From backcountry ski tours to mountaineering in some of the most inhospitable weather on Earth, a 4-season tent is the last line of defense between you and the elements. Accordingly, these tents are much stronger than their 3-season counterparts with less mesh, more substantial canopies and rainflies, tougher pole structures, and a whole host of features designed for winter use. Below are our picks for the best 4-season tents of 2017-2018. Given the range of possible uses, we’ve categorized the different models under mountaineering, basecamp, and treeline (or a combination of two categories). For more background, see our 4-season tent comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Trail weight: 8 lbs. 15 oz.
Floor area: 40 sq. ft.
What we like: Tough and roomy at a reasonable price point.
What we don’t: Heavier than many single-wall tents and low peak height.
Choosing our favorite 4-season tent was no easy task—there are many different purposes and conditions that people will face. But Mountain Hardwear deftly balances it all with the legendary Trango series. Trusted for years in the most inhospitable regions of the planet, the Trango has a burly double-wall design, stout poles, and time-tested fabrics that thrive in tough conditions. 2 doors and vestibules provide multiple entry points and ample storage space. And countless pockets, a side vent, and a generous 40-square-foot floor plan make the Trango highly livable (save for the peak height mentioned below).
In their latest version of the Trango, Mountain Hardwear redesigned the doors so that they open down and roll up. This is very useful as it limits the chance of busting a zipper when trying to crawl in or out when the door is not fully open. But one gripe we have is the peak height, which at 38 inches is lower than most other 4-season tents including The North Face Mountain 25, Mountain Hardwear EV2, and Hilleberg Allak (all have a peak height of 41 inches). And the Trango is somewhat heavy at almost 9 pounds, but the durable fabrics, ample floor space, and impressive feature set make it an extremely capable and versatile tent. For a lighter weight option from Mountain Hardwear, see the EV2 below.
See the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
Trail weight: 4 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor area: 30.8 sq. ft.
What we like: Lightweight and compact.
What we don’t: Mediocre ventilation and internal pole structure.
The Black Diamond Eldorado is a classic. Despite numerous updates over the years, this single-wall, two-pole tent has withstood a whole lot of blustery winter nights and summit pushes. Most importantly, durability and build quality are superb—it has been used on Everest expeditions and been proven over decades of alpine use. Despite the toughness, the tent weighs just 4 pounds 8 ounces, which is just about as low as you’ll get for a serious mountaineering tent.
Keep in mind that the Black Diamond Eldorado is comfy for one person and gear, but not roomy for two. If you want extra space, a vestibule is available as an add-on for $160 (we’ve always been fans of a small vestibule built into the tent and don’t like the extra cost). More, internal tent poles are considered by many to be a hassle—they can be difficult to set up and can poke holes through the corners of the tent if you aren't careful. Finally, single-wall tents don’t breathe nearly as well as double-wall models. But the weight savings is worth the sacrifices for many alpinists, making the Eldorado the top minimalist 4-season tent on the market.
See the Black Diamond Eldorado
Trail weight: 8 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor Area: 32.5 sq. ft.
What we like: Very sturdy, 2 doors and vestibules, ample features, and a good price.
What we don’t: Heavy.
It’s true that the North Face Mountain 25 has a trail weight of 8.5 pounds, but it’s a feature-packed 4-season tent at a reasonable price point. Most importantly, the Mountain 25 provides exceptional protection from the elements with premium materials throughout. You also get 2 doors and vestibules, which is nice both for storage and entering and exiting the tent without crawling over your partner. And the tent ventilates well, feels roomy, is loaded with internal pockets, and is easy to set up and take down, even the first time.
The decision between The North Face Mountain 25 and a single-wall tent like the Black Diamond Eldorado above comes down to your winter camping style. Some feel that the extra pounds are worth the added features and space, while others want to get up and down the mountain with as little weight as possible in their pack. It’s worth noting that the Mountain 25 is easy to divvy up with your climbing partner to split the weight (single-wall tents often are not). And we like the price compared to other basecamping tents on this list, many of which are in the $650 to $800 range. For a larger 3-person version of this tent with more interior space, try The North Face VE 25... Read in-depth review
See the North Face Mountain 25
Trail weight: 6 lbs. 2 oz.
Floor area: 30.1 sq. ft.
