3 VAUDE tents pitched on a meadow surrounded by trees. Next to each tent is a bicycle.
3 VAUDE tents pitched on a meadow surrounded by trees. Next to each tent is a bicycle.

The Best Tents for Bikepacking and Cycling Tours: Your Home on the Road

A tent allows you to carry your home with you when bikepacking. Small pack size or low weight? Here’s what matters when choosing a tent for cycling tours.

Tents are the ultimate in terms of sleeping solutions while camping. The right tent means you’ll always have your home with you, even on a bikepacking tour or cycling trip. Tents are the optimal choice for weather protection against rain, storms or sand, offering privacy, mosquito netting and a lot of comfort while resting with little weight or a small pack size. Our buying guide shows you what to look for when shopping.

Rainer and Svenja from bc set up a tent. In the foreground is a pitched tent by VAUDE.
Rainer and Svenja from bc set up a tent. In the foreground is a pitched tent by VAUDE.

Quick to set up and sturdy: tents are your home away from home.

Christian from the bc Service Team packs his saddle bag. In the foreground is his tent, next to it is a stuff sack from Ortlieb.
Christian from the bc Service Team packs his saddle bag. In the foreground is his tent, next to it is a stuff sack from Ortlieb.

Find out what's important when choosing a tent for your bikepacking trip here.

What must a bikepacking tent do?

From festivals to arctic expeditions, there are tents for every conceivable need. On a bikepacking tour or cycling trip, however, a tent has to meet different criteria than at Glastonbury or the South Pole. That's why, when selecting our range, we made sure to offer you tents that work really well on your cycling adventure and still offer enough all-round utility for hiking or other tours.

  • Small pack size: even with an extensive bag set-up, space is rather limited when bikepacking. When planning longer tours in cold or wet weather, the smaller the tent can be packed, the more flexibility you have with the rest of your luggage. Tents that can be packed down small offer significant advantages when mounted on a bike. If necessary, such a tent can even fit between the drops of road bike or gravel bike handlebars.
  • Low weight: A winter-ready geodesic expedition tent for three or more people and wind stability for alpine storms can quickly exceed a weight of five kilograms. This is weight that can have a negative impact on your bike’s handling. If a tent you’re considering buying meets your requirements in all other ways, make sure to pay attention to weight. If you're travelling across difficult terrain or looking for the Fastest Known Time, you shouldn’t pass up an ultralight minimalist tent.
  • Durability: If you are looking for adventure, your equipment must be able to keep up. If you venture into the wilderness often, you should look for durable and stable materials – even at the expense of weight, if necessary.
Svenja from bc Product Management, unpacks her tent from her frame bag.
Svenja from bc Product Management, unpacks her tent from her frame bag.

Tents with a small pack size are easy to stow. You can use the extra space for other things, or you can spare an additional bag on your bike. © bc GmbH

What are the construction principles of tents?

There are three basic construction principles for tents with certain advantages and disadvantages. There are also hybrid tents. However, not all tent designs are suitable for bikepacking. Even so, we’re going to go over everything for the sake of completion. Almost all tents have one thing in common: they are double-walled. The outer tent is waterproof and protects against rain, wind and snow. Underneath is an inner tent made of thin, breathable mesh fabric that protects you from mosquitoes and insects. The double-wall construction ensures, among other things, that moisture in the tent such as air, perspiration, ambient or ground moisture (e.g. if you are camping close to a body of water) only condenses on the outer tent and your inner tent stays nice and dry.

In addition to the actual living space, many tents also have an anteroom for luggage, the so-called vestibule. A vestibule does not have an inner tent and is ideal for things that need to be kept waterproof and safe overnight, but which you do not want to bring into the inner tent, such as bike shoes.

