What is the Best Wild Camping Tent?

In my previous blog post I discussed what it means to go wild camping. In this post I will look at the features which make an ideal wild camping tent. By choosing a suitable tent your wild camping experience or microadventure will be even more rewarding!

Wild camping gives you solitude and a true outdoor experience
Wild Camping. Source: Flickr by Nick Bramall

Martyn, our resident expert on wild camping, and I discussed the features we believe should be considered when buying your wild camping tent. Our advice is concentrated on five important aspects of the tent. These are pack weight & size, footprint, profile, colour and durability.

Pack Weight & Size

With the idea being to get away from it all one needs to actually walk to find the right spot. Therefore weight and pack size are crucial issues when you are wild camping or on a microadventure. How much weight to carry is a personal choice, but it is definitely a case of the lighter the better. Carrying a huge rucksack containing everything but the kitchen sink, and a tent that requires the strength of ten Sherpas to lift it, is not exactly going to give you a comfortable wild camping experience! Our best advice is that everything you take for a single nights wild camp, including your tent, should be carryable in a 30L rucksack. You may think that is too small, but to get that full back to nature feeling you need to be minimalistic and take only what is essential. Therefore an ultralight tent or bivy bag with a small pack size is the order of the day.

“By limiting space you realise what is really essential”
Martyn Padgett, Scout Leader and Wild Camper.

Tent Footprint

Going for a lightweight tent therefore makes sense, but the tent’s footprint is also a factor to take into account. By footprint we mean the area that it takes up when pitched. Our advice is that a smaller footprint is better because it’s easier to find a place to pitch your tent. When you’re on a campsite the ground is relatively flat and even. Out on the fells there are few patches of ground that are not on a slope and even fewer which are not uneven. Therefore a tent’s footprint is important in wild camping as the larger the tent the larger the area it takes up, which reduces the number of places where you can pitch.

After walking a couple of hours to find solitude, do you really want to spend ages finding a big enough pitch? We recommend buying a one person tent with a small footprint. Jack Wolfskin’s Gossamer, for example, has a footprint covering approx 2.3m². Compare this to the 2 person MSR Hubba Hubba HP which has a footprint that covers 3.51m². You can see in tye diagram below that it will be much easier to find a suitable pitch for the Gossamer!

Comparison of Jack Wolfskin Gossamer and MSR Hubba Hubba HP Footprints
You can clearly see the larger footprint of the 2 man MSR Hubba Hubba HP tent, when compared to the 1 man Jack Wolfskin Gossamer bivy tent.

Tent Profile

The mention in the previous paragraph of Jack Wolfskin’s Gossamer tent was by no means an accident. To enjoy the wild camping experience in peace you need to be as inconspicuous as possible. Whilst wild camping is often tolerated, it is not permitted by law. Keeping out of site will help avoid running the wrath of the landowner and allow others to enjoy unspoilt views of the countryside. As such you want a tent with as low a profile as possible.

The Gossamer, which was reviewed recently on this blog, along with Snugpak’s Ionsphere, are what we call a bivi tents. This means that they have a hooped bivi shape (raised at the head tapering to the foot) with the sizing of a small tent. As such they are ideal for single night wild camps, where you pitch when the sun is going down and break camp the next morning.

The bivi shape gives the Gossamer a maximum height of 75cm and the Ionosphere 71cm. By comparison, the ultralight Force Ten Helium 1 is some 25cm taller at 100cm. A hooped bivi such as Vaude’s 1P is much smaller with a height of 60cms although many people, including myself, find bivi bags a little too claustrophobic.

Comparison of profiles and height of Vaude Bivi 1P, Jack Wolfskin Gossamer and Force 10 Helium 1
This scaled image shows why a bivi tent is the best option for wild camping. Note the much lower profiles of the Gossamer and Bivi 1P compared to the Helium 1.

Tent Colour

The next item in our buying guide is colour. Colour is an important factor in our lives and in tent design it can be the difference between life and death. Mountain and expedition tents are generally bright colours which help rescue parties in the case of avalanches etc. For family camping tent colour doesn’t matter unless you want to be able to spot your tent easily on the campsite.

Bushcraft, backpacking and trail tents are generally colours based around greens which help blend in to the environment and minimise visual impact. Wild camping tents tend to follow this maxim. As mentioned above, if you don’t ask the land owners permission you are technically trespassing (except in certain areas), therefore a loud tent is not a good idea.

However, The North Face’s legendary, but now discontinued, Mountain Marathon was a favourite with wild campers and that was a sky blue! Jack Wolfskin’s Gossamer range is also similar in colour this year, but it must be said that these bivi tents have a low profile. To get into the real spirit of wild camping I would suggest that if you used a larger tent such as MSR Hubba or Force Ten Helium 1 size you go for a darker colour. Update: Jack Wolfskin are now making the Gossamer in standard “Green Tea” or special edition “Dark Moss” instead of blue.

Tent Durability

The final factor to take into account is the durability of the tent and its fabrics. Whilst you want a lightweight tent it’s important to choose a tent which is robust and can handle a less than suitable pitch as well as changeable weather.

Even though it will add weight to you pack a groundsheet protector should be a piece of kit that you at the very least consider taking with you. In the case of wild camping where a bowling green like pitch can’t be guaranteed, a groundsheet protector will protect your tent’s groundsheet from stones, brambles or sharp sticks and provide an additional barrier against moisture.

Go Wild Camping!

In summary, our advice for buying the best wild camping tent is as follows: Whilst ultralight 1 man tents, and even 2 man tents, are suitable for wild camping, the best wild camping tent is a 1 man bivy tent. Their small footprint means that it is easy to find a suitable pitch and their low profile helps you to stay out of sight. With a low weight and small pack size your walk into the wilderness will be more comfortable. Choosing a green tent or bivy will also help you to avoid being seen. Strong fabrics and a ground sheet protector are beneficial to help ensure against accidental damage when pitching on a less than perfect site.

Well that’s about it except to say get out there and enjoy yourself! I leave you with Martyn’s reason for his wild camping enjoyment. He says the experience is

“proper ethereal when I’m sat watching the sun rise.. it’s like going back to being stone age man!”

wild camping Sunrise
This Welsh wild camping Sunrise takes Martyn back to his prehistoric roots!
Photo Credit: M Padgett