Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
If you’re like most backpackers, your shelter is the heaviest piece of gear you carry. It makes sense: A tent is the largest item in a standard hiking kit, big enough to be your portable home in windstorms, blizzards, and whatever else the trail may throw your way. All that nylon and aluminum comes at a significant weight penalty.
But as they say, with great weight comes great opportunity. If you’re just venturing into lightweight backpacking, replacing your tent with a slimmed-down model is the single most consequential investment you can make, though it’s certainly not a cheap one. And there are few better ways to join the ultralight ranks than by opting for a trekking pole tent.
What Is a Trekking Pole Tent?
As the name suggests, this is a shelter that partially or completely replaces the traditional pole structure of a tent with trekking poles. Some will still incorporate a pole, while others rely entirely on the trekking poles to maintain their shape. The idea is based around a classic ultralight strategy: Shave ounces by replacing two single-use items with one multi-use piece of gear. Why carry a backpack with a frame sheet when you could replace it with a folded sleeping pad, or a pot and a mug and a water bottle when one vessel could replace all three? In the same vein, these tents replace poles with something you’re likely carrying. (Or should be carrying, anyway.) Most trekking pole tents are non-freestanding, meaning they must be staked out correctly to maintain their shape.
Are Trekking Pole Tents Hard to Set Up?
It depends on the tent and your definition of “easy,” but it’s not as hard as you might think. Yes, there’s a little bit of a learning curve on the front end as you figure out how long to make your poles and where to place them, how to guy out the tent, and so on. But those skills are relatively easy to learn. Still, it’s safe to assume that your first few nights out, you’re going to have some slack in your pitch as you learn your way around your new shelter; try to pick a destination that isn’t too windy or a campsite protected from gusts.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Trekking Pole Tent?
The biggest pro of hiking with a trekking pole tent is obvious: the weight savings. By ditching poles, you shed ounces. Combine that with some other ultralight tricks, like super gossamer yet strong materials and efficient construction, and you’ve got a tent that can weigh in at a pound or less. They’re also more packable: With no rigid poles to worry about, I’ve found that I have a lot more freedom and a lot less dead space when I’m filling my pack.
There are a few downsides to using a trekking pole tent. Besides being slightly more finicky to set up and less bomber in heavy weather than a standard freestanding tent, high-end models can get expensive, with some clocking in at roughly $800. Thanks to their generally non-freestanding design, it’s difficult to set them up on hard surfaces, like tent pads or slickrock. The lightest models are usually single-wall, which means you need to be smart about ventilation or you run the risk of waking up to condensation on walls. Some backpackers find the crinkly ultralight fabrics like DCF that many high-end models use too noisy; light sleepers may want to pack earplugs.
Which Trekking Pole Tent Should I Buy?
You have a lot of options, ranging from the aspirational to the affordable. In general, the more you’re willing to spend on a trekking pole tent, the lighter you can go. Backpacker’s ultralight columnist Nathan Pipenberg recently reviewed two of the gold standard options, the Durston X-Mid Pro 2 and the Zpacks Duplex. Both are good picks; while he leaned toward the Durston, I love the simplicity of the Duplex and am Gollum-level protective toward mine. (You can also convert it to a freestanding tent, with the 10.2 ounce and $149 Freestanding Flex Kit.)
If you don’t have $700 to drop on a top-of-the-line ultralight tent, there are a lot of excellent options you can pick up for half that cost or less. One favorite of our testers was the Editors’ Choice-winning Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, which will run you about $260 depending on the options you pick. Made of silicone-coated polyester (40 denier on the floor, 20 denier on the walls), the Lunar Solo features a respectable 26 square feet of floor space and 49-inch peak height, which is tall enough for a medium-size backpacker to sit up inside. At 1 pound, 10 ounces, the Lunar Solo isn’t quite as light or spacious as the Duplex (1 pound, 2.5 ounces and 28.5 square feet inside), but for most ultralight-aspiring hikers, it’s more than light enough. Bonus: It can pitch with just one trekking pole.