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Free-standing vs. Non-Free-standing Tents (both opinions wanted)
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Akshay Kashyap
(PrimateCurious) - F
Free-standing vs. Non-Free-standing Tents (both opinions wanted) on 07/06/2012 14:27:54 MDT Print View

Hi there. I am looking around for a tent to complete my backpacking set-up, and had some questions about the style of the tent I should be looking for. Maybe y'all can give me some advice on free-standing (FS) and non-free-standing (NFS) tents based on experience? The ease and versatility of campground finding for a FS tent is great, but the option of having a modular tarp tent as a NFS shelter is something I would love.

Do people that own NFS tents have a hard time finding stake-able campgrounds? I understand finding a campground in a forest wouldn't be too bad, but how about deserts and canyons? Trying to set up camp on rocky areas is my main concern with a NFS shelter.

And for the people that own FS tents, have their been times where you were totally thankful for being able to set up camp without driving stakes into the dirt? Or do you usually set up camp where driving stakes into the ground could be feasible and lighter option?

Thanks for the input!

Ozzy McKinney
(PorcupinePhobia) - F

Locale: PNW
no worries on 07/06/2012 14:46:02 MDT Print View

I had the same concerns when transitioning to a tarptent, but it has never been an issue since. Obviously, it is important to plan ahead for the terrain (sand anchors, dead-mans, burlier groundhog stakes, etc), regardless of your shelter choice. I find carrying a few extra feet of cord goes a long way when you do need to improvise a bit.

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Free-standing vs. Non-Free-standing Tents (both opinions wanted) on 07/06/2012 15:10:30 MDT Print View

This might help you a little

This is a really good article but you must be a member to read it

Edited by annapurna on 07/06/2012 15:29:33 MDT.

Sam Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
FS tents vs nonFS on 07/06/2012 22:44:17 MDT Print View

Creating dichotomies like this is popular on this site and elsewhere, but often hinders more than helps understanding.

For example, tents vary greatly in quality of design and construction, so a non FS tent can be far superior to a FS tent.

With the very best design and construction, a FS will be easier to use on the many tent platforms along the AT, for example, and will create a tensioned structure that is highly wind resistant. I purchased a FS tent for a friend, because she was stake-challenged - they always seemed to pull out at the worst of times. And she remained much dryer with the FS tent - raved about it.

But even though a FS tent supports itself for the most part, you must anchor it securely, or all the benefits of FS will be lost when a big blow comes up. So you end up needing stakes or some other form of anchoring regardless of whether the tent is FS or not. But it is nice to know that if a stake pulls out in a blow, the tent will not immediately collapse on you.

tents on 07/07/2012 05:07:08 MDT Print View

the only problem with free standing tents is the extra wt for the pole system.
Thats it. And the fact most are not made of lightwt materials. Poles run 8-12oz on true lightwt tents.

You dont usually pitch a tent on top of rocks, whereever the ground is flat and smooth enough to pitch a tent, I have found I can insert thin stakes. Might have to probe around a bit before they go all the way in due to rocks, but usually does.

A bigger problem is forested areas where the floor is nothing but peat and leaf litter/duff . Theres nothing solid to stick a stake into if all you have are the skinny ti stakes.

you can always tie off to rocks, trees (may need extra cordage.)
You can also take tiny screw eyes and put up nfs tents on shelter sleeping platforms too

Sunny Waller
(dancer) - M

Locale: Southeast USA
FS versue NFS on 07/07/2012 07:32:26 MDT Print View

This is exactly where I find myself on every trip. Lighter weight on my back all day versus a quick, easy, no fiddle setup when I get to camp.. The EZ setup is a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1..trail weight 320z.. bomber protection from wind and storms..small foootprint-..I only use 4 thin small ti stakes to stake out the rainfly and the is no big deal if these pull out they are not holding the tent up. My light weight rig is a Zpacks Heximid...trail weight is 16 oz including the stakes, the zpacks pocho/ground sheet floor and extra cord. You cannot just throw this tent up anywhere but it is a palace inside because of all the room. Since your stakes make the tent I use the Easton peg stakes on the corners and in the front and ti stakes for all the rest. Using Line Locs on your guy lines makes it much easier to pitch especially in a tight spot. If I am not sure of the surface I will be sleeping on I take the Big Agnes because you can park it any where.

