By Barry Kauler
Page updated: March 12, 2016
This is one page of a series that I am writing on "traveling
light", whether it be hiking in the wilderness or wandering
the world by boat, bus, train or air.
Over the last few years, I have been a bit of a
"tentaholic", accumulating them in my bedroom closet.
It is just that I have been searching for that elusive
"ideal" tent ...ha ha, I guess there are others who, reading
this, will identify with my obsession.
I decided to write this page, not as a comprehensive review
of my tents, but as a presentation about what I consider to
be the ideal tent, with brief commentary on what is wrong
(and right) with the tents that I own, and others out there
...and I ask, in 2016 have I finally found that elusive
ideal tent, or got close to it?
Types of tent for hiking
Before embarking on this page, some very brief comments on
the different types of tents available:
|Pyramid. One or more vertical
poles. Some of these designs make use of trekking
The drawing highlights one of the main problems, the
inward-sloping walls, which require guy-lines and
stakes to pull them out.
|Tunnel. This may be done with
hoop poles, or vertical, or a combination.
With hoops, good usable floor area, and a pretty
stable design. These need guy-lines and stakes at
the ends to stand up.
|Dome. The traditional dome
tent has two intersecting poles. 4-season dome tents
may have 3 or more hoops.
This design is very stable, and potentially
free-standing (no guy-lines or stakes required).
The above is a gross simplification, as there are many
variations on those three. Combinations of hoop and vertical
poles are common, as are domes that reduce the weight of
poles by removing one leg of the traditional 2-hoop design.
My tent history, briefly
I was born in 1950, so aged 66 in 2016, and over the years I
have owned many tents. As a young fellow back in the 70's, I
and my companion had an inflatable dome tent, and we toured
Europe in an old Mini Minor. At the opposite extreme, about
15 years ago I owned a tiny tunnel tent, with carbon-fibre
hoop poles at each end. About 5 years ago I toured Western
Australia by car, and had a large rectangle-frame tent, a
room that I could walk around in, plus annex.
Late 2014, I purchased a couple of dome tents, as these were
my favourite design type at that time.
Late 2015, I got a bit of a bivy fetish, and ended up buying
a couple of bivy-tents. Basically, these a very low tunnel
tents, which you can only occupy prostrate. I have very
quickly moved on from there.
Early 2016, I have rotated back to dome-like tents. I bought
a cheap one from China, with a single pole, split at one
end. The most recent purchase was an expensive "proper"
(two-hoop) dome tent, very light.
So, I have used many types, and formed some strong opinions.
I guess that I should itemise those opinions, to develop a
checklist of what my "ideal" tent should be...
The ideal tent
These are my opinions of course. Here goes...
I should add that I do not use trekking poles, and consider
them to be useless -- my personal opinion of course! Ha ha,
controversial statement! I will concede that they have some
use if you have poor balance (you grew up in a city), have
bad knees, or are carrying a huge load.
- Bug proof
I must have a tent that keeps the bugs out,
ground-crawling and flying.
- Condensation barrier
In a nutshell, I need a double-wall tent.
- Adequate ventilation
Need to pickup every breeze on hot Aussie nights. Need
to evaporate moisture. This also relates to point 2.
My ideal is a tent that erects without stakes, and only
have to add them if the wind is blowing.
- Easy to erect
I want to put it up in minutes, ditto to pack up.
Related to point 4.
- Light weight
For backpacking, I want about 1kg all-up.
- Small packed length
Would like the option of carrying the poles
- Adequate internal space
Walls should be as vertical as possible. So many tents
slope-in so fast, the internal walls touch my sleeping
bag -- this relates to point 2.
- Reasonably durable
I don't want a tent that breaks on the first trek.
- Stable in wind
Not Arctic storms, just the kind of winds typical in
A bit of sheltered space just outside the door is so
So, my ideal tent requires its own poles. Definitely so if
it is to be freestanding.
Briefly commenting on each tent that I currently own...
I am mentioning this briefly, as I own it. I think
that I acquired it early 2014, don't recall the
price. Single hoop, two little poles at the foot
end, needs at least 4 stakes to erect.
Interesting compromise, mostly single-skin but with
a fly that covers the top (inner skin has a vent in
the top). Weight (incl. poles, without stakes) is
Polyester material very sticky after being in
storage a couple of years.
Can't find it anywhere on the Internet.
I bought this from China in 2014, a great tent,
extremely well made, yet low price. Ticks all the
boxes, except not for solo hiking and a bit heavy --
2 person, weighs 2kg.
Pole segments are 38cm, shorter than most tents.
Still available from Aliexpress, here
Another 2-person dome tent, only cost me AU$20 at
Anaconda, in 2014.
