Venturing into the wild, I’ve camped under the stars in an array of shelters, from traditional tents with solid floors to the newer wave of floorless shelters that have become increasingly popular among backcountry enthusiasts. Both shelter styles have their distinct merits and serve specific purposes, depending on the terrain, weather conditions, and personal preferences.
The debate has been ongoing for years, and with good reason. Each brings to the fore unique advantages and potential drawbacks. Through countless expeditions, I’ve had the privilege to experience the essence of both styles, which has deepened my understanding of their intricacies. This article dives deep into the characteristics, strengths, and limitations of both shelter types, providing insights gleaned from adventures far and wide.
What is a Floorless Shelter?
Floorless shelters are, as the name suggests, tents or shelters that don’t come with a built-in groundsheet or floor. These types of shelters offer an open base, allowing direct contact with the ground beneath. They are typically non-freestanding and are commonly shaped like teepees (aka tipis). Originating from traditional shelters used by indigenous communities and later adopted by hunters, they have seen a surge in popularity among modern backpackers and backcountry hunters.
Typically lightweight and packable, floorless shelters are often preferred for their versatility. They can be pitched over uneven terrains, snow pits, or even atop thick grass, providing campers with a broader range of site selection. Often composed of a single-wall design and requiring fewer materials than their floored counterparts, these shelters offer a minimalist approach to camping while ensuring protection against the elements. The absence of a floor, however, means that users need to be strategic in choosing a campsite and might consider using an additional groundsheet or tarp for added protection.
Floorless Shelter Pros
There are several areas where a floorless shelter can out-perform its counterparts. This includes its weight & packed size, hot tent abilities, clean interior space, and versatility.
Reduced Weight and Packed Size
Floorless shelters have a distinct advantage when it comes to weight and packability. Since they don’t have a built-in floor, the amount of material used is less, making them notably lighter. This reduced weight is a great benefit for backpackers, thru-hikers, backcountry hunters, and anyone who is conscious of their pack’s weight. Additionally, the simplicity in design and absence of extra material means they often compress down smaller, taking up less space in a backpack.
Hot Tent Abilities
One standout feature of many floorless shelters is their compatibility with stoves. A number of these shelters are designed with a vent or opening specifically for a stovepipe, making them ideal for winter camping. This “hot tent” capability means campers can enjoy a cozy, warm interior even in freezing conditions, setting these shelters apart from many traditional tents.
Floorless shelters shine in their adaptability. They can be set up on a wider range of terrains, from rocky outcrops to snowy landscapes. Their design often allows for various pitching configurations, giving campers the freedom to modify the shape or openness based on their needs or weather conditions. Furthermore, they can be paired with bug nets, groundsheets, or even makeshift floors, offering a customizable camping experience.
The absence of a floor offers an unexpected perk: a cleaner interior. When camping in muddy or wet conditions, there’s often a challenge in keeping the inside of a tent clean. With floorless shelters, campers can put on or take off muddy boots, prep gear, or even cook without the worry of dirtying a tent floor. Plus, you can get ready for the day and put on your shoes within the protection of your shelter. And when it’s time to pack up, there’s no need to shake out or clean the tent bottom.
Floorless Shelter Cons
Setup Learning Curve
While floorless shelters can be simple in design, mastering their setup can take some time and practice. Achieving the right tension, ensuring stability in various conditions, and optimizing the pitching method for different terrains or weather scenarios might mean the setup process isn’t as quick as with a traditional tent, at least initially. Over time and with experience, campers can certainly get more efficient, but there can be a learning curve to overcome.
Despite the many advantages, floorless shelters do have vulnerabilities when it comes to certain weather conditions. In instances of heavy rainfall, there’s potential for water to pool beneath or even inside the shelter, especially if you haven’t selected an elevated or well-draining spot. Snow can similarly pose a problem, with drifts potentially accumulating or blowing under the tent edges. Additionally, the open design, while great for ventilation, can allow wind to enter more freely, causing the shelter to flap noisily and create drafts inside, which can be particularly chilling in cold weather.
