What is a freestanding tent? + Non-freestanding compared

The Alps Mountaineering Taurus 5 person tent set up camping on a beach

Are you looking to buy a tent but don’t know what a freestanding tent or a non-freestanding tent is? We’ve got you covered.

In this article we’ll cover what is a freestanding tent and how does it compare to a non-freestanding tent. Read on to find which one is the better purchase for you.

What is a freestanding tent?

A freestanding tent is a tent that stays upright using only its tent poles. That is, freestanding tents don’t need to be staked down or have guylines attached to remain standing.

The structure of the tent is defined by the tent poles and the tension in the tent poles keeps the tent upright. This helps with super easy setup – for example, our winning tent in our review of the top easy set up tent is a freestanding tent.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stake down your tent unless you want to see it disappearing down a hill on a windy day. Guylines will also stop you being smothered by the tent on an especially windy night. Keeping the tent walls taut is also very important for maintaining surface tension, which is a major component of waterproofing.

But freestanding tents are very popular for both casual car camping and for backpackers. They allow you to pick up your tent and reposition it as needed and they’re usually a bit easier to set up than non-freestanding tents which require careful positioning of stakes and guylines.

Some of the more cynical tent users may also point to the fact that you can’t stake a tent down in a showroom, which encourages showing off your freestanding tent. Some people argue that non-freestanding tents are often more sturdy in bad weather conditions but this is mostly only an issue for the more hardcore backpackers.

What is a Non-Freestanding Tent?

A non-freestanding tent is a tent that needs to be staked out for the tent to remain upright. This stops you from moving the tent around easily as you will need to remove the stakes and start the setup process again in your new camping spot.

Rather than the tent pole tension providing the shape of the tent, instead the tension between the guylines, stakes and tent poles provide the tent structure.

Trekking poles are often used as tent poles in non-freestanding tents. This provides the height to the tent, without having to carry tent poles in your backpack. This ultralight setup is what makes non-freestanding tents so popular with some in the backpacking crowd.

However, relying on the tension provided by stakes does mean that a single stake popping out can lead to the tent collapsing. So many people do prefer to opt for a freestanding tent instead which can provide peace of mind.

Freestanding tent vs non-freestanding tent setup

Setup is usually much easier with freestanding tents than non-freestanding tents. Once you have fed the tent poles in to their loops and the structure of the tent is complete, you can peg down the stakes casually without having to keep an eye on the tent and it can be setup quickly. The tent can effectively be set up on any terrain.

Comparatively, for non-freestanding tents it can be more of a faff. You’ll need to stake down the tent first and tough ground or heavy snow can make this impossible. In which case you’ll have to consider using logs, stones or attaching to trees to keep the tent taut. However, set up for non-freestanding tents does get easier as you get used to it and the difference in setup time eventually disappears.

The ability to easily move a freestanding tent can be very handy. For casual campers this could allow you to rearrange your campsite more easily if you’re not a pro at selecting spots. And for backpackers, if you just hadn’t spotted that root before you set up and now it’s digging into your back, then worry not.

Cleaning freestanding tents and non-freestanding tents

It’s much easier to clean a freestanding tent than a non-freestanding tent. Because it keeps its shape without its stakes, you can simply unstake the tent, lift it up with the door open and simply shake out any dirty or sand.

Double walled and Single walled tents

Freestanding tents are usually double walled tents while non-freestanding tents are more likely to be single walled.

A double walled tent includes a main tent structure, along with an added rainfly over the tent to provide additional weatherproofing. The inner tent is often made of a mesh material which is excellent for ventilation.

A single walled tent instead includes just the one waterproof material. Only having one material to carry does make the tent more lightweight which can be useful for backpackers. However, depending on the tent, the ventilation in double walled tents can be lacking. This can lead to condensation on the inside of the tent and a soggy sleeping bag.

Space in freestanding and non-freestanding tents

Freestanding tents often have more room which can make it easier to get dressed in the morning or sit upright without feeling claustropobic. In particular, if there is heavy rain outside then you may want to have some space in the tent.

If you have a large group or want a big tent, then freestanding tents are the most common type found. So if you are a family, you should be fairly sure that a freestanding tent is the right choice for you.

Should you get a freestanding tent or a non freestanding tent?

Freestanding tents are best if you:

  • Want to be able to move your tent around easily after it’s set up
  • Are a regular backpacker or camper
  • Need a either a small or a large tent
  • Prefer convenience and an easy set up over saving a pound or so of carrying weight
  • Don’t use trekking poles
  • Are potentially facing torrential rain, strong winds or heavy snow
  • Like ventilation in the summer and hate condensation
  • Want to be able to easily pitch your tent on hard ground or deep snow
  • Like to have a bit more space in the tent

Super duper easy set up tents like instant tents and pop-up tents are also freestanding tents. To learn more about instant tents, read our article what is an instant tent?

Non-freestanding tents are best if you:

  • Are an ultralight backpacker
  • Only need a small tent
  • Value lightweight materials over convenience
  • Use trekking poles, which can be used as the tent pole
  • Want your tent to take up less room in your backpack
  • Worry about the durability of the tent poles that come with some freestanding tents

Glossary: Tent set up, Types of tents

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