Survival tents – what they are and what to look for?
Tents and shelters are one of the three most important pillars of any survivalist together with water and food. Yet, tents and shelters are rarely talked about. Presumably, that’s because most people view them as something easy to take care of. You just take a tent with your survival backpack and that’s it, right?
Not exactly. Tents nowadays can come in nearly countless types, models, shapes, and sizes, and not all of them are suitable for survival. That’s because most people (and manufacturers) view tents exclusively as camping equipment. So, if you just take a nice-looking random camping tent, chances are that it won’t be good enough for survival. And since “not good enough” in survival situations usually means “death”, you’d do well to pick your survival tent more carefully.
So, what are survival tents and what should you look for in them? In essence, survival tents are the ones that are easy and lightweight to carry while still offering plenty of protection. These tents should be sturdy against the elements and they should also be durable. But most importantly – they should be suitable for the environment in which you’re going to use them.
What do you need from a survival tent?
If you scour the internet for a “survival tent” definition you’ll find a lot of adequate explanations. However, one thing few people mention is that survival tents should be suitable for the specific environments you’ll need them for. Additionally, they should be good for your own preferences and your survival kit.
- First and foremost, your survival tent should be something you can carry with ease. Remember that it’s not just about how heavy the tent is but about how heavy your entire survival kit is. An extra pound or kg on the tent means a pound or kg less for your other survival gear.
- Similarly, your survival tent should also be compact when packed. Space will be of short supply in your survival backpack so you can’t afford to waste it. Unfortunately, most tents are designed for camping so they are meant to be thrown in a car’s trunk.
- Ease of deployment and retraction. This may not feel so important if you’ve gotten the hang of your tent and you know how to deploy it quickly and easily. However, remember that in a survival situation you might need to deploy it under some pretty harsh conditions. So, the faster you can do it, the better.
- Such a fancy word doesn’t sound like something that should be a priority for a bare-bone survival tent, does it? Nevertheless, it is quite important. Having one or two nice vestibules at your tent’s entrances is great both for storing your gear and for temperature management.
- This is a definite must-have for a survival tent. Having a leak in your tent during a heavy rain is the last thing you’d want.
- Any tent needs to be well-ventilated, even in the winter. Fortunately, most modern tents are made out of materials that are inherently good for air ventilation.
- Resistant to wind. Depending on where you’ll need it for this may not be a priority. Still, in most situations, you’ll encounter some significant winds. The last thing you’d want in these cases will be your tent flying off the ground right under you.
- Suitable height and length. The problem with high tents is that they are usually bad against strong winds. On the other hand, they are comfortable. So, if you’re going someplace windy, pick a lower tent. If not – treat yourself with a taller one. Either way, if you are a bit taller yourself, get a tent that’s long enough for you to sleep comfortably in.
- Thick bottom. This is important for many different reasons. For one, in most survival situations you won’t be able to pick the perfect even place for your tent. In those cases, a thick tent bottom will offer extra protection. It will also be extra durable and it will provide better insulation. For most situations, we’d suggest a 50 denier bottom or higher.
- Durable materials. Speaking of thick and durable fabrics, this is important for the whole tent too. If your camping tent gets busted after the second use that’s annoying but you’ll get over it. However, if your survival tent gets compromised after 2-3 uses, you might be in trouble.
- Sufficient gear compartments, pockets, and hooks inside the tent. A bit of a quality-of-life note, it’s good to pick a tent that has the necessary hooks and pockets for your gear. This will make resting or hiding in your tent much more tolerable. Remember that you don’t need your survival tent just for sleeping but for general shelter as well.
So, while it’s usually smart to just get an “all-weather” tent and be done with it, it’s better to think ahead. Plan out the rest of your survival kit and look at what type of tent you’re going to need for it. What tent will be suitable to hold your kit when deployed and will also be easy to carry with your kit? Additionally, do you need a 4-season tent or is a more lightweight 3-season tent better for your area?
What types of tents are there?
There are many different types of tents on the market today. Gone are the days when all tents were made out of canvas and looked the same. Not all of the many different modern models are good for survival, however. So, let’s quickly go over the main types of tents you can choose from and see which are good for survival.
Suitable models for survival tents
The types below are a little too general and there can be exceptions among them. The main key features they all have is that they are lightweight, easy to carry, and relatively simple to set up. They are not all suitable for strong winds or low temperatures, however. So if that’s a problem in your area – ignore those types.
- Tarp tents. Not really a tent but rather just an emergency shelter, these are essentially large sheets of waterproof canvas or Tyvek. With this option, comfort is obviously not something you can count on, however, the tarp brings other benefits. It’s much more lightweight and compact than any tent and it’s easy to carry. Furthermore, it can be used for all types of temporary shelter and not just as a standard tent.
