Spanning across approximately 2,200 miles and 14 states, the Appalachian Trail is known the world over as one of the three prestigious US trails that form the Triple Crown of Hiking. This is for good reason, as braving the Appalachian Mountains will mean braving severe weather conditions, ticks and mosquitoes, and even the occasional snake or black bear. This is why you need the most suitable tent available if you’re going to take on the A.T.
Whether you’re planning a thru-hike or just walking part of it, you’ll want the best tent possible so that your experience in the wildlands isn’t spoiled by lack of product research on your part. Below we’ve reviewed five suitable tents for you and have even included a buyers’ guide and FAQ section so that you can learn what makes a good tent to brave the Appalachian Trail with, and which ones to avoid.
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Best Tents for Appalachian Trail - Comparison Table
Best Tents for Appalachian Trail - Reviews
It’s not often we have hard data to back up why we think this tent would be suitable for the Appalachian Trail, but long-distance hikers on the trail were polled in 2018 where 29%, a strong majority as the next closest figure was 18%, named Big Agnes as their favorite brand. Enter the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL one-person tent, a backpacking tent that has garnered some reputation for its outdoorsy, durable specs. It comes in a two-person variant too, but we haven’t recommended any specific version since it’s a preference and needs-based choice.
This tent is ultralight, weighing in at only 2lbs when packed up which makes it perfect for the long haul, literally. It’s also high volume thanks to its DAC Angle SF Hub pole architecture which increases space at no cost to the tent’s lightness. It’s made of silicon-treated nylon ripstop splashed with water-resistant polyurethane that’s rated a respectable 1200mm HH. This passes the waterproof threshold so that you should be able to deal with mountain rains, though physical pressure can harm the sensitive fabric of the tent so that’s something to watch out for.
Overall, it’s a well-reviewed lightweight tent that, whilst not cheap, isn’t as costly as others on the market and boasts the specs to tackle the Appalachian Trail.
The second tent we think would tackle the Appalachian Trail is the Kelty Salida Camping and Backpacking Tent, an affordable backpacking option. It’s made with 68D polyester walls, 68D nylon flooring and some 40D no-see-um mesh, and is rated to 1800mm Hydrostatic Head. The two-person option only weighs 3lbs but there’s as large as a four-person one which is 6lbs and still doesn’t break the bank.
It’s free standing and so easy to set up, and inside are storage pockets where your hiking equipment can get stored, which is especially important for thru hikers bringing amenities with them. If going with this option, you should be aware that water can get into the bottom of it in particularly wet conditions which, given the size of the A.T, can plague your hiking of the trail. To remedy this, you can use a footprint beneath the tent.
This is the option for you if you’re a hiker, or group of hikers, in search of a cheaper tent that doesn’t compromise quality for affordability.
Spacious and waterproof, the ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr 3-Person Tent is the third product on our list. This was because of its pricing, being slightly expensive for a three-person tent when similar products exist out there with more capacity and humbler asking prices. Nevertheless, we think the price paid is worth it due to the Hydrostatic Head ratings of 1500mm for the polyester fly and a shocking 3000mm for the polyester taffeta flooring.
Its breathable, UV-resistant polyester rainfly is rated 1500mm on the Hydrostatic Head ratings, and the floor is even better with a massive 3000mm resistance which means that nothing is getting into this tent that you don’t want to. Nothing weather-based, that is, you’ll have to find other things to ward off snakes and bears. The Zephyr is also very easy to set up thanks to two aluminum pole frames which reduce setup time to mere minutes.
If considering this option, you may also want to consider getting any heavy-duty stakes you may have lying around to replace the flimsy ones that retail with this product.
The next product is a lightweight and roomy tent designed to bring livability to any trail, something which will be invaluable if you’re camping out in the Appalachian Mountains for an extended period of time. It uses the same DAC Featherlite poles as the number one option on the list, which maximize interior volume without adding much weight at all. The tent’s two-person version has a weight of 3lbs and its three-person version weighs 4lbs, which don’t make them the best in terms of weight but can easily be split between multiple hikers.
These tents are constructed from integrated 30 Denier nylon for lightness and waterproofness and includes a 15 Denier nylon ripstop fly and canopy with no-see-um mesh. The floor is a silicone/polyether urethane nylon ripstop that’s also rated 30 Denier in thickness but, more impressively, is rated as 3000mm waterproof as per Hydrostatic Head measurements.
The ventilation with this product isn’t great, with condensation moisture presenting on it during rain. It seems some have mistaken this for leakage, but if that is a problem that’s something a footprint can solve. That can get pricey however as this product is already the priciest on this list, hence why it’s so low down despite its durable nylon ripstop and high waterproof rating.
