How to Pack a Tent in a Backpack in Six Steps (The Best Way)

by | Apr 29, 2023 | Camping

Embarking on a backpacking adventure means taking your trusty tent along for the ride. But, how do you efficiently pack a tent in your backpack while ensuring comfort and optimal weight distribution?

We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to help you master the art of tent packing in just six simple steps. From handling the poles and stakes to expert tips for various backpack styles, we’ve got you covered. Read on to discover how to make your next backpacking trip a breeze, as you learn the how to pack a tent in a backpack.

Step 1. Pack Poles, And Stakes Into Their Bags

Start by gathering all of your tent poles and stakes. Make sure they are clean and dry to avoid damaging your tent or backpack. Place the poles in their bag and the stakes in the tent peg bag, which are provided by the tent manufacturer.

Step 2. Decide If You Want Your Poles Inside Or Out

The Pros Of Packing Poles Inside the Main Stuff Sack

  • Provides extra protection for your tent poles
  • Keeps everything together and organized
  • Prevents potential damage from external elements

The Pros Of Packing Poles Outside Main Stuff Sack

  • Saves space inside your backpack
  • Stuff sack compacts smaller
  • Allows for easier access to poles when setting up camp
  • Reduces the chance of tent fabric snagging on the poles

After trying different ways, I always store my poles inside the backpack, positioning them vertically along the “spine” to prevent bending or discomfort. Some people wrap the poles in the tent sleeve, but concerns about punctures and mismatched lengths can arise. Separating the poles from the main tent also simplifies weight distribution when shared between two backpackers.

Step 3. Put Tent, Rain Fly, and Hardware in the Tent Bag

After organizing your poles and stakes, proceed to pack the tent’s primary structure and the rain fly. Either stuff or roll these components into the stuff sack provided. Avoid folding the tent, as repeated folding in the same place can create stress points that make the fabric more prone to tearing in the long run.

Step 4. Pack the Bottom Third of Your Backpack

In the bottom third of your backpack, store items such as your sleeping bag, pillow, and nightwear. Distributing the weight in this manner helps balance your load and ensures a more comfortable hiking experience. Placing heavier items lower down in your backpack creates a lower center of gravity, which enhances stability while walking.

Additionally, since these items are typically used only at the end of the day, keeping them at the bottom ensures easy access to other essentials during your hike.

Step 5. Pack Your Tent Inside the Backpack

Now it’s time to pack your tent inside the pack. Place the tent bag or stuff sack in the middle third of your backpack, alongside other medium-weight items such as your cooking gear and food. This will help balance the load and protect your tent from damage.

Step 6. Fill in the Rest.

Finally, fill the top third of your backpack with light items such as your insulated jacket and waterproof layers. This will allow for easy access when you need them during your hike.

Other Tips and Considerations

Utilizing Compression Straps

Compression straps can help reduce the volume of your tent, conserving precious space within your backpack. However, it’s essential to note that you should never store your tent in a compression bag for an extended period, as it can cause damage over time.

Splitting Components With Your Partner

My top recommendation for backpacking with a partner is to share the burden of carrying the tent. One person can carry the tent body and rainfly, while the other takes the poles. Naturally, this method is only effective when both partners intend to share the same tent during the trip.

Consider Packing Loose

For ultralight backpackers, skipping the use of a stuff sack can save a little weight. Placing your tent loosely in your backpack enables you to fit it around other items more easily. In this case, it’s advisable to secure your tent poles to the exterior of your pack. However, be aware that using this method comes with a slight risk of damaging your tent while it’s inside the backpack.

Packing a Wet Tent

At times, it’s unavoidable to pack a damp tent in your backpack. Before doing so, try to dry it as much as you can. Shaking it out or allowing it to air-dry for a brief period can make a difference. If you must pack a wet tent, ensure it’s thoroughly dried before storing it at home after your trip (a practice that should always be followed). If you still have time on the trail or are thru hiking, let it sit out and dry as soon as possible.

Packing Method for External Frame Backpacks

When using an external frame backpack, the packing method for your tent differs slightly from that of an internal frame backpack. The primary distinction is that, with an external frame backpack, you’ll attach the tent to the outside of your pack. These external frames are designed for such purposes, with ample space and attachment points for gear. Positioning the tent at the bottom of the backpack helps distribute the weight more evenly and reduces stress on your back while hiking.

However, attaching the tent to the exterior of your backpack does have some drawbacks, such as increased exposure to the elements and potential snagging on branches. Additionally, there’s a risk of the tent falling off the backpack if not secured properly. To prevent this, ensure that you use a strong and secure knot or attachment method to fasten your tent to your backpack. This will minimize the likelihood of losing your tent and ensure a more enjoyable and stress-free outdoor adventure.

