If you’re a serious backpacker who enjoys camping out, you’re always looking for ways to lighten your load while still carrying all the essentials you need for your trek. The tent alone can add enough pounds to weigh you down, which leaves many campers wondering if trekking pole tents are worth it.
Trekking pole tents are worth it for longer thru-hikes that require a lighter and more compact tent. However, if you don’t plan on backpacking long distances, or if you need a more versatile shelter, trekking pole tents might not be the best option for you.
Of course, there’s a lot to consider when deciding whether to use a trekking pole tent. You need to understand exactly how they work and examine your own preferences. Read below to discover everything you need to know about trekking pole tents, so you can decide with confidence.
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What Are Trekking Pole Tents?
A trekking pole tent requires trekking poles for setting up. It’s very different from a regular tent, which comes with an internal pole structure that holds its shape and are known as “freestanding tents,” because they can stand freely on their own without stakes.
In contrast, a trekking pole tent must be staked to the ground for it to keep its shape. Since it has no internal pole structure, it relies on the stakes to anchor it down and your trekking poles to prop it up. Trekking pole tents are known as “non-freestanding tents” because they cannot be set up without staking.
How To Set Up A Trekking Pole Tent
Setting up a trekking pole tent is usually fairly quick and easy, with most of them pitching in the same general way. You’ll first need to scout out an appropriate piece of ground for your tent. The ground should be soft enough to stake into and it should be free of uncomfortable debris that could disturb your sleep.
Spread the tent body out on the ground, then stake it in. Be sure to stake it into the ground well, as these shelters require high tension to hold their shape. Once it’s staked into the ground, you’ll insert your trekking poles into the tent’s grommets.
Then, adjust the height of your trekking poles to add tension, and the tent will start to take shape. Next, use the guy-lines to add additional tension. The guy-lines extend from various parts of the tent. When you stake their ends to the ground and tighten them up, it gives the tent a bit of extra volume and helps keep water out.
Of course, each trekking pole tent is designed a bit differently. Some are much easier to set up than others. Many need two trekking poles, while others use just one. Some are two-person tents, and some are meant for solo hiking. It all depends on the tent, so you want to research your model carefully if you decide to get one.
Are Trekking Pole Tents Any Good?
Trekking pole tents can be a great multi-use gear item to add to your pack, depending on the type of hiking you do. Multi-use gear items are one of the core principles of ultralight backpacking and are essential for long-distance thru-hikers who plan to camp out for several nights.
However, many people are wary of using trekking pole tents. Some fear they could be sacrificing comfort and convenience for the sake of a lightened pack. Others believe the tent fabric and structure will be inferior and the setup more difficult, neither of which is a good thing on long hikes.
There are also purists who believe that multi-use gear items create inherent weaknesses in all functions. How do trekking pole tents really hold up under scrutiny? That depends largely on which features you value most in a shelter and what your plans are for your hike.
A Dependable Choice
It turns out trekking pole tents are quite comparable to freestanding tents in terms of durability. They’re made of the same material as a freestanding tent, usually a silicone-coated polyester or nylon that is waterproof and weatherproof, two must-haves on long hikes.
These tents can last for years of hard use and have the advantage of not using a shock-cord to set up. The shock-cord is the piece of string that holds a freestanding tent’s poles together. You stretch out the shock-cord to attach the tent’s poles together, then pitch the tent’s fabric over it.
The problem with shock-cord is it can wear down and break over time. Of course, your trekking poles can also break. But you can replace the poles easily enough withoutpaying for a whole new shelter. This helps trekking pole tents last a lot longer, and they can be a better bang for your initial buck.
Best For Thru-Hikers
The long-distance backpacker can benefit greatly from using a trekking pole tent. If you’re already planning on bringing the poles, why not make use out of them? You’ll be carrying them anyway, so using them for additional purposes just makes sense and is an easy way to lighten your load by not carrying a freestanding tent.
A trekking pole tent can lighten your load significantly. This is a great option for hiking long distances, as it can shave over eight ounces or more of weight from your pack. Plus, the mass of your pack will be changed as well. Since you won’t have to deal with carrying around the skeleton of a freestanding tent, you’ll be able to store your shelter in a more compact stuff-sack.