I have used this for solo hikes.
Weight about 1.9kg. No vestibule.
Ventilation not anywhere near as good as the
Anaconda no longer sell it.
Tourer Bivy Tent
Got this late 2015, on-sale from Anaconda, in my
"bivy tent phase".
Very quickly decided that it is not for me -- like
being in a coffin, only single skin, not well
protected from the elements, poor ventilation, too
One thing in its favour is quick setup and packup,
but it is not freestanding.
Still available from Anaconda, here.
Raider Bivy Tent
I bought this early January 2016, still in my "bivy
tent phase". Cost AU$312 (including postage) from
Amazon. Very well made, double-skin, light (just
over 1kg) and rolls up very small (about 290x120mm).
Absolutely needs stakes.
Quite nice, but I still have the fundamental problem
of bivy tents -- feel like I am in a coffin.
Also, the interior is spoilt by the triangle shape
at the foot -- there is no clearance, and I just
know my sleeping bag is going to get damp.
Available from Amazon, here.
This is a 1-person quasi-dome tent, one main pole,
split at one end. It can be freestanding, but really
I bought the gray-coloured one, which is important,
as it is 200gm lighter than the other colours.
I bought this as it is cheap, yet well made, light,
and more roomy than a bivy tent.
In fact, it weighs only a tad more than the Catoma
Raider, and hey, I can sit up in it!
Claimed weight (without pegs) is 1152gm.
It cost AU$126 including postage, from Aliexpress, here.
This is my latest purchase, and the most expensive.
I paid AU$507 including postage from the US, the
manufacturer's website, here.
Now I have migrated back to a "proper" dome tent,
except half the weight of my 2014 purchases.
The base price of this tent is US$149.95, but it may
be optioned up, and I ended up at US$297.94. The
choices are wonderful, you can make this tent as
light as you want, using more exotic materials (and
pay more). I was fairly cautious, chose the normal
SuprSil fabric and Ultra-Light Alloy poles. Also
added a footprint, carry bag and guys/pegs.
Poles have 36cm segments, excellent, but still short
of my ideal.
I would like to announce a "winner", but first I do need to
flesh out the details of some of these tents...
There are lot of these super-cheap 2-person dome tents
around. They have limitations, but certainly worth
considering given the spare-change price.
Here is a snapshot taken September 2014, the tent pitched on
the Bibbulmun Track:
It rained a lot that night, but I was dry and comfy.
Technically lacking, it has poor ventilation and no
vestibule, but even so, it was surprisingly OK.
One thing that I have noticed with these very cheap dome
tents -- be sure that it is long enough inside, so that your
sleeping bag foot and head doesn't press against the inner
wall -- some of them are too small.
Weight is 1258gm for inner and outer skins, 558gm for
fibreglass poles (a bit heavier than original, as I cut them
down to shorter segments), and 99gm for my titanium stakes.
Grand total of 1915gm.
Applying my eleven-point scoring system, I have given it
7/11, fails points 3 (ventilation), 6 (weight), 7 (packed
length) and 11 (vestibule).
As I am into ultra-light trekking, why not go the whole way,
and buy a bivy bag? There is, for example, the Outdoor
Research Helium Bivy, which is single-skin, has a hoop-pole
at the top-end so there is room inside to read or whatever,
and only weighs 510gm ...yes, but not so good in hot
climates, ventilation is very poor, and condensation is a
It was those limitations that made me look one-step-up, at
dual-skin bivy tents. Hence purchase of the Catoma Raider.
|Weight of inner and outer skins,
poles, stakes and carry bag, is 1024gm.
If I substitute with my titanium stakes (99gm), the
weight drops to 1008gm. Ticks the box on Point-6
The footprint, well, optional, nice to have.
|Outer skin (fly)
|Poles (2x, alloy)
|Stakes (8x, plastic)
So, what do I really think about this tent, actually using
getting that far, I was disappointed, as the
official instructional video showed that the stakes
and poles came in bags, whereas mine only had
elastic bands. There is also a guy-tensioner in the
video, that I didn't get. There is one guy-line with
a plastic hook, for the foot-end, and mine is more
flimsy than the one shown in the video.
So, they are being cheapskates.
Erection is OK. As I already mentioned, it needs stakes, at
least two, one at each end to stretch out the top. A
practical minimum is 6 stakes.
One thing that I did not like, is that the guy line at the
foot-end has to be unhooked then rehooked when the fly is
There is not much separation on the sides, between inner and
outer skins, and it would really be necessary to stake-out
the fly on the sides, so now 8 stakes are required.
