Keep warm when the temperatures drop with the best 4-season tents

Keep warm when the temperatures drop with the best 4-season tents

Spending time outside in the dead of winter can be surreal, but the often extreme weather conditions provide a whole new playing field when it comes to backpacking. The lightweight mesh tents that are ideal for the summer won’t cut it when the temperatures drop and the winds start howling in the middle of an unexpected snow squall.

Backpackers who enjoy overnight treks in the most rugged of seasons need a shelter explicitly designed to withstand these harsh conditions without fail. We’ve spent the last month examining these winter tents and have learned a great deal about their good points, as well as a few bad points. Here are our picks of the best 4-season tents currently available.

Our pick

best 4 season tents hilleburg jannu lifestyle 2

Hilleburg Jannu

Packed Weight: 7 pounds 1 ounce
Floor Space: 34.4 square feet
Vestibule: 12.9 square feet (single)

Why should you buy this: High-quality materials and a bombproof design make the Jannu our top pick.

Who’s it for: Mountaineers with a big pocketbook who want one of the best winter backpacking tents money can buy.

How much will it cost: $935 (Moosejaw)

Why we picked the Hilleburg Jannu: The Hilleburg Jannu is the most expensive tent on our list and for good reason. The tent just screams quality — everything from the materials used in the tent to the overall design is top notch. This focus on quality is evident as soon as you start assembling the tent. The tent’s three 9-millimeter DAC poles are color coded for simplicity and the inner tent and outer rainfly can be pitched together which is a lifesaver when conditions are unfavorable. The tent also features an optional footprint that covers the tent and the vestibule. Similar to the rainfly, the footprint attaches to the tent, allowing you to pitch and move the tent and its footprint simultaneously. When pitched, the tent is taut and sturdy but not so stretched that it’s a struggle to pitch or so tight you fear it might break.

The outer tent is made from Kerlon 1200 fabric that’s lightweight and has a very high tear strength. The mesh walls are backed with adjustable fabric panels which allow you to dial in the perfect combination of airflow and protection from the wind. When it comes to wet conditions, the water-resistant bathtub floor means you’ll stay dry even if the snow turns to a driving, cold rain. The semi-geodesic, three-pole design is robust, providing excellent snow-loading capability and room for two people and their gear. It’s about as bombproof as you get without jumping up to a more substantial four- or five-pole geodesic tent.

Our only quip with the Jannu is the vestibule. It’s long and slanting, which limits the amount of gear you can fit standing up inside this protective cover. Because vestibule is so long, it tends to be difficult to zip it shut without crawling a bit out of the tent. On the plus side, the vestibule zippers asymmetrically which allows you to position it to block the wind and blowing snow.

The best double-wall mountaineering tent:

best 4 season tents mountain hardwear trango 2 lifestyle

Mountain Hardwear Trango 2

Packed Weight: 9 pounds 13 ounces
Floor Space: 40 square feet
Vestibule: 11 square feet front, 5 square feet rear

Why should you buy this: The Trango 2 offers rock-solid protection from the wind and snow and won’t let you down when you need it most.

Who’s it for: Mountaineers who want a bombproof shelter and don’t mind carrying extra weight

How much will it cost: $649 (

Why we picked the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2: For more than two decades, the Trango series of tents from Mountain Hardwear has been a mountaineering staple and the latest version, the Trango 2, is no exception. With a deep bathtub floor and a fully taped rain fly that extends down to the ground, this double-walled tent has everything you need to stay warm and dry. The main vestibule is equally watertight with a pole for additional headroom and gear storage. Construction-wise, the fabric is durable, the zippers are rugged, and the poles stand up to stress when the wind starts to howl. There’s also ample exterior guy-out points with a reflective coating that makes them easy to find when it’s dark.

On the inside, the Trango 2 has enough floor space for two average-sized people but the sloping sides of the tent cut into its usable space. Thankfully, Mountain Hardwear added several interior pockets, gear loops and an optional gear loft that maximizes the available space by allowing for the storage of gear off the ground. There’s also a roomy vestibule to make up for any space limitations in storage. Despite these extras, taller people may feel cramped in the Trango 2 as there’s not much headroom (just over three feet).

Like most alpine tents, the Trango 2 offers two mesh doors, which are great for convenient exit and entry. There’s also windows on both the ceiling and vestibule that aids in airflow. During our own time with the tend, we were able to vary our exposure to the elements by adjusting the rainfly, windows, and vestibule. As a result, we experienced little to no condesation in both above and below-freezing temperatures. This versatility makes the Trango 2 perfect for shoulder season and full-on winter conditions.

