Fancy a change from the usual tent set-up? Want something a little more quirky as a ‘just in case’ option? Check out these shelters for your next kip, from tarps to hammocks
What? Hammock, tarp, bivvy and bugshield – all feature here, but what if you can’t decide? There is one quirky option: the Tentstile. Essentially it’s a portable treehouse – and a combination of all of the above – that you suspend between three trees. The base is like a hammock that can be converted to sleep one or two people, the mesh roof acts like a bug shield for warm nights and the fly sheet is essentially a tarp/bivvy that is pegged out to create a porch and shelter you from rain.
Why? Sheer novelty value. There’s something quite exciting about being able to pitch what looks a bit like a tent above the ground. With secure rachets you can set it up as high as you dare, making your night’s sleep something of an adventure in itself.
Why not? Weight. Compared to other options – though this version is the lightest edition to date – it’s still a lot heavier than many of the alternatives covered here (3.8kg). You will also need to dedicate some time to learning how to pitch it before you leave, as it takes some practice.
Ease of Use ★★★★✩
Novelty value ★★★★★
What? Essentially this is just a versatile sheet of breathable, waterproof fabric that you can – with enough practice – arrange in a number of positions to sleep underneath. Most should come with guylines, to help you string it between trees or walking poles. Good ones also come with pegs/stakes.
Why? Weight. If you are heading somewhere where the main issue is rain rather than cold, and you are happy to sleep out in the open in just a sleeping bag or just need a wind break, then the tarp does the job of a makeshift shelter nicely, while packing down smaller than a standard towel in your luggage.
Why not? Faff. Until you get your tarp technique just right, erecting one of these efficiently and easily can be tricky, so make sure you practise before you head out with just a tarp in your bag. In very heavy rain and cold conditions, they can be less than ideal.
Ease of Use ★★★✩✩
Of those tarps tested, this rhombus- shaped piece of waterproof tarp (987g) was the easiest and quickest to pitch in all four of its con gurations. Competitively priced, it also comes with all the required guylines and stakes (other brands require you to purchase one or the other). It even has poppers, so it can be folded and used as a makeshift bivvy bag.
The Iphis’ trapezoid design means pitching it as a tent-shaped shelter, using just a walking pole and the stakes provided, is a breeze. It’s a one-person option and pricey, but packs down very small and is super lightweight (800g).
What? We may picture them strung up between palm trees at beach resorts, but hammocks are more than just a quirky place to drink a sundowner. Made from technical material that offers breathability and waterproofing, there are plenty of extras – from quilts and underblankets to mosquito nets – that you can get to make them all-season and all-condition ready. A serene solution.
Why? Size, weight and comfort. Depending on what model you get, hammocks pack down super small, weigh next to nothing and offer the sensation of falling asleep while being rocked by the breeze.
Why not? Trees, or rather the lack of them. Don’t worry about hanging your hammock (most come with easy-to-use carabiners and suspension loops for easy pitching), but you will still require two sturdy trunks – not always available. However, there are some models that can now be strung up between two walking poles.
Ease of Use ★★★★★
For an ultra-light, easy-to-use option, this ripstop nylon offering weighs in at just 270g (less than an iPad mini). Dispensing with heavy carabiners, its unique lock-and-loop hanging system is not only quick to use but simple, though you will still need a camping mat, plus an underblanket and quilt for colder climes. Luckily, Snugpak does a great combi called the Hammock Cocoon (1.9kg) that fits over any hammock like a banana skin, keeping the warm close to you (£85).
Strong (made from parachute fabric), budget friendly and easy to use, this option is heavier than DD’s (755g), but the carabiners make hanging it a breeze.
What? If you’re heading somewhere hot and humid, where a tent would be too stuffy and it’s the local buglife rather than inclement weather that prevents you from camping out just under a tarp, then these types of shelters are a handy option. Depending on how you look at them, these are either tents without the fly sheets or mosquito nets with ground sheets, however they are great for places where mozzies and other flying nasties are rife.Why? There are few things worse – or more potentially dangerous – than waking up covered in bug bites. These aren’t shelters designed for stopping wind and rain, but rather infections through insect bites, and they are perfect for very hot conditions.
Why not? If there is even a chance of rain, then you can’t rely on these shelters just on their own. You will have to pair them with a tarp, so they don’t collapse under the weight of a downpour.
Ease of Use ★★★★★
If there’s a couple of you, you can’t beat this bug shield for weight and space. Pitched using two walking poles and guylines, it is the lightest two-person shelter around (467g). It pitches easily – and in seconds – and has a sturdy, inbuilt ground sheet. Team with the MSR Thru Hiker Wing 70 (£155; 449g) for an all-weather shelter.
What? Bivouac bags, known to all as ‘bivvies’, truly divide outdoor sleepers. Body-bag-like in shape and style, they are essentially a waterproof jacket for your sleeping bag. At the simpler end of the scale, they are just a sack, but the more sophisticated (and expensive) versions are like tiny tents.
Why? Versatility and ease of pitching. Unlike a traditional tent, you just unfold a bivvy and you’re ready to go, and because it’s basically just making your sleeping bag waterproof, there’s no rigid shape, so you can pitch up on even the smallest patch of level ground.
Why not? Condensation. Even the most waterproofed and breathable bivvies suffer from condensation, as you’ll be creating your own little microclimate inside the bag. For occasional use, that’s not a deal breaker; but if you’re attempting to use your bivvy on multiple days, this might prove a little uncomfortable.Weight ★★★★✩
For the bees knees of bivvies, it has got to be this Gore-Tex offering from the makers of the lightest tents in the world. With its hooped entrance, courtesy of a single curved pole, it offers an altogether more tent-like experience but also has a bug shield, so you can watch the sunset even if midges and mosquitos are active. What’s more, it weighs in at only 840g.
A simple, cost-effective cover for your sleeping bag that’s breathable, waterproof, packs down small and hits the scales at under 400g. It may not be the most comfy over multiple days, but it’s an ideal just-in-case budget solution for your travels.
We asked manufacturers to send us their travel-friendly alternatives to a tent. Wanderlust magazine editor – and extreme sleeper – Phoebe Smith took them into the woods to see which would perform best in the outdoors.
Main image: Tentstile product in forest at night (Tentsile)