How to Pack a Tent in a Backpack

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When embarking on outdoor adventures such as camping, backpacking, or hiking, a reliable and lightweight tent is an essential item to carry. However, packing a tent can sometimes be challenging, especially if you’re looking to optimize space and weight distribution. In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to pack a tent in a backpack efficiently, ensuring a hassle-free and organized outdoor experience.

Choosing the Right Backpack

When you plan to pack your tent in a backpack and embark on a camping or hiking adventure, choosing the right backpack is crucial. In this section, we will discuss the two primary types of backpack frames – External Frame and Internal Frame – and help you make an informed decision on which one is better suited for your needs.

External Frame

External frame backpacks are designed with the frame on the outside of the pack, providing a supportive structure. These backpacks are perfect for carrying heavy loads, as the weight is distributed evenly across your hips and shoulders. Some advantages of an external frame backpack include:

  • Ventilation: Due to the space between your back and the pack, airflow is improved.
  • Easy access: Multiple compartments make it easier to organize and access your gear.
  • Heavy loads: They accel at carrying heavier and bulky loads. 

However, external frame backpacks also have some disadvantages:

  • Bulkier: These packs tend to be larger and might not fit well in confined spaces.
  • Less stable on uneven terrain: The higher center of gravity can make them less stable on rocky or uneven terrain.

Internal Frame

An internal frame backpack has a built-in frame within the fabric of the pack. These backpacks are popular among hikers and campers due to their compact and sleek design. Some advantages of an internal frame backpack include:

  • Stability: The close fit to your body gives better balance when navigating uneven terrain.
  • More streamlined: Their sleek design makes them less likely to snag on branches or rocks.

However, internal frame backpacks also have some disadvantages:

  • Less ventilation: The pack sits closer to your back, which can make it warmer and less ventilated.
  • Limited organization: With fewer compartments, it can be more challenging to organize and access your gear.

To determine the best backpack for your needs, consider the following factors:

  • Intended use: Think about the terrain you’ll be traversing and the weight of your gear.
  • Comfort: Try on several backpacks to find the right fit for your body and comfort level.

If you’re planning on attaching your tent to your backpack externally, make sure that the backpack you choose has a great external frame, plenty of space, and dedicated straps. If planning on packing your tent inside the backpack you will probably want a backpack with a good internal frame because they tend to have more space inside. 

Remember that the most important thing when searching for a backpack is your comfort while wearing it. Make sure you select a backpack that fits well and has plenty of padding on the shoulder straps and back so that you can comfortably carry your gear. With the right backpack, you’ll be better prepared to pack your tent and hit the trails with confidence and ease.

Packing a tent and stakes inside the backpack

How to Pack a Tent in a Backpack

Once you have the right backpack, it’s time to pack your tent. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to properly pack your tent in a backpack so that you are prepared for your next outdoor excursion.

1. Lay out all Your Equipment

One of the most important things when camping is making sure your tent fits in or on your backpack! Before you start packing, lay out all your equipment such as the tent poles, stakes, and rainfly so you know what items you need to fit into your bag.

2. Lay out the Tent

Lay the tent flat on the ground and make sure that nothing is tangled, and the material is free of debris. Allow time to air dry if possible so it does not develop mold from the condensation. 

3. Pack Your Tent Poles First

The next step is to pack the poles first. To properly pack your tent, place the poles in a bag along the side of the tent rather than in the middle. The reasoning behind this is that when you put your tent away, the poles will help support it.

4. Pack up the Tent

Slightly controversial, depending on the material you can either fold or stuff your tent. If made with Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) I always recommend folding or rolling a DCF tent, otherwise made with other materials then I do not see why it cannot be stuffed. I prefer to roll most of the time but will sometimes stuff in a hurry. But either way make sure the pole bag is parallel to your tent so it will stay in place. 

5. Place Folded/Stuffed Tent in the Tent Bag

Make sure your tent is completely dry, then place it in the tent bag. This will keep all your items together and make them easier to transport.

6. Pack Heavier/ Less Used Items First 

When packing your backpack be sure to pack heavier things at the bottom or items that are not used as often. I recommend packing your sleeping bag or quilt at the bottom of the backpack as it is something not often used. Most backpacks also have a designated spot at the bottom of the backpack for bags. Use that if it saves space or makes sense to do so. 

7. Pack the Tent in the Backpack 

Next, after you have packed all the heavier items and sleeping bag. It is time to put the tent in the backpack. There are multiple locations to pack your tent inside your backpack:

Against your back: The best place to pack your tent in your backpack is against your back. This will ensure the most comfortable fit and provide extra support while carrying the pack. For most hikers, this is where you should feel most comfortable carrying heavy items since it helps evenly distribute your weight.

