Why Freestanding Tents Are Great For The Modern Backpacker

one person backpacking tent, lightest backpacking tent, ultralight camping gear, best lightweight
  • The biggest advantage to a freestanding tent is the ease of setup.
  • Freestanding tents can be built to hold up to 8 or 9 people.

In this article, we discuss the benefits of freestanding tents, how they compare to non-freestanding tents, and offer some comparisons on the best freestanding and non-freestanding tents available for purchase.

Click Here To Reveal The Best 1 Person Tents of the Year

The beauty and the curse of backpacking is the selection of lightweight tents available.

Do you want a 1 person tent, 2 person ultralight backpacking tent, double or single wall, vestibule or no..

One of the most important parts to consider is whether you want to go freestanding or non-freestanding.

Both types have their advantage.

In this article, discuss the differences between freestanding and non-freestanding tents along with why a freestanding tent might be the best lightweight tent for your next adventure!

Freestanding vs Non-Freestanding

Freestanding tents are a testament to the modern advancements of camping tents.

Most freestanding tents include a pre-built frame that easily snaps together and includes hooks or some kind of snapping technology that attaches the tent material to the frame.

Non-Freestanding tents are more of the old-school thought in tent setup that usually includes propping up trekking poles, hanging the tent material over the poles and staking into the ground.

Freestanding Tents

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent,...
The MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person Lightweight Backpacking Tent includes a mesh roof for air circulation and a ventilated rainfly that also makes 2 vestibules for extra storage.

The biggest advantage to a freestanding tent is the ease of setup.

These tents have come a long way over the years and are really the most backpacker friendly option for a lightweight tent.

The poles are usually easy to bend and durable enough not to break so you can get rough with them which is nice after a long day of hiking and your coordination and patience may be a bit thin.

Even if you’re new to backpacking setting up a freestanding tent does not pose much of a challenge.

These tents are also much easier to move since you don’t have to stake them down.

If you find you’ve setup in a less-than-ideal location, you can simply move the tent, fully setup, to another location. Most one person and 2 person tents can be moved by one person.

Most of the time they are double walled since they come with the initial shell and a rainfly.

This option of rainfly or no rainfly is really nice to have, especially if the weather is nice and your tent comes with a lot of mesh in the shell.

The downside of most freestanding tents is that they tend to be heavier because of the frame and double wall material.

These add some extra weight to your pack.  Not enough to completely weigh you down, but enough to notice the difference.

Also, not staking the tent can leave it more susceptible to damage from bad weather.

Non-Freestanding Tents

Sierra Designs High Side 1 Footprint
The Sierra Designs High Route 3-Season Tent includes a tight catenary cut ridgeline and pole-reinforced vertical doors that make it suitable for harsh 3-season and moderate winter weather.

Non-Freestanding tents are perfect for the more experienced camper who doesn’t mind the extra work involved in more traditional tent pitching.

These tents are typically setup with trekking poles and stakes.

Although this can be a challenge to newer backpackers, once you’ve done it a few times it gets to be easy and can actually be done faster than setting up a freestanding tent.

You can save some weight and space with non-freestanding tents since you only need trekking poles, stakes and a single wall constructed tent.

However, single wall tents don’t have the option of removing the extra waterproof materials so they can get hotter and muggier inside and trekking poles can break easily.

Single Wall vs Double Wall Tent

While the idea of shedding as much weight as possible is what us lightweight backpackers live for, I tend to the draw the line at my tent wall construction.

A lot of ultralight, hardcore backpackers may disagree, but I really like the option to remove or attach a separate rainfly.

If the weather is nice, I want to have the fly off to let the fresh outdoor air circulate through the mesh of the tent shell.

Winterial Single Person Personal Bivy Tent, Lightweight 2...
Winterial Personal Bivy Tent has such a high hoop that it is often considered a one person tent. Either way, it offers the most breathing room of any bivy we tested.

If the rain comes, most rainfly’s aren’t rocket science and can be put on very quickly.

Not to mention the vestibules that many fly’s form, give extra storage space and weather protection.

While the single wall is more traditional and saves space and weight, if the weather is hot and it gets muggy, especially after some rain, it can be hellish inside a single walled tent.

More Variety

While non-freestanding tents tend to be mostly smaller, 1 person tents, freestanding tents can be built big enough to fit a lot of people.

Freestanding tents can be built to hold up to 8 or 9 people.

These are tents that can fit families, scout troops, or just couples that want some extra space.

Click Here To Reveal The Best Multiroom Tents of the Year
Coleman Prairie Breeze Lighted Cabin Tent, 9-Person
The Coleman Prairie Breeze 9-Person Cabin Tent comes with a fan, light, and battery pack

Easy To Assemble

In many cases, as you get older, you get lazier.

Especially when you realize there’s no award to be won by working harder to setup your tent.

At the end of a long day of hiking, or biking, or climbing why put yourself through the frustration of pitching a tent when engineers at companies like MSR, Coleman, and ALPS have designed tents that do the hard work for you.

ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1-Person Tent, Clay/Rust (5024617)
The ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1-Person Tent includes a freestanding, lightweight aluminum 2-pole infrastructure which makes setting up easy for even beginning backpackers.

The poles, whether they’re fiberglass or aluminum, are usually user-friendly and don’t require much effort to snap into place.

Freestanding tents can be setup almost anywhere, as oppose to non-freestanding tents that need smooth level surfaces and require a bit of geometry.

This is probably why these tents are so popular with the motorcycle camping crowd.

Beware Wind

One of the downsides to freestanding tents is that since you don’t have to stake the tent to actually stay in it, it becomes vulnerable to wind.

If the wind is especially heavy it can snap a pole or tear the outer shell since they tend to stretch to their max length in setting up.

A good reminder is to make sure you always remember to stake the tent down.  This will help avoid any unwanted accidents.


Although we prefer freestanding tents to non-freestanding tents, in the end, it comes down to personal preference.

Freestanding tent frames are very convenient, but they do have their flaws and can add some weight.

Not to mention, more experienced campers tend to prefer non-freestanding tents due to their lighter weight and more traditional setup.

However, if you’re new to camping and the thought of setting up a tent gives you anxiety, rest assured that freestanding tents are built specifically for you and are very user-friendly to setup.

Last update on 2020-07-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Erik grew up as a desert rat in Arizona. After exploring the backcountry of the west coast he came east for a job but still finds time to explore the beauty of the northeast.