When this is about carrying a tent when hiking, there are best practices but this also depends on circumstances. In this text you can learn what the best way is, and also see a variety of possible options dependent on situation.
Ideally, a tent should be carried close to the body and directly above the center of gravity of your body. But in principle, you can carry it in the following ways:
- In the main compartment.
- In the bottom compartment.
- On the top of a pack under the lid.
- Attached at several places on the pack.
Terminology – this is not only about hiking
I have seen this question from the main title above asked on Quora. There was somebody who was lecturing the person who asked by saying that you do not carry a tent for hiking but for backpacking.
This statement makes no much sense. But it is always good to know terminology and this is discussed in my text about trekking and hiking differences and also in the text about difference between hiking and mountaineering.
Hiking may imply an overnight or weekend tour. But even if this is not so, the question is simply about carrying a tent in a backpack, no matter which activity this is about.
I have even see a question ‘How do you carry a tent for camping?’ So if you want to be really strict in terminology, in this case the answer is – you do not. Camping tents are to be used close to the car or to any other means of transportation which you used.
But it was obvious what the person was asking, and there is no need to insist on unimportant details. Quite generally, this is about carrying the tent on your back in the pack, or attached to the pack.
Can a tent fit in a backpack?
This will depend on what you use. In my case, the pictures that you will see below clearly show that it can.
But before I continue to stress that, if you carry a tent, then this most likely implies that you also carry the two other bulky items from the big three:
- A sleeping bag, which is usually the bulkiest item in the pack.
- A sleeping pad.
So for such three items you have to use an appropriate size backpack. How big? I would say think at least about a 50 liters pack or so.
Such packs usually have a separate bottom sleeping bag compartment, plus compression straps on the bottom where you may attach you sleeping pad. If this is not possible, you can put the pad under the top lid and this will keep it in place.
This all depends on how bulky your ‘big three’ items are. If you invest a lot, you can buy compact stuff. On the other hand, if this is about a cold weather camping, the pad and the bag will probably be bulky in any case.
But if you are on a budget, this can look like in the picture below from one of my earlier tours in the Austrian Alps.
In the pictures below I shall be showing my another pack just to give you a feeling of how the tent fits in it.
So, how do I carry a tent and a sleeping bag when hiking?
First about the sleeping bag. You will put it in the bottom compartment, this is its ideal place. If the pack is without it, then the sleeping bag will go on the bottom of the backpack. This because it is bulky but relatively light, so keep place for heavier items to some other areas of the pack.
When you put in place these three large items, then you can start filling the remaining backpack space with your smaller items.
In the pictures below, for demonstration, I use my Deuter Futura Vario 50+10 pack. As for the tent, I use my old Ferrino solo tent. It is of a moderate packed size. From the pictures you will get an idea of how this all works, and what is possible and what not.
1. The tent itself can be stored in the backpack. By this I mean in the main compartment. If the pack is wide enough, it can be placed horizontally. You can see in the picture below how it fits horizontally in my Deuter Futura pack.
2. But you can store it also vertically in the main compartment, the picture below shows how it fits in the pack together with my self-inflating sleeping pad:
3. You can keep the tent also on the top of the backpack and fix it with the lid. Some packs also have a top strap that goes under the lid, so use it if you can to compress the tent and pack together.
4. If you have to, you can carry the tent also in the bottom compartment. This may not be optimal but it works. In this case you have to find another option for your sleeping bag. The picture below shows that it fits in this 50-liters pack, and I can still add a few light items there:
5, 6, 7. A good backpack will have plenty of attachment options on the sides, on the bottom, on the front. So you can attach the tent at any of these places. This would make 7 places in total where you can put your tent.
The picture below shows my case on the side. The blue side compression straps are long enough to fix the tent in place. But it is not optimal because the tent package is short to be compressed with both straps, they are separated too much for this particular tent.
But I can easily attach it on the bottom as well. This pack has dual straps that go over the bottom compartment.
So as you see, in this particular pack and tent, I have at least 6 options to carry the tent. Note also that you can always split the pieces of the tent, and keep them in separate places in the pack and on the pack.
8. If this is about a larger tent and about 2 or more users, you can split its elements among you.
A few more tips for carrying a tent in a pack
- If the tent goes vertically in any place in/on the pack, make sure that you have a balanced weight distribution. So if it is attached on the side, it would be good to attach something of the similar weight on the opposite side.
- The largest backpacking packs may have side mesh pockets large enough so that you might be able to put the tent there and fix it in place with one or both compression straps.
- The tent (and any other heavy item) should be closer to your body. This is for better balance and stability. This is why a water bladder is in its inner compartment directly behind the back panel; the water is the heaviest stuff in the pack.
- Ideally, it should be directly above the center of gravity of your body. This is somewhere in the lumbar zone. Again, the same holds for any heavy piece, think about the mentioned water. This is both for stability and balance.
- If you keep it under the lid, this is not the best option for such a relatively heavy item. But if you have to do this, then this is not for discussion.
Should I stuff or roll my tent?
When we buy a tent, it may be useful to pay attention on how it was packed. There is no doubt they did it in the best possible way. So if you are able to remember and repeat, you will have fewer problems later when it is time to pack a tent after use.
But indeed, sometimes we are simply lazy. I have a 4-person tent right now that is in its carry bag just stuffed in no particular order.
So I hope I have properly answered the question of how to carry a tent when hiking. But this is not only about hiking, the principles described here apply to any outdoor activity where you carry a tent.
I have presented some examples with pictures so you can compare with what you have at your side and you will know what is possible and what not.
Let me know if you have questions, there is a comment box below.