Backcountry Hunting Tents – By Brad Carter
Choosing a backcountry hunting tent or shelter is probably harder today, than ever — simply because there are so many good options. We see everything from lightweight bivy shelters, to floorless tipi’s, wall tents, and much more. Each style of tent has advantages and disadvantages. Everyone has different hunting styles and preferences, so we’ll break down some of the most popular backcountry tent options to help you narrow your search for a tent that will work best on YOUR hunts! Remember that you get what you pay for with tents, and having a tent fail in the backcountry can end your hunt!
A few things to keep in mind for Backcountry Shelters:
Pack ability is a huge factor for backcountry hunters, even more so for hunters who are carrying everything in a backpack. Tents can take up quite a bit of space in your pack — make sure you have a bag big enough, and a tent small enough that you can fit all of your gear in your bag on your multiple day, backcountry trips. If you hunt with partners, a great way to save some space is to sleep in the same tent. You can often split the tent among several hunters and carry less weight with a bigger or more sturdy shelter. If you would rather sleep alone in your own tent, then carry something lightweight, and packable.
Backcountry hunters are “ounce counters,” unfortunately, the lighter quality gear is, the more expensive it is (typically). So there’s always a compromise here as many of us don’t have unlimited funds to spend on lightweight, backcountry gear. That being said — mother nature is unpredictable and can be violent in the high country, so a quality tent is very important. Make sure you have a tent that is durable enough to withstand the rigors of your hunting style. Some of us are tougher on gear than others, and that might mean the extremely lightweight materials won’t work for us. I’ve found that it is very possible to keep your camp (tent, sleeping bag, stove) under 6 lbs — even on a budget.
Singles vs. Double Wall Designs:
This has a lot to do with weight and pack ability, but this should be considered as well. Most tents we use are a double wall design — where we have a tent or mesh interior, with a fly acting as a second layer. Most traditional tents will have a rain fly that extends to the ground and therefore considered a double wall design. A single wall tent will typically be constructed of a sil-nylon or similar material that can act as a moisture barrier without an inner tent or mesh wall. Breathability of the material of a single wall tent can be an issue, but quality tents will have venting systems that prevent condensation. Single wall tents are more lightweight and packable — some tents can be used as a single or double design, and we’ll touch on that under recommendations in this article.
I’m referring to where you are pitching your tent — this will depend on the terrain of your hunting/camping area. If you have a mule deer, or a sheep scouted out and know you may be sleeping on a side hill, you’ll need to find something that has a smaller footprint that will set up in small areas. Perhaps you know you’ll be in the high country, sleeping on rocks. It’s tough to push stakes through hard rock, so a free-standing tent may be a better solution.
Floor Vs Floorless Design:
Many of us are very accustomed to using a tent with a floor. That being said, going with a floorless model can be a fantastic way to save a lot of weight. Most guys that switch to floorless shelters, never go back to floored tents. If a floorless tent is pitched correctly, it still keeps out the mosquitoes, doesn’t make a difference for a bear to get in, and keeps the moisture out as well as a floored tent. Tipi’s and tarps are very popular, and should be considered for your backcountry hunts — they may not be the answer for every hunt.
Headroom and Space:
This can be more important than you think. I’ve used some single person tents that I can’t sit up in — they work fine, but it sure is nice to be able to sit up, and even better to be able to stand up. As hunters and anglers, we also always carry gear with us. We have packs, bows, rifles, boots, clothes, stoves, food, and more. You want to protect your gear by either bringing it in the tent with you, under a vestibule or under a tarp. You’ll need to find a shelter that provides enough room for you, and your gear!
Types of Tents
There are a lot of different styles of tents, many of which can be a hybrid. I wanted to touch on a few of these styles that we see a lot, and go over the pros and cons of each tent style.
The free standing tent is what I would consider the traditional style that many of us used growing up. These tents don’t need any guy lines or stakes to stand, but they can be used to stabilize the tent, and make sure your tent stays where it should. The advantages of a free standing tent is that you can pitch them easily in most locations. The disadvantage to free standing tents is that they often weight a little bit more, simply because you’re carrying all of the structural support with you. You’ll often have at least 2 (sometimes more) poles, a floor, and a rain fly. They often have a little bigger footprint as well, so they can be harder to pitch on side hills, and small flat areas.
