By Brad Brooks
Picking a quality lightweight hunting tent is an unenviable task even for the most seasoned hunter. Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are a lot of tents and shelters our there for hunting which can make your choices seem daunting. In our video below, I show some of my favorite tents I use throughout the year for backcountry hunts. This piece also explains the criteria I use to pick a lightweight shelter that will hopefully help others when diving into their pocket books to buy a tent. Whatever tent you choose, be sure to do your homework and find something that works for you based on your needs.
5 Criteria for Picking the Perfect Shelter
If you’re looking for one tent that is optimal for all seasons and all hunts, I have bad news for you. The sasquatch of tents doesn’t exist, although there are some tents that perform incredibly well most of the year.
The fact is there is no such thing as “the perfect tent” for year round use, and in my humble opinion you should consider owning at least a couple shelters to meet your needs at different seasons of the year. That is of course, if your budget can handle it.
Notice that weight is not one of my 5 criteria. That’s not because it doesn’t matter (it might be the most important consideration), but because it is an obvious consideration and a consequence of several of the other criteria below.
In no particular order, here are the top 5 criteria I recommend considering when picking a lightweight tent.
- Floor v. No Floor– In most situations, a floor on a tent is not necessary and provides little added value. I’ve heard from a number of people that can’t get over the mental hurdle of not having a fully enclosed tent, and until four or five years ago I was one of those people. If there are man eating spiders, flies or snakes of any kind around, there can be value in a floor. Aside from those situations, a tent floor won’t keep a bear or any other critters from getting into your tent if they want to, nor does it provide added protection (grizzlies don’t usually get into your tent through the floor). A quality floorless shelter will keep all moisture and snow out of your tent just as well as a tent with a floor, and many of them have options to add in a “nest” for those times when bugs or snakes are an issue. Not to mention, the weight and space savings can be significant from a floorless tent. Think about what you plan to use your tent for and if a floor is really needed, and don’t be afraid of trying it out.
- Size and Packability– There are essentially two different types of tents, single and double wall. A single wall tent consists of one layer (typically silnylon or cuben fiber), while a double wall is probably the most common tent consisting of a bathtub floor with a mesh ceiling and a fly as the second “wall”. A single wall tent is almost always going to pack down to a smaller size and will and take up less space in your pack due to less material. There are some situations where a double wall tent might come in handy, but if you can’t tell by now I’m biased towards single wall tents, which have been the gold standard in the mountaineering world for many years. Condensation can be an issue in single wall tents, but most of them come with some type of ventilation.
- Number of poles- The biggest weight savings you are going to have with any backcountry shelter is with tents that can be pitched with trekking poles and do not require the use of tent poles. All of the shelters we use require at most one single pole to be pitched in the middle, and typically that pole is carbon fiber. However, tents that can be pitched with trekking poles and/or a trekking pole extender are the best and what I use on 90% of my backpack hunts.
- Floor and Head Space-This one is important and often overlooked. Tent manufacturers will often refer to the square footage of a tent, but volume and head space is an often overlooked metric. Floor space is important, but when the weather turns south and you end up spending some quality time in your tent, being able to sit up comfortably matters. A one man coffin sized tent might look enticing because of the weight, but can you fit your pack and bow or gun in the tent with you? And how would you feel about spending 8 hours in it sitting out a rain storm? Make sure to consider the weight to room ratio and the tradeoffs associated with both.
- Season of Use– An August hunt is almost certainly going to have a different tent requirement than a late October hunt in the mountains. You can carry a much lighter and more minimalist shelter early in the season than later in the season depending on where you are going to hunt. I rarely prepare for the worst weather I could encounter, but I do prepare for the most likely weather I’ll encounter. If you plan to mostly archery hunt early season, you can get away with a small shelter (such as a simple tarp), but if you plan to bivvy in the snow, you’re likely going to want something with a little more room and comfort.
My Favorite Tents
I own and have used dozens of different tents, including most of the major and many smaller manufacturers over the years. I started using Seek Outside tents not terribly long ago, and now they are the only tents I use for hunting. There are a lot of great brands out there, and I encourage everyone to do your homework and figure out what works best for you. That said, here is my current favorite list of shelters for hunting:
Seek Outside Little Bug Out (LBO)–The “LBO” is close to achieving rock star status in my mental tent ranking world. It is without a doubt my favorite backpack shelter I have used in a long, long time. The LBO “Base” combined with the 3 Piece Vestibule is big enough for two people and gear, and weighs less than 2 pounds. And if you are hunting in a party of two, each person can carry half the tent so each party is only carrying roughly a pound worth of tent. Full coverage, great head height, floor space, it packs down small and is incredibly light for what you get. The modular design is what really sets this tent apart from the rest. If you have 3 people, you can use two “bases” and a connecting tarp to create a roomy 3 person hotel.
Seek Outside DST Tarp– This 10′ x 10′ flat cut tarp that weighs about 1 pound is incredibly roomy and versatile. This is my go-to shelter to throw in my pack for a quick scouting trip late summer when I know there aren’t any bugs around. You can pitch this tarp in a number of different ways, but it’s big enough to hold two people and gear. I also pack this in to provide a dry space out of the rain for cooking and gear storage if I’m on a multi-day trip with a group. Because it is so small and light, I can pack this piece around as an emergency shelter as well.
Seek Outside Cimarron-This tent is a crowd favorite of some of my hunting partners. The Cimarron can sleep 4 people with some gear, or function as a two person palace with gear. At right around 2.5 pounds with stakes, this tent is light enough you can add in a stove jack and a titanium stove for cold weather camping without loading down your pack excessively.
Seek Outside Redcliff– The Redcliff is on the large side for a backpack tent, but a lot of people do carry it in. This is a backcountry palace optimal for 4-6 people and gear that weighs less than 5 pounds including the center pole. I use llamas to hunt with about once a year, and this tent is great to come back to as a base camp. Throw in a stove and you can handle any weather with this tent year round.
A Brief Word on Bivy Sacks
Admittedly, I don’t like to sleep in bivvy sacks. I have used a few bivy sacks and I know people that love them. I’m not one of those people. Bivy sacks have their advantages and there are situations where they are worthwhile to have. They are quick to use, lightweight and can be used to sleep on tiny places in steep country where flat spots are hard to find. They are also great to throw in your pack as an emergency shelter. Bivvy sacks can also add warmth to your sleep system.
The ultra-light minimalist bivy sacks typically run about 10-12 oz, (MSR makes a great bivy sack clocking in at 9 oz. called the E-Bivy sack) which is a few ounces lighter than most minimalist tarp shelters. So, you do save a few ounces, but if you actually encounter any weather, be prepared to suffer (not to mention they make you feel like you’re in a coffin). A quality tarp, such as the DST Tarp made by Seek Outside, runs right at 16 oz. and provides a lot of space for you, your pack and all your gear. If I’m doing a quick overnight trip and I don’t expect weather, a I’ll likely throw in a bivy sack. However, this is the exception not the rule for me, and the extra 6-8 ounces to carry a tarp shelter is well worth the weight for a multi-day trip.
If you have a sleep system that you like, share your wisdom with me in the comments below. Or, if you’re one of those bivy sack people, feel free to help me find religion.
*Disclosure Notice: Seek Outside is one of our partners for this site, but that’s because they make rad tents and we choose to use their products based on experience in the field.