What we like: Premium build quality at a reasonable weight.
What we don’t: Extremely expensive and not a true mountaineering tent.
The tents above are built for mountaineering and the alpine, so it’s a good time to introduce our favorite basecamp/treeline tent to the mix. First and foremost, Hilleberg tents are expensive. The Swedish company uses ultra-premium materials and focuses on small details like no other brand, and unfortunately you won’t find many bargains. But that doesn’t mean a Hilleberg isn’t worth it—at 6 pounds 2 ounces and with 2 doors and vestibules, the Allak is a full service 4-season tent that is considerably lighter than competing models like The North Face Mountain 25. The traditional dome shape isn’t built to stand up to the fiercest winds or heaviest snow loads, but it sure does a good job at trying.
For perspective, the Allak is one of Hilleberg’s Red Label tents, which is all-season but one step below the legendary Black Label. We think the Scandinavian designation is a bit skewed toward extremely challenging conditions—in our experience, the Allak is strong enough to handle gusty winds and heavy precipitation. But for the ultimate in protection, try the Hilleberg Staika, an even more buttoned-down 4-season tent with a similar dome design. The biggest compromise is weight as the Staika comes in at 7 pounds 8 ounces, and it costs $40 more as well... Read in-depth review
See the Hilleberg Allak 2
Trail weight: 4 lbs. 10 oz.
Floor area: 34 sq. ft.
What we like: Bomber protection while light and comfortable.
What we don’t: Overkill for casual winter missions.
If the Trango above is too heavy but you still favor Mountain Hardwear, give the singe-wall EV2 a serious look. Designed by Ed Veisturs, the first American to climb all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, this tent is impressively strong and thoughtfully put together. You get premium protection for some of the world’s toughest conditions, yet the EV2 remains impressively light at under 5 pounds, is livable with 34 square feet of floor space, and offers plenty of climbing-centric features. For example, the tent has a built-in vestibule that is big enough for cooking and gear storage, four large vents to promote cross flow of air, and a handy zipper on the floor to clear the inside of unwanted snow. If you’re heading for a summit and want to move fast and light, the EV2 is a great option.
The Mountain Hardwear EV2, however, isn’t for everyone. The single-wall design and vent system moves air decently well in the cold, but can heat up and develop condensation rather easily when it’s mild. Along the same lines, all of that strength created by the premium materials, 3-pole design, and reinforced panels can be overkill for all but the toughest of conditions. The EV2 is purpose-built for the high mountains and that’s where it shines, but those wanting a well-rounded 4-season tent should look elsewhere.
See the Mountain Hardwear EV2
Trail weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz.
Floor area: 29 sq. ft.
What we like: Ultralight for a double-wall tent yet decently strong.
What we don’t: It has limitations weather wise, the fly doesn’t fully extend to the ground, and no Blizzard stakes included.
We really like what MSR has done with the Access. Many 4-season tents are overkill for mild winter conditions, and in those cases a decently strong yet slightly less bombproof tent will do. Enter the Access, which is all-new for 2017 and weighs in at an extremely light 3 pounds 10 ounces for the 2-person version. You still get 2 doors and 2 vestibules, 29 square feet of floor area (our testers jumped up to the 3-person version for extra space plus a canine), and surprisingly good weather protection. For backcountry ski trips when the weather is fairly good or you won’t be fully exposed, the Access is a really cool tent to have in your quiver.
The MSR Access’s “treeline” designation is a bit tricky. The last thing you want is to be in over your head in a winter storm, and the sub-4-pound weight is awfully light (this means that it essentially is a tougher version of a 3-season backpacking tent). But we took the Access out in the B.C. backcountry and even the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru with no issues. It’s worth noting that in blustery conditions, the fly doesn’t fully extend to the ground and therefore you must create a snow wall for protection from drafts and drifts. And the tent doesn’t include MSR Blizzard stakes (just regular pegs), so we recommend bringing those along... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Access 2
Trail weight: 6 lbs. 2 oz.
Floor area: 34.4 sq. ft.
What we like: Double-wall design yet still reasonably light.
What we don’t: Heavier and more expensive than the EV2.
