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Many people enjoy camping during the summer, but die-hard enthusiasts won’t let winter weather stop them from enjoying the great outdoors!
If you’re willing to tackle the elements and brave the cold, you may want to invest in a 4 season tent to keep you warm and dry.
But, what exactly is a 4 season tent? Let’s jump right in and learn everything you need to know about this type of tent and if they’re right for you!
What Is a 4 Season Tent?
Four-season tents are, as their name suggests, tents that you can use year-round. They’re designed to withstand relatively heavy snowfall and winter winds, while still being light enough to use during the summer.
While they may not offer the same advantages as specialist tents in terms of their functionality, they represent an excellent compromise for people looking to camp during all four seasons.
Four-season tents are notorious for being significantly heavier than other backpacking tents. However, with the advent of lighter materials and insulation technologies, some four-season tents keep you comfortable during winter and are lightweight enough to carry around during the summer backpacking season.
The Differences Between a 4 Season Tent and a 3 Season Tent
While three and four-season tents may look similar on the outside, they have plenty of structural and material differences.
Four-season tents are built to withstand the strong winds and heavy snowfall that three-season tents can’t. The architecture of a four-season tent makes them sturdier and helps keep them standing in inclement weather.
Four-season tents use stiffer materials and may have external poles for extra structural support against wind gusts. They may also feature high-angle walls that stop snow from piling up and keep the tent from blowing away in the wind.
Three-season tents, on the other hand, typically have a taller and more box-like shape that maximizes the amount of space inside. While they use some insulating materials, these tents aren’t designed to stand up to heavy winds and snowfall.
Four-season tents also have more venting options and vestibules to keep the tent dry and clean. One of the biggest problems with winter camping is the accumulation of moisture in the tent.
When you breathe, it creates water vapor that freezes inside the tent. That vapor will melt once the interior of the tent warms up. The vents in a four-season tent prevent this moisture build-up without lowering the interior temperature.
You will also find vestibules in many four-season tents. These areas form an intermediate transition zone between the interior of the tent and the exterior. Since you want to prevent moisture build-up in the tent, a vestibule allows you to brush off any snow before entering the tent.
- Four-season tents are moderately heavier than three-season tents
- Four-season tents have high sloped sides and more robust pole construction
- Four-season tents have better ventilation and often come with vestibules to prevent moisture build-up in the tent
Do I Need a 4 Season Tent?
Four-season tents offer several advantages and drawbacks, so it’s worth considering whether they work for you and your camping plans. While these tents hold up in both summer and winter use, they can’t compete with specialist tents on their own terms.
The main advantage of the four-season tent is its versatility. These tents are tough enough to withstand most winter conditions that hiking enthusiasts face while staying light enough to use during the summer months as well.
Current high-end four-season tents weigh around five pounds, and lower-quality tents will weigh more. Similarly priced three-season tents weigh significantly less and are more convenient to transport, especially if you’re planning an extended summer trip.
Four-season tents also get stuffier than three-season tents during the summer. While the extra vents may help, they can’t completely offset the fact that nylon doesn’t breathe as well as lightweight mesh.
Four-season tents also can’t compete with specialized mountaineering tents for cold-weather camping. While they can withstand cold temperatures, snowfall, and strong winds, they’re not robust enough to handle months on an alpine trail. Also, their steep sides mean that four-season tents don’t have as much room as other mountaineering tents.
With so many drawbacks to consider, who should buy a four-season tent?
They make a great second tent for people who want to do winter camping, snowshoe or ski camping, or even mountaineering during the summer. In these cases, you’ll appreciate the cost-effectiveness and lightweight of a four-season tent compared to a bulkier, more expensive mountaineering tent.
Four-season tents are also an excellent option for people who want to camp in the mountains year-round. Since mountains tend to be cooler in summer, the extra insulation won’t present as much of an issue, while you’ll still get the benefits of a warm, dry tent even in the middle of winter.
Factors to Consider in a Four-Season Tent
Once you’ve decided that a four-season tent is the right choice for you, it’s time to decide on other factors. As the number of tents on the market continues to grow, you must do your research to find the perfect one for you.
Before you start shopping around, consider your typical camping style and your unique camping needs. These factors will help inform your decision and ensure you get a tent that fits within your budget while meeting all your requirements.
One of the most common ways to categorize a tent is by how many people it can comfortably house. Since no industry standard dictates the size of “one person,” capacity can vary significantly between brands. One company’s two-person tents may be around the same size as a three-person tent made by another company.
Tip: If you need more room in a tent, consider buying a larger tent than you think you need. For example, if you know you like to have room to stretch while you sleep, purchase a two-person tent instead of a one-person.
Some brands also offer “plus” tents that may have slightly more space than their standard counterparts.
