Why Are Tent Bags So Small?

A small tent bag on a table with a camera binoculars and some maps
It’s not uncommon to set up your tent to enjoy a night of camping only to find you can’t pack it in its bag once it’s time to move out in the morning.

No matter how much we fold and refold them, the tent always seems too bulky to get into the tent bag. Why are tent bags so small? Or is there another reason why packing your tent can take up half the morning?

Manufacturers choose to make tent bags so small for a number of reasons, but the bottom line is that making them smaller is supposed to make everyone’s life easier. And,  they mostly do their job, except when we’re spending hours folding and refolding our tent to try and fit it in its bag. Many an hour of precious daylight has been burned in trial and error and after some time (and a couple of tents) we’ve found the answer to the problem.

Table of Contents

Tent Bags Are Made to Be Tighter and Lighter

They design them so small in order to make them lighter and compress the overall volume of the tent. Smaller volume means more space in your backpack for other things. Do not confuse volume with weight, though. The tent will be smaller than if you’d just stuffed it in your bag, but it will weigh the same.

That being said, a more compact tent bag can also reduce the strain on your back and make it seem as though your gear was lighter. The bag, by being so tight, keeps your packed tent from coming loose or rattling when you’re moving. This prevents it from damaging your gear among other things.

Loose equipment bouncing around in your bag is never good. It will not only make you louder but will throw you off balance when you’re walking. Any hiker or camper who’s walked a hundred miles in their life knows that tightly strapped gear adds mileage to your day.

It’s Easier for Producers to Make Tent Bags Small

In a situation where you would have to walk for a long time while carrying your equipment, you’d want the lightest and smallest equipment possible. Why they may not all be light, smaller tents appear lighter to the average buyer. Apart from this, when shipping items to their clients, the manufacturer can save a couple of bucks by shipping packages of smaller volume.

Another reason why tent bags are so small is that they’ve been packaged in factories and, in most cases, by machines. This means perfect conditions and absolutely no chance that one branch you notice halfway through rolling your tent will prevent you from packing it correctly.

You Might Need More Practice With Packing Your Tent in a Small Bag

Ultimately, if your tent can’t fit in its bag it could mean that you didn’t fold it well.

Some tents are notoriously tricky to set up and repack, so it might take more than one assembling to get it right. Make sure you always practice with your gear before taking it on any camping or hiking trip.

Getting to know your equipment is a crucial process of camping. Thus, it might be a good idea to prepare your tent for its first use by taking your backyard or a park and try to pitch it and take it down.

Apart from figuring out how to do it, you’ll learn how long it will take. And, if any issues arise, you won’t find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a tent you can’t pack.

Why Are Tents So Difficult to Pack

Why tent bags are so small may have nothing to do with the size of the bag. The main reason is that tents, in general, are very difficult to pack. Since they were prepackaged in conditions that you’ll never encounter while camping in the wild, you might find it difficult to recreate the way it was wrapped in the first place. Apart from this, here are the other reasons why tents are notoriously difficult to pack.

  • Easy to leave air inside the tent before packing
  • There are a lot of components
  • Tents need to be folded in a specific way
  • We get increasingly frustrated the more we fail

How to Pack Your Tent in a Small Bag Properly

The easiest way to do this is to remember how you unfolded it and fold it back in the same way, just in reverse. Of course, in most cases, people forget that completely. Whether you were setting up your tent at night or were just too excited to open your new gear, don’t panic!

Search your tent’s model or for tips on how to pack it properly. Most manufactures have videos about how to use their products on their websites, and if the manufacturer of your tent doesn’t you can probably find your tent model on youtube.

If all else fails, here are some tips about what you should before packing your tent in its bag.

What to Do Before You Pack a Tent

Before even attempting to pack your tent, make sure it’s clean and dry. Put it over a branch to dry after thoroughly shaking the leaves and dirt from it.

Do not zip up your tent entrance, but if you have a bug net, you can zip that. Just make sure there are no insects or debris inside your tent.

Double-check whether all of the equipment that came with the tent is still there. You don’t want to be hunting down stay pegs when rolling your tent.

Step by Step Guide to Packing Your Tent Properly

Step 1:

Remove the poles (if you already haven’t when cleaning your tent) and spread your tent flat on the ground. Don’t flip it over, leave it right side up.

Step 2:

Fold both sides and meet them in the middle. Press your tent with your knees as you fold, to get the air out. This is just one of the reasons you should clean your tent before packing it.

Repeat this step as many times as you need. When you fold one side completely over another, the folded tent should be a bit narrower than the bag, and look a bit like a flat burrito.

Step 3:

Place poles, pegs, or any additional equipment that came with the tent on one side of the folded tent. These things usually have a bag of their own, so you can place the bag on the tent.

If you want to successfully pack it all up, you should only use equipment that was made for your tent and designed to fit in the bag.

Step 4:

Roll up the tent around the poles and use them to press the tent to squeeze the air out. Put your weight into each roll and really wrap the tent tightly around the poles.

Step 4a:

Once folded, you can tie it off with paracord or compression straps if you have any. Tying is not essential but can help you with managing the tent into the bag. If you don’t have cordage to spare, you don’t have to do it.

Step 5:

Place one end of the folded tent into the bag first, then squeeze the other in. Press your tent into the bag with your fingers as you’re zipping the bag up.

If you are using a two-part tent, just do steps 1., 2., and 3 with the tent fly before doing them with the actual tent.

If the Bag Is Too Small, Can I Use a Different Bag for My Tent?

There’s nothing stopping you from carrying your tent any way you want to. Technically, you could wear your outdoor shelter on your head, and never have to take it apart or assemble it. However, keep in mind that each tent came in a bag specifically designed for it.

Picking a different holding container over the one your tent came in is just a suboptimal option.

If you do opt for using another bag for your tent, make sure you have reliable ways to close it up and tie off the slack material. There’s nothing quite so annoying, and not to mention dangerous, as having your equipment flap and clank when you move. If you do tie it off, use lightweight materials, such as paracord.

Some people choose to get a larger bag and then pack their sleeping bag along with their tent. I cannot recommend this because, even though your tent can withstand being a little wet between uses, your sleeping bag can’t. If damp gets in there, it’s tough to get out. Additionally, sometimes you’ll need to pack up your gear quickly in order to set it up somewhere else and won’t have time to clean it at all.

Sleeping bag packed separately form the tent

What if I Can’t Pack My Tent in the Bag?

If, after everything you have done, your tent still isn’t fitting, here are some alternatives to packing your shelter in its designated bag.

  • Pack your tent separately from its accompanying equipment – If your tent can fit inside the small bag without the poles, ropes, and pegs, you can put them in your backpack.
  • Pack it in your backpack – Maybe you can fit some other items into the tent bag and pack the rolled tent directly into your backpack. This may be a bit messy, and it will require you to rearrange your gear a bit, but it’s a good way to ensure everything gets packed and nothing gets forgotten.
  • Carry your tent in your hands – This is by far the worst solution, and it is only acceptable if you’re moving it closer than a hundred feet.
  • Choose a different tent – Maybe it’s time for a different tent or a different approach to making shelter. Instead of using a premade tent, you can make your own with a tarp, some rope, and a few pegs. The tarp is super easy to fold and pack back into its bag.

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