Camping. For me, this word always carries with it the supposed glamour of summer holidays long ago. With parents, a camper van and a tent, we went somewhere sunny to the south. They were great days… apart from the transportation and pitching of the tent as well as the rest of the camping equipment. Two strong men were needed to transport the tarpaulin bag alone, and let’s not even talk about the pole bag. This cosy burden was accompanied by air mattresses and sleeping bags that were in no way inferior to the tent in terms of weight. But somehow dragging all of this around was part of the holiday and we were always glad that all the stuff only had to be carried a few metres around a campsite. A trekking tour with all of this equipment would have been out of the question.
But why am I telling you all this? After dealing with the topic of ultralight backpacks in this blog, today I would like to take a closer look at ultralight tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats. Of course, this is the exact opposite of what I experienced as a child, but it is also a good example of how materials and technologies have developed in the area of camping equipment.
What actually makes a tent, sleeping bag or sleeping mat, etc. ultralight camping equipment?
The situation here is similar to backpacks: weight is saved wherever possible by omitting all parts that are not absolutely necessary and by using particularly lightweight materials. These tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats can often easily compare to their conventional counterparts in terms of comfort and functionality thanks to the use of state-of-the-art technologies. So let’s take a look at what the world of ultralight camping equipment looks like.
The subject of tents is a hot topic in the ultralight camping sector. The main question is often whether a tent is needed as camping equipment at all or whether it can be replaced by a good bivvy bag or a tarp. For this reason, I would like to show you different ways of going about the subject of ultralight tents.
One or two-person tents are definitely the right choice if you want to be on the move for several days (possibly with a travelling partner). It makes sense to take a tent with you, especially on tours in the cold season or in areas where heavy rainfall is to be expected. In addition, tents not only ensure that the elements are kept out, but also that pests such as mosquitos and the like can’t get too close to you, either. There are also personal factors such as privacy and comfort requirements. For the one-person tents in particular, there are models that easily undercut the 1 kg mark. A good example of this is the F10 Neon UL 1 from Vango. This 1-person tent weighs just 520 grams with all the trimmings. Tents like the SLINGFIN Hotbox 2 weigh around 1860 grams and offer space for two people.
It may seem a little contradictory at first that there are also large tents in the ultralight camping category. Nevertheless, tents with a capacity of four people or more have their place here too. Tents of this type can be particularly interesting for families who want to go trekking with their children and need a lot of camping equipment. In terms of weight, you usually end up with over 3-4 kilos, which is of course more than if you simply took two lightweight two-person tents with you. However, if you only have one large tent, you only have to put up and take down one tent, which saves time. In addition, a large tent for four people always offers more space than two small ones.
What is lighter than a tent? No tent! For many tours you don’t necessarily need a tent. Not even if you decide to spend the night in the great outdoors rather than in some sort of permanent accomodation. Especially in areas with little rainfall and warm temperatures, this can save a lot of weight on camping equipment. A good compromise solution here can be to take along a tarp. These tarpaulins can be stretched between trees, set up using walking poles or fixed into the landscape in some other way to offer, generally, quite sufficient protection from the weather.
If you want to go even lighter, you can even do without a tarp and just use a bivvy bag for general weather protection. Lightweight models weigh less than 200 grams and offer you the best protection from the elements. In addition to saving weight, bivvy bags and tarps have another decisive advantage: the keyword here is wild camping. In some countries (including Germany), spending the night with a tarp or bivvy bag in the wild is not considered camping and is therefore subject to more relaxed regulations than spending the night in a tent. If you would like to find out more, take a look at our blog posts about wild camping.
Ultralight sleeping bags and sleeping mats for camping
Sleeping bags and sleeping mats make a huge contribution to your sleeping comfort. And a good and restful night’s sleep is also very important for the success of a tour. It is therefore particularly important to ensure that your individual needs are met in this area. This means that you should never save money in the wrong place. However, there are also ultralight models of sleeping bags and sleeping mats that cover the full range from warm to cold.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: if you want a lightweight sleeping bag, you can’t avoid using a down sleeping bag. Of course, there are areas of use in which synthetic sleeping bags are superior to their down counterparts, but not in terms of weight. But what actually makes a sleeping bag heavy? Firstly, the materials used and, secondly, the insulating fill. In the ultralight category, particularly lightweight and thin fabrics are used for the outer shell of a sleeping bag. This means that a lot of weight can be saved here.
