6 Types of Bikepacking Shelters Compared

Biking and Camping

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I remember how years ago, I decided to camp out with my uncle during a lunar eclipse. It was the dead of winter in New Jersey, and I remember waking up constantly with freezing feet. Finally, my uncle gave me foot warmers, which helped me stay warm that evening. 

After this freezing experience, I started to look for better camping gear. 

What kinds of shelters are the best for bikepacking? With so many tents, tarps, and other models to choose from, which is best for traveling? 

Here are the best types of shelters for your next bikepacking adventure!

What Kind of Shelter is Best For Bikepacking? 

The kind of shelter best for bikepacking protects from insects and the environment. But the type of shelter you use should be based on the places you want to travel to and the anticipated environmental factors.

Tents are best for camping in wet forests, but tarps are fine in dryer regions without many bugs. 

Bikepacking shelters need to be adequate to keep adventurers protected from the environment.

This includes protection from rain, sleet, heat, cold, and insects. As the National Park Service advises, there are several things you should be aware of when camping in nature. 

These include the following: 

  • Be aware of your health and the health of your companions
  • Be aware of lightning and sudden storms 
  • If there’s massive rainfall, you should be cautious of landslides and mudslides
  • Be aware of flash floods 

These risks increase in more secluded campsites.

For example, if you’re camping in a small, locally owned site, they’re usually heavily monitored by park rangers.

These are good spots for inexperienced bikepackers since park rangers can lend assistance when needed. 

Camping in national parks can be riskier, depending on where you stay. National parks such as Yellow Stone have relatively mild climates, but you must contend with wild animals. 

The best way to prevent animal encounters is to keep your food sealed. Meat and carbohydrates left uncovered are likely to lure bears and other animals. 

Always keep food covered during the day except when cooking.

In the evening, you should keep your food in sealed bags, such as bear bags. These bags are specially designed to mask the scent of food and prevent large predators from snooping around your camp. 

Another option is a bear bag hanging kit, which allows you to string and hang your food from a tree.

You can even go as far as bear canisters, too, but when biking, they can increase your travel load.

Just remember, bears are considered to have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom, so a scent-proof bag is almost not possible.

Even if the weather is relatively calm, you must watch the weather closely. Yellowstone experienced a devastating mudslide back in 2022

While shelters are important, nothing compares to preparedness in an emergency. Always watch your surroundings and be prepared to move when necessary. 

Shelters are primarily designed to protect you from minor environmental concerns. They can’t protect you from animal attacks or severe weather phenomena.

Proper covers can prevent hypothermia and sun damage on highly sunny days while protecting you from the rain. 

Rain might not seem like a big deal, but it can disrupt your sleep, carry diseases, and lower your body temperature.

While getting wet once in a while isn’t a huge deal, it can hurt you over extended periods. Also, forgetting critical camping and travel items can really mess up a trip.

Be sure to print out this free Bikepacking and Bike Touring Checklist here. 

These are the best shelter categories based on need, with some specific recommendations! 

Bikes, camping and tents

Tents

Tents are the most traditional form of shelter used for camping and bikepacking. They’re one of the most effective ways to protect against the elements and insects. 

Ancient humanity started building tents thousands of years ago as a means of protection.

These typically consisted of branches, bark, and foliage stacked to create shelter from rain and snow.

While these are great for survival, there are better types of tents for bikepacking. 

Tents come in many different styles for use in different settings and environments. Most people are aware of the traditional type of tent, but this is just one of many. These include: 

  • Dome tent
  • Pyramid tent
  • A frame tent
  • Extended tent
  • Tunnel tent
  • Pop-up tent

Most of these tents are suitable for various environments since they can all protect against rain and bugs.

However, you’ll want to pay attention to the size. Carrying around a large tent for no reason will drag you down. 

These are the best tent designs and some brand recommendations. 

Pyramid Tent 

Pyramid tents are a popular choice for bikepackers and backpackers. Some of the benefits of using this tent form include the following: 

  • Lightweight 
  • Rain resistant 
  • Easy to assemble

These tents get their name from their pointed tops and sloping sides. They only have one bar in the center and rely on the ground hooks to hold it upright.