The Hilleberg Allak above is more of a dome-style tent, but the sleek Jannu is all about pushing the limits in the alpine. This mountaineering tent is competitive with top models like the Mountain Hardwear EV2 above: it’s compact, super strong, has 1 door and 1 vestibule, and good livability at over 34 square feet of interior space. The Jannu is perfect for a single climber to spread out with a lot of gear, or does just fine as a double for a summit push.
How does the Jannu differ from a tent like the Mountain Hardwear EV2? To start, it features a double-wall design that helps tremendously with airflow and ventilation (keep in mind that this makes the Jannu more versatile than the EV2 for use outside of hardcore mountaineering). In terms of weight, the Jannu is heavier at over 6 pounds, but still very respectable for a double-wall design. And as you might expect from a Hilleberg, it costs a pretty penny at a whopping $935. Both tents are freestanding (only the vestibule on the Jannu requires staking out) and you really can’t go wrong with either.
See the Hilleberg Jannu 2
Trail weight: 4 lbs.
Floor area: 27 sq. ft.
What we like: Light for a double-wall tent and a good value.
What we don’t: Thin fabrics, small vestibule, and limited pockets.
The Nemo Kunai is an interesting and rather underappreciated 4-season tent. Most importantly, it’s one of lightest double-wall tents on this list at just 4 pounds—only the MSR Access is less, and that’s categorized as a treeline tent. But the Kunai is tough from head to toe, including a third pole over the front doorway to increase stability and 4 tie downs threaded through the rainfly. In high winds, this secures the entire structure of the tent rather than just the fly (we’re looking at you, MSR Access).
With the weight savings comes some compromises. First, there is only 1 door and vestibule—and the covered storage space is smaller than we would prefer, without a pole to push it out. Second, the materials are thinner than most of the tents above, so it’s easier to put holes in the tent with branches, rocks, and crampons. Finally, features are limited. There aren’t many pockets in the tent, and those that are there are limited in size. And things like the loops for staking out the tent are small, meaning that we can’t use skis.
See the Nemo Kunai 2P
Trail weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
Floor Area: 25 sq. ft.
What we like: Incredibly low weight and small footprint.
What we don’t: Tiny interior and limited durability.
The ultralight Direkt from Mountain Hardwear certainly isn’t for everyone, but it has a cult following among the hardcore and minimalist alpine set. Most importantly, the Direkt is feathery light for a 4-season tent with a trail weight of just 2 pounds 10 ounces (this does not include a vestibule, which is sold separately for $150 and weighs an additional 1 pound 9 ounces). In terms of weather protection, the tent is waterproof and Mountain Hardwear added more guy lines to the latest version to increase strength in high winds. If you want proper protection while climbing mountains at the lowest possible weight and footprint, the Direkt is an intriguing ultralight pick.
Keep in mind the Mountain Hardwear Direkt is a purpose-built tent. Interior space is very limited—in fact, it’s the smallest 2-person tent on this list at 25 square feet. There’s a strong argument that it’s really a solo tent and you would be hard pressed to fit two humans inside with any kind of significant belongings (the vestibule would become a necessity at this point). And as with most single-wall tents, condensation can be an issue. You get one vent on the opposite side of the door, but it’s not sufficient is many circumstances (and again, two people only make it worse). Last but not least, durability is a real concern with ultralight materials and the Direkt is no exception.
See the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2
Trail weight: 6 lbs. 9 oz.
Floor area: 30.1 sq. ft.
What we like: Super roomy vestibule and superb in high winds.
What we don’t: Tunnel design isn’t as adept at handling heavy snow loads as a dome tent.
The Allak is our favorite basecamping tent from Hilleberg, and the Jannu is a premier lightweight option for mountaineering. But don’t overlook the Nammatj GT, which has a tunnel-shaped design that is built to withstand the toughest of conditions. This is one of Hilleberg’s legendary Black Label tents, which means that it’s among the strongest the company makes. With a minimum weight of only 6 pounds 9 ounces, you will be hard pressed to find a 4-season tent that does more while weighing less. The GT version of the Nammatj gets you an extended vestibule (a whopping 25.8 square feet of storage), which is extremely roomy and we think worth the extra weight for winter use.
