Freestanding tents are tents that can stand up by themselves making them easy to set up in different types of terrain from desert sands and snow-covered peaks to wooden tent platforms. Most freestanding tents are double-wall tents that have a separate inner tent and a rainfly to help prevent internal condensation from making your gear wet, although a handful of single-wall freestanding tents also exist, designed mainly by climbers and mountaineers.
If you’re shopping for a freestanding tent, you’re bound to come across some that are classified as semi-freestanding. Semi-freestanding tents are also freestanding but require several tent stakes to set up — mainly to stake out vestibules — while fully freestanding tents can be completely set up without any stakes at all. It’s a subtle distinction and not a terribly meaningful one since you should always stake out a tent to prevent it from blowing away in the wind or in bad weather. Even if tent stakes can’t be used, you should still anchor a tent with rocks or by burying tent stakes in the ground using sand stakes or deadmen. See How to Set up a Tent on Sand for more information on this topic.
Freestanding tents can be further broken down into three categories, which we describe in greater detail below:
- Double-wall tents where the Inner Tent is set up first
- Double-wall tents where the Rainfly is set up first
- Single-wall tents
Here are some examples of each type:
Double-Wall: Inner Tent First
Most of the semi-freestanding tents made by US-based manufacturers like Big Agnes, MSR, NEMO, REI, and others require that you set up the inner tent first and then drape the rainfly over it. This is a very easy process, which is why the tents that use it are so popular.
You simply stake out the corners of the inner tent, expand the poles and insert them into grommets in the corners, and then hook the walls and ceiling of the inner tent to the poles so the structure stands up by itself. The rainfly gets laid on top and usually connects the corners of the inner tent. The vestibule doors usually have to be staked out, but this usually only requires 1-2 tent stakes.
This inner tent first design works well in dry weather, but it can result in a wet inner tent if you have to set it up while it’s raining. But worst comes to worst, you can usually mop up any rain that penetrates the mesh ceiling of the inner tent with a camping towel and use the tent as normal.
Double-Wall Tents: Rainfly First
Many European-made tents including the fully freestanding and semi-freestanding tents made by Hilleberg, Exped, and Terra Nova are set up rainfly first. The tent poles slide into sleeves sewn into the rainfly fabric and the inner tent is suspended under the rainfly. In dry weather, you can also leave the rainfly and inner tent attached when you take down the tent, so the entire structure does up at once the next time you pitch the tent,
While the rainfly-first design prevents rain from making the inner tent wet, this type of tent is generally heavier than those that get set up with the inner tent first. These tents are also generally much more expensive because they’re more difficult to manufacture and made with more durable materials.
Single-Wall Freestanding Tents
There are also single-wall freestanding tents that don’t have a separate inner tent and rainfly but have a single skin. These are often fully freestanding and mainly designed for climbers and mountaineers who need tents that are easy to set up on narrow rock ledges in adverse winter conditions where staking out a tent would be impossible.
The tent poles in this style of tent usually criss-cross inside the tent and you need to crawl inside to answer them in the tent corners. While these tents are very lightweight and convenient to use in cold winter weather, they tend to have poor ventilation and are subject to heavy internal condensation unless all the doors and windows are left wide open.
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