No vestibule. There is no flexibility at all if it is
raining, or even just dribbling sometimes. The fly would
have to be zippered closed, then you are in a sweat-box. A
I also mentioned the triangle shape at the foot-end. Not
good enough, I should have realised that before purchasing
it -- there are other similar double-skin bivy tents that
have a hoop pole at the foot-end.
I am being harsh, but this tent does have some good points.
One is the small pack size -- it even fits horizontal inside
my waist pack (including poles).
The rating I have given is 6.5/11. It fails points 3
(ventilation), 4 (freestanding), 8 (space) and 11
(vestibule), with a half-mark for 5 (easy erect).
I will be selling both of my bivy tents. They just don't do
it for me.
I have bought most of my tents online, don't get a chance to
see them beforehand, so there is an element of gamble. This
one has an obvious downside, the triangle-shape at the
foot-end -- however, in online pictures it looked more roomy
than the Catoma Raider foot-end, so I went for it. It was
the advertised weight that decided me (and it is cheap).
This is what the frame looks like:
The frame design does result in a light-weight tent. Major
brand names use this same pole design, for example:
The Paddy Pallin camping chain store stocks the Nemo
Hornet 1P. The same pole structure, a very similar
tent, except entry is from the "side".
What the Hornet 1P does show is the efficiency of
this design. By use of more exotic materials, it
pushes the weight down, to only 910gm packed weight
(everything, including pegs).
The advantage of a local store is that you can go
and ogle it.
Not cheap though, RRP is AU$579.95, though you get
10% off if you become a club member ($10 one-off
fee), or maybe even more if you wait for a sale.
There is also a footprint, for AU$59.95.
See it here:
Fly Creek UL1
This is another big-name manufacturer. Again, this
frame design results in a very light tent, just
936gm packed weight. Note, this has end-entry, like
the NatureHike 1P.
RRP in the USA is US$320, and is available through
various stores in Australia, such as Wild Earth
Notice though, a problem with this design: the restricted
Notice also, another "problem", it is not truly freestanding
-- yes, it will stand up, but needs to be staked to be
|NatureHike tent inner and outer
skins, poles, stakes, extra guy lines and bags,
weighs 1361gm, above the figure given on the
Substituting my own stakes (99gm), and leaving off
the extra guy lines, weight is 1237gm.
|Outer skin (fly) (with guy
|Extra guy lines + 2 x bags
|Footprint + bag
A pleasant surprise, that the footprint is included in the
The NatureHike tent is pushing too far above my 1kg target.
The other big-name variants are under 1kg (including
However, I have issues with the pole design. As one reviewer
of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 commented, it "collapses in
high wind". Yeah, although it can be staked on the sides,
the design is fundamentally weak with regard to side gusts.
I am not looking for an Arctic-storm-proof tent. For that,
there are specialised tents. But, I do want a tent that can
survive blustery weather and typical storms as I will expect
in temperate Australia. I have in mind Windy Harbour, a
place on the south coast in Western Australia, that lives up
to its name.
Regarding foot-area, it is OK. Needs at least six stakes to
be usable. I cannot give a tent a tick for freestanding when
it must have stakes to be usable.
And, it really does need two more stakes on the side, to
pull out the skins and also stabilise the tent, making 8
Ventilation is not quite what I expect either. I want a fly
with vent at the top, so that warm air has somewhere to
escape. This tent will require the fly door to be fully
open, then it is not rain-proof.
I have given a score of 6.5/11, failing 3 (ventilation), 4
(freestanding), 6 (weight), 10 (stable), and half-mark for 5
The score comes out the same as the Catoma Raider, which
failed for different reasons -- but, if I had to choose
between the two, it would be the NatureHike.
I purchased this online, sight-unseen, as it seemed to offer
all that I was seeking. It seemed that I could tick all
|Regarding my research prior to
ordering, there are not many reviews or user
feedback. Only one Youtube video, the guy likes it,
but there isn't much depth to the report:
Lindsey Daniels, a photographer, has taken some lovely shots
of the Soul 1P:
Here is one of her photos:
Note, I bought mine direct from the manufacturer in the USA,
however, if you live in Australia, there is a dealer in
Melbourne, Backpacking Light. At the time of writing, they
are only offering the cheapest base-variant of the Soul 1P,
for AU$289. Look here:
One disadvantage in buying direct from Big Sky is that they
might not have your choice of options in stock, which will
result in considerable delay before shipping. This was my
|Light weight SuprSil fabric
outer shell, color: granite gray
|Interior and floor
|No-See-Um Mesh Netting
interior and SuprSil-3000 floor
|Ultra Light weight aluminum,
36cm (14-3/16in) folded length
|Sacks or bags
|SuprSil tent bag
|Guy line kits
|4 reflective spectra guy
lines and 4pc 7.9mm Tube Steak LW pegs
|Soul 1P ShelterSaver
footprint with Grommet kit
However, Bob, the owner of Big Sky, changed the fly to this
one, presumably as I had asked for immediate shipping:
|Ultra Light weight SuprSil-UL
fabric outer shell, color: granite gray
You will notice on the website that there are lighter pole
options, DuraLite or carbon fibre. I chose the UL aluminum
36cm as I want the shorter poles, to optionally pack
Choices! For the tentaholic/gear-head/gear-junkie, this is
I have paid a premium price for lightness. So, this is how
the weight breaks down:
|Inner and outer skins, bag, poles and
tube stakes, weighs 1013gm.
