Top Tents and Shelters on the Appalachian Trail: 2023 Thru-Hiker Survey

This installment of the 2023 Appalachian Trail survey covers shelters of all kinds. We’ll discuss the types of shelters used, the type and size chosen based on hiking companions, and overall satisfaction. As always, we’ll go over the top brands and models of shelters that were on the trail this year.

We had a total of 409 responses this year. Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey! The data was collected from October through November of 2023 through our survey, which was marketed using our social media platforms, Backpacker Radio, and TheTrek.co. Some responses from previous years were removed, and obvious mistakes in start and end dates were adjusted. No obvious duplicates were found.

Shelter Type

Freestanding tents have always been the most popular choice of shelter and that remains true this year. The popularity of trekking pole tents continues to grow each year, with 27 percent of hikers opting for a trekking pole tent this year over last year’s 20 percent.

Hammock and tarp use have both decreased slightly this year, from 9 and 2 percent to 6 and 1 percent respectively. Only one respondent used a bivy sack, and a few hikers used no shelter. They either relied on AT shelters or accommodations in towns along the way.

READ NEXT – The 2022 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey: Top Tents and Shelters on the AT (prior year survey)

We looked at the shelter types hikers chose based on their hiking companions. Hikers with dogs almost exclusively chose freestanding tents, with one dog owner choosing a trekking pole tent. Couples also leaned more towards freestanding tents.

Keep in mind that the results in these categories are skewed by much lower numbers than solo hikers or even those hiking with friends and relatives.

Capacity

We asked hikers about the size of tent they used and also compared that to who they were hiking with. Over half of all hikers used a two-person shelter. Solo hikers were most likely to size up to a two-person shelter, with over half using a two-person tent. The majority of couples used a two-person tent, although it was not uncommon for couples to size up to a three-person shelter.

While choosing a larger capacity shelter remains a popular choice, fewer hikers are doing so compared to last year’s survey. Couples, in particular, were less likely to size up this year, with only 35 percent of couples choosing a three-person tent compared to last year’s 54 percent.

Satisfaction

Overall, hikers were satisfied with the shelters they used. Only 5 percent of all respondents said they were dissatisfied with their shelter choice.

Hammock userss showed the most dissatisfaction percentage wise, but that still only counts for two hikers as so few hammockeres participated in the survey. It is noteworthy that those who chose the most uncommon shelter types (bivies, tarps, and no shelter) were satisfied across the board.

The vast majority (80 percent) of hikers used the same shelter throughout their hike. 18 percent of hikers swapped their tent out for a different model, while 2 percent replaced their shelter with the same model.

As is typical, the most common complaints we saw this year were that shelters did not hold up well in the rain and trapped condensation. Several respondents said they wished they chose a double-wall tent over a single-wall. These comments were directly related to the rain and condensation issues.

There were also many comments about the Durston tents that mentioned the footprint took up a lot of space and made it difficult to find a spot to pitch at times.

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

  • “The Nemo Hornet 2P is great when it doesn’t rain.”
  • “You will regret having a silnylon tent if rains for days on end with no chance for a town stop (happened to me in the Whites!)”
  • “In hindsight, I would have more strongly considered a double wall tent for the very wet year we had.”
  • “I started with a Gossamer Gear ‘The One’ but it was too leaky and flimsy. “
  • “Single wall tents have terrible splash from condensation, would recommend a high sleeping mat or a waterproof/synthetic sleeping setup as it WILL get wet on the AT.”

Tarp Size

The most popular size tarp was 10 ft x 12 ft, which is the same as last year. It won by a much larger margin this year, with 46 percent of all tarp users choosing that size vs 28 percent last year. 8 ft x 10 ft is the next most popular size, followed by 6ft x 8ft. As we have found in years past, hammockers tend to go for a larger tarp size compared to hikers who sleep on the ground.

Popular Brands and Models

Last but certainly not least, we asked hikers about their favorite brands and models of shelters used. We separated the categories by tents and hammocks. Once again, Big Agnes and the Zpacks Duplex held the top spot for most popular brand and model respectively. Most of the top brands stayed the same, with Durston Gear jumping in popularity from 7th place to 3rd.

Top Tent Brands

BrandResponses
Big Agnes92
Zpacks76
Durston Gear55
Nemo Equipment30
Gossamer Gear24
REI22
TarpTent18

Top Tent Models

1st Place – Zpacks Duplex (47)

2nd Place – Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 (32)

3rd Place – Durston Gear X-Mid 2 (31)

CapacityTentResponses
One-person Tents
Durston Gear X-Mid 123
Gossamer Gear The One17
Zpacks Solplex10
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL18
Zpacks Altaplex7
Two-person Tents
Zpacks Duplex47
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL232
Durston Gear X-Mid 231
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL225
Nemo Hornet OSMO Ultralight 2P20
Three-person Tents
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL39
Zpacks Triplex6

Top Hammock Brands and Models

There were many fewer hammock users compared to tent users in our survey, and many different options for hammocks. Very few brands and models were repeated. The top two brands were Eno, with 8 responses, and Warbonnet, with 6. The only notable model mentioned was the Warbonnet Blackbird, also with 6 responses.

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.  Many hikers choose to size up their tent capacity. This includes solo hikers in two-person tents and couples in tents sized for three or more people.
  4. 95 percent of hikers were satisfied with their shelters, and only 20 percent 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, Zpacks and Durston Gear were the top tent brands this year, with the popularity of Durston Gear growing a lot from last year. The only notable hammock model was the Warbonnet Blackbird.

Thank You!

Congratulations to all the Appalachian Trail hikers this year — and a huge thank you to all of you who took the time to fill out the survey! Upcoming posts will detail AT hikers’ favorite backpacks, sleeping bags, and stoves/filters. To stay up to date on the latest survey posts, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

More From the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Survey

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.

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Comments 1

  • Dan Durston : Jan 11th

    Thanks to those using our tents on the AT. It’s really cool to see people out enjoying them on the long trails.

    – Dan

    Reply

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