  • Dome Tent, the Classic: in a dome tent, at least two pole arches cross over the tent floor to form a dome. Dome tents usually require a relatively small pitch and are self-supporting or even free-standing due to their construction. This means you need fewer pegs / anchor points to set it up stably, or in extreme cases you can do without them altogether. This is helpful, for example, when you can’t hammer pegs into hard ground. Due to their almost symmetrical shape, dome tents are more or less identical in terms of multi-directional wind stability. By the way, we recommend that you always unpeg the tent in windy conditions. On hot summer days, you can do without the outer tent cover on many dome tents and just pitch the inner tent as an airy (but no longer waterproof or opaque) shelter. Otherwise, you have to first pitch the inner tent and then throw the outer tent over it and fix it in place. Dome tents usually also stand out due to their large maximum interior height.
  • Tunnel Tent, the Scandinavian Standby: In the "Friluftsliv paradise" of Scandinavia, tunnel tents are very popular. For this design, the tent poles are parallel to each other and do not cross. Tunnel designs are particularly advantageous in miserable (Scandinavian) weather because the inner tent can remain permanently attached to the outer tent and pitching is very quick and easy. Wind is not an issue, and the inside remains dry. When it comes to a weight-to-space ratio, tunnel tents often have the advantage. They are also very stable in windy conditions, but you should always place them with the front side facing into the wind during storms. However, tunnel tents require a larger amount of space than dome tents and are generally not free-standing.
  • Hybrid, the Clever Solution: Combined forms of dome and tunnel tents are also called hybrids. One example is the "Tripod" layout from outdoor specialist VAUDE, where the two poles do not cross in the middle of the tent and which is used, for example, in the extremely lightweight Taurus SUL. A freestanding tent where the inner tent can remain attached – clever.
  • Geodesics, for Extreme Use: Mentioned only for the sake of inclusion, geodesic tents play no role in bikepacking. They are a derivative of the dome tent, but here at least three poles cross at several points, which ensures extremely high stability in stormy weather and makes the tent able to withstand heavy snow. Basically, geodesic tents are used mainly for expeditions or extreme winter tours. As long as you don't want to compete in the Iditarod Trail Invitational with a fat bike, you shouldn’t consider cumbersome geodesic tents for bikepacking.
Marcel from the bc Marketing Team is setting up an inner tent.
Marcel from the bc Marketing Team is setting up an inner tent.

The inner tent is breathable and protects you from insects.

Marcel stakes out his tent.
Marcel stakes out his tent.

The outer tent protects you from rain and wind. Just a quick unwind: Ready for the night!

How do you make a tent waterproof?

Your tent should be waterproof. That much is clear. Basically, there are two principles to achieve this. On the one hand you have a waterproof coating with a polyurethane (PU) layer. On the other hand you have siliconisation.

The waterproof ability of tent fabrics is usually specified – analogous to rainwear – as a water column in millimetres. The water column is a standardised measurement of pressure which water exerts atop a given surface. The number indicates up to what column height a certain material is waterproof, which is not without controversy in the outdoor world since it ignores various environmental factors. Two different water columns are usually specified for a tent. One is the water column for the tent’s floor. Since your body weight exerts a lot of pressure on the material, such as kneeling on the tent floor, this value should be higher than for the outer tent. With a water column of 5,000 millimetres, you are on the safe side for the groundsheet; for the flysheet, values of around 3,000 millimetres are usual and sufficient, because no specific point forces the water through the material.

  • Polyurethane coating: Here a waterproof PU layer is applied to the inside of the outer tent. The seams are sealed – as with rainwear – with a waterproof tape (seam tape sealant). The PU coating is reliably waterproof, abrasion-resistant, kink-resistant, easy to process and thus inexpensive. However, the PU ages due to sunlight (UV radiation) and the polyester backing material is less tear-resistant than siliconised nylon.
  • Siliconised nylon: In this case, particularly durable and tear-resistant nylon is siliconised on both sides. The silicone coating has a high capacity for UV deflection, which makes it not only reliably waterproof but also very age-resistant. With conventional constructions, the seams are treated with liquid seam tape sealant, which you have to renew from time to time. As of April 2022, bc supplier VAUDE exclusively uses technologies in addition to the proven sealant, in which various layers of sil-nylon are bonded with silicone without seams (Siliconized Bonding) or connecting seams are taped with silicone (Silicone Seam Seal), thus making them very low-maintenance. Siliconised nylon has an advantage over PU-coated polyester in terms of weight, robustness and durability, but is more expensive due to its more complex processing.
Shown is a movable wall with several tent materials from VAUDE product development.
Shown is a movable wall with several tent materials from VAUDE product development.

An important factor in the choice of material: waterproof ability.

A close-up of the outer tent. Shown is the seam near the loop for a peg.
A close-up of the outer tent. Shown is the seam near the loop for a peg.

To prevent water from penetrating through the seams, VAUDE uses seams taped with silicone (Silicone Seam Seal).

Do you need a one-, two- or three-person tent?

The size of a tent is usually indicated by an estimate of how many people it can accommodate. In most cases, you can choose from a one-, two- or three-person tent. The interior length, width and height are of course more precise and can be found in the product descriptions. In addition to your body measurements, you can also use the length and width of your camping mat and sleeping bag as a guide.

