The Best Ways to Carry Your Backpacking Tent

October 16, 2023

Ready to hit the trails but not sure how to carry your tent? Don’t let that extra weight slow you down.

With the right gear and packing techniques, carrying a tent can be easy and comfortable.

This article will give you insider tips to make tent-toting a breeze on your next backpacking adventure or you can look for backpacking tents on sale.

Use Your Pack

The most common way to carry a tent is in or attached to your backpack. Most backpacks have straps and loops to secure your tent.

The tent body can go inside the main compartment, while poles and stakes can be strapped to the sides or front.

Pros: Keeps weight centered and balanced. The tent is protected from the elements.

Cons: Takes up interior space, less room for other gear.

I always pack my 2-person Marmot Limelight tent inside my Osprey Aether 60-liter pack. With the poles and stakes attached to the sides, it doesn’t get in the way of accessing other gear.

During rainy hikes in the Smokies, I was glad to have my tent tucked away and dry inside my pack.

Use a Specialty Bag

Specialty tent bags are a common option for carrying tents outside your pack. They protect your tent and can strap to the top or bottom of your pack.

Some models even convert to stuff sacks.

Pros: Frees up interior pack space, protects tent, keeps tent accessible.

Cons: Can throw off your center of gravity if the pack is too top-heavy.

My partner prefers to use his REI Co-op Tent Sack strapped to the bottom of his Gregory Paragon 58-liter pack.

Despite the lopsided load, the tent stays put and he has plenty of room for other essentials inside his pack.

Go Ultralight

For ultralight backpackers, a tent may be one of the bulkiest items you carry. Utilizing an ultralight tent and strategic packing can pare your load down significantly.

The world’s lightest 2-person tent is the Zpacks Duplex at just 19 oz. For comparison, my Marmot Limelight tips the scales at almost 5 lbs!

To shed even more weight, some bold minimalist backpackers will use the tent body as a pack liner strap the poles, and fly separately to their pack.

This technique is only recommended for experienced ultralight hikers familiar with their gear.

best backpacking tents on sale
best backpacking tents on sale

Strap It On

If your backpack is stuffed to the gills, get creative with ways to strap your tent directly to the exterior. Some options are:

  • Secure the tent pole bag to the top of the pack under the lid or top straps
  • Lash tent body to bottom of pack with webbing or bungee cords
  • Wrap tent fly around pack and strap in place

This approach works best for short trips where you can keep a close eye on your rigged-up load.

The tent may get dirty or wet, so only use rain fly or footprint as an external wrap.

Go Old School

Before modern backpacks, how did hikers manage all their bulky gear? The original solution was to use a frame pack to carry large items like tents and sleeping bags.

These external frame packs are still sold today and offer ample exterior attachment options.

While packing comfort has improved with internal frame packs, external frames excel at hauling awkward loads.

If your fully-packed torso length pack is still overflowing, give an external frame consideration. Models from ALPS Mountaineering provide ample capacity at affordable prices.

Pair With a Lightweight Shelter

One of the easiest ways to minimize tent-toting misery is to choose a super lightweight shelter.

With ingenious designs that eliminate excess fabric and poles, today’s ultralight shelters make carrying a tent almost enjoyable.

My current favorite is the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV trekking pole tent. At 2 lbs for a 2-person semi-freestanding nylon tent, I often forget it’s on my back.

Other ultralight options to consider are tarps, pyramids, and Dyneema composite shelters.