Why Floorless Tents are awesome and how to overcome the potential pitfalls.
Floorless Tents have been used across the Earth for thousands of years. The reason that people from different cultures and environments settled on tipi or yurt floorless tent designs is because floorless tents are very efficient, comfortable, and can handle weather very well.
- Space to Weight Ratio
- Hot Tent Capable
- Excellent weather performance (depending on design, materials, and construction)
Despite the obvious advantages that floorless tents offer, there are some notable differences in performance in certain circumstances that can require more knowledge on the part of the user. There are also the usual concerns of mud, bugs, & creepie crawlies. These concerns may be valid, yet are easy to overcome if you know what you’re doing.
We’ll cover how to deal with the potential pitfalls of floorless shelters, but first let’s dive into why they are so incredibly attractive as backpacking tents, winter camping tents , and backpack hunting tents.
Floorless Shelter Space to Weight Ratio
Our 8 Person Winter Teepee Tent has a diameter of 16’, a height of 8’6”, and floor area of 195 square feet, yet weighs only 7 lbs 1 oz (without screens, pole included).
Compare this with a standard 8 person cabin tent that has a floor area of 123 square feet, but weighs over 23 lbs.
The floorless, single wall, single pole design is exceptionally efficient at providing maximum space at minimum weight.
Space to weight ratio can mean different things to different people. For some it means providing the smallest possible space to sleep the number of campers needed, at the absolute lightest weight possible.
Comfort to Weight Ratio
For others, Space to Weight can really mean Comfort to Weight Ratio. These campers want a comfortable camp with room to move around or even stand while still maintaining a total shelter weight that is sensible to backpack.
When talking about comfort in tents, I see several hard breaks based on height. The first category these breaks fall under is how you enter the tent.
- Crawling to enter
- Kneeling to enter
- Squatting to enter
- Stooping to enter
- Standing to enter
Crawling inside a tent after a two day rain or during freeze / thaw conditions is no fun, or if you have arthritis. Kneeling is no fun if you have bad knees. Squatting is preferable as long as you have good mobility, but stooping and standing are by far the easiest and fastest ways to get into your tent. The size to weight that floorless tents offer makes this reasonable to achieve.
Once inside, headroom and space begin to matter and again there are several hard breaks.
- Sitting headroom without head touching canopy
- Room to stand while hunched over
- Standing room
Sitting in a tent with soggy wet canopy slapping your forehead with every wind gust is no fun. Scrunching and wiggling into half frozen pants while lying down is also no fun. Being able to stand up and stretch or stand to get dressed makes a trip much more comfortable.
From a usable space standpoint you want a shelter that has a lot of room where it is easily reachable, and not too much space that is not easily reachable.
Beyond this, if you’re camping with a partner or in a group, door orientation and sleeping arrangements matter a great deal as nobody likes crawling over someone in the night to exit (nobody likes being crawled over either).
Hot Tent Camping
The wood stove is most useful during nasty and cold weather. Misting fog, drizzling rain, pouring rain, freezing rain, high winds, sleet, snow, and more rain mixed during the day can really dampen the fun factor.
Adding a tent stove to the equation can turn a “character building” trip into a great memory.
A stove gives you a sense of escape, and of control. You know you can slip into your Hot Tent, fire up the stove, and dry your clothes.
You can warm your hands.
You can thaw and dry your boots.
You can melt snow to make water.
You can enjoy your trip.
Floorless Tent Weather Performance
Not all floorless tents are created equally, but when good design, careful craftsmanship, and great materials are used in constructing a floorless shelter, they can handle extremely challenging weather.
The main concern for tent camping is high wind. Second to that would likely be snow loading, and third, heavy rain.
Tents for High Wind
Wind performance comes down to staking, height, shape, wall angles, seam construction, and material quality.
A tall, steep sided, square tent with minimum stakes in loose soil will not handle wind well. On the other hand, a shorter, circular or pyramid shaped tent with lower wall angles that has plentiful stake points in solid ground will handle winds very well.