Edited by dancer on 07/07/2012 07:37:31 MDT.

Edward Jursek

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Free standing on 07/07/2012 10:04:26 MDT Print View

I have a Tarptent Rainbow that is, near as I can tell, about the lightest free standing tent around. It makes clever use of both trekking poles and is a breeze to set up. While it is heavier then my Zpacks Hexamid, it is palatial inside and bomb proof. I use it for beach hikes, base camping and trips where the weather forecast looks rough, especially during the shoulder seasons. I used my Rainbow a few weeks ago on a 4 day hike on the Olympic coast that featured periods of wind and heavy rain. Despite my sloppy seam sealing job and exposed beach camping sites, the Rainbow was bone dry inside. Henry Shires at Tarptent has excellent customer service and reasonable pricing. Rainbows also show up on the Gear Trade Forum from time to time.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Free-standing vs. Non-Free-standing Tents (both opinions wanted) on 07/07/2012 10:53:45 MDT Print View

Many free-standing tents use a LOT of stakes. A Big Agnes Seedhouse SL-1 comes with ELEVEN stakes and needs them for full functionality. I have an old REI Half Dome that uses eight stakes.

So a free standing tent will sit upright while you pound in the stakes and usually won't fall over if one comes undone. It can blow away. The simpler designs can be easy to pitch and require fewer strings and knots than a typical tarp setup.

The real feature of most free standing tents is the use of tensioned poles. The main advantage I see with them is more interior room and *maybe* some better wind stability. That comes at greater cost, weight and complexity. Break a pole and you might have a mess on your hands. Losing a pole is an expensive prospect too. I think free standing tents are a known quantity for new campers, give a greater sense of security and most provide bug protection.

To compare, my Gatewood Cape uses one trekking pole and 6 stakes; likewise several other SMD designs. It is very compact to stow and 11oz plus whatever stakes I'm using. Simple rectangular tarps typically use 6-8 stakes.

My hammock uses two stakes, a bunch of strings and requires a couple trees-- but very "free standing" :)

Jeff Bullard
(DallasJeff) - F
Free Standing tents for places with bedrock (canyons, desert) on 07/29/2012 18:17:30 MDT Print View

For desert and canyon camping I HIGHLY recommend a freestanding tent.

Most of the camping we do is at Big Bend National Park and National Parks of southern Utah. Driving stakes in a lot of that terrain can be near impossible.

Our solution is a free standing tent. Its a myth that you must stake a freestanding tent. 95% of the time we don't - I can only remember three times in my ten years of backpacking that we had to stake.

If the majority of your camping is in places where stakes cannot be driven, you will definitely want a free standing tent.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Free Standing tents for places with bedrock (canyons, desert) on 07/29/2012 18:51:18 MDT Print View

A myth? You must camp in places without wind.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Freestanding on 07/29/2012 20:12:47 MDT Print View

I find the two biggest advantages of a free-standing tent are:
1) Ability to pitch shelter and then tweak it's position before staking into place.
2) Ability to shake out the tent from sand/dirt/dead bugs etc that accumulate.

The whole discussion of not needing stakes or being protected if a stake pulls out is a non-issue to me. I've run into enough surprise bad weather that I'll always stake at least the minimum, and I like to think my staking ability has progressed to the point where a stake pulling out is a very rare occurrence. When camping on rock I tie off to a few boulders. My NFS shelter only needs 4 stake/guy out points, so any difference in effort is minor. In these circumstances a FS tent would be handy, but it's a tiny minority of my camping.

"the only problem with free standing tents is the extra wt for the pole system."
A few others would be:
1) If a tent pole breaks, you can't easily improvise like you can with a trekking pole supported shelter.
2) Cost
3) It takes time to assemble the pole structure. It's true some NFS shelters take forever to pitch, but a fast pitching NFS (ie. pyramid tarp) can be pitched immediately (assuming you're staking either way).

