Tent camping is one of the most common ways to experience the outdoors. A tent provides 4 walls, privacy, and a dry place to store your gear. Organized camp grounds in public forests are generally best for tent or vehicle camping, providing a safe, fun way to get some time with nature.
However, if you're looking to step it up a notch, there's plenty of alternatives available to consider. A majority of tents you can find at stores will be in a large, bulky bag. Your ability to pack them down is limited by the rods that are used to support the tent structure, and if you're backpacking, you tend to have to do your packing around the large tent.
Depending on what works for you, the options below will open up tons of extra space in your pack. Removing the tent entirely frees up a bunch of weight as well, allowing you to carry more luxury items if you choose to.
The Hammock Tent
My personal favorite for any backpacking adventure is a hammock tent. These compress down small - smaller than some water bottles, and weigh less than a few pounds in total. Specific Hammock Tents will generally come with a rainfly, providing you with protection from the elements, and extra insulation in colder weather. The setup is also much easier, allowing you to string it up virtually anywhere there is 2 solid anchor points. This reduces the need to carry tools to clear a campsite so you can set up a tent, as well as the clearing process in general.
There's also nothing quite like being suspended in the air, staring up at the sky and watching the constellations while a fire crackles to the side. Setting up a sleeping bag inside of the hammock provides extra warmth for those colder nights, but isn't entirely necessary during warmer parts of the year. The only downside is that your gear sits outside, so consider how you can keep it dry by keeping it underneath the hammock tent.
A super common item, tarps serve a purpose of protecting something from the elements. Thick plastic helps repel moisture, blocks wind, and keeps you dry. A tarp is useful for shelter crafting as well, coupled with some paracord or rope. What I think is a relatively good size would be at least 10 feet long by 8 feet wide, at the very least. A tarp can be used to make a lean-to style shelter very easily, and requires very little setup if that's the case. More complicated shelters can be crafted, such as a bivvy style tent - although I would recommend a larger tarp if that is your idea. If you're looking for a more minimalistic approach, without being barebones, this is one of the better options for lightweight packing.
The Bivy Bag
A sleeping bag and tent in one, the Bivy sack is an ideal way to reduce your weight, while still maintaining the comforts of a small tent. These pack down to the size of a sleeping bag, but contain a waterproof outer shell and raised overhead area. Traditionally they'll be a bit heavier than a sleeping bag alone, but they do provide full weatherproof capabilities. A thick base keeps you insulated from the ground, allowing you to set these up virtually anywhere and catch up on some sleep. These options are great for seasoned backpackers, although they will generally have a higher price tag than a regular tent or sleeping bag.
As the heading implies, this would be a non-ideal situation in most cases. Seasoned bushcrafters practice their survival shelter crafting skills regularly, and this is to ensure their survival in worst case scenarios. While most public campgrounds will not allow you to chop down trees to build yourself a shelter, there are many places you can go that would allow this. If you're looking for a fully authentic experience, crafting your own shelter is the way to go.
However keep in mind that survival shelter crafting is a long process, taking several hours at least, and using a lot of energy to do so. Most common shelters will use a lean-to style design, as they're one of the easiest to setup. While I won't go into detail all the different ways to craft a shelter, just know that the possibility of doing so exists, and is a good skill to have in case everything goes downhill.
Instead of relying on survival shelter crafting skills, you can simply pick up one of our emergency life tents here.
As always, make sure to plan accordingly and pack 2 times the amount of water you think you'll need, as well as food for an additional 2 days. Start small if you're new, and work your way up to multi-day trips.