Tent Terminology Revealed

Could you explain what "minimum weight," "packaged weight," and similar terms mean?

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My wife and I are becoming more serious backpackers and l am shopping around to replace the tent that I’ve been using since childhood. Could you explain what “minimum weight,” “packaged weight,” and similar terms mean? Thanks, Rick

Submitted by – Rick, New York, NY


Dear Rick,

That’s a great question. Published tent weights create a lot of confusion. Manufacturers are always chasing lower weight, and some of them were being (and still are) a bit optimistic in the numbers they publish. So much so that the industry developed a standard for them.

Here are the “official” definitions:

Packaged weight refers to everything you get when you buy the tent. This number really tells you more about how well equipped the tent is than how much it will weigh in your pack, since some companies are kind enough to give you miles of guyline, extra stakes, repair kits and individual storage sacks for stakes and poles, and an owner’s manual tome, all of which are great to have, but not necessary for each trip.

The minimum weight includes the tent, fly, and poles.

But here’s tricky part #1. Neither number reflects the actual weight that you will carry on the trail—that lies somewhere in between, depending on the number of stakes you carry, the stuffsack, and the amount of guyline.

Tricky part #2: companies often refer to other weights, such as “trail weight” and “fastpack weight” all of which can differ from company to company. Some companies use “trail weight” interchangeably with “minimum weight”; for others it means the minimum weight components plus whatever other items are necessary for pitching, i.e. six stakes. Fastpack weight refers to tents that can be pitched using only the fly and poles, a feature that many people like for fair weather and fast and light trips.

Sheesh, even I’m confused now. That’s why when you read a tent review in BACKPACKER, you can be sure that we have verified the weight we publish on our very own scale, and that you’ll always find a little footer at the bottom of the page that tells you exactly which components we weigh, which is typically tent, fly, poles, and necessary number of stakes.

Bottom line: use all these numbers as guidelines and be prepared to weigh them yourselves, using the components that you plan to carry. It’s the only way to know for sure.