Backpacking Tent vs Camping Tent: Which One To Choose?

For the first-time camper, deciding between a backpacking tent and a camping tent can be difficult. Both options have pros and cons, so the choice between backpacking tents and camping tents isn’t as straightforward as it appears to be.

The camping tent is the best option if your campsite can be reached by car. If a long hike is needed to get to the campsite, then a backpacking tent is the better choice, since the weight of the tent you’ll be carrying is a key consideration when backpacking.

Even though the camping tent has many more advantages, its biggest disadvantage is its heavy weight and bulky size. Keep reading to learn how to get the best of both worlds as we look closer at the debate between backpacking and camping tents.

What’s The Difference Between Backpacking And Camping?

The difference between backpacking and camping is how you get to the camping site. If it’s possible to get there by car, then all your things can be carried inside the trunk rather than in a backpack. Camping overnight can require a ton of heavy gear that takes up a lot of space.

Backpacking is when a hiker carries all their gear required for camping overnight in their backpack. Every bit of space is precious.Consequently, anything that that has to be carried for a long time must take up little space and be as light as possible. This precludes most camping tents and their accessories.

3 Key Differences Between Backpacking And Camping Tents

1. Backpacking Tents Are Very Light

The weight of backpacking tents can range from a few ounces to 7 or 8 lbs. Add to this the weight of the tent poles, footprint, and the space needed to carry all of these, and it is easy to understand why hikers prefer tents that weigh less. Tents made of Cuben Fiber, or Dyneema, are the lightest of all and can easily be carried in a backpack.

2. Backpacking Tents Do Not Provide Protection From Heat Or Cold

Because the main advantages of backpacking tents are size and weight, they are fabricated from synthetic materials that are much lighter and thinner compared to cotton canvas. This also means that they provide almost no insulation from heat or cold, so hikers need to take along a small fan or a heater.

3. Camping Tents Are Roomier

Since camping tents are transported to a campsite by car, weight is not an important factor. Therefore, bigger tents can be taken advantage of. For protection from heat or cold, the best choice is a cotton canvas tent, as it is breathable and provides plenty of insulation. Camping tents require a good amount of space, even when packed up.

Backpacking Tents vs Camping Tents – Minor Things To Consider

Along with the major differences between backpacking and camping tents, there are a number of minor details that can help you decide what kind of tent to buy, such as tent accessories, capacity, and poles.  

A tent footprint, sometimes called a groundsheet, is a sheet made from the same material as the tent but with thicker thread. It is placed on the ground before the tent is erected over it. Since it is below the tent floor, it saves your tent from a lot of wear and tear. Some more expensive tent footprints can weigh as little as 100 grams, but they can be much heavier if you opt for a tarpaulin.

The footprint protects your tent from ground filled with twigs or rocks with sharp edges,although in the rainy season, it can get damp if water seeps through it.Even though it’s just a ground cover, the footprint is an accessory that adds to the weight of things that need to be carried to the campsite.

In addition to the footprint, you’ll need tent poles. Poles are available in fiberglass, aluminum, carbon fiber, or steel. Aluminum is the lightest material, followed by carbon fiber. Fiberglass is relatively light, and steel is the heaviest. Steel poles are best used when your campsite is accessible by car. Poles are sold with the tent and can be purchased separately.


There are quite a few materials that backpacking tents are fabricated from. The most common are nylon, polyester, and Dyneema. Each of these materials comes with pros and cons that have to be taken into account before purchase. In general, these fabrics are on the thin side and do not provide much shelter from heat or cold.

Nylon, however, is slightly thicker than polyester, and it provides the same lightweight advantage. Unfortunately, nylon also provides negligible insulation. Bring warm clothes in the winter and be aware that nylon will also not keep the heat out in the summer.

Nylon and polyester also degrade over time under high ultraviolet light. The polyurethane treatment used to make these tents water-resistant is especially susceptible to sunlight, and this resistance will also wear away with time. Ultraviolet light also adversely affects bright colors on fabrics.

The big restrictions on backpacking tents are that they need to weigh as little as possible. Polyester is one of the top choices for backpacking tents, because they’re relatively cheap, lightweight, and can be waterproofed to some extent if treated with polyurethane coating. Polyester tents are very flimsy, however, and they do not do well in open areas with strong winds.


Dyneema, a type of woven nylon inserted between Mylar film layers, does not suffer from the same kind of degradation as nylon or polyester. Dyneema’s lamination makes it extremely light, strong, and waterproof.It is, however, very expensive.If Dyneema tears or develops a hole, Mylar tape can be used for a permanent fix.

All synthetic tent materials suffer from a common problem in that none of them are breathable, though the simple solution to this is toget a tent that has some ventilation. These tents can offer shelter from rain, but condensation does build up on the inside of the tent and needs to be wiped off at regular intervals.


Two important factors to consider when buying a tent are the price tag and the number of people that can sleep inside it comfortably. Tent sizes can vary widely, and a tent’s size does not always accurately indicate how many people can live inside it.

When a backpacking tent is packed up, it needs to take up very little space. As a result, a backpacking tent may not be adequate to shelter three or four backpackers, but the parts of a camping tent could potentially be shared among them as they hike. Between the weight, footprint, and poles, hiking with a larger tent isn’t necessarily out of the question. 

