Top Tents and Shelters on the Appalachian Trail: 2021 Thru-Hiker Survey
Each year here at The Trek, we survey long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) on the shelter systems they use. In this post we’ll cover the trends from the AT class of 2021. We’ll cover types of shelters used, satisfaction, size along with the top brands and models.
The Hiker Sample
310 hikers participated in the survey, all of whom had walked a section or thru-hike of the AT in 2021. Almost three-quarters were thru-hikers, and the rest were section hikers. For more details on the hiker demographics, check out our post with general information from the survey.
Type of Shelter
This year saw a more diversified use of sleeping systems across the hiker population. In 2019, 73% of hikers used a traditional tent. This number has dropped to 62% of all survey respondents. All other shelter types have seen an increase, with trekking pole tents seeing the highest increase (14% to 19%).
Hammocks and tarps also saw a large rise in respondents with tarps doubling from 1.4% of hikers to 3% of all respondents. Interestingly, we also saw six respondents rely on no carried shelter system, three of whom completed their full thru-hike.
We asked hikers how satisfied they were with the shelter they used on the AT. Ninety-three percent of those who hiked were satisfied with the shelter used, with 50% of those with tents being very satisfied. Trekking pole tents saw the most dissatisfaction with 12% being unhappy with the setup.
The majority of the complaints with tents seemed to be with how they dealt with rain. As a lot of respondents spent a lot of time in Appalachian Trail shelters, it seemed that the balance between weight and structural integrity was a difficult thing to get right.
Here are some quotes from those who were dissatisfied with their setup:
- “I primarily stayed in shelters but when I used my tent it never seemed to dry.”
- “I wish I had something lighter as I spent most nights in shelters.”
- “The GG One leaked like a sieve and then the seam tape came off.”
- “GG tents do not hold up in the rain.”
- “The Nemo Hornet sucks when it rains because the headspace is cut away on the fly.”
- “A hammock is much more comfortable but colder.”
Over half of those who hiked solo used a two-person tent. Around 42% of those hiking with a friend or relative chose not to share a tent and use a one-person tent. Forty-five percent of couples used a tent made for three or more people. This highlights the desire for a slightly bigger tent for the luxury of being able to store personal items inside rather than storing them in a vestibule.
We asked hikers who used a hammock or tarp about the size they used. Sixty-eight percent used a tarp between 8x10ft and 10x12ft with those using hammocks skewing this to the higher size. None of the hikers who used a 6x8ft tarp used a hammock, but instead slept on the ground.
An Apology to the Hammock Dwellers
For the second time in a row, we didn’t collect data from those in a hammock on what they used. This was due to an error in the 2019 survey that I didn’t spot as we updated it for 2021. Therefore, we don’t have any data on models and hammock brands, which is a shame as they have grown in popularity since the survey first launched. This will be collected for 2022 but I can only apologize for this mistake. We promise it wasn’t intentional and have nothing against those who chose an elevated sleeping system.
Popular Brands and Models
Finally, we asked hikers for their favorite brands and models. In 2019 Big Agnes was a clear winner with 114 hikers choosing this brand. This year, while still the favorite brand, this number had dropped to 55. Two brands that have seen big upswings this year are Gossamer Gear (26) and Durston Gear (15). Here are their rankings by popularity.
READ NEXT – The Best Tents for Thru-Hiking of 2o22
Top Tent Brands
- Big Agnes (55 hikers’ favorite)
- Zpacks (46)
- NEMO (36)
- Gossamer Gear (26)
- Durston Gear (15)
- REI (13)
- TarpTent (13)
- Six Moon Designs (12)
Top One-Person Tent Models
1) Gossamer Gear The One (17)
2) Durston X-Mid 1p (9)
3) Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (8)
5) Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 1 (7)
Top Two-Person Tent Models
1) Zpacks Duplex (33)
2) Nemo Hornet 2P (22)
3) Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (18)
4) Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 (14)
Around 80% of thru-hikers on the AT used a tent, 13% used a hammock, and four percent used a tarp. The majority of hikers were satisfied with the shelter system used, with the highest dissatisfaction seen by those using a trekking pole tent.
About 50% of those who use a tent go a size up. The most popular brand of tent was Big Agnes, followed by Zpacks and NEMO. Gossamer Gear’s “The One” was the most popular one-person tent, the Zpacks Duplex the most popular two-person, and the Copper Spur UL3 from Big Agnes was the most popular three-person tent.
Many thanks to the hikers who participated in the survey! Congratulations to you all! Check out our previous posts with general hiker information and footwear used. Upcoming posts from this year’s survey will cover backpacks, sleeping bags and pads; stoves, food, and water; and favorite places on trail. To stay updated on the subsequent hiker survey posts, subscribe to The Trek newsletter.
Data were collected from participants recruited via our social media platforms, Backpacker Radio, and TheTrek.co. Participants submitted surveys anonymously between October and November of 2021. There was some data cleanup done during the analysis of the data where obvious spelling mistakes were made or brands/models were obviously the same. We also changed any start dates that referenced 2022 to 2021 and couldn’t find any obvious duplicates in the data. That said, please keep in mind you can’t always believe the answers to what you ask strangers on the internet.
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