Hiking Essentials Pt. I – How to Pick the right Tent for You

You’ve had it. This is the last straw. The only thing your friend’s talk about these days is how amazing, great, beautiful, etc. their last backpacking trip was. You feel left out. Fear not! We at GoFetch understand that heading outside for the first time can be intimidating. No, we don’t mean leaving the house kind of outside, but rather a proper adventure. As such, we are creating an ongoing series focused on Hiking Essentials. Starting this breakdown is what & how to pick your first tent! Some of the information mentioned below, like Hiking Safety, is explained in more detail in the Outdoors section of our blog – so do take a look!

Opt to be outside – you won’t regret it

In Part One of our Hiking Essentials series, we are going to focus on your primary source of shelter – your tent! This combination of fabric and poles, when chosen correctly, will become an invaluable source for shelter & rest (for yourself and for your pup)! Remember that each adventure is different, and weather/season plays a big factor. Treat these pointers as a platform to base your tent choice, and adjust accordingly. The following information is sourced from our outdoorsy friends at MEC & REI! They are are a great resource and will love to answer your questions – go pop in for a visit.

Hiking Essentials – Choosing your First Tent

When picking your tent for you & your pup, the decisions can be split into 4 separate categories:

  • Capacity – the number people / pups sleeping inside
  • Seasonality – tent construction when compared to conditions
  • Weight – grams carried vs. dollars spent
  • Livability – confront and connivence based on the design + features

We will go over all of these categories in quite some detail, so get ready!

1) Tent Capacity – Roomy or Snug?

Tents are categorized by capacity – usually from 1 to 4 person models. The easy thing about tent size is that they are usually listed right in the name! For example, North Face Half Dome 2 is a two person tent. Easy. In order to keep weight low, tents are usually made to fit snugly. There is no industry standard that defines per-person dimensions, so a two person tent can vary in size in between brands.

If you’re larger than average, simply crave more space, or have a smelly pup sleeping next to you, consider a tent that is one size larger.

An average overview of how floor space is distributed in 1-4 person tents

2) Tent Seasonality – Sunshine or Snow Storm?

Hiking essentials fun fact: seasonality, in simple terms, refers to how durable a tent is. The more seasons a tent is rated for, the more extreme conditions you can tackle.

3 Season Tents

By far the most popular choice for a first tent, 3-season tents are lightweight shelters designed for relatively temperature conditions of spring, summer, & fall. When properly pitched, with a taught rain fly, these tents can withstand downpours and light snowfall. However, these are not the best choice when it comes to harsh storms, high winds, or heavy snow. Usual features include:

  • Ample mesh panels to boost airflow and keep out insects
  • More upright walls to create more interior headroom
  • Fewer poles and lighter fabrics to keep weight low

Lots of mesh means great breathability and visibility, but also less warmth on colder nights 

3+ Season Tents

Think of these tents as 3-season with some extra protection. These shelters are still suitable for summer use, but are geared more towards early spring and late fall when moderate snow may be encountered. They are also good for folks and four legged pups who make trips to exposed, high-elevation destinations. Usual features (when compared to regular 3-season tents) include:

  • One or two more poles for strength
  • More upright walls to create more interior headroom
  • Fewer mesh panels for greater warmth retention

A tighter seal from the outside means warmer nights, but slightly heavier in the pack 

4 Season Tents

If you’re thinking of a winter expedition, then this is your option. While we advise leaving your pup with a dog sitter for these kind of adventures, for consistency, we had to include info for these winter strongholds. These tents are designed to stand up to fierce withs and substantial snow dumps.  Usual features (when compared to regular 3-season & 3+ tents) include:

  • More poles and heavier fabrics
  • Rounded dome designs that can sustain winds and eliminate flat roof spaces where snow can collect
  • Few or no mesh panels
  • Rainflys that extend close to the ground

Fully weather proof, but comes with a premium price tag 

3) Tent Weight – Paying more for less?

As the largest one of the largest hiking essentials, your tent is a great opportunity to shed some weight in your pack. We have come a long way in terms of tent design (think back to those canvas and wooden pole days). However, like with most things, there is a strong weight vs. cost relationship. Be realistic of how much weight you want to shed, and you might save a lot of dollars too.

If you are a little confused with all the different weights specifications for each tent, don’t worry, we were too at first. There are usually three main weights that apply to each tent:

  • Minimum trail weight: This is the weight of the tent body, rainfly and poles only. You will probably pack more tent-related gear (e.g., stakes, footprint), but this is the best spec for comparing tents.
  • Packaged weight: This is the weight of all the components you get with a purchase: body, rainfly, poles, stakes, stuff sack, pole sack, instructions and more. The weight you’ll carry on the trail will be somewhere between this and the minimum weight.
  • Packed size: The amount of space the tent takes up in a pack also relates to how easy a tent is to carry. You can reduce this space by splitting up components  (e.g. have your partner take the poles and rainfly, while you carry the tent body).

“Carrying a lighter tent means more space for treats!” – an Aspen the Mountain Pup approved message

4) Tent Livability – One night stand or Week long commitment?

The fourth and last category to consider when picking a tent is also the most variable. While weight, construction and space are all number based and easily comparable, comfort is all up to you. Best advise we can give here is to go to your local outdoor retailer and sit inside of one – imagine yourself outdoors with your pup. There are lots of convenience features in tents these days, so keep them in mind when browsing. Some key factors to keep in mind are:

  • Floor Area: length & weight measurements give a rough idea about floor space. A tapered floor (more shoulder room, narrower by the feet) gives space where needed, and takes away to help save weight.
  • Peak height: generally, a taller peak height means a roomier interior
  • Wall shape: probably the best indicator of livability. The more vertical the wall, the more “livable” space inside
  • Rainfly colour: light & bright colours allows for more light to enter
  • Doors: more doors means more accessibility, especially useful if there is more than one person in the tent
  • Vestibules: rainfly extensions that offer sheltered storage for boots and other gear
  • Ventilation: you, and your dog, exhale moisture while you sleep, so your tent needs to be able handle that condensation buildup. Mesh window or panels allow breathability

Make sure you, and your hiking partner, know how to set up your shelter before you need to use it! 

One important thing to do before you head on out – set up your tent at home! There is nothing more frustrating than fiddling with a tent at the end of a long day trekking though the wilderness. You, and your dog, will thank yourself for the foresight.

We hope you have found part one of our Hiking Essentials series useful! Picking the right tent can feel overwhelming at first, but know that all your research will be well worth it. Don’t forget to ask your pup’s opinion too! Much love,

– The GoFetch Team

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