In terms of design, the tunnel shape of the Nammatj excels in high winds but isn’t quite as good at handling heavy snow loads as a dome-style tent. You’ll see a lot of photos of the Nammatj in pretty serious snow, but it is worth taking the time to dig yourself in and create a perimeter. And realistically, the toughness of the Nammatj GT is perfect for the high mountains and polar regions, but the tent can be overkill for mild weather trips. For a similar tunnel design from Hilleberg for less extreme conditions at a lower weight, we love the Nallo, a Red Label tent that also comes in a GT version.
See the Hilleberg Nammatj 2 GT
Trail weight: 5 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor area: 32.5 sq. ft.
What we like: A great value for a 4-season tent.
What we don’t: Not built for the toughest of conditions.
Similar to the MSR Access above, there’s a time and a place for the Arete. REI calls it “all season light,” which translates to a tent that offers better weather protection than a traditional 3-season model but isn’t built for super strong winds or heavy snow loads. At 5 pounds 5 ounces and only $359, it’s an economical way to hit the backcountry on a ski or snowshoe trip in mild to moderate conditions. The 3-pole structure does provide decent rigidity and you won’t find a better deal anywhere on this list.
One thing in particular that we like about the REI Co-op Arete is that it’s a true year-round option. The double-wall design and substantial mesh door and vents means that it can be used for normal backpacking trips not involving the cold, but the Arete can hold its own on snow as well. As long as you don’t depend on the Arete to be your companion on high altitude missions, it’s great for the shoulder seasons and a healthy range of mild winter trips.
See the REI Co-op Arete ASL 2
Trail weight: 6 lbs. 8 oz.
Floor area: 33 sq. ft.
What we like: Near-vertical walls make for good livability.
What we don’t: Traps warm air and builds up condensation; pricey.
The MSR Access above is built for treeline winter camping, but the more substantial Remote is designed for full-on mountaineering. New for 2017, this tent is quite competitive on paper with a double-wall design, total weight of less than 7 pounds, 2 doors and vestibules, and excellent livability at 33 square feet of interior space for the 2-person version. We particularly appreciated the near-vertical walls of the Remote, which along with the large main vestibule, creates a very comfortable interior.
In terms of weather protection, the MSR Remote is a tough tent that should stand up to heavy wind and snow. We did have some issues with condensation: the thick rainfly material has a tendency to trap warm air, with the only vents being the mesh panels on the doors (there are no dedicated vents at the top of the tent). And similar to the MSR Access, there are no storm flaps on the ends of the tent, which is where our head and feet are at night. When taut, the rainfly can be as much as 5 inches off the top of the ground, requiring that a snow wall be built when the conditions are anything but calm. All in all, we like the Remote and think MSR is on the right track, but for a hefty $800 we still favor the more well established mountaineering tents above... Read in-depth review
See the MSR Remote 2
Trail weight: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
Floor Area: 28 sq. ft.
What we like: Strong and great ventilation for a single-wall tent.
What we don’t: Can feel a bit cramped and drafty.
For a tougher 4-season option from popular tentmaker Nemo, try the Tenshi. This single-wall tent is reminiscent of the Black Diamond Eldorado above, with a streamlined design for the high mountains. More so than the Eldorado, the Tenshi has mid-wall tie downs on each side that help prevent the tent from caving during strong winds. We also like the unique Condensation Curtain, a flap that comes down over the chest area and essentially quarantines moisture from breathing to one area of the tent. And unlike some single-wall tents, the vestibule and everything else you need with the Tenshi is included.
As with all lightweight mountaineering models, the Tenshi has some shortcomings. It’s relatively small with only 28 square feet of floor space, and we’ve found that the door can feel somewhat constricting. More, it can be bulky to carry and takes up a healthy amount of room in your pack. Finally, ventilation is a strongpoint of this tent with multiple venting options, but it actually can become a bit drafty and cold if you’re sleeping solo.
See the Nemo Tenshi 2P
Trail weight: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
Floor area: 27.3 sq. ft.
What we like: Lightweight and super easy to pack.
What we don’t: Not waterproof.
The Black Diamond Firstlight is a polarizing 4-season tent. Some people rave about just how light and packable it is, and the trail weight of 2 pounds 13 ounces is second only to the Mountain Hardwear Direkt above. You also get a freestanding single-wall design with a very small footprint, meaning the Firstlight can fit onto tiny ledges that other tents on the list simply cannot. For fast and light minimalist ascents, it undercuts the BD Eldorado above by a significant 1 pound 11 ounces.
