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Single wall tents are for you if you like the idea of lightweight tents and multi-purpose gear.
You are probably thinking, “Well yeah carrying as little weight as possible is nice, and who wouldn’t want to utilize a piece of gear for multiple uses?”
This makes sense.
But it does not mean that it is always the best choice.
Saving a pound of weight doesn’t make sense when you set up in 80-degree weather with 80% humidity. The weight savings will be nice, but the damp sleeping bag and clothes you will wake up in will not be nice.
Therefore, it is important to know the benefits of different tent styles and when each is preferable.
What is a single wall tent?
Single wall tents have a single layer of material between the outdoors and the sleeping area of the tent.
Unlike a double wall tent that has two distinct parts, (inner tent and rain fly) single wall tents consolidate those pieces into one.
This consolidation makes single wall tents lighter and more packable. Meaning that they may be more advantageous if you are a backpacker looking for a lower base weight.
Other than that, the parts of a tent remain the same (for the most part) between the two styles of tents.
This makes it sound like single wall tents are just better than double wall tents, so what is the catch?
The catch is that single wall tents are more prone to condensation build up as a result of decreased ventilation. Since there is just one layer, it has to serve as rain protection and be breathable. A very difficult thing to ask out of a material.
Additionally, most single wall tents are non-freestanding. This means that you will need trekking poles or manufactured poles to pitch the tent. They do not use tent poles to provide structure and stability.
This could be a plus for you if you normally use trekking poles when you backpack. You can utilize them for multiple purposes.
Advantages of a single wall tent
Takes up less room in your pack
Compared to double wall tents, single walls are usually lighter. You can find some double wall tents that are incredibly lightweight, but the lightest tents that you will find are single wall.
This makes them popular among ultralight backpackers and backpackers who prioritize weight savings. Using a single layer of material for the tent walls and utilizing trekking poles instead of tent poles allow for a single wall tent to save weight.
Setting up a single wall tent can be difficult/confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is quite easy. Even if you have a tough time with the first few attempts, it is still simple. The difficulty comes in getting the pitch and tension right.
Essentially all you do to set up is lay the tent out, use the trekking poles to prop it up, and then stake it out. Once it is staked out, you can tighten down the corners/guy lines to ensure the tent is taut.
Along with the weight savings, a single wall tent takes up less space in your pack. Oftentimes, I like to store a single wall tent on the outside of my pack in the front mesh pocket. This opens up more space on the inside of your backpack; it is especially beneficial if you are carrying a bear canister or other bulky item.
Disadvantages of a single wall tent
Ventilation isn’t as good as double wall tents
Unlike double wall tents, single walled ones cannot incorporate a ton of mesh into their construction to increase ventilation. Usually, just the doors of the tent are mesh.
This means that when there is a nice breeze blowing, you have to set up the tent with the doors into the wind. (and hope that the wind direction does not shift)
You also have to rely on a breeze (and a properly pitched tent) to have a chance at reducing condensation. With a double wall tent, most of the condensation collects on the rain fly, leaving the inner tent mostly dry.
Without an outer layer, condensation builds up on the inside of the tent. Leaving you with a damp sleeping bag, an unpleasant thing to wake up to.
Being freestanding or not can be viewed as an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your preferences.
Non-freestanding tents have the benefit of being lighter and needing less gear to set up. With the drawback being that it can be more difficult to set up at first.
Freestanding tents can also be moved easier since they do not need to be staked out to maintain their shape. Meaning that you can use the tent poles to give it shape, and stake it out only when you have the ideal location to do so.
Non-freestanding tents (most single walled tents) have to be staked out for them to take shape. This means that if you want to move your tent (away from a water puddle, for example) you have to unstake it and start the pitch all over.
Making site selection an important skill for single wall tent users.
Is a single wall tent right for you?
Deciding whether a single wall tent is right for you comes down to what you prioritize when backpacking.
If you are someone who likes to save as much weight as possible, they may be the right choice for you.
If you like having better ventilation or prefer freestanding tents, a double wall tent is going to be the better choice.
If you are on the fence between the two, also consider the conditions that you usually backpack in.
If you backpack a lot in cool, dry conditions, condensation and ventilation are not as big of a concern. This minimizes the disadvantages of a single wall tent.
Conversely, if you often backpack in hot, humid weather, it is going to be incredibly difficult to avoid condensation in a single wall tent.
I recommend newer backpackers start with a double wall tent. The disadvantages of a double wall tent are less problematic than those of a single wall version.
Are single wall tents different than double wall tents?
Yes, the two tents are different.
The biggest difference comes in the construction of the tent.
Double walled tents have two distinct layers of material, with an air gap between the two layers. It is this air gap that gives double wall tents superior ventilation.
Single walled tents rely on only one layer of material. Some single wall tents feature mesh doors, which encourage air flow through the tent. It just does not reduce condensation as well as double wall tents.
Another difference between the two is that most double wall tents are free standing, while single walls tend to be non-freestanding.
This has to do with how each tent maintains its shape and structure. A single wall tent generally holds its shape because of tension. Whereas, double wall tents rely on tent poles.
A single wall tent is one that has just one layer of material between the interior space and the outside. This layer serves as both the rainfly and the inner tent.
A single wall tent is not the ideal choice for camping because they offer lower ventilation than a double wall tent, and is often not as roomy.
Single wall tents are a great choice for backpacking because of their low weight, high packability, and simple set-up process.
To pitch a single wall tent, you just need to follow these simple steps.
Lay the tent out, with the bottom of the floor on the ground
Place trekking poles (or other poles) into the cup/grommet
Stake out corners and guy lines
Tighten down the lines til the tent is taut
Single wall tents do not have a separate rainfly, but still offer good protection from the rain. They are more prone to condensation in humid conditions though. (like after it rains)
For you, the single wall tent pros may not outweigh the cons. Meaning that a double walled tent is the right choice for you.
This is why there are multiple tent options on the market. The right tent choice for thru hikers is different that the choice for someone who only ever does a car camping trip.
The best tent for you is one that aligns with the type of trips you do and your priorities.
If you’re the hiker who uses trekking poles and puts an emphasis on pack weight and lightweight gear, a single wall tent is right up your alley.
Whichever tent style you determine to be best for you, get familiar with its setup and get out there and explore!