Last Updated on 09/01/2022
Is it fair to compare single wall vs double wall tents? The two main types of tent are often pitched against one another, but in reality, they suit vastly different environments and users. Single walled tents are lightweight and perform well in warm, dry environments, while double walled tents are better suited to comfortable camping and severe weather.
Picking the right tent for you requires a lot of thought and consideration. Different tents excel in certain environments, or for particular trips. What’s right for one trip may be unsuitable for another, so you need to know where and how you are going to be using your tent.
Factors like the environment, the weather, the weight, and how you like to camp all affect your tent choice. One of the main starting points when it comes to tents is deciding between single and double walled construction. This article is going to explore the pros and cons of each as well as explain why you might pick a double wall tent vs a single wall tent.
What is a Single Wall Tent?
Even the best single wall tents rely on just one layer of fabric to separate you from the elements. This single piece of material is both a rain fly and a sleeping area. It may have vents or mesh elements to it, but by and large, these are made from waterproof, breathable material.
On a single wall tent, the single piece of fabric usually wraps underneath you, too, to create a fully sealed floor. These tents often rely on hiking poles for their support and are rarely, if ever, freestanding.
What is a Double Wall Tent?
Double-walled tents have a separate waterproof outer layer and an inner flysheet that acts as a sleeping area. These tents are heavier than a single skin tent. This is partly because you are carrying almost double the material, but these tents also have their own pole systems rather than using your hiking poles.
Double-walled tents are often free-standing. Four season models are usually fully geodesic, while other, lower-rated models have semi-geodesic designs. This freestanding design makes these tents heavier, but also more capable of withstanding extreme weather.
Difference Between Single Wall Vs Double Wall Tents?
The main differences between a single skin vs double wall tent are the portability and protection. Single skin tents are way more portable but double wall tents provide superior weather protection and comfort. The reason you would choose either one depends on your priorities and the type of camping you are doing. You can also get winter tents with insulation for extreme cases and there are other alternatives to tent camping.
Advantages of Single Wall Tents
What are the benefits of picking a single-walled tent over a double-walled tent?
Lightweight and Portable
Single-skin tents are significantly lighter than a double-skin tent. This isn’t like shaving the handle off your toothbrush either, this is a noticeable weight saving. Comparable ultralight models of twin and single skin tents can show a difference of up to 1lbs.
In the world of fastpacking or lightweight Alpine-style hiking, this is the sort of weight-saving measure that can make it far easier for you to move around on the more technical ground. This technical mountaineering requires full freedom of movement, and this is far easier without extra weight in your pack.
Compact and Easy to Pack
Single skin tents pack down to an almost unnoticeable size. The single-layer will usually bungle to around the size of your fist, and then you just have to worry about a small bag of pegs, too.
Many single skin tents rely on your hiking poles for structure, which you will be carrying anyway. If your single skin tent has its own pole system, these will usually be made to be ultralight and to pack down to a compact size.
As well as being lightweight, keeping your pack as small and as close to your back as possible is a major advantage to fast and light hikers, like mountaineers or thru-hikers. The lack of bulk stops your bag from bouncing around and trying to take you with it.
Fast to Set Up and Take Down
There’s nothing better, after a long day on the trail than getting into camp and having your tent up in a flash. Single skin tents go up far quicker and easier than twin skin alternatives and you can quickly go from on your feet, to relaxing on your sleeping mat and having a well-earned rest.
This isn’t just a nice bonus, though. In cold weather or challenging conditions, getting shelter quickly can make all the difference.
Overheating in 60 degree weather in your tent is just as uncomfortable as being cold. Sweating out into your sleeping bag, struggling to get comfortable, and finding every surface sticky with sweat. It’s far more comfortable in summer to have a single skin tent that breathes more effectively.
The single layer of fabric is usually breathable in itself, but these tents often have ventilation ports, too. These vents let the air come straight into the main compartment of the tent, rather than being inhibited by an inner flysheet. This means that the cool air is more effective in keeping you comfortable.
Downsides of Single Wall Tents
Of course, no matter how good a design is, nothing comes without drawbacks. We’ve briefly mentioned some of these, but we’re going to look at what drawbacks there are to single-walled tents.
Condensation on the Walls
Single-walled tents generate a lot more condensation than twin skin tents. Because there is no ventilation layer, any moisture you create by breathing or through your equipment drying will go directly onto the inner of the rain sheet. There are ways to prevent and deal with condensation on single wall tents but it is a pain to have wet walls.
