Free Standing Tent (Geodesic) VS. Non-Free Standing Tent (Tunnel)


Free standing VS. Tunnel TentFree standing VS. Tunnel Tent

Pros of tunnel:

  • Lighter weight
  • Usually more floor space
  • Often has fewer poles
  • Warmer: The inside volume of the tent being smaller, it will be easier to warm up in cold temperature.

Cons of tunnel:

  • Requires staking to stay upright
  • Needs a larger area to be set up since there is more floor space
  • Less height inside of the tent making often impossible to sit up
  • Due to the slope of the roof, two people can’t sit up at once
  • It’s less practical to enter a tent from the head end, especially with two people, and with bags in the vestibule.
  • Poorer ventilation, especially if bags are stored at the bottom of the tent.
  • Harder to move the tent from one spot to another
  • Not as good at supporting snow (caves in)
  • Usually has only one entrance

Pros of free standing:

  • The tent can stand up without staking. Very handy on hard or sandy ground (see Situation where you won’t be able to use stakes)
  • You can just pick up the tent, move it, shake it, or turn it upside down to dry
  • Won’t cave in with snow on top (however three-season geodesic tents are not designed to support heavy loads)
  • Better ventilation
  • Some have 2 entrances

Cons of free standing:

  • Usually heavier with more poles
  • Arguably more complicated to pitch
  • The overall inside volume of the tent being larger, might be harder to warm up.

Note: Some tunnel tents have a special pole structure allowing them to be free standing. Example: The Vaude Hogan XT (Europe only) or the Wild Country Duolite

Situations Where Pegging Is Not Possible

  • Hard rocky ground or gravel (depending what region of the world you are, it can happen frequently especially in dry climates / desert areas)
  • Sandy ground. Unless you spend your time on beaches, this doesn’t really happen often. Note that even in desert there is not much sand, the terrain is rather rocky (5% of the Sarah desert is actually sand dunes, 95% is rocks).
  • Concrete. Yes it happens! You will be amazed where people let you camp! Just to give a few examples: gas-station’s parking lot (very convenient because they have food, water, sometimes shower and are usually safe), police station’s driveway, under bridges, in barns, on sidewalks… and I know people who might add tennis court, Fire department backyard, garage and the list can go on and on
  • Inside a building: You might think, why in the world would I set up a tent inside? Believe me it can happen often. Again here are a few examples: in a dirty hotel room, inside a train station, in an unheated house in the winter (the small space of the tent warms up much more efficiently than a large cold room), in a shelter with a leaking-roof, barn, hut, abandoned house, construction site etc.

You would not even consider any of those sites when you have a non free-standing tent. That being said, many travel for years with a tunnel tent and manage perfectly well, but it surely opens up a lot of opportunity when you do have a free standing tent.

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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