Today, I’m going to talk about how to pack a tent in a backpack.
Of course, you could just stuff your tent in willy-nilly, but taking care to properly pack your backpack helps ensure a more enjoyable backpacking trip.
Not only does a properly packed tent prevent damage to the tent, but it also better distributes the weight (since your tent is likely one of your heaviest pieces of backpacking gear) to protect your back from undue strain and make the hike to your next campsite more comfortable.
Here’s exactly how to pack a tent in a backpack for your next backpacking trip.
Don’t forget to check out our backpacking checklist for more packing tips!
Here’s How to Pack a Tent in a Backpack
First, let’s discuss how to pack a tent in the inside of your backpack.
Pack in a Stuff Sack
A stuff sack can seriously help compress your tent to give you more space inside of your backpack. A waterproof model is essential, especially if you live somewhere rainy like me. Just remember to never store your tent in a stuff sack – always leave it loose in storage.
In the Middle, Against Your Back
The best place to pack a tent in a backpack is in the middle against your back. For most hikers, this is the most comfortable place to carry heavy items and helps balance your weight. I personally pack the tent body and rainfly inside my backpack but lash the tent poles to the exterior of my backpack.
Consider Packing Loose
Ultralight backpackers should forgo a stuff sack altogether. Packing your tent loose in your backpack helps shed a tiny bit of weight. It also allows you to squish your tent amongst other items. If you go this route, I recommend lashing your tent poles to the outside of your pack. The downside to this method is the small chance your tent could get damaged inside your backpack.
Split Components with Partner
My number one backpacking tip for traveling with a partner is to split your tent components between the two of you. So, one of you will carry the tent body and rainfly while the other carries the poles. Of course, this only works if you’re planning to sleep in the same tent.
Packing a Wet Tent
Unfortunately, you just have to pack a wet tent in a backpack sometimes. If at all possible, dry the tent out as much as possible before packing. Even just shaking it out or letting it dry for a few minutes helps a lot. If packing a wet tent is inevitable, make absolutely certain that the tent fully dries out before storing it at home (you should always do this anyways).
Can You Attach a Tent to the Outside of a Backpack?
It’s possible to attach a tent to the outside of your backpack rather than pack it inside.
This helps free up a lot of interior space to stash other gear in your backpack.
However, I personally tend to avoid this method. I just don’t want to risk tearing or ripping my tent if it gets snagged on debris during my hike.
With that said, it can be a good idea to stash the tent poles on the outside of your pack. These won’t get damaged and are often awkward to store inside of your pack.
Splitting the tent poles and the tent body/rainfly also makes it easier to pack the rest of the tent inside of your backpack.
If you do decide to pack the entire tent on the exterior of your backpack, then you’ll want to experiment with placement to see what works best for you.
Many backpackers recommend attaching a tent to the bottom of the outside of a backpack (like you would do with a closed-cell foam sleeping pad), but others find it more comfortable to lash it to the top of the backpack near the lid opening.
Some backpackers even attach their tent vertically to the middle of the outside of their backpack. Some backpacking backpacks come with straps to accommodate this technique.
Whatever method you choose, a waterproof stuff sack or storage sack is a must, unless you absolutely know the weather will be dry.
My Favorite Backpacking Tents in 2021
Knowing how to correctly pack a tent in a backpack only goes so far.
It’s just as important that you bring the right tent, ideally one specifically designed for backpacking.
Simply put, a backpacking tent is much lighter and packs down much smaller than your standard camping tent.
If you try to bring a normal camping tent on a backpacking trip, you’ll most likely discover that it takes up way too much space in your pack (and seriously weighs you down to boot).
Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of the Snugpak Ionosphere.
This one-person tent is something of a combination of a backpacking tent and a bivy sack. It clocks in at just 3.4 pounds (including the stuff sack, poles, tent body, and rainfly) and packs down to about 19 x 6 inches.
Despite its small size and light weight, this Snugpak tent is remarkably spacious and incredibly durable.
Both of these two-person tents are designed for backpacking. They’re both lightweight and pack down very small. The full coverage rainflies are great for camping in the rain and offer ample vestibule space.
Although there are plenty of other options available, an MSR backpacking tent is a great choice if you’re backpacking with a partner (or just prefer the extra space on a solo backpacking trip).
How to Pack Other Camp Shelters in a Backpack
A tent is far from the only shelter you can take backpacking.
In fact, I’ve started to shift away from using a tent while backpacking on my own trips in favor of hammock camping.
The best backpacking hammocks are super lightweight (typically much lighter than a one-person backpacking tent). They also pack down super small since you don’t need to use poles to set them up.
Of course, you must make sure your destination is good for hammock camping – you’ll need sturdy, well-spaced trees to hang your hammock – but this is currently my favorite backpacking shelter for trips here in the Pacific Northwest.
The Hennessey Explorer Deluxe is currently my go-to hammock (it comes with a highly effective rainfly), but we list a ton of other great backpacking hammocks here.
And, don’t forget to check out our full packing list for hammock camping (with setup tips).
In addition to hammocks, some backpackers also opt for bivy sacks, tarp shelters, or just plain old cowboy camping out in the open as alternatives to tents.
Because most of these backpacking shelters are lighter and pack down smaller than tents, they’re typically even easier to pack into your backpack.
Other Tips for Packing a Backpacking Backpack
Packing a tent in your pack is just one step of packing your backpack for backpacking.
It’s just as important to efficiently pack the rest of your backpacking gear to make the best use of space, evenly distribute all of your gear, and ensure your essentials are easily accessible.
I like to break down my backpack into the following zones for easy packing:
- Bottom – This is where I pack all the gear I won’t need until I make camp. Think camp shoes, sleeping clothes, and inflatable sleeping pads. I also store my sleeping bag here, although some backpacks come with a bottom compartment specifically for sleeping bags.
- Middle – This is where I pack my heaviest items, including my tent. I usually store my entire tent here, but it’s common to store just the body/fly here and the poles on the exterior. I also keep my bear canister (with food inside) and backpacking stove in the middle of my pack.
- Top – My water filter, first-aid kit, rain jacket, and toilet kit (click here for tips on going to the bathroom while backpacking) go here. The top of your backpack is perfect for those things you’ll likely need on the trail during the day.
- Pockets – My phone and wallet go into the most secure pocket. I clip my keys onto a built-in key clip. I also keep my GPS/satellite communicator, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, and headlamp in the pockets. Lip balm, paper maps, a compass, and other small items can also go here. Of course, I always carry plenty of water (plus a few high-calorie snacks) where I can easily access them.
- Exterior – I typically lash my tent poles and closed-cell foam sleeping pad to the outside of my backpack. This is also a good place to stash hiking poles (when not in use) and a backpacking chair if you’re bringing one.
Of course, every backpacker has their own preferred method of packing their bag. With time, you’ll find what works best for you and what doesn’t. But the method above is a good starting point for beginners.
Want More Backpacking Advice?
Check out our full beginner’s guide to backpacking for even more tips on planning a backpacking trip.
And, like always, don’t hesitate to reach out with any additional questions in the comments below.
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Since 2015, Jake has been the technical heart behind our in-depth content. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, he’s the one you’ll find crafting extensive gear reviews and detailed camping guides. With a decade of outdoor writing under his belt, Jake brings the beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains and his beloved Cascade and Olympic ranges right to your screen.