When you love camping and hiking, a little bit of snow on the ground isn't going to be enough to stop you from enjoying the crisp air and uncrowded trails. After all, nothing is more outdoorsy than sipping homemade cocoa around a campfire while snowflakes filter through the trees and the stars glitter overhead.
Of course, when it comes to camping in the wintertime, you have to remember the Rule of Threes: you can only survive 3 hours without proper shelter. Going out into the winter wonderland without a cold weather tent can be the end of you.
The Difference Between 3- and 4-Season Tents
There is a reason why you can't use your summer tent in the dead of winter. 3-season tents are designed to be used for spring, summer, and fall. Though these tents hold up well against rain and high winds, the durability and insulation balk at frigid temperatures and snow.
4-season tents, on the other hand, are known as winter tents or cold weather tents because they are designed for all seasons—with the emphasis being on wintry conditions. Compared to a 3-season tent, 4-season tents are:
- Heavier and bulkier in design and weight – stronger, thicker fabrics and materials
- Have unique construction – steeper walls to prevent snow from collecting
- Aluminum poles for increased strength
- Increased number of poles and pole crossings
- Cost much more
What to Look For in a Cold Weather Tent
No one will tell you that camping in the cold is a breeze. It gets unfathomably cold. However, not every winter tent is going to be ideal for what you plan to do. A week in the Yukon is going to require a much heavier tent than a weekend fishing in the Rocky Mountains. Here's some things to consider:
- Vestibule – You are going to need someplace to store all of your winter gear. Otherwise, you will be bringing damp gear into a space that should remain dry. This prevents condensation and internal frosting.
- Ventilation – You don't want to block out all freezing air, since you would then risk condensation and internal frost. Double wall tents will have better circulation than single wall tents, but will remain quite toasty.
- Storage – Even lightweight versions of winter tents will have storage options. Look for pockets, hooks, and other ways you can organize the space. This means less time searching for items and more time enjoying the daylight.
- Space – Too much space means more difficulty staying warm, so size the winter tent to how many people are coming along for the trip. You really only need enough head space to sit up and enough floor space to fall asleep comfortably.
- Strength and Resistance – The key feature of winter tents is the ability to hold up against glacial, gale-force winds. You want a tent that has the materials to withstand this kind of cold.
- Shape and Fabric – The steeper the sides, the better for snowy conditions. Some tents will have a fly waterproof sheet and no inner (single-layer) or a waterproof fly over a non-waterproof inner (double). Fabric is another issue: the fly should have a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, and the thickness should be more than a 3 season tent (measured in Denier, or D). Also, the more poles the tent has, the better.
- Weight – Because cold weather tents weight much more, you might need to forego comforts in order to increase survivability.
- Cost – High quality tents made from durable materials means that winter tents are more expensive than 3-season tents. However, it's an investment you shouldn't hesitate to make—especially if you don't want to wake up frostbitten.
The Best Winter Season Tents
Whether you are spending one night sleeping in cold conditions or enduring a week of high-altitude snow storms, you are going to need the proper cold weather tent to keep you safe. Here are the best winter tents of 2017/2018 to help you endure even the coldest nights:
1. ALPS Mountaineering Tasmanian 3-Person Backpacking Tent
- Sturdy construction – features 7000 series aluminum poles;
- Large vestibules and living space;
- Long enough for tall people to be comfortable;
- Budget-friendly price.
- A very heavy tent (8 pounds);
- May not last as long as more expensive models.
For the price and space, the Tasmanian is a great deal. Though it is essentially a two-pole system, the design adds both space and durability. The vestibules are noted to be large enough to set up cooking gear in—without opening the fly. You can also lay down flat, even if your height breaches 6 feet tall. Even against high winds, you will barely feel the cold when inside.
