Terry Breaux would be considered an expert camper. As a child, he fell in love with the outdoors the first time he slept under the stars in a tent. He still pursues bike-packing expeditions, testing gear and looking for better shelters for outdoor users. Since 1989, he has been designing tents, and he has worked at MSR for the past nine years. He now shares his knowledge of tent design with you.
What is the difference between a tent with a single wall and a double wall? What are the differences between these two construction styles? Which is the best use for each of them? Let’s find out:
A single-wall tent does exactly what it says: A tent made of one wall of fabric. Single-walled tents were traditionally made of a strong waterproof, breathable fabric and were used almost exclusively as mountaineering tents.
To make lighter tents, some tent manufacturers use non-breathable coated fabrics on single-wall backpacking models.
The answer is obvious. A double-walled tent comprises two walls, the tent body and the rainfly. Tents have evolved from cotton to nylon ripstop fabrics. As a result, they now include two layers of fabric to ensure waterproofness and breathability. The rainfly is waterproof but not breathable. The inner tent is waterproof but 100% breathable. Combining the two will give you the best of both.
The pros and cons of single-wall tents
A single-wall tent is more convenient to set up than a double-walled tent. A single-wall tent is easier to set up and faster to move around. This is particularly important when trying to build your tent in a snowstorm or on a steep ledge. You will pay more for the ease of setup and lighter weight, but you won’t have as much gear storage.
The pros and cons of double-wall tents
A double-wall tent almost always guarantees a dry tent. It also allows for more gear storage. Double-walled tents come with multiple doors and vestibules that keep your gear dry. However, this extra space and comfort come at the cost of a heavier tent than a single-walled model (i.e. Same size, same rating for the season.
Double-walled tents require more attention to guying out rain flies and must be staked. The tent body must be staked and the vestibules secured. After setup, the rainfly tension may need to be adjusted. Tent rainfly fabrics, especially nylons, can stretch slightly when wet and need to be re-tensioned.
The best environments for each
Single-wall tents are best for alpine environments that are dry and cold. Double-wall tents are great when it’s raining or humid, and extra gear storage is needed.
Tips and Tricks for
Single-wall tents need to vent to keep condensation under control. Venting is often necessary for alpine environments, where warmth can be sacrificed. It is important to strike the right balance between controlling condensation and keeping your interior warm.
Double-wall tents require that the floor be staked tight and wrinkle-free. This will ensure that the poles are in the right position to keep the rainfly away from the tent’s body. Take the tent off the wall and attach guy cords as needed. It is better to use guy cords when setting up the tent rather than getting up in the middle of the night to attach them after a storm hits. Guy cards are a great way to keep the tent stable and the rainfly fabric taut.