On the bottom: Packing your tent at the bottom of your bag is also a great option. This keeps the tent out of reach until you really need it, like when you’re making camp. This allows for less rummaging throughout the day since you likely won’t need to access the tent until you stop for the night.

Using the inside and outside of a backpack works too!

Packing Both in and Out: Often a overlooked packing technique. Remember you can always partially pack a tent on the inside and outside also. This works well if you are splitting up tent gear between two people and they have different type of backpacks. One could carry the tent inside the backpack while the other could carry the stakes and tent poles on the outside.

Assembled vs Unassembled: Either way works, and it is kind of up to your preference. I have tried both ways. I tend to pack my tent assembled now because I usually use a DCF ultralight tent and on most occasions, I usually hike with someone, and we split the tent gear.

When packing unassembled just shove the tent at the bottom of the backpack. I would recommend using a compactor bag as a liner or a backpack liner to separate your dry stuff because your tent will probably be a little wet when you repack it after your trip. 

Check attachment points for putting a tent outside

How to Pack a Tent Outside of a Backpack 

Depending on the size of your tent or how you’re traveling, packing a tent on the outside of your backpack may be necessary. Follow the same steps for how to pack a tent in a backpack except, place the tent poles and tent on the outside. 

Pick a Pack with External Frame

You can most definitely attach a tent to the outside of an internal frame backpack. However, if you are planning to attach your tent on the outside it would be best to go with an external framed backpack. This would provide you with more attachments and support by doing so. 

Weather Protection

If you are planning on securing your tent on the outside of the backpack. You will need to consider the outdoor elements as a factor and protect your tent against them. When attaching a tent on the outside of a backpack it opens it up for more potential to abrasion against limbs and to rainy weather. One good thing is that tents and tent bags are typically waterproof. But, if yours is not I would invest in a waterproof bag. 

Check Attachment Sites

Examine the outside of your backpack and check out the attachment sites. Most backpacks are set up well with enough attachments, closed loop ties, and straps for securing a tent. However, some backpacks are missing those crucial features. Be sure your backpack has a way to attach a tent on the outside, so you do not have to figure that out too late. 

Secure Your Tent to the Outside

After you locate and find the attachments on your backpack it is time to figure out how it is going to be secured to the backpack. Most backpacks offer quite a few ways to secure a tent and a lot of them have ways to add things like carabiners or elastic cord. Below are some popular ways to secure a tent: 

Use your backpack’s closed-loop ties: Most backpacks come with closed-loop ties that can be used to securely attach your tent to your backpack. 

Use compression straps: Like closed-loop ties, many backpacks come with compression straps that can be used to keep your tent in place. Compression straps are good at squeezing the load closer to the user’s center of gravity. 

Attach daisy chains: Daisy chains are loops on the backpack’s exterior that can be used to attach items like a tent or sleeping pad.

Use straps and buckles: You can also use straps and buckles to attach your tent to the backpack. Make sure there are no loose ends or pieces that could come undone while on the move.

Ways to Pack a Tent on the Outside 

Common way to carry the tent at the bottom

Bottom: One of the best ways to carry a tent is by strapping it to the bottom of your backpack this way, heavy items are closer to your back and easier to carry. Some packs come with special straps for tents located at the bottom.

Tent placed at the top of the backpack

Top: Lighter tents work best for this method; if your tent is too heavy, it will throw off your balance and make you feel unstable. I also believe this method works a lot better if your backpack has a floating brain or straps at the top to cinch it down.

Middle: One of the worst ways to carry your tent. Much like how packing your tent inside towards the front of your backpack can cause imbalance, doing so on the outside can be just as bad, if not worse. Not only will the tent feel heavier, but it’s awkward and has a higher chance of getting snagged on something. 

Packing Both in and Out: Just like mentioned above. Do not forget you can always partially pack a tent on the inside and outside also. This also works well if you are splitting up tent gear between two people and they have different type of backpacks.

Assembled vs Unassembled: Just like I mentioned above. Try packing your tent unassembled on the outside. Most tents will fit in storage pockets unassembled; you just have to play around with your own backpack setup. 

Which is Better? Inside vs Outside

When it comes to how to pack a tent in a backpack versus outside there are pros and cons. Though in general the pros for carrying inside slightly outweigh the pros for carrying a tent outside. But either way can be functional depending on your setup.

Pros of carrying your tent inside your backpack

  • The weight is more evenly distributed, so it’s more comfortable to carry.
  • The tent will be more secure with no risk of it falling off or having pieces fall off during your hike.
  • Keep your tent safe from wear and tear.
  • Tents not exposed to the elements and sunlight will last longer.