Inflatable Tents Are The Future

For some people, the biggest problem camping can present is pitching the tent. Even with color-coded points as a guide, it can take a good amount of time for the inexperienced to get the job done. It gets even worse when it’s getting dark. This is where self-erecting or inflatable tents excel.

Inflatable tents, also known as air tents or inflatable beam tents, are not exactly backpacking tents, but some of them come extremely close to competing in terms of size, weight, and other advantages, although they are a bit more expensive. For beginner campers, they can offer a worthy alternative to traditional backpacking and camping tents.

Inflatable tents are gaining in popularity due to their low weight as well as the fact that hikers don’t need to bring tent poles. Another advantage the inflatable tent has is the ease with which it can be pitched.Just unfold it from your backpack, pump it up, and peg it down.

Easy Setup, Takedown, And Maintenance

Those who have snapped poles while pitching a tent will appreciate inflatable tents the most, because they do away with tent poles completely. These tents use inflatable beams instead, and it only takes a few minutes to pitch and remove them. If required, each inflatable beam can be deflated separately.

Air tents are inflated by connecting a 12-volt electric motorized pump to the pump point or points. They take a long time to inflate, but deflating them is as simple as opening the stop valves. If an electric power source is not available, the tent can be inflated with a hand pump similar to a standard foot pump. Hand pumps can be bought for as little as $5.

Some tent manufacturers provide an air pump along with the tent, but others don’t. Every tent has multiple stop valves, while some have multiple pump points used to inflate the tent. This means that in case of any malfunction, you don’t need to deflate the entire tent. In the event of your tent needing a patch-up, a repair kit is supplied with every tent.

Spacious And Strong

Air tents can be used by families that need tents for four to six people, or a solo backpacker who needs 20 square feet. Even though these tents may appear to be flimsy, they are very strong and can be used in windy areas where regular tent poles have been known to snap.If very strong winds are blowing, simply deflate the tent then wait until the winds pass before re-inflating it.

Best of all, some inflatable tents are waterproof, while others block the sun and provide some degree of relief from extreme heat. They’re also very sturdy, and fears of these tents bursting are unfounded.

The Final Word On Inflatable Tents

Air tents are relatively new, but it’s expected that they will be the new normal in a few years. Currently, air tents are more expensive, heavier, and bulkier than backpacking tents, but they do offer some insulation and waterproofing. Manufacturers have flooded the tent market with these tents, because they appeal to all levels of campers, even first-timers.

Self-Erecting Or Pop-Up Tents

Self-erecting tents, also known as pop-up tents, are so called due to their method of setup. They work by using spring-loaded tent poles that are sewn into the tent, much like a folding umbrella. The tent poles are made of fiberglass, aluminum, or carbon fiber. The fabrics used are the same as a backpacking tent, namely nylon, polyester, or Dyneema.

These tents, however, are more expensive than regular ones, provide no insulation, and and are not suited for use in strong winds or otherwise inclement weather. Somemanufacturers have started to make double-walled tents for waterproofing, but even then, condensation problem still persists.

Self-erecting tents range in size from single-person use to comfortable use for up to six people. When packed up, these tents are the size of a camping chair. The weight of self-erecting tents ranges from 3 lbs to 12 lbs. Large, mesh windows provide maximum ventilation and reduce condensation with built-in groundsheets to minimize dampness. Many of these tents come with a five-year guarantee.

Easy Setup, So-So Takedown

The advantage these tents offer is unmatched convenience, as pitching the tent takes just a few seconds. Pop-up tent poles do all the work of mechanically erecting the tent so that the only remaining task is to peg it down.

The big drawback to this is that taking the tent down requires some effort and a lot of time, especially if the camper doesn’t know how it has to be folded for pack-up. Additionally, the packed-up tent can be quite bulky compared to a backpacking tent.

Recently, self-erecting tents have started using hinged poles to remove the complexity of unpacking. As a result, the tent collapses into a large, flat circle that may not be suitable to carry with a backpack, making these tents poorreplacements for inflatable tents.

The Final Word On Self-Erecting Tents

Self-erecting tents are easy to set up, tricky to put away, and work best as long as they aren’t used in extreme weather conditions. For those who enjoy pitching a tent in five seconds, you can’t get any better than this. Cheaper models are best for music festivals, while more expensive ones could be suitable for camping.

When Should You Use A Camping Tent?

You should use a camping tent when you can drive to your campsite rather than hike to it. Camping tents are often made of cotton canvas that provides adequate shelter from heat, cold, and rain. They are heavier compared to backpacking tents and take up a lot of space, even when packed.

Standard tent poles and footprints are additional weight burdens that fit easily into a trunk. Apart from the obvious tent, an overnight stay necessitates plenty of other gear that takes up space, and there’s also added weight for the camper to carry. All of this can be stored in the car.

When Should You Use A Backpacking Tent?

You should use a backpacking tent when you’re going on an overnight hike or you’re hiking to your campsite. You’re limited by the size and weight you can carry, so choose the lightest tent that also serves your purpose. Consider using an inflatable tent if you can.  

Final Thoughts

Use camping tents if you’re driving to your campsite and backpacking tents if you’re hiking for days or going to your campsite on foot. Alternatives exist and should be used according to your needs. Know what accessories you need and what your tent is made of to stay ventilated, dry, and safe.