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The Best Tents and Tarps for Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

There are a couple tent options that rise above the rest for thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. Here are some hiker favorites:

Tents

The Zpacks Duplex Ultralight Two Person Tent is a long-time favorite on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s freakishly light as well as waterproof, though it is not freestanding: you’ll use your trekking poles as tent poles. It weighs 19.4oz, and requires 8 tent stakes and some practice to set up.

Gossamer Gear’s The One Tent is another popular option on the Pacific Crest Trail. Like the Zpacks Duplex, it requires trekking poles to set up, and weighs 20.6oz. It also comes in a 2-person size, which weighs 28.3oz.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Tent is another good option for a single-person tent (also available in 2-person, 3-person, and 4-person sizes). It’s freestanding, quick to set up, and has both a roomy vestibule for your pack and a large easy-access door. The 1-person size weighs 34oz.

The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 is a great 2-person tent that’s made for sharing. It has two doors and two vestibules, making it easy for two people to use. It’s freestanding and is 8 ounces lighter than the similar 2-person Cooper Spur. It also comes in a 1-person and 3-person size.

Related Gear

The Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth is an extremely lightweight footprint (3.6oz) that will fit most tents. Though most hikers find that it lasts multiple thru-hikes, it’s a good idea to bring some duct tape with you just in case this or another piece of gear needs an occasional patch job.

Choose the Right Shelter for You

When choosing the right shelter for your Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, your main concerns are choosing a shelter system that will:

  • Keep you dry in wet weather
  • Provide enough space so your sleeping bag doesn’t touch the walls
  • Protect you from miserable swarms of mosquitos

Many hikers only use their shelters when the weather forces them to – opting to sleep under the stars the rest of the time. How you plan to use your shelter will be the key factor in deciding what kind of shelter to take with you on your hike.

Tents vs Tarps

The two most common types of shelters are tarps and tents. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. Which one is better for you depends upon your hiking and camping style. Tents are fully enclosed and give you lots of bug-free space. They can be set up without having to think too much about which way the wind is blowing and they provide a better sense of privacy than most tarps would. Tents – being fully enclosed – can also provide a sense of home or safety when you zip up the door at night. Though tents are heavier than tarps, many hikers consider the heavier weight to be worth the benefits and comforts of tent camping. This is especially true of hikers who sleep in their shelter most nights.

Tarps are very simple and incredibly light weight. Inexpensive tarps may cost a third as much as inexpensive tents. They are not fully enclosed, so they have excellent ventilation. The same tarp can be set up in a dozen different ways to meet whatever challenges thru-hikers will encounter. Tarp camping requires more thought on behalf of the hiker. Tarps walls should be pitched facing the wind, with the edges closer to the ground in higher winds, for example.

Since tarps are not fully enclosed, tarp campers need to be more innovative when the clouds of mosquitoes show up. Some tarp campers will set up a ‘tent’ of bug netting beneath their tarp. Other tarp-campers might just sleep with a hat and a some bug netting draped over their face – the rest of their body being protected by their sleeping bag. Hikers who use their shelter only when the weather forces them to may prefer a tarp over a tent since – for them – the extra weight of a tent in their pack isn’t worth the occasional comfort they’d get from it.

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