Tightening these holders is essential to avoid rain leaking through the tarp. This makes setting up the tent difficult but worth the effort. 

Two of the best brands we found include: 

Single and Double Wall Tent

Single and double-walled tents aren’t a design so much as a feature. You can find double or single-walled tents in domes, pyramids, or almost any other format. 

Most of these tents can come in either single-wall or double-wall build. The double-walled option is better if you’re camping in a rainy region. These tents have more protection between you and the outside. 

However, they can become stagnant and stuffy because of the lack of air circulation.

Single-walled tents are better for dry, sunny regions where you’ll want a good cross-breeze. 

Oh yeah, I should mention a good ultralight pillow is always necessary for a good night of sleep. Here are five awesome choices.

Extended Tent

Extended tents are traditional dome tents or cabin tents with extra space. They’re designed to accommodate families or large groups.

This makes them great for groups who are okay sleeping in the same area. 

However, they are significantly heavier than other tents and shelters. Sometimes bikepackers split the supplies between riders to prevent one person from carrying most of the weight. 

The best-extended tents include the following: 

Pros and Cons of Using a Tent Bikepacking 

The weight of a tent is the major downside to using these shelters. Heavy tents might weigh you down while riding.

Bikepacking focuses more on lightweight, fast travel over slow-paced travel. 

However, tents are by far the most protective shelter. They’re the best choice for rainy regions where you need adequate protection from wind and rain.

They also keep animals and insects away more proficiently than open-air shelters like tarps.

Biking, touring and camping with tents

Tarp Shelter

Tarp shelters are one of the vaguest types of tents out there. Some tents are designed to emulate the light nature and ease of setup by simply getting a waterproof tarp. 

TA Outdoors does an excellent setup guide video for making your tarp shelter. The basics include: 

  • Finding a place with sufficient trees to tie your tarp
  • It should be dry unless you have a floor guard
  • Place the tarp over the tightened rope
  • Or, feed the rope through the hoops 

Setting up your tarp is the easy part. The basics are essentially the same regarding setup but serve different purposes.

You can set up a stealth tarp shelter, tipi tarp shelter, and the classic A-frame. 

A Frame Tarp Shelter

A-frame tarp shelters are better for rainy areas than other tarp designs. They have an open floor (except for those tarp tents, which include a mat for the bottom). 

They’re the best selection for windy areas and provide more protection against mosquitos than stealth shelters. However, they’re not ideal for highly stormy areas with wet ground. 

Some of the best A-frame tents include the following: 

Stealth Tarp Shelter

Stealth tarp shelters are best for desserts or dry areas. They protect from the sun when necessary while permitting plenty of airflow. 

They’re light and easy to set up. They are ideal for dryer climates. However, they only provide a little shelter from rain or other environmental factors. 

Some of the best models of stealth tarp shelters include the following: 

Pros and Cons of Using a Tarp Shelter

We didn’t include a separate section for tipi shelters because they’re similar to A-frame shelters.

The protection is about the same as A-frame shelters. However, they sometimes have a pole up the center, making the shape somewhat different. 

The main perk of tarp tents is their lightweight nature. They’re much lighter and easier to set up than traditional tents.

However, they don’t provide much protection against wind, rain, or storms. 

They’re the best choice for anyone hoping to travel through dry areas. These are the best choices if you’re planning a trip through Nevada or Arizona. However, don’t use them for States such as Washington or Oregon. 

Bikes and Camping

Bivy Sacks 

Bivouac sacks, or bivy sacks for short, are more or less a shelter for your sleeping bag. They’re designed to withstand below-zero temperatures and protect against the elements. 

Some choose to use these in addition to tents or tarps. 

But others prefer to use only their bivy sacks and go without the tarp or tent. This is a personal choice but can be an effective way to decrease the burden you carry. 

They are very good at protecting against wind, rain, and snow. However, others find them cramped and uncomfortable. 

