Imagine this: You’re waiting out a raging winter storm and all that’s between you and the elements is your tent. You don’t want to worry about high winds snapping the tent poles, or turning an excessively tall tent into a sail—let alone the cold breeze wafting in through mesh paneling. Most tents won’t have to face such rigors and will suffice for a calmer weekend of camping in the woods. However, more specific features matter if you’re headed out in the winter months or going mountaineering at any time of year. You’ll need a robust, specialized tent that can protect you. While many different styles and designs exist, focus on function when buying a winter tent. Even the tiniest detail can make a big difference when you’re hunkered down in a storm (you’ll be thankful for the forethought). Consider the pros and cons of each type of tent, and what features you need most. Here’s how to buy the winter tent that’s best for you.
Who Needs One?
If you’re not going mountaineering, and you don’t plan to camp during the cold winter months, then you probably don’t need to be shopping for winter tents. Depending on what type of activity you’re doing, you’ll want different features in your winter tent. For example, an alpinist doing a technical climb who has to carry all their belongings will want a pared-down, lightweight tent. Someone who is base-camping or dragging a sled on a backcountry tour will be OK with something a little heavier that affords a few more creature comforts. If you’re a winter camper, hunter, glamper, mountaineer, or alpinist then you should consider one.
Three-Season vs. Four-Season Tents
A four-season tent is designed to be functional in all four earthly seasons, while a three-season tent is built for every season except for winter. If you’re camping below treeline and it’s not stormy, you can make your three-season tent work just fine year-round. In terms of winter tents, four-seasons are the way to go, but what makes them different?
Four-season tents are built with sturdier poles, and use stiffer, higher denier materials (thicker threads which makes them more durable) in order to withstand high winds and snow loads. While many three-season tents use a lot of mesh for ventilation, on four-seasons you’ll mostly find nylon fabric to keep the warmth in, and just enough vents to dump moisture but with the option of being sealed completely during a storm. They’ll have more guy-out points (loops on the exterior to secure the tent down). While it may be noisy waiting out a storm, you’ll have peace of mind that your tent is up to the job of keeping you safe and warm.
Double-Wall vs. Single-Wall
This is a straightforward, literal distinction. A double-wall tent has both the inner compartment that you sleep in and then a separate rainfly that goes on top of it (less expensive, easier to stay dry). A single-wall tent is just a single layer of material (usually far lighter, often tougher to ventilate). What you should choose comes down to the activity you’re doing as this is basically a question of weight: A single-wall tent is better for folks trying to go fast and light, moving camp everyday, or just looking to save weight in general; if you’re going to car camp or base camp and return to the same tent each night, then you can spring for a heavier double-wall tent.