The last product we reviewed is the MSR Flylite Tent with Canopy Style Rainfly, a tent that goes further in the pursuit of lightweight construction than any other tent on this list, weighing in at one pound nine ounces. The Flylite achieves its very lightweight nature thanks to the fact that it’s set up with one DAC NSL rear pole along with your trekking poles, which you should probably be bringing yourself if you’re going to be hiking the Trail. The Flylite is constructed with Durashield coated nylon ripstop which lasts longer than other polyurethane coatings.
We think this tent works best as a very ultralight tent option for one person, since your gear will likely take up the space for the second person. It has a large door that can be left open for more than enough ventilation when in the wild, but when that door is closed the tent suffers from condensation. We wouldn’t recommend beginners get this tent, since it’s non-domed shape makes it very particular to set up and you can suffer from roof pooling and sagging if it isn’t set up to deter rainfall.
Best Tents for Appalachian Trail - Buyers Guide
Considerations before buying your tent for the Appalachian Trail
In essence, when looking for a tent that can stand up to all, or any given portion of, the Appalachian Trail what you’re really looking for are tents geared towards backpacking and hiking. This means you’ll want to stay away from larger, car camping-style tents and instead opt for more compact, more waterproof, and yes, sometimes more expensive, tents. This especially applies if you’re planning on thru hiking the Appalachian Trail as you’ll need a high-performance backpacking tent.
As such all of the tents above are backpacking-focused tents since they have specs that translate well over to hiking the Appalachian Trail. General considerations around the tents you buy should factor in the material of the tent, including Denier, HH rating and, if applicable, the material’s thread count. This is especially important when looking at backpacking and hiking tents as you’ll be more concerned about performance. The season rating should also be considered a testament to the performance of the tent in differing environments, whereas it’s size and any added amenities must also be considered for comfort’s sake.
Tent material affects the durability and weight of the tent, and tends to come in canvas, nylon and polyester. Canvas is usually a cotton canvas and is heavier than the other two. This makes canvas not very suitable to be hauled into the Appalachian Mountains. Instead the polyester and nylon alternatives feature more heavily in the above list since they tend to be lighter and cheaper.
Tent season ratings are exactly what they sound like, where a three-season tent has been judged able to withstand spring, summer and fall. These three are almost always the ones being referred to with the standard three-season ratings, and four-season ratings are often tenting that have adjustable features that’ll allow them to operate in wintry conditions.
It’s not hard to plan out what size tent you want, but any measurements based on the number of people should be believed with a pinch of salt. The reason for this is simple, any hiker knows how much camping equipment you can take with you into the wild, and so they’ll also know that too often when a tent has a person capacity grade it usually has one seat less for every new person involved. Manufacturers enjoy exaggerating how many people can theoretically fit into a tent, and whilst with car camping or glamping this isn’t such a problem and will be more accurate, when you have backpacking tents using the person capacity ratings you should definitely be wary. A two-person tent will often only be able to accommodate one camper and his arsenal of gear where the other person would’ve theoretically fit.
The ease of pitch should also be considered, and you should be familiar with how to pitch your tent before trying it out on the Trail. You don’t want to stress with setting up tents after a long hike, especially if you’re thru hiking and so will have to set up your tent many more times than your average camper. That’s why you want a tent that not only pitches in record time but is simple enough to minimize human error so that it doesn’t fall in on you in the middle of the night.
As for any secondary features that can alert you to when you have your mind on a quality product, lightness is definitely something to be desired by hikers up large mountains, and more storage area is also handy. UV-protection shouldn’t be needed too much, maybe in the southernmost of the Trail but otherwise it’ll be water and cold resistance you should keep your eye on.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the HH rating and what does it mean?
HH stands for Hydrostatic Head, the rating method of waterproofness for when it comes to certain textiles intended for commercial use. It’s a more focused way of assessing waterproofness without the vagary of the seasonal rating. The figure comes from a measurement of how much water can sit atop the fabric, which end-stops a very large measuring cylinder. As more water, and so the water pressure, increases until the fabric inevitably leaks through. The minimum standard for waterproofness is 1000mm, but it goes as high as 5000mm because environmental factors exist that will put a “waterproof” tent to shame, e.g. storm-driven rain that travels faster, and so penetrates deeper, into fabric. The scores are for longevity, if anything, since water will always make its way through something given enough time. Weatherproofing can also occur by double-walling a tent so to create a small area that catches anything the first wall may have missed and keeps the tent warmer.
Will I need a footprint to support my tent?
You don’t need a footprint to support your tent. We say that if there’s one available, preferably one of the same brands to guarantee compatibility, and you have the means then there’s no reason not to get a footprint as this will extend the lifespan of your tent. Footprints are just sheets of material intended to go under your tent to protect from abrasion and make it more waterproof. They’re not necessary but if you’re going against the Appalachian Trail, we think that having a footprint would be a good precaution for adding durability to your chosen tent, especially if you’re thru hiking.