Some of the best models of bivy sacks include the following: 

Pros and Cons of Bivy Sacks 

The main downside of the bivy sack is its cramped nature. This can become uncomfortable over long periods.

However, as you can see with the links we shared above, bivy sacks come in many models. 

If you’re worried about getting cramped, we recommend one of the larger models. 

They really shine in cold weather, such as bikepacking in snowy mountains. However, they’re not ideal for highly wet areas since you can escape the discomfort of sleeping in mud! 

Can You Sleep Without a Shelter While Bikepacking? 

You can sleep without a shelter while bikepacking as long as the weather isn’t too bad.

This is a good choice if you’re traveling through a desert region or a snowy area. It’s a bad choice for anyone traveling through areas that receive significant rainfall. 

Safely traveling without a shelter requires some know-how for survival and endurance. Some people like to rough it in the wilderness and forego luxurious shelters. 

This is undoubtedly possible in areas without extreme weather. Tents and tarps provide shelter from the wind and rain when necessary. If you only travel with your sleeping bag, we recommend bringing bug repellent! 

However, you can also use a bug net if you wish.  

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention some expirenced bikepackers just set up a hammock with either a tarp for some protection or that good old bug net.

Check out this Bikepacking Hammock Set up Guide to see what I’m talking about.

How Can You Safely Bikepack in Rainy Regions? 

The main focus should be on the weather. You must always stay vigilant and aware of the world around you to prevent a sudden storm from causing a mud or rockslide.

Keep a radio with you in case you lose the signal for your phone so that you can listen to the weather. 

Some of the best ways to stay safe while traveling in wet regions include the following: 

  • Bring extra clothes
  • Bring waterproof tarps
  • Waterproof shoes 
  • Put mud guards on your bike
  • Bring maps 
  • Use Voile Straps to help secure loads

To be prepared, you must have a backup. This includes a radio, map, and first aid kit. Also, ensure you know where the nearest ranger’s lodge is. They can provide shelter and help in case of an emergency. 

How Do You Choose a Campsite While Bikepacking?

Dry ground is one of the main things to look for in a campsite while bikepacking. Not only is it important for a good night’s rest, but it’s also essential to preserve your shelter and clothes.

It’s very hard to dry out your tent, clothes, and sleeping bag while riding, and you might lose a day of travel to achieve this. 

To go deeper you will need to read Where to Camp When Bikepacking.

Bike Hammock

Closing Thoughts

Shelter isn’t usually the first thing on our minds when planning our adventures. We typically think we can handle more than we actually can. This is dangerous since it can lead to burnout on the road. 

Make sure you’re realistic when choosing your shelter. Never attempt to endure more than you’re medically able to endure. 

We hope this list helps you find the perfect shelter for your next adventure!

Free Biking Resources:

  1. Bikepacking Water Storage Guide
  2. 11 Best California Bikepacking Routes
  3. Complete Bike Touring Cooking Guide

Sources: 

Part IV: Bikepacking Shelters – A Guide

National Park Service: During Your Stay

Where Should I Camp in Yellowstone National Park?

REI: Food Storage and Handling for Campers and Backpackers

EREM: Food Storage for Camping and Hiking in the Desert

USA: Home swept away as Yellowstone National Park is hit by major floods and mudslides

Lotus Belle: A BRIEF HISTORY OF CAMPING & GLAMPING

Mom Goes Camping: Types of Tents

Wilderness Redefined: When To Use A Pyramid Tent And What Are They?

Alpine Ascent: DEAR ALPINE ASCENTS: DOUBLE-WALL VS. SINGLE WALL TENTS?

Cambridge Dictionary: Dome Tent

Wilderness Redefined: What is a cabin tent?

YouTube: TA Outdoors: 5 Tarp Shelter Setups for Bushcraft and Camping in the Woods

The Sumit Register: THE ART OF THE BIVY: WHEN A BIVY SACK IS BETTER THAN A TENT

Biking Universe: 11 Tips for Where to Sleep When Bikepacking

Bikepacking: A BIKEPACKER’S GUIDE TO MOUNTAIN WEATHER PREPARATION

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