More condensation is an issue. Not only can this drip down and create small puddles in extreme circumstances, but it means you have to stay clear of the walls of your tent. Any equipment that touches damp walls is going to become wet and potentially not dry out.
For this reason, single skin tents can feel cramped. They also often don’t have a porch area, so you may find yourself squashed inside with backpacks and boots.
Less Weather Protection
A single wall tent does not offer as much weather protection as a double-walled tent. You will notice the wind more inside a single-walled tent as they are buffeted around. As the vents in a single skin tent lead straight into the inner, this wind can whip through your tent and cool you down.
The inner of a double-wall tent doesn’t get blown around like the outer does and therefore keeps the noise level down. Rain and wind are far more noticeable in a single skin tent that doesn’t have this noise protection.
Rain and cool weather also lead to far more condensation inside the tent. The colder outer surface of the tent, coupled with the fact that being soaked with rain limits how effectively it breathes, means there will be greater moisture build-up inside. Play on the safe side and check the hiking weather before you go camping in a single skin tent.
Limited 3 Season Use
Single skin tents are not designed to stand up to extreme or wild weather. Anything designed to be ultra-lightweight will be limited in other areas. Single skin tents lack the reinforcement and the geodesic structure that comes from multiple, often weighty, poles.
This, coupled with the lack of extra insulation that comes from having a double-skin tent, makes single wall tents unsuitable for 4 season camping.
Advantages of Double Wall Tents
Okay, single skin tents are looking good. But what about double skin tents?
Better Wind Protection
You get far greater wind protection when camping inside a double-walled tent than you do inside a single skin tent. The inner layer, although only made from mesh or flysheet, will protect you from any wind that makes it past the outer.
This inner layer also protects you from some of the noise of the storm. Unlike the outer layer, which is at the mercy of the full force of the wind, the inner layer won’t flap around. You will get a more peaceful and comfortable night’s sleep in a two-layer tent.
The gap formed between the inner and the outer layer of a twin skin tent allows air to flow between them. This air wicks away a lot of the moisture that would otherwise form condensation on the outer layer of the tent.
The heat from your tent is also largely contained within the inner layer, too. This means that the difference in temperature between the air inside and outside the outer fly is less extreme than it would be in a single skin tent. Less condensation forms where the temperature difference is less notable.
There is usually more space inside a twin skin tent. This is largely thanks to the fact that you don’t have to avoid the walls at all costs. Unless the inner touches against the outer, there is little chance of any condensation entering your tent.
Twin skin tents often have porches and extra space inside, too. This is partly because of the design, where there has to be an air gap between the inner and the outer. It is also because they focus less on being ultra-lightweight and more on comfort.
4 Season Camping
4 season camping requires the toughest, most durable tent you can get hold of. To camp in the most extreme weather and roughest, coldest conditions, you should have a fully geodesic, twin-skin tent.
The geodesic shape is the strongest style of tent on the market, built to withstand extreme winds. 4 season camping in a single skin tent would lead to condensation on the inner, which would freeze into ice overnight. Twin skin tents allow you to be warmer overnight and to avoid much of this condensation.
Double Skin Tents are Comfortable
Double-wall tents focus on comfort over speed. That is, they may not be as lightweight to carry or as quick to put up, but once you’re in them, you will appreciate how much more comfortable they are.
With extra space inside them, as well as storage space for your equipment, you won’t have to spend your night huddled inside your tent, vying for space with damp bags. The lower levels of condensation and the fact that it won’t soak you in the night also help you relax.
More of a Base Camp
It’s a minor point, but worth considering. If you’re not a thru-hiker, you may want to leave a standing base camp at points on your trip, for example, if you plan to hike a mountain that’s not directly on your planned route.
Double skin tents are secure enough that you can confidently leave them standing with your sleeping equipment inside while you head off for the day. Of course, this relies on you having staked them out securely in the first place. You also won’t have to leave your hiking poles behind just to keep your tent up.
Downsides of Double Wall Tents
We looked at the pros of double-wall tents earlier, but what are the cons?
Heavier to Carry
With a double-wall tent, you have a lot more to carry which means that it is always going to weigh more. The second layer of fabric, as well as the poles, to create a geodesic structure, all add to the weight of your tent.
Thru-hikers, technical hikers, and hikers who are adopting the fast and light approach all understand the benefit of weight saving. Carrying extra weight uses more energy and takes more of a toll on your body, not to mention your mind. This can quickly add up to being uncomfortable, or fed up carrying your heavy pack and can have a major impact on your trip.
Bulkier to pack
A little like the impact of extra weight, the bulk of a tent can make your pack more cumbersome. A large pack will pull weight away from your body and is more difficult to negotiate through technical terrain. Bulkier packs will also bounce more on your back and become uncomfortable or irritating over time.
