Keeping your pack and tent weight to an absolute minimum is an integral part of any good backpacking trip. No one likes having to carry more on their back than they have to, so trimming excess weight any way you can from your gear list is vital before you head into the mountains.
But of all the gear you haul around on the trail, few things add as much weight and bulk to your pack as your tent. That raises the question: What is a good backpacking tent weight?
For a classic backpacking trip, a good backpacking tent weight is around 2 to 3 lbs per person. Having a tent that weighs more than this is just going to hold you back on the trail. It’s possible to get a tent that’s lighter than 2 lbs per person, but these ultralight shelters tend to be expensive and not ideal for a wide variety of conditions.
However, there’s a lot of debate in the outdoor community over how heavy is too heavy for gear. Everyone’s tolerance for extra weight in their pack is different, so the important thing is that you get the right equipment for your needs. Up next, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about tent and gear weights so you’re ready for your next adventure.
The Ideal Backpacking Tent Weight
A good backpacking tent weight is between 2 to 3 lbs (0.9 to 1.4 kg) per person.
Since tents are designed for a range of different group sizes, there’s no single “best weight” for a backpacking tent. Thinking of tent weights in terms of the weight per person can help you compare tent weights across a spectrum of sizes.
For example, a good 2 person backpacking tent weight would be between 4 to 6 lbs (1.8 to 2.7 kg) while a 4 person tent could be a reasonable 8 to 12 lbs (3.6 to 5.4 kg).
How did we arrive at these numbers?
Well, pack and gear weight estimates aren’t an exact science, because everyone and every trip is different.
But for most people, it’s best not to carry a pack that weighs more than about 30% of your body weight (unless you’re accustomed to hauling around heavy packs). Ideally, your pack should only be about 20% of your body weight. For a 150 lb (68 kg) person, this works out to a maximum pack weight of 45 lbs (20 kg) but an ideal weight of around 30 lbs (14 kg).
From here, we can calculate that most people carry about 2 to 3 lbs (0.9 to 1.4 kg) of food per day in the backcountry. On a 5 day trip, you might end up with 10 to 15 lbs (4.5 to 6.8 kg) of food in your pack. That leaves only 15 to 20 lbs (6.8 to 9.1 kg) of weight in your pack for gear (called your base weight) if you’re striving for an ideal pack weight.
That 15 to 20 lb (6.8 to 9.1 kg) of base weight will disappear quickly when you consider the average weight of summertime backpacking gear. For example, the average sleeping bag weighs around 3 to 5 lbs (1.4 to 2.3 kg). Once you add in all your kitchen equipment, clothes, and toiletries, there’s not much space left for your tent.
Therefore, striving for a tent that weighs around 2 to 3 lbs (0.9 to 1.4 kg) per person gives you the best blend of portability and affordability in your gear.
If you’re a smaller person or you just enjoy ultralight backpacking, an even lighter tent might be ideal, even if it’ll cost you a pretty penny. Alternatively, taller folks or people who don’t mind carrying extra weight could make do with a heavier tent in the backcountry.
What is Too Heavy for a Backpacking Tent?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what constitutes “too heavy” for a backpacking tent. However, you generally want to avoid carrying tents that weigh more than 4 lbs per person in the mountains.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a heavy tent, and opting for a heftier model could save you a lot of money. But if you’re heading out on a long backpacking trip on rough terrain, that extra weight could have a major negative impact on your experience.
Everyone and every backpacking trip is different, though, so if you’re okay with carrying around a heavier tent, then power to you.
Some folks don’t mind carrying a heavier tent because they can cut weight in other parts of their gear system, such as in their sleeping bag. So long as your pack weight is manageable on the trail, it’s up to you to decide how heavy is too heavy for your gear.
How To Cut Pack Weight For Backpacking
Reducing the weight of your pack while backpacking is a challenge, to say the least. There are two main approaches for lightening your pack weight:
- Big Picture-Oriented – In reality, much of the weight of your pack is caused by a few select pieces of heavy gear, namely, your tent, sleeping bag, and stove/cook system. The easiest way to reduce the weight of your pack is to reduce the weight of these “big 3” items by swapping them out for lighter models. But this strategy can get very expensive, so it’s not a great option for everyone.
- Detail-Oriented – If you’ve already made your tent, sleeping bag, and cook system as light as they can be given any budget constraints that you have, it’s time to switch your focus to the details of your gear list. This involves looking for smaller ways to reduce a few ounces here and there in your pack. For example, you might save some weight by leaving your bowl at home and eating out for your pot. Or you could repackage your food and toiletries into smaller containers so that you’re only carrying the bare minimum of what you need on the trail.
Regardless of which option you choose, the key here is to be diligent with your packing list. After every trip, make a note of what gear you didn’t actually use. If you had unused gear (not counting emergency supplies like a first aid kit), consider leaving it behind on your next trip to limit your pack weight.
In an ideal world, your backpacking tent would be as light as humanly possible. However, these ultralight tents are impractical for many of us, because they’re either too expensive or too fragile for our needs.
Therefore, a good tent weight for backpacking is between 2 and 3 lbs (0.9 and 1.4 kg) per person. Going above or below these guidelines is okay, too, so long as it works with your gear system. The key thing here is that you find the tent that works best for your needs so that you’re as comfortable as possible on the trail.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.