You can also save weight on the insulation. One simple rule here: down sleeping bags that are designed for colder temperatures weigh more than down sleeping bags that are designed for warmer temperatures. You should therefore think carefully about what you want to use the sleeping bag for and what it needs to be able to do. For example, I only really go on multi-day hill walking or trekking tours in summer. This means I can also expect reasonably pleasant temperatures at night. However, I get cold very quickly when I sleep and therefore have to use sleeping bags that are actually designed for colder temperatures, even though the temperatures are likely to be warm. Everyone has to make this assessment for themselves in order to determine which sleeping bag is best with which temperature range. Simon’s blog post also provides tips on this topic.
For example, if you come to the conclusion that a three-season sleeping bag is just right for you, you will probably settle on a weight of around 500 grams. Quilts, i.e. sleeping bags without a back section, are also often used in the ultralight camping world. This usually saves a few more grams.
Especially when using an ultralight backpack, it makes sense to use a foam mat. Mats of this type usually weigh 300-400 g and can also be used to stiffen your backpack. They are also virtually indestructible. The disadvantage: these mats are often not particularly comfortable and anyone with back problems will probably curse them rather quickly. A more comfortable alternative may be thermal air mattresses which, depending on the model, have a similar weight to their foam counterparts. However, it is also important here that you select your sleeping mat not only according to weight, but also according to the area of use. For example, if you want to camp on snow in winter, you need a completely different mat than for use on a meadow in summer.
Misconceptions and misunderstandings
Anyone who has read the blog post on ultralight backpacks will already know that we always try to mediate a little between the ultralight and ultraheavy advocates. This time I have picked out a few preconceptions about ultralight camping equipment and would like to take a closer look at them.
Misconception 1: Ultra-light = Ultra-delicate
You hear this misconception often and regarding many different products. Anything that is light and made of a thin fabric is no good, at least not in the long term. Especially in the area of foam mats, this is clearly untrue. But even with tents and sleeping bags, it’s not the case that they fall apart after one use. This is achieved by using lightweight yet extremely robust materials. In addition, the behavior of tents in storms does not necessarily have anything to do with being light or heavy. In this case, it is its shape or construction method that is decisive.
Misconception 2: Ultra-light = Ultra-cold
This may or may not be true. As already mentioned, sleeping bags with less insulation are always lighter than sleeping bags with more. This means that warmer sleeping bags are always heavier than less warm sleeping bags. However, weight can also be saved on the design and other materials. The use of down insulation, for example, makes a sleeping bag significantly lighter and there are also lightweight alternatives for the outer materials. So while an ultralight three-season sleeping bag weighs just over 500 grams, conventional synthetic sleeping bags can easily weigh almost twice as much.
Misconception 3: Ultra-light = Ultra-uncomfortable
When it comes to sleeping mats and tents, this prejudice may or may not be true. It goes without saying that sleeping on a thin foam mat is less comfortable than on an air mat. Even in a tent that looks like a mobile home from the outside, you naturally have less room to manoeuvre than in a larger one. But there are also numerous models in the ultralight category that meet higher comfort requirements. Not all tents are small and cramped – there are definitely different designs. So if you want more space, you may have to carry a few grams more in your backpack (bigger is heavier), but there are many ultralight tents that offer a good amount of space at a low weight. If simple foam mats are too uncomfortable for you, you should take a look at air mats. There are lightweight models that are also very comfortable.
Ultralight camping equipment is a great investment for some. If you only drive to a campsite by car and set everything up there once, the weight of your equipment is not that important. However, if you are travelling with a backpack and going on longer trekking tours with lots of uphill sections, there is a clear advantage to taking lightweight equipment. Nevertheless, your choice of equipment should not always be based on weight alone. Factors such as the type and length of your tour are clearly important, too. The weather and local temperatures must also be taken into account. Because nothing is worse than not being able to sleep through the night because you’re constantly shivering.