This can save you a ton of space. Instead of strapping a bulky tent outside your backpack, you could cram your tent into any part of your bag. This will save you a lot of discomfort from a bulky or unbalanced backpack. It could even allow you to downsize to a smaller pack altogether, saving you even more weight and space in the long run.
Trekking pole tents come with a set of unique advantages you just won’t find in a freestanding tent, and they are becoming more popular than ever before. They’ll likely surpass their freestanding cousins in the near future, at least as the optimal shelter for thru-hikers and backpackers who need poles for stability.
Pros Of Trekking Pole Tents
If you’re looking to lighten your load, trekking pole tents are an obvious choice. These tents usually come in a single piece, with the main body, rainfly, and vestibule sewn together. They have less interior space and are designed to be smaller and lighter, helping reduce weight considerably.
Some weigh less than a pound, and even the heavier ones tend to run just a couple ounces over that. Of course, you’ll need to carry the poles along with you as well. But this added weight in your hands isn’t the same as an added weight on your back.
Trekking poles aid with balance, stability, and safety on the trail. For many backpackers, trekking poles are a necessity. If you’re the type to use them, it’s almost a waste of space to bring a freestanding tent along with you. Making your shelter multi-use is the way to go.
Multi-use gear helps the thru-hiker reduce weight and achieve their goal faster. When you have less weight to carry, you’ll lessen the strain on your joints and muscles. That means trekking pole tents can make the whole hiking experience easier, faster, and more manageable.
The tent is the bulkiest item most backpackers must carry and attaching it to your pack can be awkward. Some stay strapped to the outside and slide around ungracefully, while others are crammed into the pack taking space away from other necessities. This won’t be a problem with a trekking pole tent, because it will fit inside of a small stuff-sack.
You can then stuffthat stuff-sack in any crevice you like. Of course, the exact size and weight of the trekking pole tent will vary by type and brand. But no matter which one you buy, it will still be smaller than a freestanding tent, unless you’re paying big bucks for ultralight compact gear.
If your trekking pole tent is very small, it could reduce your pack volume sufficiently enough so that you can downsize. Buying and using a smaller pack will cut your hiking weight and volume down even more. This will make it easier to balance the weight of your gear across your body, helping you get rid of unnecessary pain and strain.
Trekking pole tents are convenient to carry and set up. While it may be an item you aren’t accustomed too, you’ll find these shelters are very user-friendly. Pitching your tent is easy and the process will become second nature once you’ve practiced a few times.
Of course, things can happen in the backcountry. What if one of your trekking poles gets bent or broken? Unlike a freestanding tent with poles attached by a cord, your trekking poles can be replaced with a stick or a branch while you’re out on the trail.
Since most trekking pole tents are designed to be used with any set of trekking poles, you should be safe improvising. Once you return to civilization, you can simply buy another trekking pole to use with your tent. This costs a lot less than buying a whole new tent, as you might have to do if your freestanding tent breaks.
Protection From The Weather
Since trekking pole tents are made using coated poly or other comparable materials, they perform well in bad weather conditions. They have the bonus of setting up fly-first, which means your interior won’t get as wet if you find yourself setting up in the rain.
Trekking pole tents are rated for the season, so they’re easy to pick out. As long as you choose one that’s appropriate for the weather conditions where you’ll be hiking, there is no danger of being unprotected from the elements.
Non-freestanding shelters aren’t as tall as freestanding tents and have a low profile when you compare the two. This gives you even more protection from the wind. It might even add a few years to the life of your tent, since it won’t get beaten and bashed so much from strong gusts.
Trekking pole tents can be a great option, but they don’t come without drawbacks. The nature of their lightweight design means you do have to sacrifice some utility, and you’ll lose many of the comfortable features you’re used to in a freestanding tent.
Cons Of Trekking Pole Tents
To set up your trekking pole tent, you must stake it to the ground. For that, you need ground you can drive a stake into. Usually this means clay, dirt, or another soft material. You’ll have a big issue if you find yourself camping on rocks, a concrete pad, loose sand, or another place where you can’t stake down the tent.