"A bigger problem [with non-freestanding tents] is forested areas where the floor is nothing but peat and leaf litter/duff."
I've never had a problem with this. If you're in a forested area that's mature enough to have a floor consisting of nothing but peat and leaf litter, then you'll also likely to be fairly sheltered and thus not in need of a highly robust pitch. Even shepards hooks can be made to work, but bringing the right stake (ie Y stake) is ideal.

Edited by dandydan on 07/29/2012 20:30:00 MDT.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: Free-standing vs. Non-Free-standing Tents (both opinions wanted) on 07/29/2012 20:54:43 MDT Print View

I use both and it's really not as problematic as you seem to think and, for me, "stake-ability" of the destination is rarely a criteria in deciding which tent to take.

I backpack in the Grand Canyon and always take a tarp because (a) I don't need bug protection in the Canyon, (b) I want a separate groundsheet since I rarely need a shelter and (c) it's the lightest. It's rare to find a campsite in the Canyon where I can use stakes but I just put on longer lines and anchor them with rocks. Fortunately, there's no shortage of rocks. :D

I have a 2-person free-standing tent that I love for it's roominess but it's also my heaviest tent. I only take it when I'm sharing the tent or when I'm kayaking. I don't think it's any easier/faster to set up than my tarptent. The Lightheart Solo, which is not free-standing is my easiest/fastest setup tent by far.

wiiawiwb wiiawiwb
(wiiawiwb) - F
Hammock on 07/29/2012 21:52:17 MDT Print View

Maybe a hammock is your answer.

You don't have to give a hoot about the ground beneath you or whether you are on an incline. I live in an area where hiking is done in forested areas so trees are inescapable. A hammock would obviously not work in areas of the country where the landscape doesn't provide as many trees.

Brian Johns

Locale: NorCal
Carry two types (or more?) of stakes on 07/30/2012 15:15:18 MDT Print View

Sectionhiker has an excellent post on this, but I don't have link for you now, sorry. I know gossamer gear reposted it in their tips on the website too. Hope this helps.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: Re: Free Standing tents for places with bedrock (canyons, desert) on 07/30/2012 16:18:02 MDT Print View

No, he's just a troll- that's Jeff's first and only post here.

Anyway, clearly both FS and NFS shelters have their advantages and disadvantages. And since this is BackpackingLIGHT, clearly the hive mind here prefers lighter NFS tents. I will tell you in addition that I just did a 5-day grand Canyon hike using a Supermid and had no trouble setting it up. The worry about having trouble erecting a NFS tent on hard ground is IMO utter nonsense- or at least unjustified. Especially when you consider tents like the TT Moment that only need minimum TWO stakes. Heck, you can ALWAYS find a couple of bushes close enough together that you can tie to them and not need stakes at all, no matter what desert you're in. Rocks work, too.

That said, if I were doing serious winter mountaineering or arctic exploring I might consider a freestanding tent just for the bombproofness, though a NFS tunnel tent is also a contender.

But have I ever worried about finding a suitable site with ground into which I could pound a stake? No. Not really.

Jeff Bullard
(DallasJeff) - F
FS for me. on 07/30/2012 18:41:05 MDT Print View

Why stake your FS tents? With me (180 pounds) and my 40-pound expedition pack inside its not necessary unless the wind is gusting over ~40 mph, which is rare. I'm assuming the reason is because you leave your tents set up unoccupied and unattended?

About using big rocks and shrubs, there are none in some areas. Example: In September 2011 we camped a week around the eastern rim of Lake Powell near Hall's crossing. Undulating bedrock with no loose rocks and no shrubs. TBH we didn't even set up a tent on a couple of nights but when thunderstorms rolled through a FS tent was the only real option.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
... on 07/30/2012 22:28:47 MDT Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 07/10/2015 14:33:10 MDT.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Re: FS for me. on 07/31/2012 09:15:32 MDT Print View

Well then not to put too fine a point on things but I suspect that you could have done better site selection, Jeff. There aren't many places on Earth where you'd be hiking on a flat featureless bedrock plain that didn't have a better site within 10 minutes walking distance. I mean, really, you couldn't find a couple of large rocks to tie off to? Got a picture of your camp site by any chance? (It does sound neat.)

