MSR Hubba Hubba

Choosing the right size tent

MSR Hubba Hubba

The MSR Hubba Hubba set up at Middle Velma Lake, California

I don’t like elbows in the ribs or being snuggled close by a tent-mate I don’t like that way….

Put simply, packing too many people into a tent is a good way to ruin a camping trip. Manufacturers label with the number of people they will fit – with no room to spare. Why? Tent sizes are based on floor area without regard to head and elbowroom. According to the National Outdoor Leadership School’s “Wilderness Guide”, the floor space of a two-person tent ranges from 30 to 40 square feet. Spend a little time choosing the right size tent and you will have a more pleasant trip.

Factors affecting the overall comfort


A vestibule is an extension of a tent’s rain-fly, which provides a covered area to store gear and shoes. It also helps to prevent rain from falling into the tent during entry or exit. Some tents have one or two vestibules, while others have none. A vestibule makes a snug tent more comfortable by keeping the gear out of the main tent area.

Headroom and Storage

The ability to sit up or change clothes inside the tent is a big plus. Compare peak-height measurements and the volume of each tent. Hexagon-shaped dome tents rank well for peak-height and volume, but bear in mind that they often don’t fit tall campers.

Some tents also incorporate miniature storage hammocks to store clothes or a book off the floor. I also like small gear loops on the ceiling to hang my light while I dig through a stuff sack.

Tents for Tall Campers

Adequate tent length is important for campers taller than 6 feet. Sleeping with your head and toes pushed against the tent wall is both uncomfortable and may compromise the tent’s rain resistance. A tent length of over 90 inches is preferable, allowing plenty of room for sleeping bags and pillows. Look for a tent designed for tall campers, such as the 98-inch, REI Half Dome 2 Plus. I’ll warn you that the weight may be a turn-off and 6 lbs. 6 oz.

Other options include the Hilleberg Unna (pricey but high quality) and the MontBell Thunder Dome 2 (this is a 2-person tent).

A few more words on choosing a tent…

If weight isn’t a major concern, such as when you’re car camping, buy a tent rated for more people than will use the tent. For example, two campers could buy a tent rated for three to four people. This gives each camper more personal space and room for bags. Families should consider purchasing a tent rated for double the number of campers, or separate into two tents. This way there is plenty of room for toys or even a portable crib. However, this isn’t practical when backpacking.

Backpackers, usually favor lightweight tents over extra space. I like my pack LIGHT so I fall into this category. I own a 1-person Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 and a 2-person MSR Hubba Hubba, both were investments, but have served me well. My gear philosophy is to pay for quality, then take VERY good care of my gear.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1

My Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 on the Appalachian Trail.

Whenever possible, visit a store where the tents can be set up before purchase. This gives you a chance to get inside and “try-on” the tent. Bring a friend to climb inside with you and imagine the space filled with a sleeping-pads and -bags, pillows and clothes. Trust me, you’ll end up having a few good laughs and choosing a better tent than you would by just shopping online. Another option is to try a friend’s tent before buying one of your own. This way you can get a feel for what you like and don’t like when browsing features.

Don’t like the price at your local retailer? Ask if they will price match an online retailer so that you can still shop local.

Two quick reminders, don’t go too small or someone may be sleeping outside, and don’t too big when backpacking or every steep hill will be more painful. Now that you’ve picked a size, on to fabric, pole construction, single or double wall, or perhaps you go for a bivvy or tarp instead. Yes, there is a lot to think about when buying a tent or shelter!

More soon….

Comments 10

    1. One of my fave places nearby is Juniper Springs because they have a nice canoe run you could do as well. Alexander is nice also.

      Wekiwa is in the process of renovating their camping area so I would skip tent camping there at the moment. If you want to go south, try Myakka State Park. Lots to do there!

      Call for reservations at all of them and use bug repellent if you hike into weeds.

      Have fun!

      1. I will second Erika’s tip on Juniper-or really anywhere in that area of Florida. Juniper Run is one of the prettiest canoe rides I’ve ever taken; be prepared with your camera!

  1. At 6 foot 3 most tents do not fit me. In my younger days I just dealt with having cold wet feet against the tent or an aching back and neck from sleeping in the fetal position. Glad to see tent manufacturers are taking into consideration us taller folks, but sadly more material equals more weight.
    Safe travels,

  2. I’ve been in the market for a good single person tent. I am even considering just getting a double for the extra space and sacrifice the little bit of weight. Hearing some tips from experienced people always helps so thanks!

  3. This is a great guide for tents! My husband and I are both tall (5’11 and 6’1) and I’m not sure we ever factored that into our tent buying – we’ve been fortunate enough that our tents have ‘fit’ us, though! It’s also good to note that if you’re doing winter camping/backpacking, a tent rated for 1 extra person than will be sleeping is a good rule of thumb (ie. a 3 person 4-season tent will sleep 2) due to to the extra ‘stuff’ that winter camping requires!

    1. Good point Lynne! I haven’t done any winter camping so I missed that point. Living in Florida, winter is when I would camp near home… Now that I’ll be in a colder climate, I need to give it a try.

  4. I agree with everything you have said when choosing the right tent size. I frequently see people choosing a 1 person tent when thru-hiking where the 2 person is more the correct size for a person with a 40-pound backpack!

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