Close enough to 1kg!
Throw in the footprint, brings up to 1092gm.
|Outer skin (fly)
|Tube stakes (4 short, 2 long,
I love those tube stakes. i had ordered four of the 15cm
stakes, but Big Sky threw in some 20cm ones as well.
This is a true freestanding tent, including the vestibule,
so belongs to a very exclusive club. It does not require any
stakes, however, the fly on the sides needs to be pulled out
so as not to touch the inner skin, requiring a minimum of 2
stakes for practical usage.
One or more of the corners can be staked, so it is best to
carry 6 stakes. Also, if windy conditions are anticipated,
there are loops to provide extra anchoring, in particular
for side-gusts, and extra guy lines are needed in this case
-- Big Sky provided 4 guy lines for this purpose, weighing
This is an extremely light weight for a traditional
intersecting-two-hoop dome tent. The poles are two complete
hoops, giving it good rigidity, though being a narrow 1P
tent it does have some susceptibility to side gusts, making
side staking a recommendation.
There are velco strips to attach the fly to the poles,
enhancing rigidity, which the NatureHike does not have.
The end-entry is an interesting feature, with built-in
vestibule. However, it is a very minimal vestibule, enough
to leave the shoes anyway.
At the top of the fly there is an adjustable opening, for
ventilation, which is an improvement on the NatureHike.
The internal length is adequate, reasonable space at the
foot-end. However, I don't recommend it for people over 6'.
I recognise that some hikers might prefer a more traditional
side-entry dome tent, and/or if they are over 6' then they
may need extra length. Big Sky have a variant that is the
same design as the Soul except for side entry (optionally on
both sides) and longer internal space, named the Evolution:
I don't own this tent, but I want to mention it, as
it looks so good. From reading the specs, looking at
photos and online reviews, this tent seems to tick
all eleven boxes. Plus, it has the side entry, hence
bigger vestibule, optionally on both sides, and
longer internal space, that many hikers will prefer.
I give the Soul 1P a score of 9.5/11.
I decided to be a bit mean and only give a half-tick for
Point-4 (freestanding), as the fly needs to be pulled out
Only a half-tick for points 10 (stable in wind) and 11
(vestibule). Yes, it is stable in gusty conditions, as long
as securely side-staked. Has a vestibule, but minimal.
There are some other things to think about, that didn't make
it into my eleven-point list. Probably very minor, but may
be relevant issues for you:
Point-12 may only be an issue when there is a wind blowing.
Tents usually provide attachments for guy-lines to pull out
the sides of the fly.
- Inner and outer skins touching
1P tents have this problem more than 2P, due to
- Ease of getting in and out
Some tents you have to crawl into, some you can just
- Erecting in the rain
Some tents, you can erect the fly first, then inner skin
Point-13 may be an issue if you have a bad back.
Point-14, well, usually you can wait for a break in the
rain, then if your tent erects fast, there is no problem.
I have to laugh. I have just been browsing through some
Aussie online stores, and most of the solo tents described
as "ultra light" are at least 1.5kg.
If you want to go hiking, pay great attention to weight --
the grams add up very fast!
You can buy a great dual-skin solo tent weighing a kilo or
less, including poles and stakes.
Then there are so many designs to choose from, but use my
eleven points as a guide, to narrow it down. Actually,
Point-4 (freestanding), rules out everything except dome
tents (and rules out many dome tents too).
I can put up my Big Sky Soul in a couple of minutes, then
only add stakes if there is a breeze, or I feel like doing
...you just can't beat that.
Some experienced hikers will come up with a different set of
points. Point-4 might not be important to them. Fair enough,
we are all different.
Anyway, applying my eleven points, I have a winner
Regarding the three supplementary points, the Soul 1P scores
reasonably well here. Point-12, yeah, has that problem,
requires side-staking of the fly. Point-13, just step in,
step out, this is fantastic. point-14, the Soul erects so
fast, I don't see any problem here.
The "proof of the pudding is in the eating". So, actual
testing on the trail is required: