Cutting Weight: Choosing a Shelter

The other huge component of a person’s base weight is their sleep system which includes their shelter, sleeping pad (if needed) and sleeping bag or blanket. Generally, you want to keep this base weight around 5 lbs., but when you’re starting out, it may be a little higher depending on the the gear that you start out with.

When I was a teenager, I was in Boy Scouts and regularly we would go on backpacking trips. When I was one of the older boys, I decided it would be cool to bring an 8-man tent, so my base weight with everything else was 50 lbs. for 8 miles in and out. I don’t suggest this because it really is hard to carry that much weight for a long time.

There are a lot of different options for shelters: your standard tent, hammock, bivy sack or ultralight rain fly. Choosing one of these is all based on your comfort, the circumstances of where your are staying and how much weight you will want to carry. Tents provide more protection, but are also generally bulkier and sometimes heavier. Hammocks require trees and can either be the lightest or the heaviest, but you trade weight for more protection from the elements. Bivy Sack can be super light-weight while still protecting you, but they only give you a small space to work with. Ultralight rain flies can be the lightest, but they also take away some comforts.



Standard tents usually are what we think of when we go camping. Generally, you will want a smaller 2-man tent or maybe a 3-man tent. I picked up a tent from Wal-mart for $30 that has worked great or you could get one from or REI for more expensive choices. To start out with, you might want to go with the Wal-mart brand tent or borrow one from a friend.

As you get into the more pricey options, choosing the right tent to use will be greatly based on the conditions of your trip. Different tents have different features that could be useful. Check the weather conditions: yearly rainfall, chance of rain during the trip, humidity, temperatures, and chances of snow or ice. Some tents have larger rain flies that can create porches to cover your gear, others are more for summer camping. To use a tent, they do take more time to set them up than other shelters.



Hammocks are comfortable and can provide a lot of options for a trip. They also can be the lightest or heaviest. A small hammock alone would probably be the lightest option because the hammocks are made of a light-weight nylon fabric and potentially you will only need the hammock and a little bit of rope. For more comfort and protection, you can take accessories for your hammock like a rain fly, an under quilt, tree straps, larger or wider hammocks, sleeping pads and ground mats for your other gear to sit on. What you take is all based on your preference. Depending on your tree situation, it can be easy to set the hammock up or quite difficult and may include climbing trees.


Bivy Sacks:

To take a bivy sack, they¬† just require the actual bivy sack, a ground pad and the sleeping bag, so they generally are light and are easy to handle. I used one when I wasn’t carrying the 8-man tent as a Boy Scout because I enjoyed looking up at the stars as I was falling asleep. The two problems with them are they only provide a small space, so changing into new clothes is difficult as well as if you get claustrophobic that can be a problem. The other problem is that you are really sleeping out in the open and for some people that can be terrifying.


Ultralight Shelters:

Now as a disclaimer, I have never actually used one, but I have watched videos of gear reviews on them, so this is more to let you know that they are an option. The majority of ultralight shelters are used by thru-hikers and ultralight hikers, who’s base weight is under or around 10 lbs., so your normal hiker won’t use this. Basically, what it is, is a rainfly staked down on the corners and a trekking pole holding up the middle to make it into a teepee. Some shelters that I have seen also bring a trap to lay their gear on top of, but not always. Again, they are very light weight, lots of protection, but can be difficult to set up and loss of some comfort because you are sleeping on the ground.

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