Common sense also plays a role. If you expect a windstorm, it’s best not to camp on an exposed ridge, but rather find a more sheltered area.
Tents for Snow
Heavy snow falling during the night can add a lot of weight to a canopy. At the least it can drastically reduce interior volume, so you wake up with the canopy in your face. At the worst, your pole(s) can break or the canopy tears and the entire tent collapses.
Performance in snow loading is somewhat opposite of performance in wind. Here steep sides help snow to slide off the canopy. Tight seams that have minimum stretch are critical to encourage snow to slide instead of sink.
Tents for Heavy Rain
Performance in heavy rain depends on several factors.
First, if you’re pitched in a ditch you’re going to get wet. Stay away from depressions and look for sites with ground sloping away from your tent.
Second, you need highly waterproof fabric. Silnylon to some degree will absorb water, so you need a high waterproof rating to make sure water stays on the outside.
Third is floor area. Floorless shelters have a large floor area, pushing water away from your sleeping area. A large dry area is like a moat around your castle.
Fourth, you need ventilation to avoid condensation. Here is where floorless shelters can run into problems. Condensation management will be covered extensively further down.
One note to make about floorless tents in heavy rain is how much easier they are to keep clean. I can walk straight into my 8 Person Tipi with muddy boots on and not worry about it. My sleeping gear is on a waterproof ground sheet and everything stays clean. Try getting mud and water out of a tent with a bathtub floor after it gets in…..
Seek Outside Quality & Performance
I said previously that weather performance depends on design, craftsmanship, and materials. Beyond that the onus is on the user to pick good sites and properly pitch and stake the tent, or to maintain it in heavy snowfall.
We think that design, craftsmanship, and materials really set our tents apart from others on the market. We put a lot of effort, time, testing, and revising into our designs, and most of that work is invisible to the customer.
For instance, ripstop silnylon has a “grain” or texture to it. The grain means the fabric stretches more when pulled one direction that it does when pulled in the opposite direction. If a tent has eight main seams, most manufacturers will have four “strong” seams with little stretch, and four “weak” seams with much more stretch. This contributes to buffeting in high winds, and snow sagging instead of sliding.
We design around this by cutting our panels differently so that we have more “strong” seams. This limits the overall stretch of the canopy so there is some stretch but not too much.
This increased performance is invisible to most users, until they gain experience with our shelters and note how quiet they are in wind, and how little they sag under snow loading. Negative experiences with other tents helps you appreciate quality.
We cut and sew our tents in house in our own facility. This allows us to have absolute control over our quality of construction. We are also very lucky to have extremely experienced sewers who know where, when, and how things fail, and how to prevent it.
We choose materials that best blend light weight, strength, waterproofness, and tear resistance. Our silnylon is a 30 denier ripstop nylon 6.6 using Cordura thread with a waterproof rating of 3000 to 4000 mm hydrostatic head. To read more about the available types of tent fabrics available and why we use what we do, please read Tent Fabrics: A Comparison of Fabric Types.
Floorless Tent Concerns
The questions, fears, and concerns that floorless newbies typically have are about wet ground, bugs, or creepie crawlies. To be honest, these are all very easy to overcome. Condensation can be more challenging to deal with, and takes some knowledge.
All tents that are pitched tight to the ground will condensate under some conditions. Those conditions are usually high humidity combined with heavy prolonged rain. Extreme cold can also cause frosted condensation to form on the canopy from water vapor in the camper’s breath.
Pitching on wet ground compounds condensation. Choosing a campsite where ground slopes away from you, or choosing more open and breezy areas helps prevent condensation. Camping near lakes or marshy ground can make it worse.
(To read our in-depth article on this issue, see How to Deal with Tent Condensation.)
There are three major ways to manage tent condensation:
Ventilation is key to comfortable camping in condensation prone weather. It boils down to increasing airflow through the tent so that water vapor can escape. There are several ways to do this, but the easiest with our shelters is simply to lift the skirt.
