Currently I have four separate shelters for different types of trips generally depending on the season, amount of precipitation, and whether or not my partner or another friend will be joining me.
I didn’t buy these all at once, I acquired them slowly over the years depending on my changing needs as I spent more and more time backpacking. I bought all of them on sale. Altogether, I’ve spent $480 from 2012-2017 for 4 separate shelters that allow all four seasons, solo vs couples trips, bike camping, and even car camping. My sole shelter pre-2012 was a Eureka Spitfire 2, a significantly underrated tent for many reasons. Sadly, a drunken friend bent the shit out one of the poles and I sold it.
For solo backpacking trips in dry weather (all summer in the PNW) or for trips with minimal precipitation expected, I carry my Rab Element Solo Tarp. I think I got it for $60 on sale. It weighs 11.7 oz with stakes, polycro groundsheet and guyout lines, a negligible weight for a shelter. You could cram it into something size of a coke can. It sets up easily with my trekking poles. In all honesty 9 times out of 10, I don’t even set it up. I set it up only if its windy or I’m expecting some precipitation overnight. I’ll just sleep under the stars otherwise, which is really the way to go.
When I’m going solo and expecting significant liquid precipitation, I’ll take my Tarptent Sublite Sil which I scored on craigslist for $110. Its a model that isn’t made anymore, but its pretty damn awesome and a solid shelter. It weighs 29.5 oz with stakes, polycro groundsheet, and using my trekking poles as tent poles. I also have dedicated poles for it, which weigh an additional eight oz. I’ll bring these poles only if I happen to be bike camping. I’ve also used it in the snow, but I prefer another shelter for this purpose.
For solo snow trips, I bring the fly and sometimes the footprint of my REI Passage 2 which of course I bought on sale including the footprint for $150 in 2012, by far my most expensive shelter. It is quite spacious for one person. Weight isn’t a concern for me in winter, as I use my pulk. Its worth noting that until 2015 this was my only shelter and it did it all… solo, all seasons, and for couples trips.
For backpacking trips with my partner, we use the amazing Lunar Duo Outfitter which I review here. On sale it cost $60, a fucking steal. It weighs 56 oz all in, and we use our trekking poles as the support poles. Again, if we go bike camping, we bring along the dedicated poles which weigh another six ounces. This is our three season shelter and is really perfect for us. Its light enough, roomy, and protects us from both rain and bugs. Its performance in strong winds is really something to behold. While we could use it in winter, we prefer our REI Passage 2 for winter trips.
For car camping, the REI Passage 2 is our choice due to ease of setup. It is by far the heaviest at around 90 oz total. The beauty of this shelter is in its versatility/modularity. You can opt for full setup of the tent and fly or leave the fly off in the nicest conditions for plenty of ventilation and star gazing as you fall asleep.
For snow trips, we can set up just the fly and footprint of the REI Passage 2 (or leave the footprint at home) at around 56 oz. My partner really prefers using the full setup to keep snow out, making it heavier at 90 oz.. Luckily, weight doesn’t matter on our winter trips, because we always use a sled to bring in decadent luxuries like beer and wood.
For $480 over 5 years that ain’t too bad. Of course, it is possible to do with one shelter only, but as I got out more and more, I really wanted to lighten the load. This is all quality gear that’ll last for awhile and I won’t likely be getting a new shelter anytime soon. I’m pretty well covered here.