Choosing the perfect survival tent is no easy task.
Not only is there a huge number of colors, designs, and brands to choose from. But the confusing terminology surrounding tents can be difficult to understand.
In this post, I will take the guesswork out of choosing a tent for your bug out bag. I will show you exactly what to look for and what to avoid.
And then I will walk you through three excellent survival tents that are well-suited for a bug out bag.
Survival tent: The big picture overview
There are many compelling reasons to use a tent as your primary bug out shelter. It is easy to set up, provides excellent weather protection, and keeps out bug and insects at night.
For a lot of people, a tent also feels like a home away from home – a place where they feel relaxed and comfortable.
Other shelter options don’t come with these benefits. Constructing an effective tarp shelter takes skill and experience. And sleeping in a hammock can be annoying when bugs and insects are active.
For these reasons, a tent is the preferred shelter option for a lot of people.
The question is: How do you choose the best survival tent?
In my experience, it can be a complex decision. However, if you know what to look for, you can quickly narrow down the many options to just a handful of choices.
Generally, there are 10 factors you need to look for:
Let me walk you through them all.
Factor #1: Weight
In a bug out scenario, you will likely spend more time walking with your tent on your back than you will staying inside it.
That’s why it is important to keep weight to a minimum. As a rough estimate, your tent should weigh no more than two pounds (per adult). Any more than that and your backpack will become too heavy.
That said, weight should not take priority over comfort. I see a lot of people go this route, and they eventually end up with a tent they are dissatisfied with.
For example, if you live in an area prone severe snow storms, don’t choose a three-season tent. Go with a four-season shelter (even though it is slightly heavier).
When looking for a tent online, you will come across three different weight measurements – minimum trail weight, packaged trail weight, packaged size.
Here is what they mean:
- Minimum trail weight – this is the weight of the bare essentials needed to set up the tent (tent body, rainfly, and poles).
- Packaged weight – this is the weight of all the items you get with your purchase (body, rainfly, poles, stakes, stuff sack, instruction manual, etc.)
- Packaged size – this is the amount of space the tent takes up when packaged (typically measured in inches).
Factor #2: Comfort
How comfortable a tent is to sleep in, depends largely on your personal needs and preferences (as well as the climate you find yourself in).
Here are a few examples.
- Height – if you are tall, make sure to choose a tent designed specifically for tall people. A regular tent may simply be too small.
- Fears – if you are afraid of crawling and flying insects, look for a tent with large mesh panels and a built-in bug net. If you suffer from claustrophobia, get a tent with extra elbow room.
- Climate – if you live in a hot and humid area, seek out a shelter with good ventilation. If you plan to bug out in a cold area, consider a double-walled tent.
As you can see, just because a tent is marketed as comfortable, doesn’t necessary mean that it will be comfortable for you. No two persons are the same, and you need to be aware of that.
When looking for a backpacking tent, ask yourself these two questions:
- Which environment will I be using the tent in?
- Do I have any special needs that I have to account for?
By carefully considering what you require from a tent, it will be much easier to filter out all the options that doesn’t meet your criteria.
Factor #3: Ease of setup
It goes without saying that you should choose a tent that is easy to setup. There is nothing worse than having to wrestle with user manuals while a snowstorm is tearing through behind you.
Generally, free-standing tents are the easiest to set up. Free-standing tents will stand up by themselves and don’t require stakes to be pitched.
This is a huge plus because it allows you to easily reposition the tent if needed – simply lift and move.
Free-standing tents can also be set up in places where it it normally impossible to use tent stakes, such as rocky surfaces and frozen ground.
On top of that, you can easily shake out any dirt before you take it down – this is not possible with other styles.
For these reasons, I almost always promote the use of free-standing tents, especially for people who…
- Live in the desert or near canyons
- Plan to pitch their shelter on wooden platforms
It may require some research to find a free-standing tent that weighs less than three pounds. But it is definitely not impossible.
Factor #4: Sleeping capacity
Backpacking tents come in a variety of sizes – ranging from small, one-person tents on the one hand to large four-person tents on the other.
Most people will be comfortable with a one or two person tent. But because no industry standards exist that define per-person dimensions, you should consider giving the tent a test-drive before you buy it.
Visit a store, ask them to set it up, and hop inside. How does it feel? Can you easily lie flat on the floor? And is there plenty of space for your gear?
If not, choose another option.