With a bulky tent, you may have to decide between packing it internally in your pack or loading it on the outside. Anything packed on the outside of your bag is at the mercy of the elements, as well as any branches or thorns you may have to trample through. Your tent is more likely to get damaged packed externally on your bag.
More Expensive for Lightweight
High-quality and lightweight double-wall tents don’t come cheap. This is even more notable if you want one which even comes close to competing, weight-wise, with a single skin tent. How much does a 4 person tent cost?
Who are Single Wall Tents for?
Now that we’ve looked at the pros and cons of each, who would benefit from a single wall tent?
Those who are moving fast and light and carrying everything with them benefit from the reduced weight and bulk of a single skin tent. Space is at a premium in a fully packed lightweight backpacking bag and you will be grateful that you can perhaps squeeze in a little extra food instead of more tent.
The ventilation on a backpacking trip can keep you cool at night when the weather is warm. If you pitch your tent in a well-ventilated area, you shouldn’t have as much condensation to deal with, either.
Long-distance hikers and thru-hikers need to save all the weight they can. If you’re heading out on a six-month hike on a long-distance trail, you don’t want to be carrying more than you need.
On your thru-hike, you’re going to restock on food and water, as well as perhaps clothing. This means that you can forego a large pack, get a lightweight tent, and make your life a little easier.
Summer conditions are milder and you usually experience less wild weather. This makes the summer month far more suited to single skin tents, which don’t cope as well as double skin tents do with strong winds and driving rain. The extra ventilation on a single skin tent is also a welcome relief from the summer heat.
If you’re already loading up your pack with pounds of rope and metalwork to head out climbing, you need a tent that packs away small and doesn’t take up much room. A single skin tent is top of the agenda for climbers who need to be hauling as little weight as possible up a rock face.
Just remember, climbers, that if you don’t have trekking poles with you, you may have to find another way to put your tent up.
When to Use a Double Wall Tent?
There are a lot of situations where you benefit from a double-wall tent, too. Let’s have a look at some of those.
There is no getting around the fact that double-wall tents are more comfortable than single-skin designs. If the weight or pack size of your tent isn’t of vital importance, you will probably benefit from being a little more comfortable in camp. After all, even on long hikes, you spend a lot of time relaxing in camp or trying to sleep comfortably so that you are energized for the following day.
In double skin tents, you will usually have a porch area to store wet equipment or bulky backpacks, so you get the whole inner area to yourself. You also have less condensation to worry about and don’t have to be as concerned with touching the outer walls of the tent.
Double-wall tents are warmer than single-skin tents. The extra layer acts a little like insulation and the inner flysheet traps some heat.
Twin skin tents are commonly geodesic or at least semi-geodesic. This freestanding structure is stronger than a single skin tent and will withstand the wild weather that winter can throw at you. Couple this with less condensation freezing inside your tent, and double-skin tents are an all-around winter winner.
More than 1 Person
If you’re planning to share your tent with another, a double-layered tent is a safer choice. Twice the number of occupants means twice the breathing, twice the damp equipment, and twice the warmth. In short, this means twice the condensation.
Double-wall tents are less prone to condensation than single-skin tents, but it also doesn’t matter so much if you knock against the walls. With two people wrestling for space in a single skin tent, you’re far more likely to touch the walls and bring moisture into a tent.
There are two main reasons that double-wall tents are better in bad weather. First, their freestanding structure means they stand up to wind and rain far better than a single skin tent.
The double layering also means that condensation is less of a concern. Condensation builds more quickly in cold weather and rain and this can cause issues in a single skin tent.
The second major advantage to a double-wall tent in bad weather is the comfort that we spoke about earlier. In bad weather, you are bound to spend more time in your tent than you would in fair conditions. Spending long evenings huddled in a condensation-filled, single-skin tent doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it?
Which is Best: Single Wall Vs Double Wall Tents?
Comparing single wall vs double wall tents, it is clear to see that both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Single wall tents are lightweight and pack down far smaller than a double-wall tent. This makes them well suited to fast and light hikers or backpackers, such as thru-hikers. Single wall tents can also be an excellent choice in summer, where their extra ventilation is a bonus.
Double-wall tents are more comfortable than single wall tents and less susceptible to condensation build-up. There is usually more internal space and porch space in a double-wall tent and they stand up far better to extreme weather conditions.
Whether you choose a single skin or double skin tent will depend on your priorities. Do you need to be as lightweight as possible or do you want a little more comfort?