Many of the complaints about the Firstlight relate to waterproofing. Similar to The North Face Assault below, the Firstlight is not waterproof. The NanoShield canopy fabric has a silicone coating that is water resistant, but persistent rain will soak through rather quickly. It’s true that the tent was designed to be a barrier against wind and snow found in high alpine environments. The question then becomes whether you want to limit yourself to those uses, and if so, whether you feel comfortable in a sub-3-pound shelter. We prefer the waterproofing and added protection of tents like the Direkt and Eldorado above, but the Firstlight does have a loyal following.
See the Black Diamond Firstlight
Trail weight: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
Floor area: 31.5 sq. ft.
What we like: eVent canopy is breathable yet waterproof.
What we don’t: Pricey and not time tested like other tents on this list.
Kudos to Rab for the creativity with the Latok line of 4-season tents. This unique single-wall design is made with three-layer eVent (if that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s used in a number of hardshell jackets). The fabric is known for its breathability and toughness, and therefore the Latok Mountain is an excellent ventilator that happens to be waterproof. At just a hair over 4 pounds and with 31 square feet of floor area, it’s an intriguing option for mountaineers.
An even lighter option from Rab is the Latok Summit, which is a trimmed-down version of the Latok Mountain. The Summit uses the same eVent fabric yet weighs only 3 pounds 3 ounces, has a smaller floor area at 28.4 square feet, and perhaps most importantly, an extraordinarily low peak height of just 31.5 inches. Both tents have similar internal two-pole designs and the choice depends on how much space you need or want. Keep in mind that the Summit version can be snug even for one, especially if you’re tall.
See the Rab Latok Mountain 2
Trail weight: 3 lbs. 4 oz.
Floor area: 27.3 sq. ft.
What we like: Great venting for a single-wall design.
What we don’t: Like the Firstlight above, the Assault is not waterproof.
On paper, The North Face Assault looks like a very competitive 4-season option for summit pushes. The trail weight is impressive at 3 pounds 4 ounces without the vestibule, the tent has a strong structure built to withstand serious winter conditions, and it has multiple vents along the top to promote airflow. The floor area is small at 27.3 square feet, but the zip-off vestibule can help in that regard for storage. Based on these specs, the Assault feels like it should be in the same conversation as heavy hitters like the Black Diamond Eldorado and Mountain Hardwear Direkt.
The main issue with The North Face Assault is waterproofness, or most specifically, a lack thereof. The canopy is made with a 50D DryWall ripstop polyester topped with a silicone water-resistant finish. But as a number of reviewers have complained about and we’ve confirmed with The North Face, the Assault is not waterproof. The company claims it’s purpose-built for the high alpine and we kind of understand the logic, but this makes the tent much less competitive in our book. On this list, only the Assault and Black Diamond Firstlight above aren’t waterproof (or at least easily made waterproof by sealing the seams). Even on mountaineering trips, the chance of rainfall at lower elevations or on an approach is there, so we think it’s a valuable feature in a well-rounded 4-season tent.
See the North Face Assault 2
Trail weight: 7 lbs. 7 oz.
Floor area: 34.5 sq. ft.
What we like: A great value and roomy.
What we don’t: Heavy, bulky, and limited performance capabilities.
Bargain hunters rejoice: there is a viable 4-season tent option that’s consistently priced under $200. We’ll start by saying that we’ve had positive experiences overall with Alps products, although they are budget in nature and definitely not among our top performers. But you can’t argue with the value, which is why the Alps Tasmanian made this list. We particularly like the roominess of this tent, which at 34.5 square feet is one of the largest 2-person models. And the large mesh vent at the top does a fairly good job at promoting airflow and preventing condensation from building up.
It’s important to have reasonable expectations for a 4-season tent in this price range. First, the Alps Tasmanian is heavy at 7 pounds 7 ounces, not to mention it’s bulky and somewhat difficult to stuff into the included sack (although you’ll likely end up separating the tent body and poles to make it easier to fit in a pack). Second, we don’t recommend putting this tent to the limit in terms of tough winter weather. It should perform fine in the cold and light to moderate wind, but the tents above use higher quality materials and much more complex designs. Finally, durability always is a concern with products that undercut the rest of the market in price. Alps does cover manufacturing defects under their warranty but not anything related to normal wear and tear.
