Packing and carrying tents is one of those things that people can get very fussy about. Everyone seems to think their way is the “right” way – usually because it’s what they were taught at Scout camp when they were twelve.
Trouble is, everyone has a different take, and it can leave newbies with a lot of questions. Tent in a backpack? Or outside? At the bottom of the backpack? Or strapped to the top? Rolled up or stuffed into the tent bag?
The truth is that when thinking about how to pack a tent in a backpack there are lots of “right” ways and they mostly depend on personal preference. It’s all about finding what works best for you, but there are a few things worth considering.
- Stuffing…folding…rolling… All are fine and it’s just down to personal preference
- Carrying tent poles & stakes separately vs keeping everything in one place? Again, personal preference
- Pack your tent inside your backpack or outside your backpack but do not bury it right at the bottom of the backpack; your tent is the first thing you’ll unpack in the evening and the last thing you’ll pack away the next day
- Strapping your tent to the outside of your pack can help save space in your bag and keep your other kit dry…
- …but you need to be absolutely sure it doesn’t fall off your back – preferably using more than one method of attachment
- Packing the tent inside your pack can make you more stable over difficult terrain, reducing strain on your back
- Try not to pack your tent wet; it’ll be heavy to carry and difficult to deal with at the end of the day
Folding and Rolling vs Stuffing
Some people like to stuff their tent into its bag, carrying the poles and pegs separately. The main arguments for this are that it’s much quicker, and gives you a looser and softer object that’s easier to fit round other things in your backpack. There’s also a myth that folding a tent will damage the material, but that’s simply not true for modern tent fabrics.
Folding and rolling tends to give you a tighter and more structured package. If you do pick this method then exactly how you pack a tent will depend on its individual shape, but in general there are three steps to packing a tent in its bag:
- Make it into a rectangle. Lay the tent out flat, then fold in any bits that stick out until you have a rectangle shape.
- Get it the right width for the bag. Start by folding your tent in half lengthways, and repeat this process once or twice more until you’ve made your tent into a long, thin strip. The width of the strip should be slightly less than the length of the tent bag.
- Roll it up from one end. People often choose to roll the tent around the pegs and poles but you don’t have to. You can use compression straps to make it more compact if you wish.
Is It Better to Carry the Poles Separately?
While some campers roll the tent, pegs, and tent poles into one big bundle, others prefer to split them out and carry them separately. The plus side of this is that you can pack a tent up quickly by stuffing it into the bag, compressing it much more easily without the poles. Some campers might even leave the tent bag at home, opting to directly stuff their tent in a backpack.
The main downside of carrying everything separately is that there are now three things to lose or forget instead of one. Peg bags in particular are notoriously easy to leave behind when you’re packing a tent up in the morning.
Rolling the tent around the tent poles is also usually a better option if you’re going to carry it attached to the outside of your pack, since a more rigid tent bag is less likely to slip out of its straps.
Should You Carry Your Tent Inside or Outside Your Backpack?
One of the most persistent myths about packing tents is that you should always carry your tent near the bottom of your backpack, just above your sleeping bag. In my opinion, there’s no sensible justification for this bizarre piece of advice, but people still swear by it because it came direct from their dad or Scoutmaster or whatever.
In fact, hikers often choose to carry their tent on the outside of their backpack. There are sound reasons for this, including:
- A tent comes in its own bag, so it’s self-contained and easy to mount on the outside of a pack.
- The tent tends to be one of the largest items you’re carrying, and it takes up a lot of space inside the backpack.
- It’s highly likely that the tent is going to be packed away wet at some point, and sticking a soaking wet tent in a backpack full of dry gear is a dangerous game.
- The tent is the first thing you’ll need when you make camp at the end of each day, and the last thing you’ll pack away the following morning.
That’s not to say that you can’t carry the tent inside your bag if that’s what works best for you. Carrying the tent inside your pack will give you a more streamlined shape than attaching it on the outside, improving your stability and balance.
How to Attach a Tent to a Backpack
Most packs have straps or attachment points that allow you mount a tent on the outside. The important thing is to make sure it’s absolutely secure. You won’t always notice if a lightweight tent drops off your back when you’re toiling uphill, and it’s one of the world’s worst feelings when you take your pack off and realize that your shelter for the night ahead is lying on the trail several miles behind you.
Thread any straps through the ones on the outside of the tent bag, and make sure they’re good and tight. Since most tent bags close with a drawstring, it’s also a good idea to put a small karabiner on the end and clip it to your bag somewhere. It’s a simple trick but it means you’re much less likely to lose your tent without noticing. You can also make a “tether” like this out of a short length of cord attached to one of the tent bag straps.
Apart from that, there’s the question of whether to attach your tent to the top, bottom or sides of your backpack. There are pros and cons to all three, and the existing shape of your pack will also be a factor.
- Putting it on the top will protect the tent but make your pack taller and less stable, so it isn’t a good idea if you’re crossing difficult terrain. It can also interfere with a wide-brim hat if you wear one.
- Strapping your tent to the bottom of the pack is better for balance but you’re more likely to damage the tent, particularly when crossing obstacles or when you take your pack off and rest it on the ground. What’s more, in heavy rain, water has a habit of pooling in the bottom of a rucksack cover, so your tent might get wet.
- Carrying your tent on the side of your pack is a good compromise if you don’t mind the extra width, but you’ll need to balance it out with a similar amount of weight on the other side.
How to Pack a Wet Tent
The best way to pack a tent that’s wet is to avoid doing it if you can. If you get up in the morning and it’s just starting to rain, postpone your breakfast and get the tent down ASAP before it gets wet. Likewise, if you’ve had a stormy night and the sun comes out just as you’re thinking of striking camp, consider sticking around for an extra half hour to let the tent dry out a bit. Modern hike tents dry incredibly quickly, and a short delay is usually better than the extra weight and other complications of a wet tent.
If you do have to pack a tent that’s wet, the unfortunate truth is that however dry the inside might be when you pack it up, the whole thing will almost certainly be wet through by the time it has marinaded in the tent bag all day. There is no magic way to fold it so that the dry bits stay dry. It’s usually better to attach a wet tent on the outside of your rucksack, but if you do carry it inside the bag then you’ll want to put it right at the bottom of your backpack (far away from your sleeping bag!) and make sure everything around it is protected by dry-bags.
When you come to put the tent up again, you ideally want to try and get it as dry as possible before you put anything in it. Mop it out with a microfiber towel then leave it open if you can for the breeze to help dry it. The worst-case scenario is that you put the tent away wet in the morning and it’s still raining by evening. In these circumstances, it’ll be difficult to get it dry and you need to be tactical about how you manage your kit inside the tent – especially down sleeping bags which don’t mix well with water.
The most important thing about packing away a wet tent is that it needs drying out properly when you get home. Store it for long periods wet and you’ll destroy it.
How to pack a tent in a backpack?
There are many “right” ways to pack your tent in a backpack but do not pack your tent in the middle of your backpack. Your tent is typically the first thing you unpack at the end of the day and the last thing you pack at the start of the day. So make sure it is accessible!
Where do you put a tent on a backpack?
You can put your tent on top of your backpack, on the bottom of your backpack or on the side of your backpack. Each option has pros and cons. If you have an appropriate counterbalance, putting it on the side of your backpack is often the best option.
What do you do with a wet tent when backpacking?
If you have a wet tent when backpacking try to delay striking camp to let it dry out (modern tents dry remarkably quickly). If you absolutely have to pack your tent while it’s wet, try to strap it to the outside of your backpack. And if you really have to pack it inside your backpack, make sure to keep it away from your sleeping bag and surround it completely with dry bags.