When looking for a bug out tent, there are a few indicators you can look for to get a feel for how large it is…
- Floor dimensions – all other things being equal, a 90 x 54 inches tent is more spacious than 84 x 50 inches tent
- Wall shape – tents with vertical walls typically provide more interior volume than tents with steep walls
- Peak height – the greater the peak height, the roomier the tent will be. But because it is measured from a single spot, peak height can sometimes be misleading.
It is also important to consider how much space you actually need:
For example, if you plan to bug out with pets, you will need more space than someone who is bugging out alone. And if you are fairly short, you will need less space than someone who is tall.
Factor #5: Adaptability
What you require from a shelter will change with the conditions you find yourself in.
One night you may need protection from high winds and heavy rain. The other night the sky may be clear, and all you need is to keep out bugs and insects.
The best tents are easy to adapt to the environment and can be deployed and set in a variety of shelter configurations.
Generally, the least adaptable shelters are double-walled tents.
Because they can only be configured in one way, you don’t have a lot of flexibility if the weather should change or you have to move to a different location.
That said, double-walled tents come with a lot of benefits too. Look at the illustration below:
As you can see, double-walled tents are best suited for environments that require complete protection from wind, snow, and rain.
Because they have an integrated bathtub floor, they also excel in areas that are prone to heavy rain and flooding.
The opposite of a double-walled tent is a single-walled tarp shelter.
Because they provides multiple configurations, single-walled shelters can be modified to fit almost any situation you may encounter. This is an advantage as it saves you both time and energy.
The illustration below shows the pros and cons of single-walled shelters.
Single-walled shelters are best suited for people who…
- Live in warmer climates and need good airflow coming through the tent
- Plan to bug out in areas with little to no risk of flooding
- Have the opportunity to set up the tent with tent stakes
It is pretty simple, isn’t it?
Factor #6: Durability
It goes without saying that your tent should be able to withstand severe weather conditions. The more abuse it can take, the better.
One of the most important factors to consider when it comes to durability is the fabric that the tent is made of.
Generally, tent fabrics come in three flavors:
- Cuben Fiber
Let me quickly explain each one in more detail, so you can better decide which one is right for you.
- Polyester – this is the least abrasion resistant of the three. While it performs reasonably well in cold and wet conditions, it will eventually lose its water-resistant properties. As a rule of thumb, polyester is best suited for warm climates because it is hardly affected by the sunlight.
- Nylon – a good, all-around option that works for most people. It is lighter, stronger, and more durable than polyester. It also performs well in wet and rainy conditions. However, the added performance comes at the cost of price and weight.
- Cuben Fiber – this is the lightest, strongest, and most durable tent fabric that exists today. It weighs less than half as much as nylon, is 100 % waterproof, and can withstand very high winds (which is why it is also used in yacht sails). It is easy to repair as well, but comes at an above-average price tag.
Bottom line: There is no right or wrong choice here. It all depends on your needs, prefereces, and ultimately your budget.
Factor #7: Color
The color of a tent may seem irrelevant at first glance, but it is not. In fact, the color affects everything from privacy and temperature to livability.
Basically, you have to choose between a dark-colored or light-colored tent.
Here are the pros and cons of each:
Notice that dark colors are genereally best suited for cold and freezing conditions because they absorb more light than brighter colors.
They also work well if you are concerned about privacy and don’t want other people to see you naked when you undress.
On the contrary, choose brighter colors if you plan to bug out in an area prone to high temperatures, such as the desert.
Bright colors will also make the tent feel more spacious than it actually is. So if your tent is already on the small side, this is something you should take into account.
Factor #8: Price
Unless you plan to backpack a lot or have any special needs, there is no reason to spend a fortune on a tent.
While more expensive tents are typically lighter, stronger, and more durable than cheaper options, they also tend to come with too many bells and whistles – such as multiple doors and vestibules.
Avoid getting sucked in by these fancy add-ons. They are simply not needed for most people and just add extra complexity to your setup.
Remember: You are planning for a survival situation, not a family vacation.
On the other hand, don’t buy a tent that is too cheap either – it will usually not be able to handle severe weather conditions and may be downright dangerous in the wrong environment.
I have found a nice sweet spot to be between $200-$350 USD.
Tents in this price range can typically withstand moderate to extreme weather conditions while still being light enough for a bug out bag.
If you can afford a stronger and lighter tent, by all means go for it.