Cons of carrying your tent inside your backpack

  • If your tent is dirty, it will make the inside of your backpack dirty.
  • A wet tent will wet the gear inside your backpack. Use a Liner.
  • Takes up a lot of space.

Pros of carrying your tent outside your backpack

  • Saves a lot of space versus carrying the tent inside your pack.
  • You won’t need a large backpack if you’re carrying it on the outside.
  • If your tent is dirty or wet, your gear will remain clean and dry.

Cons of carrying your tent outside your backpack

  • Can be easily damaged depending on your terrain. 
  • If not packed correctly, your tent or pieces of your tent might fall off.
  • Exposing the tent to the elements will decrease its longevity.

Whether you choose to pack your tent inside your backpack or outside, the most important thing is that you do it safely and in a way that helps you and your gear. Make sure to always inspect your tent before and after a hike so you know it’s in great condition and ready to go! 

Keep in mind, you can also do both. Many hikers like to split their tent up, keeping the tent itself inside the pack and the poles, stakes, and other pieces on the outside. This allows them to save space and maximize their carrying capacity on longer trips. 

Packing Tips and Techniques 

There are many ways to maximize storage when it comes to how to pack a tent in a backpack or outside a backpack. 

Stuff sack: A stuff sack is a great way to keep your tent secure and organized while on the trails. This is a lightweight, waterproof material that you can use to store your tent and other pieces of equipment. Just keep in mind that outside of a hike, you should not store your tent inside a stuff sack long term.

Play Tetris: Trying to place your tent lengthwise in a bag, instead of horizontally, can also help increase space and make it easier to fit inside a backpack. Or try placing it horizontally compared to vertical. Attach tent poles and other long items vertically to the outside of your backpack to create more space for valuable items and maintain balance.

Compress the tent/sleeping bag: Compression sacks are designed to compress your sleeping bag down in size but can also be used with a tent. If using it with a tent I do not recommend storing it compressed for a long amount of time. 

Assembled vs Unassembled: There is a lot of flexibility with how to pack a tent in a backpack or outside. I am always surprised that many people never think to try and pack a tent unassembled. It can be a game changer. 

Go Light on the Big 4: Go with lightweight and durable materials for the big 4 items in your backpack: your tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag/quilt, and backpack. This reduces muscle strain and gives you more flexibility with how you can pack your tent.

Don’t overload your backpack: Do not overpack! It is so easy to bring a lot of extra things that are not needed. But keep track of weight and ensure it doesn’t exceed the recommended weight limit for your body and the backpack itself.

Balancing Body Weight and Load

Super important and deserves to be mentioned again. Balancing the load in your backpack is crucial for ensuring comfort and stability during your camping trip. 

Here are some steps to achieve an optimal balance:

  1. Heaviest Items: Place the heaviest items, such as your tent, in the middle of the backpack against your back. This helps to balance the weight and make it easier for you to carry over long distances.
  2. Medium-weight Items: Pack medium-weight items such as clothing and food around the heavier items, filling in gaps and providing padding.
  3. Light Items: Store lightweight items, like sleeping pads and rain gear, at the top of your backpack or in the outer pockets for easy access.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to fold or stuff a tent? It depends on the type of tent you have and your personal preference. Rolling your tent is typically better and most commonly recommended by manufacturers. But stuffing is often quicker and easier to pack and unpack. I will say if using a lighter tent made with DCF I would recommend folding or roll the tent for longevity. 

Should I carry my tent outside my backpack? Generally, it’s best to carry your tent inside your pack to avoid it getting damaged or lost. If you have a small backpack or are really limited in space, securing your tent externally to the bottom of your pack is a perfectly fine option.

How do you secure a tent to a backpack? You can use straps and buckles to secure the tent to your pack. Most hiking and camping backpacks will have these straps built in. Make sure all fastenings are tight and secure before setting off.

I’m traveling with a partner, who should carry the tent? Who says that your tent needs to be all in one place? If you’re both willing, why not split the components up? If your tent is too bulky to fit in one backpack, you can split the pieces between two people. This is also a great way to share the load and make your hike more comfortable.

Final Thoughts 

By following these steps, you can efficiently and safely pack your tent in a backpack and make sure it’s secure for all your outdoor adventures. Whether you prefer a lightweight setup or are looking for ways to maximize your carrying capacity, this guide on how to pack a tent in a backpack, should help you make an informed decision about how best to carry your tent. Just remember to always inspect your gear and make sure it’s in good condition before and after each trip.

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