If you've been around the backpacking scene for a while, you likely already know that this is yet another “age-old debate” in the backcountry camping world. As with any backpacking gear, single-wall and double-wall tents each have their own perks and drawbacks. It can be overwhelming trying to decide which type is right for your excursions. That's why today we're going to cover the pros, cons, and best uses of each.
Your tent is your home away from home in nature, whether that be the high, snowy mountains, low, hot desert, or somewhere in-between. It's important to research any type of gear ahead of time to make sure it's best suited for your needs and the environments you'll be camping in the most. But first things first...
What is a Single-Wall Tent?
A single-wall tent is as straightforward as its name implies. Only one layer of fabric is used in its design. This serves as both the body of the tent and the rainfly. Typically, there will be some mesh netting areas as well for ventilation. These are usually at the top of the tent and possibly the door with a solid flap of material to zip over it. Most single-wall tents are not free-standing, meaning you will need to use trekking poles or some other means to prop them up and stake out their guylines.
In days past, single-wall tents were mostly used for mountaineering. They were made with breathable, but waterproof, fabric. Since “lightweight” is the name of the game for many backpackers now, their construction has changed some to cater to this crowd. These single-wall tents are typically made from non-breathable fabrics, usually nylon, but are still coated with a waterproofing treatment. That said, high-end mountaineering tents are still made with breathable, waterproof fabric. Some other examples of single-wall tents include the heavy canvas ones you see used in glamping and hot tents for cold weather camping.
Now that we've talked about how these tents function, let's take a look at their perks and drawbacks.
- No rainfly to worry about
- Weigh less
- Quick and easy to set up (which can be handy if you find yourself caught in a storm)
- Some can be set up with trekking poles. (And who doesn't love multi-purpose gear?)
- Easily collect condensation due to little ventilation and non-breathable fabric. The more people there are sharing a tent, the greater the condensation build-up. And, if you're in a cold terrain where you pretty much have to cook inside the tent, this also adds to moisture issues.
- Usually no vestibule(s) to store your gear, shoes, etc.
- Even in ones with some type of ventilation, it can be hard to balance staying warm and preventing condensation by opening venting areas.
Best Used For: Alpine or desert. In other words, they work best in areas where the air is dry. They work okay in sporadic rain too. They're also a good option for long-distance hikes to save on pack weight.
A Note on Condensation & Preventing It
While the waterproofing of these tents helps them hold up well to moisture from the outside, it can cause issues on the inside. Any tent, including double-wall ones, is subject to varying levels of condensation. However, it can especially be an issue with single-wall tents. Here are some tips on keeping built-up moisture at bay.
- Ventilate your tent as much as you can. It may seem counterintuitive in cold climates to have any kind of ventilation open on a cold night. But, the dry airflow will help keep the moist air down inside your tent, which can also cause you to get chilled.
- As with any tent, avoid touching the walls. That includes yourself and your gear!
- Speaking of walls, it's an excellent idea to bring a microfiber cloth with you to wipe them down.
- Limit the number of people sharing a single-wall tent if you can. Again, the more people there are, the more moisture there is being emitted into the air.
- Use a groundsheet of some sort underneath your tent to add an extra insulation barrier between you and the ground.
- For increased airflow around your tent, pitch it with the end into the wind.
- When choosing your campsite, avoid depressions and other damp spots.
What is a Double-Wall Tent?
A double-wall tent contains two tent walls to make a complete tent. For the most part, these are the ones where the main body consists of bug netting, nylon, or a combination of the two. The second “wall” is the rainfly that goes over the top. Over the years as new materials began being used in tent construction, double-wall tents were designed to incorporate better breathability and waterproofing.
The gap between the top of the main tent and the rainfly helps out a lot in the condensation department too, allowing more airflow, while still keeping you protected from the elements. Double-wall tents are also usually free-standing, many coming with their own set of poles. This means, under calm conditions, you don't necessarily have to stake the guylines out. (Although we all know that this is still a good idea anyway. You never know when the wind or a storm might blow up!)
So, where do these tents excel and what are some of their cons?
- Don't collect condensation nearly as easily as single-wall tents since they are better ventilated. The gap between the two walls also acts as an insulation layer, reducing moisture build-up. Bonus: Since your gear is in the main part, you're less likely to have things touching any condensation on the rainfly.
- More waterproof due to the rainfly keeping moisture off the inner body of your tent (at least the top 2/3, in most cases).
- More likely to come with multiple doors, making getting in and out easier. This is especially handy if you are sharing a tent.
- More likely to have vestibules for storing your gear, freeing up room inside the tent.
- Less drafty
- Though they are mostly European brands, some companies offer models where you can set up the rainfly first and the inner tent second, avoiding getting the inside of your tent wet should a storm pop up.
- You can just use the base tent on warm, clear nights to enjoy some stargazing.
- More parts to carry
- Usually weigh more than their comparable single-wall counterparts. (Though with the push from backpackers for more lightweight gear, even the added weight of the rainfly is minimal.)
- More staking and guylining.
- Can take longer to dry since there are two parts.
Best Used For: Anywhere that has regular precipitation. They are a much better option than single-wall tents if you are backpacking in a rainy and/or humid area. Double-wall tents are also ideal if you're sharing a tent and need the extra storage space in the vestibules and extra doors.
As you can see, a lot of choosing between a single and double-wall tent depends on what climates you plan on camping in the most. For arid areas, such as alpine territory or deserts, single-wall tents are a great option. For humid, wet areas with unpredictable weather, double-wall tents are the way to go.
To a varying degree, your preferences play a part in your ultimate decision too. For example, single-wall tents are likely to appeal more to ultralight backpackers regardless of where they are hiking due to their low weight. And while condensation may not seem like that big of a deal, it can be a real pain in the rear. This is reason enough for some to opt for a double-wall tent. Again, no matter what style you choose, make sure to do some research first.
Have questions about Paria's tents? Check out our blog article that compares the two and be sure to read the FAQs on each product page. Still have questions? Shoot us an email! Our helpful staff will get back to you ASAP.
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Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.Need ideas for your next backpacking adventure? For some amazing backpacking trip inspiration, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up.