Packing A Tent In An Ultralight Backpack

Ultralight backpacking is all about minimizing weight and maximizing space efficiency. When packing an ultralight tent, try to place it as close to the bottom third of the backpack as possible, alongside the rain fly and sleeping bag. This helps maintain a balanced weight distribution, ensuring comfort during your hike.

Since most ultralight backpacks are frameless, it’s essential to consider how you pack your sleeping pad to improve weight distribution and prevent bulging. One method is to use the sleeping pad as a makeshift back pad by folding it lengthwise and strapping it to the back of the pad to provide additional cushioning. For ultralight backpacking, you probably won’t have tent poles since you’ll use your trekking poles instead.

An ultralight backpacking setup.

How to Pack Other Camp Shelters in a Backpack

Hammock camping has become increasingly popular among backpackers due to its lightweight and compact nature. When compared to traditional tents, hammocks can be lighter and easier to pack, as they don’t require any poles for setup. However, it’s essential to ensure that your destination is suitable for hammock camping, with well-spaced, sturdy trees available for hanging.

Aside from hammocks, other alternative camping shelters include bivy sacks, tarp shelters, and cowboy camping (where you sleep out in the open without any shelter). These options are generally lighter and pack down smaller than tents, making them even more convenient to fit into your backpack.

No matter which type of shelter you choose, always consider the specific conditions and requirements of your destination, and don’t forget to consult a comprehensive packing list and setup guide for your chosen camping shelter. This ensures that you’re well-prepared and can enjoy a comfortable and memorable outdoor experience.


Can You Attach a Tent to the Outside of a Backpack?

Attaching a tent to the outside of your backpack is a viable option that can free up valuable interior space for other gear. While some backpackers avoid this method due to the risk of tearing or ripping the tent fabric as you pass by trees, others find it convenient and practical. Storing tent poles externally is particularly common, as they’re less prone to damage and can be awkward to store inside the pack.

To attach the tent externally, you may need to experiment with placement to find the most comfortable and efficient setup. Some backpackers prefer securing the tent at the bottom of the backpack, while others find it more comfortable to lash it near the top, close to the lid opening. Another option is to attach the tent vertically in the middle of the backpack, utilizing straps that some backpacking backpacks provide.

Regardless of the chosen method, using a waterproof bag or stuff sack or storage bag is essential, unless you’re certain the weather will remain dry. This additional protection helps keep your tent safe from the elements during your hike.

Where Does The Foam Sleeping Pad Go In Backpack?

Foam sleeping pads can be challenging to fit inside a backpack due to their size and rigidity. On both an internal or external frame backpack, attaching the pad to the bottom is preferable to maintain proper weight distribution and hiking posture.

If the pad doesn’t fit at the bottom, you can try attaching it vertically along the side or front of the backpack, ensuring it’s securely fastened to minimize shifting during your hike. This will help keep your load balanced and prevent any negative impact on your posture.

Can I Strap My Rain Fly To A Backpack?

Strapping a rain fly to your backpack is indeed an option, particularly if you’re short on internal packing space. Since the rain fly is designed to handle wet conditions, attaching it externally won’t cause any issues if it gets wet.

However, be aware that items strapped to the outside are more susceptible to snagging on branches, incurring damage, or becoming lost during your hike. If you choose to strap your rain fly externally, ensure it’s securely fastened with straps or bungee cords to minimize these risks and protect your gear throughout your journey.

Can I Loose Pack My Tent In My Backpack?

Loose packing a tent in your backpack can help fill gaps and create a more balanced load. While it’s a popular technique among ultralight backpackers, it’s essential to use a tightly rolled tent to minimize bulk.

Exercise caution when packing the tent with other gear, especially sharp or abrasive items like your camp kit and stove, to prevent damage to the tent fabric.

When loose packing, it’s best to carry tent poles separately, secured to the outside of the backpack, reducing the risk of punctures or tears to the tent material.

Is It Lighter To Pack A Hammock Than A Tent?

When comparing the weight of a hammock setup to an ultralight tent, it’s important to consider the entire kit. Although hammocks themselves may be lighter, the combined weight of straps, carabiners, rain fly, and bug netting can make the overall setup heavier than an ultralight tent.

Additionally, an underquilt or sleeping pad is necessary to insulate your body from cold air beneath the hammock. While hammocks can be more comfortable and versatile in some situations, they may not always be the lighter option.


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