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How to use trekking poles for a lightweight shelter

How to Use Trekking Poles for a Lightweight Shelter

When you head out for a long backpacking trip, packing light makes your trip easier and more enjoyable. But, we all know you need what you need. Buying the right gear and using it in unexpected ways can make a huge difference in how much you have to pack.

It isn’t just about buying the lightest and most expensive products. Sometimes it’s about finding those products that can serve more than one purpose. One prime example is relying on your trekking poles to set up your tent. 

How to Use Trekking Poles for a Lightweight Shelter

Using trekking poles to set up your tent isn’t too complicated. Many brands have designed ultralight tents that allow you to have your trekking poles with you. By using your trekking poles for tent support, you lessen the weight you are carrying because you need less material. The tent no longer requires poles.

Instead, you use them to hike all day, then put them to use to set up your tent each night. 

While it isn’t very complicated, there’s still a learning curve. Let’s jump straight into some different ways that you can use your trekking poles for tent setup.

First Step: Choosing your Shelter

Different strokes for different folks, right? This is why the first step for everyone that wants to use trekking poles to set up their tent is simply choosing the shelter. 

Now, there are loads of different brands that offer high-quality tents that rely on trekking poles to set up. There is an even lighter-weight option of using a tarp, rather than a full tent setup. Setting up your tent using trekking poles does require a specific kind of tent.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to properly set up a typical tent with trekking poles in place of the normal poles provided. 

Tent using a tarp for a lightweight shelter

The tents that are sold often rely on either one or two trekking poles to be set up correctly. Common sense says that choosing a tent that only requires one pole can save you a lot of hassle in the future. If you are alone and happen to snap a trekking pole, or lose one downstream, you’ll have a tough time setting up your tent that night. 

There are even some two-person tents that require only one pole to set up. These are probably the least risky, but also tend to be the most pricey. 

Big agnes scout 2 carbon tent with trekking pole supportsThere’s a lot that goes into choosing the right shelter. Some of the best options for lightweight backing are the 11-ounce, ultra-lightweight, ultra-expensive, Big Agnes Scout 2 Carbon, or go with the more modest REI Flash Air 1 for double the weight and less than half the price.

Second Step: Choosing your Poles

Okay, sometimes step one and step two will join together or be switched around. That’s okay. The important thing is that you do your research and choose the right gear for your needs.

A lot of your time out in the backcountry is spent handling gear. If you want to get to bed quickly, you don’t want to end up with a complicated tent setup that you can’t figure out in the dark. 

Some trekking poles make setting up a tent simple. Certain designs conjoin with tents and set up as quickly as, or quicker than, typical tents.

Black Diamond makes trekking poles that connect the grip to the tent. These Black Diamond Distance carbon trekking poles are made to make your life easy by having the grip connect to the tent poles. They make 1-person and 2-person designs that make sleeping in the backcountry easy.

You do have to purchase the Black Diamond Distance Tent separately but it comes in at only 320 grams making it one of the lightest options on the market.

Black Diamond tent with trekking pole support

If you aren’t picking trekking poles specific to a tent or tarp, then you should just look at all trekking poles because there’s a lot to be learned in that arena.

Trailing Poles Together With a Tarp

If you’re going to sleep underneath a tarp in the woods, with or without trekking poles, you need to know some specific knots. Learn these before heading out and setting up your shelter will be a breeze. 

  • Bowline- Secures cord to your tarp
  • Trucker’s Hitch- This allows you to get ridgeline and guy lines taught, and easily undone
  • Clove Hitch- A great way to connect to stakes when tie-downs aren’t available

With two trekking poles, I recommend setting up an A-frame shelter. It’s the most effective for protecting you from the elements and can be set up anywhere with the trekking poles. 

The length of your trekking poles will be approximately the height of your ceiling. If you have adjustable poles, you can make a closed-in shelter, or a nice wide and open space. 

Setting Up an A-Frame Tent with Trekking Poles

  1. Stake down the corners of one side– On one side of the tarp, stake the corners that will end up being on your left (or right) side. With most tarps, these are at the end of the longer side. This step will help you with stability while setting the rest up. 
  2. Connect to your trekking poles- With a clove hitch, or a simple half hitch, connect the lines from your ridgeline to the one end of your trekking poles. I find that connecting to the grip lets you fix the tips a bit more into the ground. The closer you fix the trekking poles to the tarp, the less wiggle room there is. 
  3. Stake out the trekking poles– Now, stand the poles upright and stake them out, creating a straight line along the center of the tarp. Tighten the guy lines lightly. You can come back later and get them fully taught. 
  4. Stake out your remaining corners- Now you can stake out the other side of the corners. Watch as the tarp becomes infinitely more stable. The tension of the four corners keeps your freestanding trekking poles in place with proper stability. 
  5. Tighten everything down- If you didn’t tighten everything fully, you can go back and pull corners and guy lines tight. This will make everything move less throughout the night.
  6. Sleep- Enjoy sleeping under a secure roof.

Ditch that Heavy Tent

Being ultralight isn’t synonymous with spending a lot of money. Using tricks like setting up shelters with your trekking poles is one prime example of how to do it on a budget. Remember, you don’t need to spend thousands on a specific tent. Find the one that fits your budget, or choose a tarp. Either way, setting up a tent or tarp with your trekking poles expands the accessible areas for you to get the sleep you need when trekking in the backcountry.

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