Author: Jordan Budd, Muley Freak contributor and owner of Running Water Media

Helter Shelter

One of the hottest debates around shelters the last couple of years seems to be, “should I buy a floored or a floor-less tent?” Two years ago I was in the same boat, and through research and talking to people I trusted, I made the leap (and it is a leap for most people) to floor-less for the backcountry and haven’t looked back. Naturally there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems depending on your uses. Season, climate and location are substantial factors in deciding between the two types of shelters and every situation should be evaluated differently. Please keep in mind I’m comparing these two shelters with the western U.S. mountainous regions and it is not an apples to apples comparison when applying to the lower deserts where the bug and snake numbers are higher. When researching backpacking tents both floor-less and floored, I have stuck with two brands personally, the Hilleberg floored and the floor-less tarp shelters from Kifaru. With that in mind, my focus for this article will be based on what I feel are pros and cons to each system in different season situations, with a few references to what I use. First we’ll attack the controversial system with no floor.

DON’T FEAR THE FLOOR-LESS

Quickly before diving into some pros and cons, I’d like to touch on fear with no floor, or better put, the lack-of-security feeling with no floor. Most of the retaliation floor-less shelters get is from people afraid of rodents and insects being able to easily join them inside, among just being afraid of not having a floor. While the bugs and rodents are a real issue in certain places, don’t let that uncomfortable fear completely sway your decision in areas where the rodents don’t occupy. Keep in mind that wall tents are extremely popular and also have no floor.

FLOOR-LESS

This system seems to get the most negative publicity of the two so we’ll approach the con-list first.

CONS

  • Mice/rodents/reptiles/insects getting inside the tent easily.

These all can be a real issue in the lower elevations and mainly warmer climates. Mosquitos can be an issue in the high country during the warmer months, however I’ve never found them to be much of a problem once it cools off into the night. Bug nets can be purchased for a lot of the floor-less options to combat bugs and although I haven’t tried one yet, a bivy bag would give you the floored feature while still having the benefits of the floor-less shelters.

This is peoples fear when it comes to floor-less shelters. PC: Adobe Stock

This is what people fear when it comes to floor-less shelters. PC: Adobe Stock

The mice and other rodent/snake issues, to me, really depend on your location. In the high country your typically not going to be in a camp ground where there are high numbers of mice. I try to keep food and remnants cleaned up and in a dry bag, usually hung up or placed where a mouse would have a hard time getting to it. I have not personally had a mouse problem in the high country with my floor-less yet. I also have yet to talk to a floor-less user that has had a big problem with them, outside of the occasional mouse. I’ll also pitch in that if mice want into your floored shelter, it’s nothing for them to chew their way in. Now, snake and large spider country is where I draw a hard line for myself and ditch the floor-less!

  • Water running into the tent.

This has been brought up a few times while asking around and doing researching myself. I believe most of what this comes down to is the location you pitch the shelter, which should also be considered when pitching all shelters. You don’t want to pitch in a low spot that gathers or runs water, I’ve been in floored shelters that have leaked water through the floor because it wasn’t pitched in a good spot. I haven’t been in a major downpour with the floor-less yet, but some typical rain showers for the high country and have yet to get any water running inside. Other floor-less users that have been in terrible weather say when it’s really pouring they’ve only experienced a couple inches coming in each side. When you are pitching your shelter, look at the terrain crevices around you and try to imagine where the water will be running in a big storm, then don’t pitch your shelter in those spots.

Here you can see that the shelter is open to small critter and insects coming in and out under the tarp. Also you can see the typical setup with all the tie lines and trekking pole as support. PC: Jordan Budd

Here you can see that the shelter is open to small critter and insects coming in and out under the tarp. Also you can see the typical setup with all the tie lines and trekking pole as support. PC: Jordan Budd

  • Not freestanding / have to stake or tie off front and sides

Every floor-less system that I’m aware of pitches using one or two vertical support poles on each end, or one in the middle, then you stake or tie all of the sides out to give it its shape and stability. This can be a disability for a proper pitch if you are in rocky ground or super soft ground with nothing to tie off or stake into. Some floored tents also share a similar idea with having a center or “hoop” pole with the sides staked out.

  • Setup time – respectively

This totally depends on the shelters you are comparing but I’ve found with my Hilleberg Niak which is freestanding, and my Kifaru Megatarp which is floor-less, I can pitch the Niak faster because I just throw the two poles in and it’s pitched. Whereas the Megatarp takes a little extra time getting the correct stake points started for a solid pitch. That being said they aren’t hard to pitch, they just take more thought.

  • Condensation

To me this is similar to the ‘water running into the tent’ point we covered earlier, a lot of can be helped due to where its pitched. Condensation also applies to floored “regular” double walled tents, but seems easier to get with a single wall. In a nut shell condensation happens when the warmer air inside the tent meets the cooler air outside of the tent and condenses to visible moisture. The first rule of thumb for pitching to help condensation is to find a drier spot on the ground with the least amount of grass, that seems to help because there isn’t so much moisture in the ground. It also seems to help if you sleep more towards the middle or away from the tent wall, that way your breath and body heat isn’t so close to where the condensation happens. Ventilation is the next big key to manage condensation, still nights with little or no wind seem to be the worst for condensation. There are many factors that contribute to condensation like humidity, temperature, wind, etc. but I haven’t had too much of an issue yet making sure I pitch on the driest ground possible. That isn’t always going to be an obtainable option I know, just do the best you can and try to keep ventilation. A liner can be added to a number of single wall floor-less shelters as well to help combat condensation.

Now onto the pros of the floor-less options, where they really shine through with options.