Using Shelter Gatekeeper Straps, a Lineloc Extension Kit, or by making Tautline Hitch Stakeloop Extensions, you can raise your pole and pitch the tent with an air gap at the bottom. In hot humid weather this is an awesome way to camp. The inside stays dry from rain AND dry from condensation. It’s also much cooler in hot weather.
Raising the skirt can allow more bugs or critters in, so pairing this option with a Nest in warm weather can be wise if you’re in a buggy or desert area. In cool weather most run the canopy raised without worry of bugs.
In cold weather it is wise to seal the canopy to the ground and seal out drafts, and then manage any condensation with a liner, a stove, or both.
Liners add a second wall to the tent canopy. If condensation occurs, the liner will catch any drips and funnel them to the ground, keeping your living area dry. Liners in effect turn a singlewall shelter into a doublewall tent. Our liners come in halves, so you can run one half, two halves (full liner), or remove them completely.
Wood heat is a dry heat, and tent wood stoves do a tremendous job of drying out the inside of a tent. In soggy wet weather the stove will dry your boots and pants as well as remove condensation from the tent canopy. Heating the inside to vaporize condensation and then fully opening a door to release it is an old trick that helps dry out the inside.
Mosquitoes, Ticks, and Creepie Crawlies (Oh My!)
Door screens and nests are the main ways to deal with bugs and crawlers.
Door screens are sewn underneath the regular door, so in fair weather you can leave the outer door open with the screens closed to let cool air through but keep mosquitoes out.
In tick areas, or locales where scorpions or snakes are a concern, nests are extremely useful. A Nest has a bathtub floor and mesh sides and top. A zippered door allows access. The full enclosure protects against wet ground, ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, or other unwanted visitors.
Screens work great against flying insects. Nests work well against everything, but nests are heavier and generally more expensive.
Nests are also removable while screens are sewn in. So a nest can be left at home when not needed, but the screen weight will always be there whether needed or not.
Pitching in Tight Spaces
Large footprints need a large place to pitch. This isn’t a problem unless you’re in a tight brushy area, a tree is in the way, or you’re dealing with an undersized campground site.
In low brush, a huge advantage of floorless tents is that you can sometimes pitch OVER a shrub or bush. I’ve even made clothes drying racks out of bushes that were in the way before. This cannot be done with a floored tent.
Our Tipi Tents are capable of Flexi-Pitch, allowing you to shrink the height and footprint of a tipi to the next size smaller.
Our tipis have guyout loops sewn into the seams two feet above the stake loops. By shortening the pole and staking the guyout loops instead of the stake loops, you can sometimes pitch a tipi into a space that it otherwise wouldn’t fit.
We routinely get questions about mud or wet ground with our floorless shelters. Mud and wet ground are actually easy to overcome. In fact, most people who try it PREFER floorless tents in wet ground to a floored tent.
With a floorless tent you can simply walk in with muddy boots and not worry about tracking mud or water inside. With a conventional floored tent once muck and water get inside it is trapped and very difficult to remove.
Ground Sheets, Nests, and Bivys
A tent Ground Sheet is simply a waterproof barrier between your sleeping gear and the ground. Usually 3’ X 7’ or bigger, these barriers are commonly made of Tyvek, Polycro, painters tarps, or a more dialed solution such as our Ground Tarp . Ground Sheets only cover your sleeping area, making it easy to keep that spot clean and dry and tread around everywhere else in muddy boots without worry. Ground Sheets are lightweight, cost effective, and can be very durable.
Nests were discussed earlier. The bathtub floor of the nest protects against wet ground, while the mesh top protects against bugs. More protection than needed for just wet ground, this will be a heavier option.
DWR or waterproof bivys can be used to protect sleeping gear from condensation or wet ground, and can have an added benefit of sealing out drafts and making a sleep system about 10 degrees warmer than it normally would be.
Floorless tents are lightweight, big for the weight, comfortable to live in, handle bad weather well, and have just a few potential downsides. A bit of knowledge and experience can easily overcome the obstacles.
We hope that you too will become Fearlessly Floorless.