Not just a bonus for ventilation, the windows in the Trango 2 also allow ambient light to shine into the tent, making it feel much homier. The most prominent drawback to the Trango 2 is its weight. At almost 10 pounds, it’s arduous to carry into the backcountry alone. You’ll enjoy your outing much more if you travel with a partner who is willing to split up the tent contents and share the burden.

The best single-wall mountaineering tent

best 4 season tents black diamond fitzroy feat2

Black Diamond Fitzroy

Packed Weight: 7 pounds 1 ounce
Floor Space: 36 square feet
Vestibule: Optional

Why should you buy this: The Black Diamond Fitzroy is pricey but you’ll appreciate the rock solid construction when the wind blows and the snow starts flying.

Who’s it for: Alpine mountaineers who want to shave weight without compromising strength.

How much will it cost: $799 (

Why we picked the Black Diamond Fitzroy: First sold under the Bibler brand, the Black Diamond Fitzroy has an outstanding track record of performance in the mountaineering community — making it our top pick for single-wall tents.

The Fitzroy boasts a comfortable 36 square feet of floor space, providing ample room for two people. The vestibule is an optional add-on but recommended if you want to fit more than two people and gear inside the tent. Concerning the inside, there are four mesh pockets for storing and organizing equipment. Because of the single-wall construction, the Fitzroy is lighter and more packable than its double-wall counterparts. It’s not the lightest single-wall on the market but its bombproof construction is worth the small bump in weight. It’s perfect for a multi-day alpine adventure that requires more protection than a fast pack tent, without the added bulk of double-wall tents.

Unlike double-wall varieties that have an outer rainfly and an inner tent, this single-walled tent relies on a single layer of fabric to protect the occupants from the elements. Like many single-wall tents, the Fitzroy suffers from condensation due to its fabric nothing breathing very well. The doors of the tent provide the bulk of the ventilation but are only adequate when camping at high elevations or cold temperatures where condensation is less of a problem.

Additionally, the Fitzroy isn’t great at lower elevations — or under warmer conditions — where water may quickly accumulate on the inside of the tent. It’s best suited as a mountaineering tent that shines when used in the harsh conditions of the alpine zone. If you need a moderate elevation tent that handles alpine environments on occasion, you should look more closely at Mountain Hardwear’s EV2 — another single-wall tent with similar durability but better ventilation.

The best below treeline tent:

best 4 season tents msr access 2 lifestyle

MSR Access 2

Packed Weight: 4 pounds 1 ounce
Floor Space: 29 square feet
Vestibule: 17.5 square feet

Why should you buy this: The MSR Access 2 is a lightweight tent for fast packing in less severe winter conditions.

Who’s it for: Backcountry skiers, splitboarders, and hikers who want an easy to carry shelter for quick overnights in milder winter conditions or shoulder seasons.

How much will it cost: $599 (

Why we picked the MSR Access 2: At first glance, a treeline winter tent and a 3-season tent have a lot in common. Both are lightweight, come in a variety of shapes and designs, and have mesh walls for ventilation on milder evenings. A treeline tent, however, is often beefier than its three-season counterpart, offering a thicker, bathtub floor, a sturdier frame to handle snow, and a heavier choice of fabrics for the tent body (20D nylon), floor (30D nylon), and rainfly (20D nylon). It’s this niche — lighter than a winter tent, sturdier than a three-season tent — that the MSR Access 2 was designed to fill.

While tents like the double-walled Mountain Hardware Trango 2 weigh a hefty 10 pounds, the Access 2 comes in just above the 4-pound mark, making it one of the best lightweight options on this list. To drop weight, the Access 2 ships with Easton Syclone poles which are made of a composite material that’s light like aluminum but claims to be as resistant to breaking as carbon fiber. You can bend the poles extensive — beyond what’s needed to set up the tent — and they won’t break. MSR also uses lighter fabrics in the tent and rainfly when constructing the Access 2.

This feathery weight is a trade-off as the Access 2 is not as rugged as its heavier counterparts. When tested below treeline in milder winter conditions (light winds and light sleet), the tent shed the moisture and blocked wind effectively, keeping the interior warm and dry.

When pitched in an exposed ridge during high wind conditions (60 miles per hour), it was quite a different experience. Air was able to flow underneath the rainfly and threatened to lift the tent from the ground. The tent didn’t collapse or buckle under the strain but the experience was unnerving.