See the Alps Mountaineering Tasmanian 2
|Mountain Hardwear Trango 2||$650||Mountaineering/basecamp||8 lbs. 15 oz.||40 sq. ft.||38 in.||Double|
|Black Diamond Eldorado||$700||Mountaineering||4 lbs. 8 oz.||30.8 sq. ft.||43 in.||Single|
|The North Face Mountain 25||$589||Basecamp/mountaineering||8 lbs. 8 oz.||32.5 sq. ft.||41 in.||Double|
|Hilleberg Allak||$955||Basecamp/treeline||6 lbs. 2 oz.||30.1 sq. ft.||41 in.||Double|
|Mountain Hardwear EV2||$700||Mountaineering||4 lbs. 10 oz.||34 sq. ft.||41 in.||Single|
|MSR Access 2||$600||Treeline||3 lbs. 10 oz.||29 sq. ft.||42 in.||Double|
|Hilleberg Jannu||$935||Mountaineering||6 lbs. 2 oz.||34.4 sq. ft.||39 in.||Double|
|Nemo Kunai 2P||$500||Treeline/basecamp||4 lbs.||27 sq. ft.||42 in.||Double|
|Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2||$550||Mountaineering||2 lbs. 10 oz.||25 sq. ft.||45 in.||Single|
|Hilleberg Nammatj 2 GT||$925||Basecamp/mountaineering||6 lbs. 9 oz.||30.1 sq. ft.||37 in.||Double|
|REI Co-op Arete ASL 2||$359||Treeline||5 lbs. 5 oz.||32.5 sq. ft.||40 in.||Double|
|MSR Remote 2||$800||Mountaineering/basecamp||6 lbs. 8 oz.||33 sq. ft.||43 in.||Double|
|Nemo Tenshi||$700||Mountaineering/basecamp||4 lbs. 6 oz.||28 sq. ft.||42 in.||Double|
|Black Diamond Firstlight||$370||Mountaineering||2 lbs. 13 oz.||27.3 sq. ft.||42 in.||Single|
|Rab Latok Mountain 2||$675||Mountaineering||4 lbs. 1 oz.||31.5 sq. ft.||43 in.||Single|
|The North Face Assault 2||$449||Mountaineering||3 lbs. 4 oz.||27.3 sq. ft.||42 in.||Single|
|Alps Tasmanian 2||$196||Treeline||7 lbs. 7 oz.||34.5 sq. ft.||46 in.||Double|
- 4-Season Tent Types
- Weight and Packed Size
- Double-Wall vs. Single-Wall Tents
- Size: Floor Area and Peak Height
- Ventilation and Condensation
- Silnylon vs. Polyurethane
- Storage: Vestibules and Interior Pockets
- Tent Pole Design: Freestanding vs. Non-freestanding
- Stakes and Snow Anchors
- 4-Season Tents vs. 3-Season Tents
- A Note on 4-Season Shelters
Mountaineering tents are built for high alpine environments with weight as a primary consideration. Many of these tents are of the single-wall variety (more on that below) and make few compromises in terms of wind and weather protection. Square footage tends to be lower than basecamping and treeline tents, and the same goes for peak height. Almost all mountaineering tents are waterproof (or easily seam sealed), with exceptions being the lightweight Black Diamond Firstlight and The North Face Assault.
4-season tents of the basecamping variety generally are more comfortable and heavier than their mountaineering siblings above. To start, you may not have to carry your tent as far or as high, and therefore it’s easier to pack more weight and get more tent in return. In addition, you may end up spending more time in a basecamp-style tent. Mountaineering tents are designed for fast and light adventures and summit pushes, but basecamping can be done in a variety of circumstances and conditions. Many of these tents have a double-wall design, which helps with ventilation, condensation prevention, and space, all at the expense of weight.
Treeline tents are the most trimmed-down 4-season models on the market. As the name implies, tents like the MSR Access 2 are designed for winter camping but not necessarily for heavy exposure in the high mountains. Compared to a 3-season version, a treeline tent will have a more substantial bathtub floor, less mesh, and heavier canopy and rainfly fabrics. But these tents fall short of basecamp and mountaineering models in terms of their toughness and durability, and it’s best not to put them to the test. They are, however, a nice option for light winter adventuring and serious 3-season backpacking in unpredictable weather.
