Your tent is perhaps the most essential piece of gear for backpacking as it’ll place a deciding role on what the rest of your setup looks like.
So knowing what your options are will make choosing the right tent for your needs that much easier.
Types of hiking tents - Freestanding vs Pole Tents vs Semi-Freestanding Tents
In this article, we’ll look at different types of hiking tents and compare freestanding vs pole tents vs semi-freestanding tents to help you make an informed buying decision.
Backpacking tents come in a wide array of sizes and setup styles, each of them with their own set of pros and cons.
Aside from deciding between freestanding, semi-freestanding, and pole tents, you’ll also have to keep things like durability and capacity in mind.
Freestanding tents are what they sound like: tents that don’t need to be staked out in order for the tent body to hold its shape.
These tents are supported by a framework and can be moved around without collapsing. They are usually pretty fast to put up, but can be a pain to take down and stow due to their springly frames
Most of these tents are double-walled and have a separate rainfly although some of them are single-walled with waterproof designs.
Freestanding tents are super popular due to their ease of use, great weather protection, and good overall comfort features.
- Very versatile and easy to assemble
- Offers good livability and ventilation
- This tent can be used on ground that is difficult to drives stakes into
- Difficult to replace parts if they’re damaged
- Not the best option if you’re into ultralight backpacking
- If the rainfly isn’t properly staked, it’s not the most waterproof option
Non-freestanding tents (pole tents)
Non-freestanding tents can only hold their shape if they’re staked out. So you stake them out, then prop them up with trekking poles, much like a traditional tent.
These tents are generally single-walled and super lightweight, prioritizing packed size and weight over comfort and convenience.
- Lighter than freestanding tents
- Easier to repair than freestanding tents
- More windproof than freestanding tents
- Can’t be used on all surface (like rock and gravel)
- Hard to move once setup is done
- Less interior space than freestanding tents
Semi-freestanding Hybrid tents
Semi-freestanding tents come with included pole structures that keep them upright while part of the body still needs to be staked out to create a rigid tent frame.
These tents are somewhat of a hybrid between freestanding and pole tents, balancing out the comfort and weather protection of freestanding tents with the lighter weight of pole tents.
- Offers more comfort and protection that pole tents
- Exceptionally light and compact
- Doesn’t have a complicated setup
- More expensive than freestanding and pole tents
- Designed for ultralight backpacking, these aren’t the most durable tents
- Can be tricky to set up in less than ideal surroundings
Basics of hiking tents
There are some considerations to keep in mind when you’re narrowing down your options for hiking tents. Here’s what to focus on:
If you’re a weight-conscious hiker, ounces matter more than liveable space when you’re putting on big backcountry miles. The bigger the tent, the more room you’ll have to move around and use your tent for more than just sleeping. But the bigger the tent, the more weight you’ll be carrying around.
Ease of setup
When you’re hiking, the last thing you want to do is to spend hours setting up camp. If you’re like us, you’ll want a shelter that sets up quickly and painlessly.
Some tents have single-hub pole systems that collapse down and snap together for quick and easy setup while others require staking, which is much more time-consuming.
Protection against the elements
A rainfly is essential, and most tents come seam-sealed, so you don’t have to worry about waterproofing. To help prevent condensation, look for a rainfly that can be staked taut off from the tent walls. To offer protection from the ground or precipitation, look for a tent with a “bathtub floor” waterproof section that extends at least 4 inches up from the base of the tent body.
Freestanding tents generally get the edge when it comes to weather protection since they’re stronger than tents propped up with poles.
The number of doors and vestibules should be your primary focus here. Vestibules are extensions of the rainfly that are staked out for more protection space outside the tent’s door. Interior pockets are great to keep your gear organized, so that’s another thing you might want to consider.
If you like to tweak your gear to fit the environment and climate, a double-wall freestanding tent is your best bet. On warm nights, you can remove the rainfly for better airflow and if you’re traveling light, you can leave the tent and just use the rainfly as a floorless shelter.
We hope this information has given you a better understanding of the different types of hiking tents and how freestanding vs pole tents vs semi-freestanding tents measure up to each other.
Just to recap: most hikers will end up choosing a simple freestanding design, but that doesn’t mean pole tents don’t have great benefits (packed size and weight!). If you’re not sold on freestanding tents and not sure about pole tents, a semi-freestanding tent might offer a nice compromise between the two.
- 1 Types of hiking tents - Freestanding vs Pole Tents vs Semi-Freestanding Tents
- 2 Basics of hiking tents
- 3 Final thoughts