On a comfort scale, the MSR Access 2 has enough floor space for two people and their gear. There’s even ample headroom for comfortably changing clothes. The tent has partial mesh sides that help keep heat in while providing airflow that reduces condensation. The Access 2 is easy to pitch, taking five minutes to set up the tent and attach the fly. It features a cross-pole design that sheds snow efficiently while offering additional interior headroom space.

If you want a lightweight and reliable tent for below-treeline adventures, you can’t go wrong with the Access 2. It’ll withstand most winter storms and the weight won’t break your back. We don’t recommend taking it into exposed areas where the weather is expected to get rough. Backpackers looking for a tent that handles the weather of the alpine zone and the milder weather below treeline should consider a double-wall tent like Mountain Hardware’s Trango 2.

The best four-season shelter:

best 4 season tents hyperlite mountain gear ultamid 2

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2

Packed Weight: 1 pounds 0.6 ounces
Floor Space: 63 square feet
Vestibule: None

Why should you buy this: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 is your go-to shelter for ultralight expeditions in any season.

Who’s it for: Fast and ultralight backpackers who want a lightweight shelter suitable for summer backpacking, winter mountaineering, and everything in between.

How much will it cost: $715 – $780 (Backcountry)

Why we picked the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2: The Ultamid 2 from Hyperlite Mountain is pricey but you certainly get what you pay for. This four-season shelter is a jack of all trades — light enough to satisfy thru-hikers who travel during the warmer months, yet durable enough to withstand winter conditions. Different from our other top picks which are full tents, the Ultramid is a shelter. It lacks a floor and doesn’t use traditional poles. Instead, it relies on a classic pyramid shape that can be pitched with a trekking pole or ski pole.

The winning feature of the shelter is its material: Dyneema Composite Fabric, formerly known as cuben fiber. The DCF8 Dyneema fabric is ultra-light and extremely durable and is four times stronger than kevlar, capable of being stretched without losing strength. This combination allows you to pitch the tent taut without tearing the fabric. The DCF8 Dyneema fabric also is waterproof and when you add in the fully taped seams,  you have a near bombproof shelter that weighs as much as a loaf of bread.

How we test

When possible, our four-season tent recommendations have been field tested across a variety of terrains and weather conditions. We try to check each tent under the conditions which it will be most frequently used.

When testing a tent is not possible, we look at the features of the tent and compare it to existing models in our arsenal of gear. We examine how the tent has changed and what improvements, if any, were made for the current year. We also comb through product specifications and both manufacturer and retailer videos for insight into any new technology advances that were developed for these latest and greatest tents.

Bonus helpful advice

Single-wall vs. double-wall

One major feature to consider when buying a winter tent is whether you want a single-wall or double-wall tent. We recommend double-wall tents as they are more versatile and allow you to choose whether you want to use the fly or not, depending on the weather. The inner tent also provides excellent ventilation, while the outer fly provides ample protection from the elements. Double-wall tents also tend to be stronger and more durable than their single-wall counterparts and, last but not least, if you tear your outer rainfly layer in a brutal storm, you can just buy a replacement.

With all the advantages of a double-wall tent, why would anyone want to buy a single-wall? Though they aren’t as durable or breathable, single-wall tents are significantly lighter and are much easier to pitch. They also tend to be smaller, allowing you to pitch them on ledges and other areas when space is at a premium. Single-walled tents are ideal for short trips where being fast and light is critical.


When you sleep, you breathe out warm, moist air and inside a tent, this air rises and condenses. In the summer, this condensation builds up and often rains back down on you, leaving you and your gear damp. During winter, this same condensation freezes and instead of it raining, it can actually snow. This snow obviously makes everything inside wet, including your clothes and sleeping bag. To prevent the buildup of condensation, tents need to be adequately ventilated using either physical vents which allow fresh air to circulate or breathable fabrics that allow for the exchange of moisture.

In our testing, we found that vents are the most effective way to reduce this condensation. Single-walled tents struggle with condensation because they only have a single layer protecting you from the elements. They don’t feature many vents because each leaves an opening for rain or snow to get inside. Instead of vents, most single-wall options rely on breathable fabrics but even the best material doesn’t exchange water as well as a vent. The Mountain Hardwear EV2 (a single-walled tent) tries to maximize airflow by using four small strategically placed vents that allow water vapor to escape.

Conversely, double-wall tents use mesh in their interior tent, a construction that allows water vapor to escape under the rain fly. One of the best ventilated double-wall options is the Hillebaerg Jannu (our top pick), which has a large opening in the middle of the roof.

Editor’s Recommendations

Published at Wed, 01 Nov 2017 17:59:31 +0000

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