Without a barrier on the ground, floorless shelters can be more susceptible to uninvited guests. This includes smaller nuisances like bugs and ticks, but also potentially more problematic creatures like mice and even snakes. Especially in areas known for their active wildlife or insect populations, campers might find themselves sharing their sleeping space or waking up to critters exploring their gear.
Condensation is an issue many campers face, and floorless shelters are no exception. Because they often prioritize maximum ventilation and use a single-walled design, there can be occasions where the warm air inside the tent meets cooler external air, leading to condensation forming on the interior surfaces. This can lead to a damp feeling inside, potentially wetting gear and reducing the comfort level for campers.
Best Floorless Tents
Here are some suggestions for the best floorless tents:
Why Would You Want A Floorless Tent
Choosing a floorless tent can be a strategic decision rooted in both preference and the specific needs of a camping trip. One of the primary motivations for opting for a floorless design is the weight and packability advantage. When backpacking or covering long distances, reducing pack weight is crucial, and floorless shelters often provide significant weight savings compared to traditional tents. This lighter load can make the journey more manageable and less tiring.
In addition, floorless tents offer a unique blend of flexibility and adaptability. Their modifiable nature means they can be pitched in diverse terrains and can be adjusted to different configurations based on the environment and individual requirements. This adaptability becomes particularly valuable in wild terrains or places where pitching a standard tent might be challenging. Lastly, for campers who venture out in colder climates, the compatibility of many floorless tents with wood stoves (hot tenting) offers a distinct advantage. This feature allows for a warm, cozy environment inside, making winter camping a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
For most campers, a normal tent will suffice and offer enough advantages to make it worth their time and money. There are few people who really need the floorless tent design, so you must really decide what the best option is for you and your personal use.
The debate between floorless and floored shelters remains a testament to the evolution of camping gear and the diverse needs of outdoor enthusiasts. While traditional tents with floors offer familiar comforts and certain protections, the rise in popularity of floorless shelters is undeniable. Their reduced weight, versatility in diverse terrains, and compatibility with heating sources such as wood stoves offer unique advantages that can greatly enhance certain camping experiences.
However, the choice between the two ultimately depends on individual preferences, the nature of the trip, and the specific challenges one might face in the outdoors. As with all camping gear, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each option can help adventurers make informed decisions, ensuring that their shelter complements their journey and maximizes their outdoor experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you stay dry with a floorless tent?
Staying dry in a floorless tent primarily involves strategic site selection and preparation. Choose a slightly elevated site that’s not in the path of runoff, ensuring water doesn’t pool under the tent during rain. Using a groundsheet or tarp can provide an extra barrier against damp ground. For added protection, some campers dig a small trench around the perimeter of the tent to divert rainwater, although this is not recommended in all environments due to Leave No Trace principles.
Is a floorless tent better for backpacking?
A floorless tent can be an excellent choice for backpacking due to its reduced weight and pack size. Without the additional material of a floor, these tents tend to be lighter and more compact, making them convenient for long hikes. Additionally, they offer flexibility in campsite selection and can be used in conjunction with other gear like tarps or bivvy sacks. However, whether it’s “better” depends on personal preference and the specific conditions you expect to encounter.
Can you add a floor to a floorless tent later on?
Yes, if you decide you’d like more protection from the ground, you can add a separate groundsheet, tarp, or even purchase custom footprints made for specific floorless tent models. This allows for versatility, as you can choose to use the floor when conditions call for it or leave it behind to save on weight and space.
Why would you want a floorless tent?
A floorless tent can be preferred for certain camping activities such as backpacking, hiking, or fishing. It allows you to set up camp quickly and easily, especially in areas with rocky or uneven terrain.
Are floorless tents good?
Floorless tents have their advantages, depending on the camping scenario. They offer better ventilation, reduce condensation buildup, and can be lighter in weight. However, they are not suitable for all situations, such as camping in areas with heavy insect activity or in very wet conditions.