PROS

  • Weight / packable space

One large reason most people look into the floor-less system is for the weight and packed space savings. With no floor and a single wall you can save a number of ounces, which also lets it pack down much smaller than your average one/two man floored tent. Plus, more weight savings are possible depending what you choose to pitch it with, covered in the next topic.

Floor-less vs. floored. You can see the floor-less on the left is much smaller and lighter when packed up. PC: Jordan Budd

Floor-less vs. floored. You can see the floor-less on the left is much smaller and lighter when packed up. PC: Jordan Budd

  • Pitch with a tent pole, trekking pole or stick

Depending on the style of floor-less you go with, most can be pitched with trekking poles or the right sized durable stick instead of the pole provided. This makes your weight savings even more by making your trekking poles dual purpose or you can just find a stick or two wherever you want to pitch.

  • Pitch versatility – some models

Depending on what model you get from the different companies, they may be able to be pitched different ways. You can tie a piece of p-cord to your stake points to get the bottom of the tarp off of the ground a couple of inches to help with condensation also.

  • Square foot to weight ratio

As compared to a typical floored shelter, there is usually more square footage of useable space for the weight in a floor-less. For example, my Hilleberg Niak is listed at 3 lbs 12 oz and it’s a great size for one person and some gear inside or two people that are comfortable with each other laying side by side. Whereas the Kifaru Megatarp is listed at 3 lbs 7 oz with it’s own pole kit and can sleep two people with all their gear comfortably, plus have to option to run a stove.

  • Stove options

Ah the stove options. This is where things really take a turn for me wanting a floor-less shelter over a floored, especially as the temperature drops. I can’t explain the difference it makes climbing into a shelter and lighting up a stove as it cools down outside over climbing right into your sleeping bag after dinner and trying to go to sleep. The stove lets your dry out your gear, warm up from a cold glassing session that evening, overall boosts moral and ultimately lets you stay longer. Most companies offering titanium package backpacking stoves are right around the one pound mark… that’s right, 16 ounces for a heat source. Some models are box shaped as well so you could actually cook on them if you needed.

One of the biggest advantages of the floor-less is the option to have a nice warm stove on cold nights and mornings. PC: Jordan Budd

One of the biggest advantages of the floor-less is the option to have a nice warm stove on cold nights and mornings. PC: Jordan Budd

  • Not tracking mud/dirt in

This kind of confuses people when I bring it up, but it’s a nice hidden feature of no floor. When your out and about you get dirty, especially your pants and boots on a multi-day hunt. There’s no floor, so inside your shelter you can walk in with your boots on and not worry about tracking anything in. Especially with a piece of tyvek or similar ground sheet under my sleeping pad I haven’t had major issues with things getting dirty or muddy.

FLOORED SHELTERS

PROS   

  • Pitch quickly

As touched on previously, the floored free standing tents are pretty simple and quick to pitch up. Usually two or three poles and your tent is ready to jump in.

  • Double walled

The dual wall (inner tent and outer tent or rain fly) can help with condensation. Also gives you almost complete separation from the outer elements, although if your tent is in a low spot where rain water pools up there’s a possibility you’re going to get some leaking and get wet.

Having the double wall construction can be beneficial in many ways like having the ability to store gear outside the sleeping area but still out of the weather. PC: Jordan Budd

Having the double wall construction can be beneficial in many ways like having the ability to store gear outside the sleeping area but still out of the weather. PC: Jordan Budd

  • Doesn’t have to be staked

Given the free standing portion the tent doesn’t have to be staked. So in rocky areas you don’t need to worry about staking for a solid pitch.

  • More protection from bugs, mice and creepy things

Because of the floor the tents are fully enclosed and discourage mice, bugs, snakes, etc. from entering. I will say again though if a mouse wants in, he’s going to get in with those teeth of his. I’ll also say again in snake country, I’m 100% going with the floored shelter.

  • Warmer

    Double walled floored shelters tend to stay a little warmer inside over the floor-less system because less of your body heat can escape. That is an advantage for cooler nights during the fall.

CONS

  • Pretty much no stove options

Especially for later season this can be a discomfort but also could lead to you leaving if there’s no way to dry things out. Really an area where the tarp and stove combo shines.

The floored shelters have to be pitched with the poles the manufacturerer provides. No using trekking poles or a number of other things like the floor-less. PC Jordan Budd

The floored shelters have to be pitched with the poles the manufacturerer provides. No using trekking poles or a number of other things like the floor-less.  These floored shelters are generally warmer but no option for a hot stove on really cold hunts.  PC Jordan Budd

  • Limited space to weight ratio

As hit on with the floor-less, some tents can be heavy for the useable room you get when compared to some non floored systems.

  • Can only pitch with their poles

This usually wouldn’t be an issue as long as your cognizant of where your pitching and weather conditions versus the tent durability. It is possible for snow load to break tent poles and if that does happen there’s basically no way to really fix that pole. Whereas compared to a floor-less that can be pitched with a number of things.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There’s a lot of considerations to think about between the two options. In my opinion what makes the floor-less so great for me is the room to spread out and ability to use a stove. I can’t express how much the backpacking stove options have changed the game for me when its colder. I take the floored option for sure when there will be a lot of bugs, ticks and the possibility of snakes down lower in elevation.

Living quarters inside a floor-less shelter. PC: Jordan Budd

Living quarters inside a floor-less shelter. PC: Jordan Budd

I also was one to be afraid of going floor-less because of the bugs, mice and such getting in the tent with me before I bought my first floor-less. After talking with multiple users, I made the leap and really couldn’t be happier with it in the situations I use it for. In conclusion I don’t mean to shove the floor-less idea onto all of you, it has however been a positive system for me and I wanted to show the advantages so it can possibly help your success this fall!

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