Top Tents and Shelters on the Appalachian Trail: 2022 Thru-Hiker Survey

Each year here at The Trek, we survey long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) about the shelter systems they use. In this post we’ll cover the trends from the AT Class of 2022. We’ll cover types of shelters used, satisfaction, size, and last but not least, the top brands and models.

The Hiker Sample

In 2022, 403 hikers participated in the survey, all of whom hiked on the AT in 2022. Almost 90 percent were thru-hikers, and the rest were section hikers. For more details on hiker demographics, check out our first post with general information from the survey.

The data were collected from October through November 2022 via our social media platforms, Backpacker Radio, and TheTrek.co. Some clean-up of the data was done only when necessary, mostly involving start/end dates. (There were a few time travelers who claimed to have started their hike in 2023 while still completing it this year.) No obvious duplicates were found.

Shelter Type

While the majority of hikers still choose to use freestanding tents, there has been an increase in trekking pole tent use over the past few years. 20 percent of all survey participants used trekking pole tents in 2022, up from 13.9 percent in 2019. About one-tenth of all hikers used hammocks, which is typical of what we’ve seen in past years.

Tarp use, while small in number, has gone down from last year from 4 percent to 2 percent of hikers. Only a handful of hikers opted to use bivy sacks or no shelter at all (less than 1 percent apiece).

Primary Shelter Types and Hiking Partners

We looked at hikers’ chosen shelter type based on who they were hiking with. Those hiking with dogs all used freestanding or trekking pole tents. Couples were more likely to use tents as well, although a noticeable percentage of couples used hammocks. Keep in mind that the results could be skewed by both partners in a couple responding to the survey and that only five hikers with dogs responded.

Capacity

About 60 percent of solo hikers chose to use a two-person tent. The trend to go larger for more room is noticeable among couples as well: over half used a three-person tent or larger. 30 percent of those hiking with friends or relatives reported using one-person shelters, which presumably indicates that they chose not to share a tent with their hiking partners; this percentage could be even higher if some of the two-person tents were also not shared.  We’ve seen the trend to choose a larger capacity tent is increasing every year, up from 55 percent of solo hikers and 45 percent of couples upgrading their tent size in 2021.

Satisfaction

We asked hikers about their satisfaction with the shelter they used. 92 percent of all hikers were at least somewhat satisfied with their shelter. Trekking pole tents were somewhat less satisfying than other shelter types. 11.25 percent of trekking pole tent users reported being at least somewhat dissatisfied with their choice, compared to just 8.5 percent of freestanding tent users and 8.1 percent of hammockers. The few who used no shelters, tarps, or bivy sacks were all at least somewhat satisfied with their choice.

83 percent of hikers used the same tent throughout their hikes. 15 percent replaced their shelter with a different model, and 2 percent replaced their shelter with the same model.

The biggest complaints we saw this year, and in years past, were about shelters not being able to handle rain. Shelter size was also an issue, especially combined with rain. This helps support the reasoning many hikers had when choosing to size up their tents.

Here are some comments from those that were dissatisfied with their shelters (lightly edited for grammar and clarity):

  • “I had the Gossamer Gear The One. It leaked whenever it rained. Would not recommend this tent.”
  • “Nemo Hornet 2p tents leak and are too short for anyone over 5ft 6.”
  • “One man tent too small.”
  • “I would get a double-walled tent next time for rain.”
  • “Both my tent and tarp weren’t able to keep rain out.”
  • “Being too tall for the Duplex caused water issues in the rain.”

Tarp Size

The most popular tarp size was 10 x 12 feet, chosen by 29 percent of tarp users. 8 x 10 followed closely at 28 percent. However, note that some ground-sleeping tarp users opted for the 8×10 size, whereas the 10 x 12 ft responses only included hammockers. 22 percent of tarp users also preferred a tarp fit specifically for their hammocks. Overall, ground sleepers preferred smaller tarps than hammockers.

Popular Brands and Models

Finally, we asked hikers about their favorite tent brands and models. Big Agnes once again was the most popular brand, while the Zpacks Duplex remained the most popular overall model. Almost all of the top brands and most of the models are unchanged from 2021. Here are the rankings.

Top Tent Brands

  1. Big Agnes (115 hikers’ favorite)
  2. Zpacks (78)
  3. NEMO (29)
  4. Gossamer Gear (27)
  5. REI (20)
  6. Six Moon Designs (12)
  7. Durston Gear (11)
  8.  MSR (7)

Top One-Person Tent Models

1) Gossamer Gear The One (19)

2) Zpacks Altaplex (12)

3) Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (9)

4) Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 (8)

5) Durston X-Mid 1p (6)

5) REI Quarter Dome (6)

Top Two-Person Tent Models

1) Zpacks Duplex (48)

2) Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 (41)

3) Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (29)

4) Nemo Hornet 2p (14)

5) Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 (12)

Top Three-Person Tent Models

1) Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 (15)

2) Zpacks Triplex (8)

3) Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 (5)

Top Hammock Brands and Models

For hammocks, there weren’t many responses on brand or model (17). The only brands that had more than one response were Warbonnet (3) and ENO (5). The only model with multiple users was the Eno DoubleNest, which had five users and is pictured below.

Summary

  1. The majority of hikers use tents as their shelter; trekking pole tents have grown in popularity over the years.
  2. Those hiking with a dog or significant other are even more likely to use a tent.
  3. Over half of hikers using tents sized up. This includes solo hikers in two-person tents and couples in tents sized for three or more people.
  4. Over 90% of hikers were satisfied with their shelters, and only 15% replaced their shelters during their hikes. Almost all shelters should last an entire thru-hike.
  5. Issues with waterproofing and heavy rain were the most-cited reasons for tent dissatisfaction.
  6. Hammockers tend to use larger tarps than ground sleepers using tarps, with 10 ft x 12 ft being the most popular size.
  7. Big Agnes and Zpacks were the top tent brands by a large margin. The only notable hammock model was the ENO DoubleNest.

Thank You!

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. Upcoming posts from this year’s survey will cover sleeping bags and pads, backpacks, and stoves/filters. To stay updated on the subsequent hiker survey posts, subscribe to The Trek newsletter.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.

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Comments 3

  • Bart : Jan 6th

    One guy I know did hike the entire AT without any kind of tent.
    Every single night on the trail he stayed in a shelter.
    So it is possible to do that.

    Reply
  • Robert Sartini : Jan 11th

    People marry their gear. Whatever they get past Mountain Crossing with they keep and say they love it. Its in our nature. No one likes to admit that they hate their hammock or Altras or what ever. bamboo bob

    Reply

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