Ten Essentials For Women in the Outdoors: Essential #10: Shelter

“They had slept in the shelter of the ruins, though neither of them really got true rest.” 
― Sarah J. Maas, Empire of Storms

Camping in snow and rain at Big Pine Lakes. 

Camping in snow and rain at Big Pine Lakes. 

Shelter is a new component in the updated Ten Essentials, one that seems targeted for day hikers as most overnight backpackers already carry a tent or a tarp. For this blog, I will also be giving some hints on my favorite backpacking tents. The thought behind carrying a shelter for day hikers is that in case you become lost or injured, some form of shelter is better than the harsh elements Mother Nature can throw at you at any given moment.

A gorgeous array of high quality tents at sunrise. Two Harbors, Catalina Island. The TransCatalina Trail is one of the best backpacking trips in California! 

A gorgeous array of high quality tents at sunrise. Two Harbors, Catalina Island. The TransCatalina Trail is one of the best backpacking trips in California! 

What are some shelter options for day hikers?

  • Ultralight tarps: Tarps range anywhere from 10 ounces to 6 pounds and protect you against rain and sun but will not provide you with warmth. These are also commonly used by thru hikers to save weight.
  • Bivy sack: A collapsible bag made of weatherproof fabric, basically a lightweight sleeping bag/tent hybrid and protects you from the wind, rain, sun while also keeping you warm. These weigh 18 ounces to 3 pounds and are commonly used by thru hikers.
  • Emergency space blanket: These pack super small, weigh ounces and will not tear a hole in your wallet. These keep you warm and give some protection from the wind but do not offer protection against the rain or sun. Space blankets work by reflecting the individual’s body height back to the individual. These are my jam and I have cowboy camped spontaneously under these not once but twice.
  • Hammocks: Super fun, lightweight and some even have a cover to protect you from the elements and keep you warm. These weigh about one to five pounds, however, keep in mind that in some backcountry areas and National Parks, they do not allow hammocks due to potential tree destruction. If allowed make sure there are trees strong enough to hold you and your hammock.
The MSR Hubba Hubba tent 

The MSR Hubba Hubba tent 

Let’s talk about tents

For a short or long day hike, you are unlikely to haul a tent in your pack however if you are taking off on a backpacking journey a good lightweight tent is a necessity. Before I list some of my favorite tents, lets first talk about the basics


These are tarp like fabrics or “ground cloths” that you place under your tent to add extra warmth and to protect the bottom of your tent. These weigh ounces and should ALWAYS be used (unless you are thru-hiking the PCT, AT or JMT and are measuring every ounce). You can usually purchase a footprint that matches your tent but you also have the option to buy a tarp material at Home Depot and measure it to the bottom of your tent (this option can save you some money). Footprints generally weigh around 6-8 ounces and will run you around $30.

3 season versus 4 season tents: What’s the difference?

A three-season tent is generally referred to as a tent designed for use in spring, summer, and fall. These tents are designed to be lightweight and to protect from rain and wind. The build is typically designed to provide as much ventilation as possible. Open mesh walls and lots of vents will allow for air to flow freely throughout the entire tent while protecting the user from a direct wind. This is to prevent condensation build up and to also allow cooler air to get inside. The side rain cover and or vestibules will usually sit off the ground to allow air to move in also. Generally, a four- season tent is a shelter that, despite the name, is normally used only in the winter. Snowy conditions or areas of very harsh wind are prime locations for 4-season tent usage. These tents are built to protect from snow, snow buildup, ice, hail, and high winds. The walls are often built entirely meshfree, instead of using a polyester of nylon to trap in some body heat and block out gusty winds. Vents are usually provided, which allows the tent to open up to control condensation, but this is less of an issue in colder temperatures. The rain fly or vestibules often extend completely to the ground, blocking wind, and often have flaps that fold inward, which allows for the snow to be packed onto them, improving stability and protection from the elements. Thicker, more robust frame designs, almost always aluminum, are used. 

When do I need to use a rainfly and how do I properly set it up?

A rainfly is the floorless, waterproof outer layer of a double-wall tent that protects you from the elements (and gives you some privacy). A rainfly should be pitched as taut as possible; this allows it to more easily shed wind, rain, and snow. If the inner wall of a double-wall tent touches the rainfly, either the tent is poorly constructed or there's something wrong with your pitch. And if your tent is narrow enough that you brush up against the inside of the fly during normal activities, you need a wider tent, touching the fly allows moisture to seep through from outside.

Freestanding versus non-free standing

Non-Freestanding Tents:  Tents that require rope or cord attached to metal stakes, which you must push, or pound into the ground.  Without them, they do not keep their shape. 

Freestanding Tents:  Tents, which use included poles to stand up that do not require stakes. They can be picked up and moved around without losing their form. They allow you to camp on rocks and other surfaces where you do cannot stake down your tent.

My favorite backpacking tents that ever lived

MSR Hubba Hubba

Big Agnes Fly Creek

Nemo Hornett

REI Half Dome (this tent weighs about 5 pounds so a bit heavy for a backpacking tent but is a great car camping tent).

Camping in Grand Canyon National Park. Don't mind the Elk. 

Camping in Grand Canyon National Park. Don't mind the Elk. 

Things to consider when purchasing a tent

  • 1 or 2 person tents: I prefer two-person tents due to the extra room for a significant other and/or my adventure pup, Moo. Some people also like a 2 person because they can store their gear inside. Obviously, a 2-person tent does a weigh a bit more than a one-person tent, so there is some compromise.
  • Tent poles in a separate bag: I tend to lose things all the time so I wanted a tent that has everything in the same bag, including the tent poles. I also wanted a tent that was just as easy to put away in its bag, as it is easy to take out
  • Weight: Most packing tents weigh 2.5-4 pounds so you have to consider if the extra weight is worth the extra comfort of a free standing tent (and usually a bigger tent).
My 4-year-old pup, Moo. She loves to camp, hike and backpack.

My 4-year-old pup, Moo. She loves to camp, hike and backpack.

What are your favorite tents? I would love to know!

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,