When going on a bicycle tour or bikepacking trip, you’re going to need a tent! With hundreds of choices, the question often comes up, what is the best tent for bicycle touring? When choosing a tent for your bike trip it is important to consider both the activity you are doing and the location of the trip itself. No matter you budget, you’ll be able to find a tent that suits you and your route. We’ve broken it down into a few important categories that you should consider.
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The most important aspect of any tent is to keep the weather out. In most cases that means a tent with a rain fly and sealed seams. When purchasing a tent, always make sure the seams have been sealed, or do so yourself. If the seams are not sealed, water can make its way in during a heavy storm and ruin your night.
The less obvious water related concern is condensation. At night, you release water vapor into the air when you exhale. This vapor can condense on the sidewalls of the tent and get you and your gear wet. To avoid condensation look for a tent with lots of ventilation options. Double wall tents are also said to have fewer condensation issues than single wall tents. Double wall tents are tents that have two separate layers; the main tent and a rain fly. Condensation will be more likely to form on the rain fly, giving you some separation from the moisture.
The final weather consideration is the temperature. Unless you are camping in the dead of winter, we generally recommend a three season tent. These tents are versatile, can be used most of the year, and won’t leave you too hot or too cold. We have personally used our 3-season tent in conditions from light snows at 30 degrees Fahrenheit to the height of summer at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Our tent is well ventilated to handle the warmer temperatures, and can be battened down to hold in the warmth on cold nights.
When bicycle touring weight is always a factor. Every extra ounce in your kit is something you have to carry up every hill. For that reason, most bike packers try to keep their tent under 3-4 lbs. Some will even carry very lightweight tents that come in under 1 lb! Usually there are some tradeoffs with a lighter weight tent.
Lighter tents may be made of more expensive materials such as “cuben fiber” and cost as much as $1,000 dollars. For most bike trips this is overkill. On the other hand, a cheap tent may not be designed as well and let water in, be very heavy, or have durability issues. The lightest weight tents are also sometimes fragile. Companies make zippers and other parts smaller which can lead to breaking issues. Picking a tent in the middle of the weight range can be a safe place to get good quality for your money.
Tents come in different sizes. Most backpacking tents will be labeled as 1-person, 2-person, or 3-person tents. Because they are lightweight, most backpacking tents tend to run a bit small. We recommend choosing 1 size up from the number of people you have. While we have (barely) fit myself, my wife, and our 70 lb dog in a 2-perosn tent, it was not a very enjoyable night. That is why we prefer our roomy 3-person tent for our 2 person bikepacking trips. It gives you a little space to stretch out and play cards on those rainy days where you are hiding in your tent. We can also bring items into the tent that need to be kept very dry without sacrificing comfort.
There are a few other features to consider with your tent that many people often overlook:
- Pockets – Take a look at what pockets are sewn into the interior of your tent. My favorite tent has a handy place for my phone with a headphone access port so i can listen to a podcast with my phone secured. It also has pockets where I can easily stash my glasses and other items.
- Fast Pitch Fly – Some tents allow you to pitch your rain fly directly onto a ground cloth. This means that in the rain you can quickly create a waterproof shelter without getting the rest of the tent wet. In places like Scotland and the Pacific Northwest, this quickly became our favorite feature.
- Clips – Some tents have a clip on the ceiling to hang a light, something to dry, or whatever else needs to be hung. Others have clips that allow you to hold open the fly “doors” and allow a breeze to come through. Check out what clips and other little extras your tent has for some added convenience.
This is by no means a recommendation based on exhaustive testing of hundreds of tents. Rather, these are tents that we have used and loved in our various adventures. They worked well for us and we hope they will work well for you!
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2: One of the most popular tents among backpackers and through-hikers, the copper spur is a relatively lightweight (3 lbs) two person, 3-season tent. The fast pitch setup keeps you dry and is easy to use. At $500 its a bit pricey, but you can often get up to 20% on an REI sale.
REI Half Dome 2 Plus: A more entry level tent for bike touring. The half dome can handle most weather conditions and is a bit on the larger size for a 2-person tent. It does come in a bit heavy at close to 5 lbs but won’t brake the bank at about $230.
Tarptent Protrail: This one person, single walled tent is great for someone looking to keep price and weight to a minimum. At only 1.5 lbs the Protrail is one of the lightest tents we have ever used, and at $240 also one of the most moderately expensive. It is a bit cramped and can suffer from condensation issues.
Nemo Dragonfly 3: The Nemo Dragonfly 3 is another solid and popular tent among bikepackers. at about $530 and 4 lbs it is a good example of another mid tier+ lightweight tent.