The only real way to know how spacious or cramped a tent feels is to find out the exact dimensions. You can compare these measurements across brands to find a tent that has the right capacity for your needs.
Tents make up a significant portion of your total backpacking weight, so manufacturers are continually looking for ways to reduce that weight. While five pounds may seem light at the start of a hike, you’ll quickly feel the extra weight once you’ve gone a couple of miles down the trail.
Manufacturers will usually cut weight by offering less space, including fewer features, and compromising on durability.
While you can find roomy, lightweight tents, it’s hard to find any 4 season tents that are durable, feature-rich, spacious, AND lightweight. Figure out which aspects you’re willing to sacrifice or whether you’re ready to carry a heavier load.
Ultra-light tents have become a new and increasingly popular trend. These tents consist of lightweight and robust materials, but they tend to come with extremely high prices.
Some brands will also use the term ‘ultra-light’ more freely than others, so check the specs before you buy.
When comparing different four-season tents by weight, check these three parameters:
- Packaged weight: This is the weight of all the components that you get along with your tent when you buy it, including the body, poles, rainfly, stakes, and all other equipment.
- Minimum trail weight: This is the weight of the tent essentials, like the body, rainfly, and poles. While you may want to pack extra stuff, like stakes, the minimum trail weight gives you the best baseline when comparing tents. You can expect the final weight you’ll carry on your trip to fall somewhere between the minimum and packaged weight.
- Packed size: In addition to weight, you also need to consider how much space the tent takes up in a pack. The ease of carrying your tent will have a considerable impact on your hike.
While four-season tents have become lighter, they still can’t compete with models made specifically to weigh less. However, you can reduce the carrying weight by splitting the tent up between different team members.
One person can carry the body, while someone else takes the poles and rainfly. Dividing the weight will save you valuable space and eliminate the backache that comes with carrying everything yourself, allowing you to offset some of the disadvantages of a four-season tent.
A tent’s design will impact its comfort and liveability. The size of a tent can mean the difference between feeling cramped and feeling uncomfortable. Since four-season tents have high-sloped walls and minimal floor space, they may feel smaller than other tents of similar capacity.
If possible, go to a store and ask them to pitch several test tents for you. That way, you can test each one and decide which tent you can tolerate sitting in during an extended storm.
Other design features influence liveability, and you should keep each one in mind when shopping around. Some of the most important considerations include:
- Doors: Take note of how many doors the tent has. While a single door will save on weight, it’s nice to have one for each person to prevent people from having to climb over each other to get out. Keep in mind the shape and zipper types, too, as they can affect your tent’s overall comfort and ease of use.
- Rainfly colors: Apart from making it easy to find your tent, having a bright fly color can make your tent feel better lit on the inside. The amount of light inside the tent will influence how large it feels, and the lighter, the better.
- Ventilation: You need good airflow, especially in a four-season tent. Moisture from your breath can build up in a tent and even freeze during wintertime. When it melts, it can get your gear wet and make for a miserable experience. Most four-season tents will have extra rainfly vents to help control the humidity in the tent.
Ease of Set-Up
Whether you’re a camping pro or just starting out, you want a tent you can assemble without too much effort. Many modern tents have several features that can improve the set-up experience, letting you focus on enjoying the outdoors.
Some tents come with a freestanding design, which means you don’t need to use stakes. The main drawback of this design is that heavy winds may blow your tent away if you’re not careful. However, freestanding tents are much more convenient to set up and reposition.
Pole hubs make it easy to figure out how to assemble your tent. By following the skeleton and seating segments one by one, you’ll have your tent up and ready in no time.
Some more complex assemblies may have smaller cross poles that you need to consider, but you can usually see where these fit in the overall assembly.
Many tent manufacturers have started color-coding their poles, which makes it clear which tent pole tip fits in which corner. It also helps you figure out where to attach clips and sleeves, simplifying the entire process.
Tent materials come in an array of specialized fabrics, depending on their niche. Four-season tents typically use nylon, which offers durability and insulation while reducing their weight.
You can typically measure the durability of a material by its denier number, which tells you how much 9,000 meters of that fabric weighs in grams.
Higher denier numbers represent heavier and more durable materials. Lower denier numbers typically suggest a more lightweight fabric that is less robust and more prone to wear and tear.
When comparing denier numbers, look at numbers on the same type of fabric. Different fabric types will have varied properties, and you should only compare apples with apples.
While you can find a perfect tent that’s lightweight, durable, suitable for all weather conditions, and spacious, you’ll likely pay an arm and a leg for all those features.
Four-season tents range dramatically in price, from budget 4-season tents starting at $100 to $9,000 palaces. By deciding on your requirements first, you can figure out what you can compromise on to find a tent that fits within your budget and represents good value for the money.