Pros: Pitch Anywhere, Good Protection from Elements
Cons: Heavier and Bulkier, larger footprint
Recommendations: Hilleberg: Soulo, Nallo, Anjan. Big Agnes: Copper Spur, Fly Creek, Seedhouse, MSR Hubba
Single Person – Bivy Style Tents:
Not to be confused with a bivy sack, the Single Person Bivy Tents have some structure provided by a collapsible tent pole, a trekking pole, or something similar. The big advantage to this style of tent is that they are lightweight, portable, and you can pitch them almost anywhere. Often the Bivy Style Tents do require a couple of stakes or guy lines to pitch. Even on rocky soil, you can often tie them to a large rock and make it work. The disadvantages to this style of tent is lack of room. As hunters we often carry a lot of gear, it’s harder to fit in the tent with your gear. If you are interested in this style of tent, there are a few options out there that are very good. I would always recommend finding a tent that is at least tall enough to sit upright inside — not all single person bivy style tents are tall enough, so keep that in mind when you’re searching for the right tent for you.
Pros: Lightweight, Good Protection from Elements, Fast Setup
Cons: Gear Storage, Need Stakes/Guy Lines, Not Roomy
Recommendations: Hilleberg: Enan, Akto. Tarptent: Bowfin 1, Rainbow, Double Rainbow
Bivy sacks are the ultimate in lightweight claustrophobia. Actually, they can be very useful in a lot of situations, and aren’t as bad as they sound. I personally don’t use them much, and find myself leaning more towards a tarp or bivy style tent on quick trips. They are very lightweight – (around 10 oz.) and you can throw them in your pack for quick trips, just in case you get unexpected weather. Some guys love bivy sacks, so they could be considered if you think they’re a good option for your hunting style.
Pros: Extremely Lightweight
Cons: No Headroom, Nowhere to store gear, dry clothes, etc.
Recommendations: MSR AC Bivy Sleeping Bag, Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy
Guys wanting to go extremely lightweight will sometimes use a tarp-tent or a tarp. You can use paracord, or a couple of trekking poles to hold a tarp off the ground and create a shelter. Tarps are the lightest option out there, but don’t provide as much protection from the elements for you or your gear.
Pros: Lightest option out there, Fast Setup
Cons: Unstable in Wind, Poor Protection from Elements and Pests
Recommendations: Hilleberg Tarp Tent, MountainSmith Mountain Shelter LT
Tipis are really catching on with hunters. I see more and more of these every year — and for good reason. They are extremely packable, lightweight, and provide a high center height, headroom, and room for gear. You can carry a single center pole, or sometimes just tie the top to a tree limb. They are a single wall design that can accommodate a stove – and often you can sleep 4 guys in a tent that weighs less than 2 lbs. (center pole and stove would be extra weight). Traditionally tipis don’t have a floor, but there are some options to add a floor if wanted. They do require staking all around, so keep that in mind when considering where you will use this tent.
Pros: Extremely Lightweight, Roomy, Easy to set up with Stove, Fast Setup
Cons: Have to stake out to Pitch
Recommendations: Seek Outside Tents, Kifaru Tipis
Wall tents are great, but very heavy. I mention these mostly for guys who hunt off of horses/mules. They have traditionally been the tent of choice for outfitters and guys that have the means to carry them. Canvas has been the material of choice for decades, although there are some lighter options out there now. Wall tents come in floored and floorless designs — any many hunters will cut lodge pole pine to build the structure to save some weight, and to use year after year in a traditional camp site.
Pros: Very Rugged, Warm, Durable, Can be Used easily with Stove
Cons: Too Heavy , Slow Setup
Recommendations: Montana Canvas, Davis Wall Tents
Hopefully this article provided you some information as you research your next backcountry hunting tent. Quality tents are expensive, but it’s worth it to buy a tent that will withstand the rigors of backcountry hunting. Please feel free to email or call us – we’re happy to talk tents with you!
*Note: We carry Big Agnes and Hilleberg Tents in our online shop because we’ve found them to be extremely durable and proven them in the backcountry on our hunts.