Well, I might as well keep going and make this a series.
Of course, the most important item for backpacking is your tent. It has to be as light as possible, keep you absolutely dry in driving rains that last for days, be able to withstand pretty windy conditions without tearing or flying away, and preferably have enough space to be comfortable, even in driving rains that last for days.
I absolutely love my tent, for all the above-mentioned reasons and then some, so I’ve got to brag about it a little.
My tent is just a little over four pounds, not including the pegs. It has one lightweight aluminum pole. This makes it lighter than most dome tents, and you can even use one of your walking sticks as the pole, making it even lighter. My pegs weigh way more than the tent, because I replaced the tiny, flimsy ones that came with the tent halfway the first vacation. I now use sturdy pegs that can be stomped into hard ground and stay put in looser ground during a storm. Before I get my tent up for its first use in twenty-three years, I’ll find out if sturdy, thicker, longer pegs come in a lighter metal now.
The inner tent takes up half the space, on one side of the pole, and the other (almost) half is vestibule. The vestibule is therefore big enough for two backpacks and for a person to comfortably cook dinner in those driving rains that last for days. (For obvious fire safety reasons, let me point out that you should not cook in a zipped-up vestibule. If you do, remember that I didn’t recommend that.)
To keep going with those driving rains (like in the Cairngorms or the Lake District in Great Britain–two of my favorite places in the world), another great thing about my tent is that you can set it up the normal way: inner tent first, rain fly (outer tent) second, but you can also do it the other way around. Person 1 gets under the rain fly and sets up the pole while person 2 pegs things down outside. Then both get in, get out of dripping rain gear, lay down the footprint, peg down the inner tent and hang it from the pole. And then you get settled in at your dry leisure. If it’s still raining when I need to take my tent down, I can pack everything but the rain fly and the tent pole from the inside. If you want to be able to do this with a dome tent, make sure to get one with an inner tent that hooks onto the poles, not one with sleeves that the poles have to slide through.
My tent is as round as a straight-pole tent can be, with no very big flat surfaces for the wind to grip, and nine points where the rain fly is pegged down and held taut. I’ve never had a dome tent, but I imagine that it’s not as sturdy in a storm, since there’s nothing holding it taut but the bendy poles. But as long as it’s waterproof, I suppose some blowing around doesn’t matter.
The rain fly on my tent goes all the way to the ground, and it’s about four inches from the inner tent at every point. This used to be normal–in Europe, anyway–but I’ve noticed that lots of tents in the USA have a rain fly that only goes down partway, or almost all the way down, but not quite. In that case you’d better be 100% sure that your inner tent and especially the floor are absolutely rainproof. You wouldn’t want to use a footprint if it rains up against the inner tent, because water could collect between the footprint and the tent floor, but without a footprint, your tent will get very dirty, if you have rainy conditions at all, and if you have to fold your tent when the floor is still wet. Also, the wind can’t get a hold of a rain fly that goes all the way down to the ground as easily. In short, I don’t understand these weird American rain flies. They seem good for nothing but fair weather camping, and when and for how long is that ever guaranteed?
I never once got rained out in my tent. The only reason H and I packed up and headed down the mountain after five days of constant rain in the Lake District one summer was because we had finished our books. In the bed and breakfast, the only thing that we had to hang out to dry was the rain fly, because we packed up in the rain.
If I had to buy a lightweight tent now, the only thing I’d change is that I would get one with two entrances and two vestibules, so two people don’t have to be climbing over each other to get out. That wasn’t an issue twenty-five years ago, when I never had to get up at night to pee, but at age 55 it is. Even then, as long as T’s bladder holds up and I am the one sleeping on the entrance side, we’re still golden.
If you’re getting into backpacking and are in the market for a tent, I hope this helps. If you already have a great tent, brag about it in a comment.