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Does the idea of waking up in cold, damp bedsheets interest you?
How about making yourself a hot cup of herbal tea, on a winter afternoon, and snuggling up in a wet blanket?
If either (or likely both) of those sound repulsive, then a double wall tent may be the tent choice for you.
Sure, anything to avoid the oddly unsettling idea of a wet blanket.
But what is a double walled tent? Are there any downsides? And (most importantly) how does it stop me from waking up wet and cold while camping?
What is a double wall tent?
Simply put, a double wall tent is a tent that has two layers of material between the sleeping area and the outside world.
Generally, this consists of the inner tent and the rainfly.
The inner tent is usually made of mesh and solid material. The upper part of the tent is mesh, while the walls (or sometimes just the lower walls) are made of a more durable material.
The rainfly is made of a more durable, waterproof material that protects the tent (and you) from the outside elements.
This all sounds pretty basic, so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the double wall construction of a tent is what gives it superior ventilation and reduces condensation build-up. The gap between the inner tent and the rainfly (combined with the mesh) promotes air flow. Air flow pushes any condensation out of your inner tent, onto the rain fly, where it drips down outside.
A single wall tent has just one layer, so the condensation builds up on the inside of your tent. With this, you run the risk of your gear (including your sleeping bag) getting damp.
Additionally, most double wall tents are freestanding tents. (or at least semi-freestanding)
This is because the inner tent is set up with tent poles that provide its shape and structure. Meaning you do not necessarily have to stake it out for it to hold in place. (though you definitely still want to)
Advantages of a double wall tent
Rarely gets interior condensation
Almost always freestanding (easier to set up)
The biggest advantage of double wall tents (compared to single wall tents) is the ventilation and reduced condensation.
It may not seem like a big deal, but waking up to a sleeping bag that is damp, is a real mood killer. Not only is it unpleasant (and difficult) to get back to sleep with a wet sleeping bag, but it also means you have to take time to dry it out the next day. Though, this is one reason I love large front mesh pockets on backpacks; it allows any wet/damp gear to get some sun and air while you are hiking.
This is also important if you store electronics inside your tent. Most tents have gear pockets or gear lofts that a lot of backpackers use to store things like their phone, headlamp, or other electronics. Getting condensation on those runs the risk of damaging them. (or even making them unusable)
Not the kind of thing you want to have happen when you are on your 2nd day of a weeklong trip.
Almost all double wall tents are freestanding, meaning they use tent poles to hold them and provide their structure. These are more popular among backpackers (for now) because they are easier to set up. Plus, there are just a lot more of them.
Disadvantages of a double wall tent
More pieces of gear to set up
Since double wall tents have, you know, two layers, they are almost always heavier than single wall tents. Additionally, they are bulkier and take up more space in your backpack. This is a big reason why ultralight backpackers lean towards single walled tents.
There are some fairly lightweight double walled tents, but on average, they are on the heavier side.
Depending on your preferences, the extra weight may or may not be a deal breaker. I recommend people decide which they prefer to prioritize: weight or comfort.
It is not as if single wall tents are significantly less comfortable than double wall tents. Rather, it is much easier to find a large, feature-rich double wall tent than it is to find a single wall version.
The other (somewhat related) downside is that double wall tents have more pieces of gear required to set them up.
They have a separate rainfly and tent poles, that a single wall tent does not have. Single wall tents, being non-freestanding, use trekking poles to set them up. This also you to utilize a piece of gear for multiple purposes. Also, the single layer serves as the waterproof rainfly.
A single wall tent means just bringing the tent and some stakes. No tent poles and no rain fly. Simplicity at its finest.
How to know if a double wall tent is right for you
When I have recommended either style of tent, it usually comes down to the users’ usage and priorities.
For example, if the only time you use a tent is when you’re car camping, a double wall tent is the obvious choice. You get all the benefits of a double wall tent without being hindered by the extra weight.
Likewise, if you do a lot of backpacking and love having a low baseweight, a single wall tent would be my recommendation.
How does a double wall tent compare to a single wall tent?
The basic parts of a tent stay the same when comparing the two types of tents. The big difference comes in the two layers of a double wall tent. The absence of the rainfly (or inner tent, depending on how you look at it) is what differentiates a single wall tent.
When properly pitched, it is this gap between the layers that prevents moisture build up on the inner layer of the tent.
A double wall tent is a tent that has two separate layers of material between the sleeping area and the outside. This gap between the tent walls and the rainfly is what defines a double wall tent.
Double wall tents are the preferred choice for camping because of their increased ventilation and condensation reduction.
If you prefer peace of mind over weight savings, double wall tents are the choice for backpacking. Some backpackers and thru hikers prioritize carrying as little weight as possible, making single wall tents popular among them.
Setting up a double wall tent is rather quite simple, because they are almost always freestanding.
Lay down your groundsheet, if applicable
Lay the inner tent on top of the groundsheet
Insert tent poles into grommets on the corners
Clip the tent pole clips to the tent poles
Place the rainfly over top of the inner tent (making sure the door(s) of the rainfly line up with the door(s) on the inner tent
Secure the rainfly to each corner of the tent, (usually a buckle system) and ensure it is taut and that there is a noticeable gap between the two layers
Stake the corners of the tent out (make sure the tent is taut when staked down)
Generally speaking, double wall tents are warmer than single wall tents. Though, they usually come with air vents to promote circulation during warmer months.
Knowing the difference between single wall tents and double wall tents doesn’t originally sound like a big deal. (I mean it’s literally just one layer of material different)
But, that extra layer of material may be the difference between you having an amazing camping experience and you waking up to a cold, wet hug from your sleeping bag.
Selecting the right piece of gear for your trip goes a long way to making that trip an unforgettable one and an experience that you would pay, a rather hefty sum, to forget.
If a double wall tent is the right one for you, grab one and get out there to start adventuring!