ but that ridiculous old-school logic isn’t used for modern tents. I recommend setting the tent up before you buy, or at least laying the measurements out and checking you’ll genuinely fit the desired amount of people in there.



Two person tents are the most common for hiking, however three person tents do exist. In theory, the more people dividing up the burden of carrying the tent, the lighter it becomes. Three person tents are great for weight distribution, but heavy in the event that it’s only sleeping two.

When choosing tents, I love to be able to sit up inside. It means no twisting awkwardly sideways and hopping on wet grass trying to disentangle myself from my merino tights. 

What are you using it for?

Three-season or four-season? It seems obvious, but what is the actual difference in, well, tent-iness?

Four-season tents are designed to keep you safe in the most extreme locations and the lowest temperatures. They have stronger poles and are often odd shapes to withstand the weight of snow piling up, tougher fabrics to overcome wear and tear and have minimal mesh to retain every ounce of heat. 


Stop What You're Doing and Look at These Photos of the Himalayas Right Now, Jackson Groves, Mount Manaslu, mountaineering, people, tent, snow

Planning on pitching your tent just under an 8000m peak, like Mt Manaslu here, or somewhere with snow and high wind? Then a 4-season tent might be in order! | Jackson Groves/Journey Era


Three-season tents are lighter, with more mesh, keeping you cool without being eaten by bugs, and are constructed from less heavy-duty fabrics. Unless you’re doing something extreme, a three-season tent will do the job – I even trust mine in light dustings of snow. 

But if you’re heading on a snow trip, well… take a four-season!

How much do you want to carry?

It’s likely your tent could be the heaviest thing in your hiking pack. But, how much is too much?

The ultralight hikers among us will passionately insist you pick the lightest possible tent (this Nemo tent weighs just over 700g!) But, I think the reality is more nuanced.

Roughly 1kg per person in the tent (eg. 2kg for a two-person tent) is about average. More is on the heavy side, less than that, and the price shoots up.


Macpac Duolight 2p Tent Review

Here’s my Macpac Duolight 2p Tent packed and put next to a Nalgene bottle for scale. You can read my review of that tent here.


The packed weight, the minimum weight – what does it actually weigh?

Packed weight refers to the weight of the package you receive from the shop, including spare pegs and possibly a repair kit.

Minimum weight is the bare essentials you need to set up for the night. No spare pegs, no guy lines, no repair kit.

Your level of caution will influence how ‘bare bones’ you’re willing to run in the field. If you’re concerned about weight, weigh and compare exactly the contents you intend on carrying. 


Macpac Duolight 2p Tent Review

I’ll occasionally even ditch the fly and enjoy the Macpac Duolight 2p Tent with just an inner.

What features to look for?

Doors and Shape

In-store or online, doors and shape don’t appear to make much difference, but oh boy, when your tent partner is wriggling around beside you trying to find the door, it makes loads of difference.

There are two main tent shapes: dome and tunnel. 

Tunnel tents can be set up so the wind blows in parallel to the tunnel direction, minimising wind pressing against the tent. They’re way better in super windy conditions than a dome tent, and favoured in the alpine for this reason.

Tunnel tents typically have one door at the foot of the tent.




Dome tents are typically more spacious, having two vestibules and two doors.

Vestibules make a massive difference to a hiking experience. Four-season tents have larger vestibules offering greater wind protection for campers trying to cook in alpine conditions without burning their tent down.

Safety Note: never light a live flame inside your tent!


XTM Dreamliner Merino Sleepsack // Gear Review, Jon Harris, sleeping bag liner, tent, camping, man, Kiandra

The Zorali Highlands 2p Tent we reviewed is a good example of a classic dome-shaped tent | @jonharris_photography


Vestibules are useful for chucking your gear in at the end of the day, or storing shoes so your tent stays clean (Hey people who wear shoes in the tent, I see you, I see the dirt you brought in. Not in my tent!)

Doors also offer greater ventilation, but it’s important to consider other ventilation options. The shape of dome tents provide more options for ventilation windows keeping you cool on those hot balmy nights.


Single versus Double Skin

Single skin tents have a single layer of fabric between you and the universe while you sleep. They’re lighter, cheaper, pack smaller but aren’t as weather resistant. They don’t deal well with condensation nor with wet weather (especially if you’re touching the inside).



Double skin tents are more common on the market, and consist of an ‘inner’ and a ‘fly.’ As long as you don’t touch the fly from the inside, the water will stay on the outside, and a dry-you on the inside. They’re bigger and bulkier, but personally, I’d rather a heavier pack than a wet nose.


Blackwolf Pro Series Women’s Sleeping Bag Minus 5 – Gear Review, photo by Jacob Boylan, Bee, smile, happy, camping, tent, Tassie

The double layer or ‘skin’ can be seen with the blue exterior fly here | @jacobmandude


Following on from the skin debate, some double skin tents have a multi-pitch feature, which I absolutely froth. You can set up just the fly carrying absolute minimum weight, or you can carry just the inner and sleep with the stars buzzing like flies around your head. In the rain, set up the fly before constructing the inner from the dry inside. Out on the trail, in bad weather, this sort of versatility is a game changer.

But what’s the sitch with groundsheets? Some tents have them and some tents just… don’t?

Many tent makers are located in the northern hemisphere, used to lovely soft pine forest floors. Over there, you don’t always need a groundsheet and might opt against using one to shave off some kgs.

However, Australian ground is rougher and tougher and you’ll almost definitely want a ground sheet. So some manufacturers design tents with the groundsheet ‘built in’ per se. Having a groundsheet separate offers more versatility if you’re multi-pitching, but otherwise can be a distraction while setting up.


So there you have it – all the big questions you didn’t even know you were asking about how to choose a hiking tent.

A tent opens up a whole new world of overnight adventures completely off the grid and in the middle of nowhere, which is right where I wanna be!

People will be heart reacting your #campinginspo in no time!


10 Ways to Make Friends at the Campground, Brooke Nolan - Friends, Campsite, tents

Just don’t set them up this close to each other… @sharynmorrow


Feature photo supplied by @knog