How To Pack a Tent in a Backpack in Six Steps

Big camping green backpack and yellow tent in the mountains.

When you’re out for an overnight hike in the wilderness, you’ll want to be amply prepared for the experience. This means having a map, good shoes, water and food, and all the other essentials. You’ll also want to make sure you pack things properly so you don’t create an overly cumbersome pack, which can lead to a miserable slog along the way, or worse, injury and strain that can put an end to the planned outdoor adventures. Learning how best to pack a tent inside a backpack will allow you to focus on the things that really matter, like watching wildlife along the trail.     

Step 1. Selecting a Backpack

Most backcountry campers agree that a backpack with an internal frame is the best way to go. Internal frame backpacks are roomier, and the extra volume makes it easier to pack the tent inside. If you haven’t purchased a tent or backpack, make sure the sizes are compatible before buying. If you already have a tent and it’s on the larger side, you can use a compression bag to make the tent as compact as possible. 

Step 2. Preparing the Tent

Make sure your tent is dry, since packing and carrying a wet tent is very cumbersome. Lay out the the tent to its full length on a flat surface. Keep the tent poles in the bag, and place it alongside the tent. Adjust the tent so its width is the same as that of the tent pole bag.

Step 3. Rolling

Place the bag of tent poles onto the tent, and begin rolling up the tent. Use the poles to keep the rolling tight, and make sure everything stays in line (that the tent poles don’t start to jut out above the tent and vice versa). After a few rolls, add the tent peg bag and continue rolling. Go slowly to ensure you keep things as tight as possible.

Step 4. Packing it in

Take the completed tent roll and stuff it inside the tent bag. The poles and pegs in the center will keep things compact and add a central support. 

Step 5. Prepare Your Backpack

Leaving the tent aside for the moment, pack some of the other items you’ll be carrying on your walk. Place the heavier items towards the bottom and the lighter objects toward the top. 

Step 6. Pack Your Tent Inside the Backpack

Active tourist with backpack standing at mountain lake and pine wood background.

Aim to place the tent in the middle of the backpack. Placing it in the middle puts the least strain on your back since your tent is one of your heavier items. Ideally, your sleeping bag should be at the very bottom of the pack, and your tent should be just above it. In general, you can pack the tent vertically or horizontally. A vertical position allows for easy removal of the tent when unpacking, while a horizontal position allows you to pack other items on top of the tent. 

Packing Method for External Frame Backpacks  

If you’re using an external frame backpack, you’ll still roll and prepare the tent in the same manner as you would using an internal frame backpack. The only difference is the tent’s placement in your pack — or rather on your pack. Ideally, place the tent on the exterior. External frame backpacks are specifically designed for this. The best placement is at the bottom of the backpack; this ensures less stress on your back when you’re walking. Just bear in mind that keeping the tent on the outside exposes it to extra risks — snagging on tree branches or saturation if it rains. There’s also the danger of the tent falling off the backpack, leaving you in a bad situation. Make sure you tie a secure knot from your backpack to your tent to avoid it falling off and being left stranded.  

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