Dear Alpine Ascents: Double-Wall vs. Single Wall Tents?

dear alpine ascents: double-walled vs. single wall tents?

Dear Alpine Ascents,

I’m gearing up for an 8-Day Alaska Course and I see that you require double-wall four season tents. I found a single wall four-season tent that is supposed to be bomber (saw photos of it being used in the Himalaya) and it would save me 5 pounds. What gives? 

Sincerely,

Trying to Lighten My Load

dear alpine ascents: double-walled vs. single wall tents?
Room with a view.

Hi Lighten,

Unless you want to be roasted alive by the midnight sun and bathed in condensation, you’re going to want to steer clear of a single-wall tent – a savings of 5 pounds is not worth it.  First, let’s break down the differences between single-wall and double-wall tents. 

A single-wall tent is exactly what its name implies: A tent constructed of a single wall of fabric. Traditionally, single-wall tents use some sort of robust waterproof, breathable fabric and are designed for short trips or when going light is right.  

A double-wall tent is constructed of two walls—typically the tent body and a rainfly. As tents evolved from cotton to nylon ripstop fabrics, their designs began to incorporate 2 layers of fabric to achieve waterproofness and breathability. The rainfly is 100% waterproof but not breathable. The inner tent is 100% breathable but not waterproof. Combine the two and you get the benefits of both.

Copy? Now, here are the main reasons you want a double-wall tent for your 8-Day Alaska course.

  1. Double-wall tents offer shade and ventilation. The rainfly of double-wall tents offer shade for the body of the tent – essential when the sun rises around 5:00AM in mid-May and doesn’t set until nearly 11PM. Double-wall tents also usually have two doors, which gives you more temperature management control while hanging out inside. Single-wall tents often only have 1 door (and possibly a small ventilation window on the opposite side if you’re lucky) and the air can become stagnant and stuffy without the cross breeze of two major ventilation points. In other words, you’ll get cooked during that afternoon nap on rest day. 
  2. Condensation Much? Condensation buildup occurs when a lack of ventilation allows for a steep temperature gradient between the interior and exterior of your shelter.  Check out this post on our blog which breaks down the phenomenon.
  3. Single-wall tents have a smaller footprint.  Your tent will be your home for 8 days – maybe more if the weather takes a turn for the worse and you can’t fly out. You’ll be glad for the extra space. 
  4. Gear storage – There is typically more storage space in a double-wall tent – pockets abound on the tent body to store everything from your headlamp to smelly socks. Double-wall tents also have multiple doors and vestibules to keep your gear dry and cook your ramen safely if it’s storming outside. 

For all the pros (and there are many) of a double-wall tent, there are a few cons. Anchoring the tent out takes more time and you may need to fuss with the guylines to make the tent secure. You often need to guy out more points and the vestibules. A small price to pay for the creature comforts of a double-wall palace. 

In short, save the single-wall tents for quick alpine missions when weight savings is at a premium and you are willing to suffer a bit. 

See You in the Mountains,

Alpine

8 Day Alaska Mountaineering Course BLOG

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