A one-person tent offers flexibility on solo tours and saves you the trouble of hauling excess luggage. As a compromise, you can use a tent that offers (limited) space for two people in extreme cases and serves as a comfortable one-person tent when you’re traveling alone. For bikepacking, tents for up to two people have become popular because of their compact pack size. Larger tents are an advantage in worst-case scenarios, such as if you have to ride out bouts of harsh weather over multiple days. In addition, you can divide its parts among multiple people. For example, one person would then carry the poles in a frame bag and a second would carry the inner and outer tents in a handlebar roll. Otherwise, larger three- or multi-person tents are usually too big for bikepacking. Smaller tents also offer you more peace and privacy after an arduous day in the saddle.

Tip: Your tent should always be long enough so that your sleeping bag does not press the inner tent against the outer tent and get wet from the condensation that collects there. That can cost you heat. Read more in our buying guide for sleeping bags.

Bivy sacks, hammocks, tarps: Tent alternatives and their limitations

Among extreme bikepackers, tent alternatives such as tarps, bivy sacks and hammocks – or a combination thereof – are also popular because of their (theoretically) lower weight, higher flexibility and (in Germany) legal use for camping. What all items have in common, however, is the loss of visual protection – and thus privacy – as well as reduced weather protection. Tents are therefore unbeatable as all-rounders.

  • Bivy Sack: The bivy sack is a waterproof and windproof cover for your sleeping bag. Originally used in mountaineering, they serve as emergency accommodation on mountain tours where there is no space for a tent. A bivy sack lets you sleep directly under the open sky, leaving you directly exposed to the elements. In addition, bivy sacks can quickly become damp on the inside due to nightly perspiration condensing directly over your sleeping bag. Your insulation can also be adversely affected as a result. Conclusion: An option for emergencies or the extremely gram-conscious cyclist.
  • Hammock: Extremely popular in the outdoor world at the moment, the hammock is stretched between two suitable anchor points (usually trees). Comfort is a matter of personal taste. Some love it, others hate it. The fact is that a hammock is not helpful in alpine wastelands or in a meadow. On the plus side, you don't sleep on the floor and are safe from insects. However, your body can cool down rather quickly due to the lack of a solid surface underneath.
  • Tarp: A waterproof tarp, a rectangle in its simplest form, with eyelets on the sides that you can stretch over your sleeping space. Popularly used in conjunction with a bivy sack or hammock, it provides protection from wind and harsh weather (although not as good as a tent), but maintains the unique feeling of sleeping directly under the open sky.

    Tip: If you add the weight and pack size of a tarp to that of a bivy sack or hammock, the result is usually not much lighter or more compact than a tent. The tent is and remains a nearly-perfect all-rounder, while the bivy sack, hammock and tarp are a special choice for rugged individualists.

Handling and care of your bikepacking tent

With proper care, high-quality tents are dependable companions for many years. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind on the road and at home.

On the road:

  • It is best to find a place with level ground and make sure to remove foreign objects such as sharp stones before pitching the tent.
  • Try to make sure the tent is packed as dry as possible. Water can be shaken off easily from siliconised nylon in particular. Make sure that the inner tent does not get wet while you're packing it.
  • When dismantling the tent, push the poles out of the channels instead of pulling on them. Otherwise you will pull the segments apart, which can lead to time-consuming complications. Speaking of poles: Even the best pole can break under load or if handled incorrectly. This is why you should always keep a repair sleeve and some duct tape on hand.
  • When packing, make sure that sharp or hard objects such as poles or pegs do not damage the tent.

At home:

  • Dismantle the inner and outer tent and dry both parts thoroughly.
  • It is best to remove dirt such as sand, pine needles or small stones from the inner tent before drying.
  • If the outer tent is dirty, clean it carefully with lukewarm water and a soft brush. Special tent detergents can remove stubborn dirt.
  • When the tent is clean and dry, you can store it in its original carrying bag. Make sure it is dry and protected from light.

Footnote: Defining a legal campsite

Have you found the perfect tent for your needs? Congratulations! Before setting off on an adventure, bear in mind that wilderness camping is almost always forbidden in Germany, while using a bivy sac, i.e. a night in the open air without special structures, is usually tolerated. However, the legal definition of camping is complicated, can vary from one state to another and can be entirely different in neighbouring states. Nature reserves and national parks should generally be off-limits because of their importance for nature conservation. We have compiled a code of conduct for respectful treatment of nature when bikepacking here.

3 bc employees sitting in front of their tents preparing dinner.
3 bc employees sitting in front of their tents preparing dinner.