Are Tipi Tents Any Good? My honest experience.

Tipi style tents have gotten an increase in popularity for the last few years in the backpacking community. With features such as compact size, lightweight, easy setup, and in some cases heat for those colder nights, tipi-style tents have lots to offer. Though with all of their advantages you need to be cautious of a few factors and have a general understanding of what tipi style tents offer. This can range from flourless designs, condensation, snow load, and footprint size.

Tipi tents for backpackers looking to save weight and have ample room for equipment will benefit significantly from tipi-style tents. With good bushcraft skills and a general understanding of tipi tents, these tents will quickly become your preferred option for the backcountry.

My personal experience comes from owning a Kifaru Sawtooth tipi and using it while hunting the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. In my experience thus far this tipi-style tent has been a game-changer for my backcountry experience. Granted it does take a little time to get used to this style of tent, once you grasp the concept and understand its limitations these tents are irreplaceable in the backcountry.

Weight and Size

For the vast majority of backpackers, weight is the biggest concern when putting your kit together in preparation for your backcountry adventure. Tipi-style tents are a superb option when considering weight due to their simple design and minimal components. My personal tipi tent comes in at 4 pounds 8 ounces where my previous tent comes in just over 7 pounds.

With weight also comes the size comparison. My Tipi tent packs down to just a little larger than a Nalgene bottle for the main tent and the two poles fit into their own bag that is no larger than a compact hiking pole. Additionally, if you want to save even more weight and space you can leave the rear pole at home and use one of your hiking poles as the rear tent pole. This tipi tent is without a doubt half the packed size as my other tent that is comparable in size being a 3 man tent.

When pitched however the tipi tent needs ample room in order to be properly set up. If space on the mountain is limited you will need to be cautious when picking your campsite. Unlike other alpine tents that can be pitched between trees and fit into small areas, you will have no such luck with a tipi tent.

Climate and Weather Proof

Tipi tents are extremely versatile tents that handle a large variety of weather conditions. Standard backcountry tents will use a season ratting that correlates to their durability in particular weather conditions. For instance a 2 season for warm weather and extra ventilation and a 4 season that will have extra support for snow load.

For this reason, many people that camp in multiple seasons will either buy multiple ratted tents or use a 4 season all year. The inherent problem with using a 4 season all year is the fact that a 4 season will be heavier than a 2 season and will not breathe as well when in hot conditions. The additional cost of buying multiple tents is also something to consider.

Tipi tents however are true masters of 4 season camping. In hot weather, you can take advantage of the floor-less design and pitch the tipi with an air gap at the bottom for excellent airflow. While in winter conditions the Tipi design sheds snow load well and in tipis such as the Sawtooth a wood heater can be added for unmatched comfort in winter.

Wind can also be a big concern for people in the backcountry. Where I hunt in particular often has consistent winds of 20 – 25 miles per hour (32 – 40 kilometers per hour) often gusting to much higher speeds. The tipi that I personally use when pitched right withstands these wind speeds extremely well.

Advantages of Tipi Tents

No problems with boots inside your tentWith a floor-less design you are able to put your boots on inside your shelter without worry of tracking in unwanted dirt.
Excellent resilience to snow load Snow is unable to build up on the steep pitch of the tipi
Handles high winds confidentlyWhen wind is a concern tipi tents such as the Sawtooth can be pitched into the wind to increase their wind resistance
Cool in the summerWith the floor-less design you are able to get a high amount of air flow and air circulation for those hot days
Extremely fast setupSetup is very simple and fast with tipi tents often only taking 5 minutes or less when in optimal areas
WeightSecond to none the lightweight design of tipis is something that every backcountry camper will appreciate
Ample room With the large footprint comes the advantage of being able to store your gear inside your tipi rather then keeping it in your vestibule
Options for adding heatFor an unmatched 4 season experience tipis such as the Sawtooth can be fitted with a wood burning stove

Potential Concerns and Negatives

  • Condensation
  • Large footprint
  • Bugs

Fortunately with these concerns some tipi companies such as Kifaru have developed ways to mitigate some of these potential problems. Condensation is one of the biggest concerns that people have with tipi style tens due to their single layer design. Fortunately the addition of a tipi liner will keep all condensation off your equipment.

Condensation is a large factor of tipi tents when using a heater in winter conditions. Due to the thawing of the ground the increased humidity commonly builds up a large layer of ice on the inside of your tipi. Once you start your heater that ice melts and begins to drip down the inside walls of the tipi. Adding a liner will keep the moisture from dripping onto your equipment and more importantly your sleeping bag.

The large footprint though nice to store equipment inside your tipi can become a negative if you have to clear a large amount of snow from your tenting area.

Being a floor-less shelter bugs and more notably mosquitos can potentially get into your tent through the bottom. Experience is the only cure for this problem. It is possible to stake your tipi tight to the ground to keep unwanted bugs at bay.

Jim Harmer stands next to a Seek Outside cimarron tipi tent on a ridgeline in Idaho while hunting.

My Personal Experience

As previously stated my personal experience with tipi-style tents comes from owning and using a Kifaru Sawtooth tipi. I use this tipi in early season scouting, fall hunting, and cold climate sheep hunts. In a nutshell, I can sum up this particular tipi in one simple word being versatile.

Many people have concerns when they hear “floor-less“. However, this feature quickly becomes a favorite of mine due to the fact that I no longer have to sit halfway inside my tent and begin taking off my gators and boots in the vestibule of my tent.

When setting up your sleeping area in a floor-less tipi use a tenting ground cloth or some extra home wrap such as Tyvek to keep your bedding clean and separated from the ground.

The heater is the upmost important thing that I use for late-season hunts. Being able to come back to a heated shelter has effectively doubled the length of my sheep hunts. Though a liner is a must-have when using a heater, the heater has allowed me to hunt in weather that is consistently as cold as 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).

Being a tall guy at 6′ 7″ the tipi design of the Sawtooth allows for me to stand up reasonably well inside the tallest portion of the tipi. This is a massive difference when comparing a standard tent to a tipi!

I have used the Sawtooth in both heavy rain and snow. When pitched properly you will not get any water draining under the tipi and the snow will slide off to the side. The most single night snowfall I have had with the Sawtooth is 9 inches and though we had to dig out the sides of the tipi it did not flatten during the night.

When it comes to wind the Sawtooth tipi has held up to 30mph winds and gusts of up to 40mph. This spot that we sheep hunt in has wind problems and for this reason, we only pitch it in one direction to better combat the potential wind.

The only time I wouldn’t recommend a tipi tent such as the Sawtooth to someone would be in the case of a minimal tenting experience. This is because a tipi tent needs to be set up in an optimal location where no potential groundwater will flow under it and wind direction will complement the design of the tipi.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a tipi tent to anyone that has the ability to use a wood heater inside. Furthermore, I would recommend a tipi to anyone that is using a tent in a variety of weather conditions ranging from hot to cold.

Titanium furnace glowing red hot at night

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