Tent, Hammock, or Tarp: Which Shelter is Best for Long-Distance Hiking

Posted on: 30 March 2016

If you're heading out on a long-distance hike, choosing your shelter is going to be one of the most important decisions that you make. The most fundamental decision comes down to whether you want a tent, a tarp, or a hammock, so use this quick and easy guide to ensure that you make the right choice.


Tents are undoubtedly the most common shelter choice, and that isn't just because they are also the traditional option. Providing a fully-enclosed space with plenty of room for all of your stuff, a tent can be your home away from home, and that's enough to convince many long-distances hikers that a tent is the right option.

Tents can also stand up to all types of weather – howling gales and deep snowfalls should trouble you if the tent is properly pegged out. They also offer more privacy, ideal if you'll be camping in a site instead of along the trail, and they're a little easier to set up than tarps. That said, tents tend to be the most expensive option, and usually the heaviest type of shelter. If you're really trying to cut down your base-weight, carrying a tent might not be the best way to go.


Thought hammocks have been around for centuries, they're just now starting to be fully-utilized by the hiking community. Of course, there have always been basic hammocks available, but newer models come with a tarp that fits over the top and a slip underneath that can be filled with either an underquilt or just a bunch of dried leaves. Those additions keep the rain off at night and prevent your body from becoming too cold.

Hammocks are extremely light since they don't require any poles, though they aren't usually as light as a simple tarp. They're also extremely comfortable due to the fact that you aren't lying on the ground; this also makes it easier to sit up and read at night. However, it's also quite hard to keep anything but yourself inside since everything will collect in the middle. Furthermore, hammocks can only be used where there will be plenty of trees from which to hang them; if your hike passes through any bare, treeless stretches, you could be caught without a shelter.


Tarps are the simplest of shelters, consisting of a simple section of waterproof fabric that is deployed using small poles, though most long-distance hikers will use their hiking poles to do the job. Some will also come with a bug net that can protect you from mosquito bites.

This means that tarps are extremely lightweight and can be packed down easily within your bag. They are also versatile; you don't have to look for ideally-spaced trees as you would with a hammock or find a fitting pitch-site as you would with a tent. However, tarps don't protect you from the elements as much as either of those alternatives. Sunlight will still hit your face, rain can get inside, and your warmth won't be retained through the night. This makes tarps a poor choice if you're expecting inclement weather anywhere along the trail, but they're fantastic if you know that you can get away without the protection of a full shelter.

Ultimately, your hike will determine which option will work best. Think about the weather you're likely to encounter, the type of terrain you'll be moving through, and the amount of weight you can carry before you reach your decision.


The Art of Camping: A Camping Blog

I love to go camping. I love bringing my rod, catching fish and cooking over a fire just like our primal ancestors. I also love staying up late, listening to music and partying around the campfire with friends. In this blog, I am going to share everything that I know about camping, and I hope that it makes your next camping journey a success. Years ago, I used to camp on my own, with friends or with my dog. Now, I have a wife and two kids, and we have been taking them on camping experiences since they were six weeks old. I hope that you share my passion for camping and that these posts inspire you!

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