- Tube tents. Similar to A-frame shelters, tube tents are meant for bare-bones survival and not for any extra comfort. They also aren’t great for long-term survival but are good for bug out bags. They do bring a lot of benefits to the table, however. They are incredibly light and compact, and they are very easy to set up. They are also very low to the ground which – while not comfortable – is good against strong winds.
- 4-season tents. “4 seasons” is the other name for “winter tents”. These are tents with reinforced rainfly that offers better temperature retainment. They are also made with thicker fabrics and are designed to retain temperatures. Any good survival tent should be of this type if you’re expecting to use it in an area with a winter season.
If we’re talking about warmer climates only, 3-season tents are the better option.
- Backpacking tents. These come in various designs but they are always small, lightweight, and compact. If you find one that fits your preferences and the circumstances you’ll need it for, go for it.
- Pop up tents. A fairly new type of tents, these models are super fast to set up and need no poles to deal with. They are also lightweight and have a small packed size. They can lack some stability and are bad for wind, however, so keep that in mind.
- Tunnel tents. A great mix of comfort and roominess with a lightweight and compact design. They do struggle with high winds, however, and can collect snow on top so you’ll have to watch out for that.
- Most lightweight tents. Not so much a type as it is a characteristic, being lightweight is a must for any survival tent. Some tent types are almost never lightweight which disqualifies them from being “survival tents” pretty much immediately. Dome tents can fall into the lightweight group as they are fairly lightweight even though they tend to catch wind.
Unsuitable models for survival tents
- A-frame and wedge tents. Great for camping but terrible for survival, these tents are just too heavy and bulky.
- Multi-room tents. Same as above but even heavier and bulkier.
- Geodesic tents. These are very comfortable and roomy. Plus, they are surprisingly stable in most weather conditions. But they are just too bulky when packed. Plus, they are challenging to set.
- Inflatable tents. These sound good at first but they are much heavier than other models. That alone disqualified them almost immediately.
- TeePee tents. Quite trendy and fun, these tents are also too heavy, unfortunately. They do have high ceilings and are easy to pitch but they are just too much of a pain to carry.
Of course, exceptions exist, depending on the model and the circumstances. There are tents of all these types that can also work as survival tents under the right conditions. But on average, we’d recommend the ones above.
What are the different circumstances that can affect your choice of a survival tent
So, with the general tips out of the way, let’s go over the major case-by-case considerations. You should keep those in mind every time you pick a survival tent for your gear.
Look at the expected temperature amplitudes for where you’re going. Make sure you consider the extremes and that you look for at least several months ahead. Whatever those temperature amplitudes are, make sure your tent can handle them. 4-season tents are recommended most of the time but aren’t always needed.
Expected climate conditions
The temperature isn’t the only environmental factor that matters. Research and think ahead about the amount of wind and rain you might encounter. Having a waterproof tent is almost always a must but the winds can vary a lot. If the area you’re going to isn’t too windy, you can usually afford a taller and roomier tent. If winds might be a problem, however, prioritize stability and a lower frame at all costs.
Number of people
Most survival tents are usually meant for a single person. Even 2-person or 3-person tents are supposed to be used by just one person in most survival situations. That’s because with most survival gear everyone’s supposed to carry their own stuff. That way, if something happens to one, the other(s) will still have their gear with them.
All that being said, using a single tent for 2 or 3 people is often a good idea too. For one, it’s better for temperature conservation which can be a lifesaver in colder climates. It’s also easier as it’s one less tent to deploy. And, it can even be safer against stronger winds as it means more weight inside the tent.
Your height and gear
Few things are more annoying than not having enough space in your tent. Always make sure you’ll be comfortable in your tent before going anywhere with it. Testing it in your backyard is the easiest way to do that.
The terrain matters as well, and for a lot of different reasons too. For one, different tents usually have different stabilizing mechanisms. Some are more suitable for softer soils, others – for harder ones. But even more importantly, the terrain might be rocky and uneven most of the time. In those cases, it’s smart to get a tent with a thicker bottom (70+ denier).
Now that you’ve probably figured out exactly what you want from your survival tent, we’d recommend AlphaMart’s as the first place to check. They have a pretty good assortment of camping tents to choose from. Not all are suitable for survival but there are multiple models that are great for survival too.
We’d especially recommend this Alpha camp 2-person backpacking tent. It’s very roomy, even more so if you’re alone, and it’s still very lightweight and easy to carry. Easy to set up, stable on the ground, and decent against wind, its only disadvantage is that it’s a 3-season tent. If you need a 4-season tent, however, you can always get a separate rainfly cover to help you out.