Here’s a checklist of things to consider when looking at ultralight tents for sale. With new designs, fabrics and materials tents are becoming lighter and more specialised. Ultralight tents have very low weights and small packed sizes, great for hikers, trampers, backpackers, bikepackers and minimalists who are mobile and like to go light! But remember that with these priorities, they differ from heavier camping tents and ultralights may not be suitable for everyone. Make sure know what is important to you and what you will be using your tent for.
1. What does it weigh?
Weight is one of the key things people look at in their search for an ultralight tent. Generally, a tent weighing less than 1.5kg is considered ultralight and some go lower than 500g. Know that stated weights are often ‘trail’ or ‘minimum’ weights which typically only include the tent and poles. ‘Packed’ weights include tent, poles, stakes, rope, carry bag. Think about how much you feel comfortable carrying.
2. What is the packed size?
A small packed size is great when you’re hiking for days on end. Check out a tent’s packed dimensions for something that you’re happy with, can be compressed and packs down to easily fit into your pack.
3. What’s the internal size?
To achieve low weight and packed size, the interior size and space in ultralight tents can be tight. Most ultralight tents are designed for 1 or 2 person capacity. Check that the measurements work for your needs. Consider your height, size and if you are a restless sleeper who rolls around a lot. Is there enough head room to sit up or get changed? Ideally, you don’t want to be touching any walls or the ceiling. Apart from sleeping, will you be spending long periods of time in your tent?
4. Is it a multi pitch tent? How is it pitched?
Some ultralight tents can be set up in a variety of ways - fly only, fly and footprint, inner only, fly with inner – making them adaptable to different conditions. For some trips just a fly and floor might be all you need so consider the options and what will be useful. And check out how the tent is pitched. Is it easy to pitch? And if it’s in the dark or raining? Is it free standing or must be staked out? If it must be staked out to stand it may take a little practice to get it set up correctly.
5. What kind of poles are used?
Some tents come with all the poles needed to pitch the tent. To reduce weight many ultralight tents require the use of adjustable trekking poles - or can be set up with an optional designated pole. Most poles are aluminium but lighter carbon poles are also available.
6. Is it a single wall or double wall tent?
Ultralight tent designs look for ways to minimise weight and so the lightest tents often only have one wall. But consider that single wall tents use one layer of fabric and any condensation that may occur will then be sitting ‘inside’ the tent (see next question). Double wall tents with an outer fly and an inner mesh tent with floor are generally drier with more ventilation and the inner acting as a second barrier.
7. Is it well ventilated and does it handle condensation?
Single wall tents often have less mesh and ventilation options, and are great in dry warm conditions. In cold, humid conditions condensation can occur in any tent and good ventilation is key to preventing its build-up. Remember in single wall tents that any condensation forming on the underside of the fly is directly inside the tent. Be aware of this and make sure that there are good options for ventilation and airflow and be prepared to use them in cold, still, humid weather. A double wall tent with an outer fly and mesh wall inner will generally allow for better airflow and management of condensation.
8. Is it waterproof and are the seams sealed?
Check that the fly and floor are waterproof. Generally anything rated above 1500mm is waterproof but you will probably want higher ratings for the floor. Check how many seasons the tent is rated for – most ultralights are rated 2 to 3 seasons. Make sure that the tent will provide adequate protection from the elements when you need it.
Some ultralight tents are made using silnylon (nylon with silicone coatings) which has a very ‘slippery’ surface that will not hold taped seams. A seam sealant must be manually applied by hand (yours probably) to ensure that the seams are waterproof. Nylon and polyester seams with PU coatings can be taped. Dyneema (cuben fibre) does not require seam sealing.
9. Is it durable?
To reduce weight, ultralight tents are made using lighter weight, thinner fabrics and materials that may not be as durable and hardy as heavier camping tents. But with proper care and use they can be long lasting. If you’re hard on your gear then you might be better off looking at something a little heavier.
10. What kind of fabric is it made from?
Dyneema (cuben fibre) is very light and extremely strong but also extremely expensive. Nylon is a great lightweight fabric, not too expensive but has pros and cons. Polyester is affordable but heavier so not often found in ultralight tents. Check out our info on tent fabrics.
11. Does it have a footprint?
Sharp stick and stones can puncture floors. Ultralight tent floors are made of lighter fabrics so you may want to use a footprint that will offer more protection and prolong the life of your tent. Footprints are also handy for use with the outer fly only.
12. What about overall design?
Check that the design of the tent suits your needs and can do the job you need it to do. Does the tent allow for easy access? For 2 person tents, 2 doors make life much easier when getting in and out. Also see that the vestibules are big enough for your gear. Are there extras like storage pockets, ceiling hooks, etc. Are stakes and rope included and if so are they ok for the job? You may want to change them out for gear that you prefer.
13. How much does it cost?
Ultralight tents can vary enormously in price with high end Dyneema ultralights retailing for around NZ$1000. But you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good ultralight tent … just make sure that the design, quality of materials and work, and durability of the tent is suitable for your needs.
14. Is an ultralight tent right for me?
Remember that it’s important to have a reliable tent that does what it should and not put you in danger. What are the priorities for you and your next adventure? Consider weight, comfort, protection, durability, cost and if an ultralight tent, while looking good on paper, is really suitable. But also know that if you’re looking for the convenience and freedom of low weight and can handle some of the sacrifices, then an ultralight tent could be the perfect tent for your next adventure.
If you have any questions about ultralight tents don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Intents Outdoors.