2. Black Diamond Eldorado
- Perfect for “sleep where you can” expeditions
- Lightweight (2.3kg/81oz)
- Long length
- Ideal for single or two persons
- Gear storage
- Zippered vents for increased air flow
- Reasonably priced
- Lacks a vestibule and second entrance – two people might have some troubles getting cozy
- Not very versatile – not recommended for any other season but winter
For alpine climbers and mountaineers, a lightweight tent is going to be a valuable asset. Enter the Black Diamond Eldorado, a durable and weatherproof lightweight cold weather tent that has single-layer.
The design is simple: two poles creating a steep-sided but stable shelter that withstands high-velocity winds. The length of the tent is also generous, allowing for even tall climbers to spread out and remain comfortable all night long.
3. RAB Latok Mountain 2 Tent
- The strongest and most durable winter tent in the under 3 lb class of tents;
- Epic performance in high winds due to low roof and steep walls;
- Durability exceeds comfort;Ideal for alpine climbing and high-altitude mountaineering;
- Greatest possible weather resistance for a low weight and price.
- At 31”, it can be hard for taller people to sit up comfortably;
- Small for even one person;
- Two full sized mattress pads don't fit inside.
If the Black Diamond Eldorado is not light enough for you, then the RAB Latok model is bound to make you smile. At 1.4kg (48.2 oz), it is by far the winner of the featherweight contest. The tent also features eVent Waterproof Technology and DVStorm fabric (3 layers).
Two people can sleep inside this tent, despite the lack of a vestibule, but you are in for a snuggle fest. However, there is an optional vestibule attachment if you find that you really need one.
4. Marmot Thor 2-Person Tent
- Loads of interior storage due to high number of inner pockets;
- Air circulation is wonderful for wintertime with upper vents on the fly;
- Materials are well made and includes mesh for condensation control;
- 2-man tent with plenty of room;
- Sturdy design.
- Small vents can create a lack of cross-flow inside the tent;
- Packing can be cumbersome.
You know that when a tent is named after a god, it is going to be a fortress. Marmot's Thor tent comes with six dual-diameter DAC poles, the “knees system,” a poled vestibule, and a field repair kit. The living space is quite spacious for two people, so you can enjoy comfort even in the most rugged conditions.
Though the weight is slightly heavier than what one might want, you are going to be thankful for it when you're looking for a warm shelter in the middle of frozen tundra.
5. Mountain Hardwear EV 2 Tent
- The built-in vestibule reduces the overall weight and maximizes livable space;
- Gear can be stored off the floor using the mesh pockets. A gear loft is sold separately, though you probably won't need it.
- SVX windows for a bright interior
- Stay warm and dry, even in the harshest conditions
- Difficult to pitch on flat ground.
What does the EV stand for? That would be the initials of Ed Viesturs, the first American to scale the 14 mountains around the world that rise more than 26,000 feet above sea level. In other words, the Mountain Hardwear EV 2 is an excellent choice out of your single wall tent selections.
The construction is highly durable (using 3 DAC featherlite NSL poles), and the interior is very comfortable. As for ventilation, just don't use it in the summertime. The cross-flow created by 5 zippered vents is perfect for cooler weather.
6. Exped Venus III Tent
- Near vertical walls equal less sagging in wet conditions and no snow collection;
- Easy to set-up – the color-coded guide makes construction and break down a breeze
- Vestibule included
- You will stay very toasty, even in frigid temperatures.Great condensation control.
- The number of fly ties needed to construct the tent makes it a little difficult in high winds;
- High walls aren't built for strong gales.
Here is a super spacious tent that is excellent for even when you are climbing alone. The floor space will fit up to 3 people, but with the double-walled enclosure, you can even enjoy this as a single traveler. The vestibule and double entrances help keep the interior warm and condensation-free.
The mesh walls also work well, but the height can be slightly flimsy in high winds. As for storage, you are covered with the “gearloft” compartments that are big enough to house headlamps, hooks, books, and more.
Ready to pitch a tent in the North Pole and stay toasty all night long? Then you have to be willing to invest in a cold weather tent like one of the models mentioned above. Remember to look for waterproof materials, space, interior storage, vestibules, and steep sides. Don’t rely on your 3-season tent when you’re going to be experiencing glacial temperatures. Only a winter tent will do the trick!