Factor #9: Shape
Tents come in a variety of shapes – each with its own pros and cons.
Below I have listed the most popular tent shapes currently available, including a brief description of each.
The classic A-frame tent has an oblong footprint – making it appropriate for tall people who plan to bug out on their own.
It also has curved walls that shed wind, rain, and snow well. However, the steep walls reduce interior volume and headspace, making it difficult to walk around inside.
It also tends to be heavier and bulkier than other options. So if you want to keep pack weight down, consider choosing another style.
Dome tents are incredibly popular these days. And with good reason:
Since they are free-standing, you can set them up in a cinch and easily move them to a different location if necessary.
They also provide more interior volume and headspace than A-frame tents, and work well in windy and rainy conditions.
However, they can be quite heavy. Many dome tents weigh five pounds or more, which is simply too much for a bug out bag.
With some research, however, finding a lightweight option is absolutely possible.
I am a huge fan of tunnel tents. Why? Because they provide a surprising amount of space compared to their weight.
They also come with a vestibule for extra storage space and can be set up in a matter of minutes with a minimum of effort.
The main problem with tunnel tents, however, is that they don’t shed wind and rain well because they have almost vertical walls.
That’s also the reason they need to be staked to the ground – unlike dome tents, they are not free-standing and cannot be pitched on wooden platforms and rocky cliffs.
Pyramids provide the best protection against high winds. And because they shed wind from all directions, they don’t need to be repitched if the wind changes direction during the night.
They are also significantly lighter than other designs. In fact, it is not unusual to find a pyramid shelter that weighs two pounds or less.
On top of that, pyramid shelters provide plenty of headspace and interior volume – making them ideal for people who want to cook inside.
The only problem with pyramids is that they usually don’t provide protection against insects. However, a bug net can typically be purchased as an add-on, so I don’t see that as a problem.
Factor #10: Seasonality
Backpacking tents come with either a three-season or four-season rating.
Here are the differences between the two:
For most people I would recommend a three-season tent. It provides plenty of interior space, ample headroom, and excellent protection from bugs and insects.
It is also much lighter than a four-season tent, but does not offer the same protection against heavy snowfall and extreme cold.
That’s where four-season tents come into the picture:
Because they are constructed from a stronger and thicker material, four-season tents are much better suited for winter use than their three-season counterparts.
They also come with fewer mesh panels for better warmth retention and more poles for added strength and stability.
Many four-season tents also have steep walls that shed wind and rain well and a vestibule for extra storage space.
All these benefits, however, make four-season tents very heavy. So keep that in mind when choosing a tent for your bug out bag.
Survival tent: My top 3 picks
Now that you know what to look for in a survival tent, it is time for me to show you my top three picks.
Note: Because there is no perfect tent that works for everyone, you might find that none of the options listed below suit your needs.
If that’s the case, you will have to do your own research. A good place to start is REI – they have a large selection of outdoor gear and allow you to easily sort through the many product options.
Tent #1: Black diamond – beta light
Clocking in at only 1.5 pounds and taking up less space than a Nalgene bottle, the Beta Light is exceptionally light and compact.
The intelligent pyramid design enables four-season use and provides lots of interior volume and headspace.
It is also easy to set up – with a little practice, it can be pitched in only a few minutes. On top of that, it costs only $200 USD, making it affordable for most people.
The only thing you need to keep in mind is that it doesn’t provide any bug protection. Fortunately, a bug net can be purchased separately if needed.
Tent #3: Zpacks Duplex
The SuperMid is ultra light and provides more interior space than any other tent I have ever come across.
It is also extremely durable, provides outstanding weather protection, and can handle serious winter storms if necessary.
At the same time, it can be set up in only 3-5 minutes – which you will definitely appreciate in bad weather.
There is no disadvantage to using the SuperMid. However, some people may argue that the large footprint limits the number of places you can set it up.
Product name goes here
The Duplex weighs only 22 ounces – which includes everything: Guy lines, bathtub floor, bug net, and stuff sack.
It is also made of Cuben Fiber – the lightest and most durable tent fabric used today.
Another benefit is the sewn-in bathtub floor that is designed to deflect splashback and running water in a downpour.
The bathtub floor is 45 inches wide and 90 inches long – making enough space for two people and their gear.
At a price of $599 USD, however, the Duplex is not cheap. But if you want a quality shelter that lasts for years, it is worth every penny. You won’t be disappointed.