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  • Writer's pictureSpirited Adventures

Choosing The Right Tent

Author: Lutz Otto


Buying a new tent is exciting. It signifies your commitment to enjoying many adventures, gaining new experiences and exploring new places. On a multi-day wilderness experience, your tent will provide shelter, comfort and safety.


Contrastingly, we have heard from so many of our clients, that choosing the right tent can feel a little daunting, and that some of the advice they received was conflicting. It was with this in mind, that a couple of years ago I decided to put together this information piece, which has subsequently evolved.


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Moonrise whilst on a backpacking safari in the Greater Kruger National Park.

Your short and longer term hiking plans.


As a starting point, when deciding to buy a tent, the first question we need consider is whether the tent will be used only for backpacking safaris, or if the intention is to use it for other experiences too. This is an important question, as the weather conditions we encounter when hiking in the Kruger National Park region, and the South African lowveld are substantially different to those which we experience when hiking in mountain areas, and particularly at higher altitudes.


The focus of the advice which follows, is that your tent will be used beyond the lowveld, and consequently in a variety of terrain types, as well as weather conditions.


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Sunset on a guided wilderness backpacking safari.

So lets start unpacking what important structural features you should be considering.


  • Broadly speaking, all backpacking tents capable of managing inclement weather are categorized as either three, or four season, tents. Most three season tents, which are those which we advise our clients to buy for use in a number of environments, will have some mesh panels on the inner tent to allow for airflow. A four-season tent, which is not the subject of this blog, has solid panels on the inner tent, and is also likely to have short flysheet extensions, that brings it to ground level. Four season tents are highly specialist winter tents; They are heavier to carry and they quickly build up condensation in most environments.



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Four season tents, and the associated conditions, are not the subject of this blog. Winter ice climbing, Swiss Alps.

  • For the type of use we have indicated, we suggest that you buy what is known as a double walled tent. These consist of a breathable inner wall, which is separated from the outer detachable waterproof flysheet. To ensure weather resistance, both your flysheet and groundsheet should have all their seams taped. The minimum water column of your flysheet should be greater than 2000mm and the groundsheet greater than 3000mm. As a note, a good double wall tent, can improve your sleeping bags temperature rating by +5 degrees celsius.


  • To ensure stability, your tent should have aluminum poles. These are not only lighter and stronger than fiber glass poles, they are more suitable for surviving stronger winds, and do not snap when exposed to cold temperatures. To improve tent stability in inclement weather, all good three season plus tents have at least three pole “cross-over” points when pitched.


  • Light weight and durable pegs come with all descent tents. If the tent has steel pegs, which are heavy and bend easily, you can be guaranteed that the tent was not made for a serious adventure. A top tip is to bring pegs that are suitable for the terrain. As an example if you will be pegging down in sand, or snow, you should consider adding +22cm long aluminum triangular pegs to your kit – Their ability to hold a tent in position when on these substrates, especially set up as a deadman anchor, is materially different. The more you get into a variety of terrain types, the more you will need to improvise with pegs and holding your tent in place.


  • Multiple guy rope points are a necessity to ensure tent stability in strong winds. In rainy, or high condensation conditions, guy ropes are important in separating the inner and outer tent structures, which is important for you, and your equipment, to keep dry. On fair weather days it is not necessary to peg all of these down, and you can keep them neatly rolled and tied up. As a point of interest, we have endured wind storms, in both Northern Botswana and the Greater Kruger National Park, that flipped tents that did not have enough guy points to appropriately anchor them. Remember that a guy rope pegged down with the wrong peg for the substrate, will fail.


  • Unless you are aiming to spend the bulk of your tent time in very cold areas, aim for part of the inner tent structure to be made of mosquito netting. A tent with this is lighter, is cooler in summer and has substantially less condensation problems. The two downsides of this mesh is that some of the tents insulation properties are lost, and that on windy days sand, or other fine loose material, are blown into the tent through this mesh. Although some very light tents offer this mesh for the full inner, for the aforementioned reasons, we prefer not to use these.


  • When purchasing the tent, always consider its packed size and weight. This point might seem obvious, but with time we have learned that “obvious”, is open to interpretation. In the spirit of enjoyment and a great adventure, keep your target tent weight as low as your budget will allow.

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Carefully looking at this picture, you should be able to correlate the learnings gained in the notes above.

In terms of tent design and shape, what should we be thinking about:


  • If there is any possibility of experiencing high winds in the areas that you plan to visit, choose a tent designed to handle these. Anyone who has spent time in winds of this nature, will support why we cannot over emphasize this point.


  • Ease of pitching is important, especially if the tent is likely to be pitched by one person, or in bad weather.


  • When the possibility exists for tents to be pitched in rocky, or space constrained areas, the tents size and shape must be considered.


  • Although not a necessity, two entrance doors, with vestibules, are almost always better. Getting in and out the tent is easier, and tent organization is better. Another bonus of dual access is that it can improve tent air circulation.


  • When choosing your tent, lie inside the pitched tent, and make sure that it fits both your body size as well as your gear. Cluttering your tent vestibule with gear makes access difficult, takes away space for other activities in inclement weather and exposes gear to the risk of wild animals. As a rule of thumb, in areas where there are other people, store anything important within the inner tent.

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An early winters morning on a women's wilderness leadership retreat.

Once you have bought your new tent, some final points to consider are:


  • Put a lightweight ground sheet under any good tent – It will protect your investment and it is also a versatile piece of equipment that has many other uses.


  • Prior coming on trail, pitch your new tent at home. This eases your learning curve and ensures that all it parts are there.


  • Although the subject of another blog, remember that camp craft, which includes where and how you pitch your tent, is very important in terms of your safety, comfort and enjoyment.


  • Although it might seem unnecessary, try keep the inside of your tent reasonably organized and try keep it organized in the same way. Besides saving lots of frustration looking for stuff [you cannot believe how stuff can get lost in a tent], if for some reason you need to get up very quickly in the night, this is very important. At night, always pack your boots, and anything important, into the inner tent. If in the high mountains in winter, remember that your water bottles, boots and any wet equipment, is likely to freeze over night, it is thus important to take this into consideration.


  • After every trail, check that everything is still in working order, spot clean any dirt and don’t pack the tent away until it is absolutely dry. If you do need to wash your tent, use a product such as NikWax and do not do this with normal detergent. When drying your tent, do not put it close to any direct heat sources. Also remember that ultraviolet light quickly damages tent material, so in the interest of prolonging tent life, do not leave a tent unnecessarily pitched in the sun.


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Our campsite on a wilderness retreat viewed from a cliff.

Coming Full Circle.


Hiking and backpacking, are incredibly rewarding experiences. Whether you choose to pursue this frequently, or if it is only for one trip, a good trail will imprint memories into heart that last for your lifetime. Packing the right stuff will allow you to enjoy the experience to its fullest.


We hope that working through this has helped. We look forward to spending time with you, and creating active, exciting, immersive, connective, safe and impactful experiences, that will result in your eagerly planning your next adventure on your journey home.



About this articles author: 🐾 Lutz Otto is the founder of Spirited Adventures and Consulting. He is a safari trails guide, a mountain guide, coach and leadership consultant. You can explore his bio here.


Copyright Spirited Adventures & Consulting. All rights reserved.

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