Find lightweight tents with the features you're looking for.
How Much Lighter are Lightweight Tents?Tents can be one of the heaviest pieces of gear in a backpack, which is why it's such a good idea to consider lightweight tents.
A quick glance at the list of tents shows you just how much variation there is in weight. Consider, for instance, the Sierra Designs Zolo, a 1 person, 3 season, 2 wall tent that weighs in at 1700 grams, or 3.75 pounds. The Terra Nova Equipment Laser Photon tent, on the other hand, is another 1 person, 3 season, 2 wall tent. But the Terra Nova Equipment Laser Photon weighs in at just 670 grams, or 1.5 pounds.......
- Sierra Designs Zolo - 1700 grams / 3.75 pounds
- Terra Nova Equipment Laser Photon - 670 grams / 1.5 pounds
Common Features of Lightweight TentsFor something as simple as an enclosure to sleep in, tents come with a surprising amount of options, and the more lightweight tents have a few more innovative features that you'll want to be aware of.
- Trekking Pole Supports - A lot of the lightweight tents that you'll find on the tents list page use trekking poles or, if you're not a fan of trekking poles, single lightweight poles as their means of support. The benefit of this for those that use trekking poles is the trekking poles become a dual use item, meaning you don't have to carry any tent poles. How much can a tent pole really weigh, you ask? More than no tent pole.
- Innovative Fabrics - Fabric being the main ingredient of any tent, many lightweight tents use as light a fabric as possible. The lightest fabric currently in use by tent manufacturers is Cuben Fiber. The Terra Nova Equipment Laser Ultra tent, for example, is advertised as the lightest 2 wall tent on the market (and is, according to the lightweight tents list), and gets there by using Terra Nova's proprietary "ULTRA" fabric. Spinnaker cloth is also very popular, and though not as light as Cuben Fiber, it's more durable.
- Single Wall Tents - Another common feature you'll find on lightweight tents is a single wall design. Fabric being the heaviest thing about a tent, it makes sense to cut the amount of it in half if at all possible. Double wall tents use the outer layer to repel moisture coming in, and the inner layer to let moisture generated inside the tent (generated by breathing, for instance) leave through permeable walls. Single wall tents have to do both jobs with only one layer of fabric, but by using unique ventilation schemes and innovative fabrics single wall tents do an excellent job, allowing you to save weight.
- Tarp tents - Some lightweight tent manufacturers forgo the idea of a tent entirely and give you either a tent without a bottom or else just a square piece of fabric to shelter under. This certainly cuts down on weight, but isn't for everyone. This does however allow you to potentially use your tarp as your rain gear as well, which drastically cuts down on your weight, and is another way to include dual use pieces of gear in your backpack. See for example the GoLite Poncho Tarp.
The Trade Offs of Lightweight TentsThere are some trade offs that must be understood when considering lightweight tents. For one, fabric durability can sometimes be an issue. Cuben Fiber, for instance, gradually breaks down as a result of sun exposure, and so a cuben fiber tent isn't going to last forever. That said, you wont find many cuben fiber tents on the market, at least partially for this reason.
Another issue to be aware of is winter suitability. If you're experienced and you know what you're doing, there's no reason that you cant, for example, use a tarp tent in winter conditions. But experience and knowledge are the key. You have to be aware of wind conditions, the potential weather, and how to pick a good campsite among other things, because the minimalist designs of lightweight tents wont be as forgiving as a bigger, bulkier, sturdier tent. With the right knowledge and experience though, you can plan around the drawbacks of lightweight tents in winter conditions.