How Many People Comfortably Fit in a 3-Person Tent?

This is a picture of three people in a 6’x7′ three person tent. Even though one person is a small-framed woman and another is a child, it’s uncomfortably squishy.

All too often people are dissatisfied when comparing the suggested size of a tent to the actual reality of fitting 3 people into a 3-person tent. Though it is possible to fit 3 people into a 3-person tent this situation will be uncomfortable for the unlucky occupants. So let’s put this to rest and find out the true comfort ratting for a 3 person tent when put into actual situations in the backcountry.

Most “3-person tents” would only fit 2 people comfortably. Many tents marketed as being for 3 people are 6’x7′. Given an average 18″ adult shoulder width, the tent would give only 4.5″ between each shoulder and side if three people were in the tent. To comfortably fit 3 adults, a tent would need to be approximately 7’x7′.

2 people and equipment will comfortably fit into a 3-Person tent in the majority of backcountry situations. The extra room of a 3-Person tent when used with 2 people allows for gear and equipment to be stored inside allowing for a much more enjoyable experience.

This article aims to help backpackers better understand the suggested occupancy of tents and to help balance comfort and performance. Though many people figure a large tent with ample room to be the best direction when in the backcountry it can prove to be a horrific mistake.

3 People

Fitting 3 adults into a 3 person tent is going to be cozy to say the least. Hopefully you’re all related! It is completely possible to do this however and in some situations maybe even mandatory.

Fitting 3 adults into a 3 person tent is going to be a tight fit. You can expect to have no gear inside your tent except for your sleeping pad and sleeping bag. The only exceptions to this will of course be some small clothing garments that you can have inside your sleeping bag on cold nights and frosty mornings.

With 3 people inside a 3 person tent your sleeping arrangement is more than likely going to be shoulder to shoulder with your new found best friends. Some tents recommend the middle person sleeping head to toe (opposite of the other two) in order to fit 3 people.

If you’re finding yourself in this situation where you want to have a 3 person tent and expect 3 people to sleep inside, it is going to be a near mandatory requirement for your tent to have a large vestibule.

The Vestibule is the exterior part of the tent that houses your equipment such as boots and packs. This area is exposed to bare ground and usually has a steep taper to better aid in shedding water or snow all the while helping in wind resistance. With your 3 person tent at the maximum limit this area is going to be full of equipment.

Situations where having 3 people share a 3 person tent and be of benefit will most likely be in situations where weight conservation is your main concern. Being able to spread the weight of the tent between 3 people will mean minimal weight added to all 3 packs.

Another situation where cramped living quarters will be of benefit is where your location does not allow for multiple tent sites. Areas such as high alpine on the spine of a ridge can be a perfect example where only one perfect tenting site might be available.

2 People

This is where I hope most people will find themselves. Fitting 2 people into a 3 person tent is the perfect balance in nearly every situation. The fit will be comfortable and allow for some movement inside the tent with both occupants inside.

Sleeping arrangements with 2 people will be a comfortable side by side with the middle area usually left open for extra warm clothing and small supplies.

Access and egress from the tent will be significantly better with 2 people over the 3 people. With 3 people getting in bed and out of bed is a coordinated movement that all 3 people will more then likely need to shuffle for. This makes midnight bathroom runs extremely annoying for all occupants!

With 2 people access and egress is much more simplified and there is no longer a need to wake anyone else for midnight bathroom runs. Occupants can also enter and leave in any particular order so this will be appealing to families with younger campers.

The tent vestibule will once agin be used to house your boots and gear such as your backpack and large garments that you do not wish to have inside. Another massive advantage of having a little extra room in your vestibule will be the ability to cook inside of it in cases where weather does not permit outdoor cooking.

2 people will be able to pack a 3 person tent with ease. No one person will have to bare more weight then the other and the added weight from the loss of the third person is minimal.

1 Person

Having 1 person occupying a 3 person tent is nearing excessive. There are advantages to having all this extra room to yourself however there are drawbacks in having available room.

The biggest advantage of 1 person using a 3 person tent is obviously unlimited room. You will be able to have all of your equipment inside and for myself this includes my glassing chair, cold weather parka, tripod/ spotting scope, and my rifle or bow.

The tent vestibule will be much easier to navigate with only 1 pair of boots inside. This extra room allows for cooking with ease and even keeping some extra firewood dry.

Being the only occupant in a 3 person tent has its benefits (mostly revolving around ample room) however this arrangement is not exactly optimal. Being that your the only occupant means all that weight lands on your shoulders and this is quite literally. You will be adding around 5 to 7 pounds worth of tent to your setup for a 3 person tent where if you dropped down a size you will be saving valuable weight on your back.

Weight is not the only concern when using a 3 person tent for only one occupant. A 3 person tent obviously has a larger footprint when comparing a 2 person tent. While summer camping conditions are nice if you have to clear 12 inches of snow from your tenting site all by yourself this becomes a chore in itself.

Recommendations

Though you can fit 3 adults into a 3 person tent I would not recommend it unless your situation strictly demands it. This will more then likely be due to lack of options when trying to find an adequate tenting site.

Fitting 2 Adults into a 3-person tent will be my top recommendation when looking for comfort both inside the tent and for packing and setup. With this extra room your options open up for protecting more of your equipment and having an undisturbed sleep. When bad weather blows in and your confined to your tent your experience will not be nearly as bad if you have a little extra room.

I have personally used a 3 person tent for my sole use while sheep hunting in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. However, I am currently refining my personal setup for hunts such as this to better reduce weight on the pack in. The extra room is always appreciated however I can get better overall function out of a 2 person tent for my sole use.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 Comments

  1. James Willmus says:

    Great article Shea! I was wondering when someone would pick this one up and run with it. One thing I’d like to add is that ‘comfort’ is very much a relative term. Personally, I’m not a fan of sharing tents unless the tent was big enough for a divider. My father wouldn’t be comfortable unless he had a wall tent with a cot. My sister gets claustrophobic in a pup tent and prefers to pack in a hammock and tarp when possible.

    So while saying 2 people are comfortable in a 3 person tent is a good rule of thumb, I hope readers take some time to think about the sort of tent that works best for their needs or preferences.

    1. Shea Renner says:

      Thanks for the comment James! Yes of course when talking about comfort it is completely subjective. I always get a good laugh when manufacturers class products such as tents to fit “3” people when in fact that will negate all comfort. I would agree with your father in saying that the only true comfort in the back country is a wall tent with a good wood heater! Anything else besides a wall tent is just to mitigate risk of death in winter.