Is a tent with a rain fly warmer than its single-wall counterpart?

My friends and I are in the middle of a debate about the insulating qualities of single-wall tents versus those with a separate rain fly. We're strictly talking winter tents, and really the only single-wall tents in question are from Bibler. However, none of us has one, especially given the hefty price tag (I currently own a Sierra Designs Omega). I think a Bibler single-wall would carry enough thickness and protection, but my friends think a tent with a rain fly can keep a layer of warm air in between the tent and fly. So, overall is a four-season tent with fly warmer than the best four-season single-wall tent? Brian Fort Collins, Colorado

A: An excellent question! And well worth discussing, as in recent years single-wall tents have really come on strong with manufacturers adopting new designs and materials that bring them out of the nosebleed range, price-wise.


First of all, let me preface my remarks by pointing out what should be obvious: Tents are not insulated. So any comments about one tent being "warm" and another not is purely relative.

But clearly, double-wall tents are warmer in the winter (and cooler in the summer), for exactly the reason your friends mention. The air space between the fly canopy (the inner part of the tent) and the fly can indeed—in still or light-wind conditions—create an insulating layer of warm(ish) air. Under the right conditions such a tent can even be downright balmy. With a single-wall tent, all that stands between you and the cold, cruel world is that one thin layer of fabric. During the summer, a double-wall tent also can be a little more comfortable because the fly literally shades the canopy, although most tents still become ovens in the sun.

You have to weigh that against the weight savings of a single-wall. Sierra Designs' new four-season Pampero ($359; comes in at about six pounds, 11 ounces for everyday use, which isn't bad (it can be stripped down to less for mild weather). Your Omega is slightly heavier. Bibler's very tough, very minimalist I-Tent ($539; goes for four pounds, five ounces. So that's fairly significant, although the I-Tent lacks a vestibule, which can be a handy thing in severe weather.

In any event, that's a lot of dough to save basically two pounds. I'm inclined to say you're perfectly well off now. Camp on!

For a bevy of tents to settle any debate, check out Outside Online's Tents Buying Guide.

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Filed To: Tents
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