Find dreamtime in a quality, four-season tent
Winter camping is fun. In a frosted bug-free landscape devoid of crowds, you experience sparkling tranquility. Snow-draped woods, crystalline views, and glittering night skies await. But winter’s less friendly aspects lurk as well: heavy snowfall, blustery winds, and nose-nipping cold. To experience it comfortably, you’ll need a quality four-season tent to keep you safe and warm at night. So what makes a tent worthy for the winter months?
STRENGTH Depending on conditions, snow weighs anywhere from seven to 20-plus pounds per cubic foot. Add in some classic Northeast weather—heavy snow followed by rain—and a layer of fresh snowfall can weigh down a tent like a load of cement. Winter winds can be severe as well when strong weather systems blow through leafless woods and rage across exposed locations. To deal with these stresses, four-season tents—often marketed as “expedition” tents—must be mightier than their three-season counterparts. Winter tents typically have multiple poles that intersect at numerous points for greater strength and usually feature a low, sloped profile to better shed snow and wind. As a general rule, stability increases as the number of pole intersections goes up.
WARMTH To minimize winter chill, four-season tents can be sealed to trap body heat. Mesh fabric allows air (and body heat) to escape and is consequently kept to a minimum. Winter tents typically feature mesh only in the doors and in small vents overhead; it can always be covered with solid nylon panels. Once you’re fully zipped up inside, the temperature can rise more than 30 degrees Fahrenheit above outside conditions. But keep in mind that airflow is significantly reduced once a tent is sealed tight. In a worst-case scenario this could lead to suffocation, though normally it just results in some noticeably stale air in the morning; unless it’s absolutely frigid, always crack the door at night.
SPACE Winter camping involves a significant amount of gear and clothing. To handle the extra equipment—and to provide space for the gymnastics of changing in and out of multiple layers—four-season tents tend to offer more interior space than three-season varieties, as well as a multitude of pockets for sorting gear. They typically have two doors and at least one substantial vestibule for storing and cooking in gnarly conditions. Extra space is nice if weather confines you to these shelters for long periods, but realize that tent color can have a significant effect on your psyche as well; bright colors like orange and yellow help create a positive ambiance, while blues and greens generate a darker, more oppressed feel.
WEIGHT Four-season tents are heavier than three-season versions, due primarily to the extra poles, space, and lack of lightweight mesh. An average twoperson winter tent hovers between seven and eight pounds, more for the most indestructible versions. (By comparison, most three-season tents weigh between four and six pounds.) Four-season tents start around $250, with most falling in the $300-$400 range. There are alternative designs, however, that can reduce weight for a few obvious trade-offs. Floorless pyramid tents weigh less than five pounds, are extremely stable when properly pitched, and allow you to tromp in and out wearing your winter boots. Tunnel, or hoop, tents are a time-tested design that feature two arched non-intersecting poles at either end. Designed to flex with the wind, they are roomy and lightweight (less than five pounds) but provide extra excitement in blustery conditions. Single-wall tents are constructed from expensive, heavy-duty breathable fabrics and do not feature a separate rainfly, which reduces weight but also significantly increases cost ($500 and up).