Because you need a particular type of ground, a trekking pole shelter allows for less versatility. However, you may not be completelyout of luck. Some hikers do manage to pitch their non-freestanding tents in a freestanding way. You could theoretically still set it up even when staking it down is impossible by tying your guy-lines to large rocks or pinning them down with other heavy objects.
However, trekking pole tents aren’t meant to be used like this. It won’t be as comfortable, it will take some imagination, and there’s a chance your tent might fail in the middle of the night. If you consider this part of the adventure, then great. But if it’s a major issue, a trekking pole tent could be more of a hindrance than a help.
Unfortunately, a trekking pole tent offers less living space than a freestanding one. You’ll get the most headroom directly under the poles, but the roof angles off steeply to the side as it tapers down to the stakes and guy-lines. You get a bit more headroom with double-pole tents and a bit less with single-pole tents.
You won’t be able to stand up inside your trekking pole tent, which makes basic tasks like unpacking a backpack and setting up a bed harder. This won’t be a big problem if you’re only using your tent for storage and sleeping, but what happens in case of rain?
During foul weather conditions, you’ll want to retreat to the safety of your tent. And if it’s a trekking pole tent, that safe space will get cramped quickly. It can be especially uncomfortable if you’re sharing the tent with another person, so consider how friendly you reallyare with your hiking buddy before deciding on a trekking pole tent.
When you first make the switch to a trekking pole tent, there will be a definite learning curve as you pitch it. You’ll need to learn how to stake it, how to use the guy-lines to make the tent taut, and how to adjust the height of your poles for maximum strength and space.
You’ll also need to learn how to pitch it when you can’t stake it down. If you don’t have the perfect swath of ground, you’ll need to get creative. As you get the hang of it, pitching your tent will become easier. However, it generally requires more brainpower than a freestanding tent.
Once you stake the tent down, it stays in place. Unlike a freestanding tent, you can’t just pick it up and move it if you’ve pitched it on a slope or over rocks. You must take it all down and set it up again, which is usually the last thing you want to do after a long day on the trail.
Trekking pole tents can be quite strong, but their design means they do have a few weak points. These shelters rely on stakes and tension to keep their shape. To a certain extent, each part of the tent relies on the other parts working. If one part fails, the whole thing can collapse. When a freestanding tent breaks, it breaks at a single point.
Strong gusts of wind and inclement weather can cause more problems in a trekking pole tent. One of your trekking poles could fall over and the tent could fall in, or one of the stakes could come loose from the ground and you could get soaked by rain.
Most trekking pole tents are made with a single-wall design rather than a double-wall design. With a double-wall design, you get added protection from wind, rain, and snow. You also get additional ventilation, since the outer wall is designed for weather resistance and the inner wall is more breathable.
Since you’ve only got one wall with a trekking pole tent, you have one less layer of protection. Designers attempt to make up for this with ultra-durable coatings and strong materials, but there’s only so much they can do without adding another wall.
You also get less ventilation with a single wall. That means it can be uncomfortably hot in summer, freezing in winter, and you’ll collect more condensation no matter the season. Keep in mind that not all trekking pole tents are single-walled. If you want a double-walled shelter you can find one, but it might cost a bit more than a standard single-wall.
Should You Buy A Trekking Pole Tent?
Whether you should buy a trekking pole tent depends on the type of camper you are. Only you know which type of shelter is right for you. However, a trekking pole tentcan be much better for some people than a freestanding one. Ultimately, trekking pole tents have their advantages and disadvantages.
If you fit the bill, you’ll likely find that a trekking pole tent makes hiking easier than a traditional freestanding model. These shelters are perfect for hikers with a keen interest in ultralight backpacking and those who want to downsize on bulk and volume. It’s an especially great investment if you are planning a long-distance thru-hike that requires trekking poles.
If you’re on the fence about a trekking pole tent, consider buying one with a return window. That way, you can try it out before you make the commitment. Be wary of testing it under extreme weather conditions, as you won’t be able to return it if it breaks. However, you will be able to experience how feels in your pack and how it pitches.
You should buy a trekking pole tent if you’re searching for a way to lighten your pack. They’re a simple and easy alternative to bulkier freestanding shelters, and their multi-use nature helps you travel efficiently. However, they’re not as sturdy or as easy to pitch as many freestanding tents.