The Right Way to Pack Your Tent for Backpacking

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Packing a tent can be a difficult task, especially if you have a lot of gear that needs to fit into one backpack.

I’ve personally tried every possible packing scenario over the years and have learned a few valuable packing tips.

So, let’s use that experience to learn how to pack your tent for backpacking the right way!

This will prevent damaging your tent and putting any unneeded stress on your body. Plus, make accessing your gear a lot easier.

How Do You Pack Up a Tent for Backpacking?

The optimal place to pack your tent is in the middle of the backpack against your back. This location will help balance the weight of the load, making it easier to carry when you hike long distances. Furthermore, pack the tent body and rainfly in the backpack and attach the tent poles to the outside to create more space for valuable items inside.

In other words, it’s important to pack your tent in what’s called the core zone (the middle of the backpack). This is where heavier items go to create a stable center of gravity and proper weight distribution.

page how to pack a hiking backpack diagram
How to Pack a Hiking Backpack Diagram

With all that said, there are some additional pro tips you can utilize to properly pack your backpack and further improve your backpacking experience.

Important Tips for Packing Your Backpacking Tent

  • Use a Waterproof Stuff Sack: There are differing opinions on whether it’s better to fold or stuff a tent in a backpack. I’m on “team stuff” as a stuff sack can really help compress your tent, creating more space for other important gear inside your backpack. Just be sure to remove your tent from the sack when in storage.
  • Proper Tent Position: As mentioned above, the best spot to place a tent in a camping backpack is in the middle against your back, aka the core zone. Not only does this create a balanced backpack that makes hiking easier, it allows you to put lightweight essentials that you need on the trail at the top so you can easily access them.
  • Split the Tent Up: When backpacking, every ounce of weight can make a big difference. And if you plan to share a tent with other backpackers, splitting the tent components up amongst each other is a great way to reduce the amount of weight you carry and increase the amount of space you have in your backpack. For example, one could carry the tent body and rainfly while the other carries the tent poles and stakes. Of course, you’ll need multiple hikers staying in one tent for this to work.
  • Packing a Wet Tent: If you backpack long enough, the time will come that you need to pack a wet tent. Be sure to shake off as much moisture as possible from the tent before packing it in your waterproof stuff sack. And allow the tent to fully dry when you get home from your camping trip before storing it.
  • Use a Proper Backpacking Tent: It’s often overlooked, but you should be carrying a tent designed for backpacking that is properly sized for you (and any other hikers that may be sleeping in it). You don’t want to try and pack a heavy over-sized tent when you could make life so much easier by simply using a tent designed for long backpacking excursions.

Related: How Much Should a Backpacking Tent Weigh?

Should I Pack the Tent Inside or Outside the Backpack?

While I always prefer people pack their tents on the inside of their backpack, each has pros and cons.

Strap a Tent on the Outside

  • More room for other camping gear inside the backpack.
  • More likely to damage your tent.
  • Higher chance of your tent falling off and losing it.

Packing a Tent on the Inside

  • Better protection from damage.
  • Able to properly position the tent for best weight distribution.
  • You won’t lose your tent while hiking.
  • Less room for other camping gear inside your backpack.

It really comes down to personal preference. Again, I prefer to pack my tent on the inside and attach my sleeping pad (and/or sleeping bag), poles, etc., to the outside of the backpack.

Check out our guide on how to attach a tent to a backpack the right way if you intend to carry it outside.

Should I Bring a Tent Backpacking?

To play devil’s advocate here, you might consider asking yourself whether you even need to pack a camping tent for your backpacking trip.

When backpacking, you technically don’t need a tent, but you might need some sort of protection from the elements and/or bugs. A tarp, bivy sack, bug net, hammock, or a combination of these might be all you need.

It’s really up to you and the type of protection you’ll need on your backpacking trip.

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