All I'm saying is that this meme about it being difficult to find tie-out points for NFS shelters is the equivalent of urban myth. OTOH if you are someone who just wants to throw up a FS shelter when you're worn out at the end of a day of hiking and you're willing to carry the extra weight, go for it. HYOH. No one is saying that you are doing it "wrong" by using a FS tent. We're just saying that all the worry about finding tie-outs for NFS tents is much ado about nothing.

Clearly, yes, there are special cases- like mountaineering or wallhanging or camping on chickees in the Everglades- that require special equipment. And if you have managed to find that flat featureless bedrock plain that I mentioned, well, all the more power to you. If nothing else it does sound interesting and would also qualify as such a special case, but IMO still doesn't justify carrying a heavier shelter the other 99% of the time. Because I don't think that the OP was asking about niche uses- I suspect he was asking about general use in which case I stand by my statement that NFS shelters are perfectly viable, simpler, and lighter- if not as bombproof in most cases. Even in 99% of desert or canyon hiking there is no issue driving stakes or finding tie-outs. Hiker's peccadilloes differ so they aren't for everyone, but they are nonetheless great shelters.

I'm decidedly not one of the tarp-fascists, but I'm also not ossified in my thinking nor falling for the FS tent propaganda put out by mainstream manufacturers. I've compromised between lightweight/comfort/bombproofness by carrying 'mids most of the time. I use a bivy to address bugs when they are an issue. Every so often I use a poncho tarp when I'm in a fanatical mood. At the other end of the scale, sometimes I use a cheap metric-ton Coleman FS tent when car camping with the family. (And, yes, those people who complained of FS tents getting blown into the next state by the wind were talking about when it is unoccupied, which my Coleman has tried to do on occasion. And it takes a LOT less than 40mph, brother.) But for general use? A NFS 'mid.

I don't think that FS tents will ever be quite as light as NFS tents. After all a FS tent will always need at least two poles. They are, however, getting close enough in weight that the difference is probably not terribly significant for most users. But the people here aren't most users, and I am forced to presume that there is a reason the OP asked his question on BackpackingLIGHT, after all. A lot of people come here because they have heard of the tarp or NFS thing, are intrigued by it, but need a little reassurance about it before they try it.

PS- Troll comment rescinded. Good to hear from you again, Jeff.

Edited by acrosome on 07/31/2012 09:32:14 MDT.

Sumi Wada
(DetroitTigerFan) - F

Locale: Ann Arbor
Re: FS for me. on 07/31/2012 10:36:29 MDT Print View

I never have 40lb of gear inside my tent. If my pack is 40lb, more than half of it would be food and water and they would be outside. It wouldn't take a 40mph gust to move my FS tent if I weren't in it. It doesn't have to be "unattended" per se; maybe a bathroom run in the middle of the night...

There are a LOT of unsuitable campsites but I've never been in a situation where the campsite on bedrock with no loose rocks, no shrubs, no sand was the *only* place to camp.

I don't think anyone's arguing that NFS tents are the *best* choice everywhere but the majority of my longer trips are in the Canyons and having a NFS shelter is an issue for me.

Edited by DetroitTigerFan on 07/31/2012 10:39:31 MDT.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
WEIGHT! on 07/31/2012 13:12:49 MDT Print View

Often NFS tents are lighter. My Moment has only one pole in NFS mode.

It has a second "crossing pole" in FS mode but that's extra weight and will only be used for camping on big, flat rock sites when sea kayaking or for extra support if snow is possible.

Going with NFS tents gives you a MUCH greater choice of tents. FS tents are not all they are cracked up to be, IMHO (unless you are camping in hellish winter winds). I have a TNF Tadpole but it still requires stakeing out the vestibule.

EDIT> The beauty of TT's Moment and SCARP designs is that you can have them EITHER as NFS or FS depending on your needs. Instead of buying two tents all you need is another pole (Moment) or two poles (SCARP I or II).

Edited by Danepacker on 08/03/2012 01:09:42 MDT.