There isn’t anything like setting up camp in the wilderness and enjoying a good night’s sleep in your luxurious tent, but sometimes lugging that thing around isn’t practical if you’re in it for the long haul. They can be heavy and take a while to put together and there are many alternatives to tents that are lighter and more compact.
While they may not always be ideal, some tent alternatives are preferred by some campers and backpackers. Tent alternatives can include freestanding shelters, tarps, hammocks, and bivouacs (bivvy). We’ve got the details on each.
Freestanding shelters are essentially tent structures without a floor. They usually have stake-out points and one center pole, making them very easy to set up and move in and out of. These shelters are lighter than traditional tents and still offer protection against the elements.
Pro Tip: If you’ll be going to be camping in the snow or somewhere that may be muddy, you’ll need an additional tarp or bivy sack to lay on the ground and protect you and your gear. These things can also protect from bugs on regular dirt or terrain.
*Many tents can also be pitched with just the footprint, poles, and fly to create a similar shelter and save some weight in your pack.
Next to sleeping exposed on the ground, tarps offer the least protection against the elements and they are the lightest, most compact way to camp. They’re also multi-purpose -- you can use a tarp as a ground cloth or blanket, or hang it from the trees or prop it up with trekking poles for shelter from wind, sun, or rain.
Don't knock it till you try it! Many people think sleeping in hammocks can cause unwanted back pain or discomfort. However, if you sleep on the ground, or on certain mattresses, more pressure is put on certain parts of your body from the hard ground underneath you, which often causes discomfort. Hammocks eliminate this discomfort because you’re in the air with no points of pressure to worry about.
Bivies are essentially cocoons for your sleeping bag, and they are one of the lightest options out there. They offer protection from the elements, but they aren’t very roomy. Many are only narrow enough to fit in and can feel very claustrophobic, meaning you might have to set your gear outside if you don’t have any additional shelter.