4-season tents weigh more than their 3-season counterparts due to heavier and more durable fabrics, stronger poles, and beefier zippers. On the light end of the spectrum, the minimalist Mountain Hardwear Direkt has a feathery trail weight of just 2 pounds 10 ounces, while a heavy-duty model like the Trango 2 is nearly 9 pounds. And if you count the packaged weight instead of the trail weight, you’ll be close to 10 pounds for a number of tents on this list for the 2-person version (the 3 and 4-person models weigh even more).
As with almost all types of outdoor gear, going up in weight has its advantages. Heavier 4-season tents generally are tougher and more weather resistant, ventilate better, and have more features. You’re getting a whole lot more tent, which may end up being worthwhile. On a 21-day trip in Alaska’s Revelation Mountains, our Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 held up to wind gusts in excess of 90 mph and many feet of snow without issue. Had we been carrying a lighter weight tent, the outlook may not have been rosy.
Weight and packed size generally go hand in hand and there is a strong correlation between the two variables. In many cases, two or more climbing partners can split up the components on the tent to less the burden for each. It’s worth noting that this process can be more difficult for single-wall tents than the double-wall variety—with no rainfly, the tent body is the vast majority of the weight and bulk. But with most double-wall tents, the canopy and rainfly often can be split up fairly evenly.
A critical distinction among 4-season tents is between double and single-wall designs. Simply put, a double-wall tent is composed of two separate layers: the inner tent canopy and an outer rainfly. Single-wall tents, on the other hand, have one layer of fabric to protect you from the outside elements. But don’t fret: single-wall tents can be tough as nails and fully waterproof depending on the materials and finish. They’re also considerably lighter than double-wall models with much less fabric and complexity.
Which type of 4-season tent design should you choose? If weight is your top priority, a single-wall wins out with models like the Mountain Hardwear Direkt and Black Diamond Eldorado leading the charge. But these tents are minimalist in nature and have their limitations. They don’t transport moisture from breathing and normal condensation on the inner walls nearly as well as double-wall tents. And by in large, you get less interior space, smaller vestibules, and fewer doors. Single-wall tents are meant for weekend summit assaults on Mount Rainer or the final push to the top of a Himalayan giant, while double-wall tents are more comfortable at a 17,000-foot camp on Denali in heavy wind and snow. If your trip or expedition is longer than a couple of days, a double-walled tent may be your best bet.
Winter camping typically means bigger sleeping bags, bigger sleeping pads, and more personal gear. That’s why most 4-season tents have more square footage than a normal backpacking tent. Also, keep in mind that you may be spending more time in your tent if you are mountaineering or waiting for that sucker hole of good weather to move up.
The interior space of a tent is most commonly measured by the floor area, which we’ve provided in square feet in our product specs and comparison table. At the small end of the spectrum, a minimalist mountaineering tent like the Mountain Hardwear Direkt is just 25 square feet, while the roomy Trango 2 is over 40 square feet. However, many climbers use the Direkt and other compact models for just themselves and their gear, or you can add a vestibule for extra space and storage. If you’re looking for space, the basecamp and treeline variety win out. Many tents now feature a cross-bracing pole on the ceiling, which provides lateral stability against wind and snow loads while also offering more headroom (think of a cube as opposed to a pyramid). More headroom makes those tent-bound days a little bit more bearable.
Square footage doesn’t tell the entire story as it only represents the floor: you also have the peak height and slope of the walls. A high peak height makes it easy to sit up and move around the tent, while heavily sloped walls have a tendency to make everything feel much smaller. We’ve provided the peak heights in our comparison table above, and the slope of the wall is best gauged by carefully studying the shape of the tent (or better yet, getting inside at a local gear shop and seeing for yourself).
Last but not least: make sure to find a tent that is a few inches longer than you are. Otherwise, you will have to sleep at an angle or in the fetal position, neither of which is optimal. Most 4-season tents can accommodate people over 6-feet tall, but Hilleberg seems to be the favorite brand for those who tower over the rest.
By nature, 4-season tents are warmer than 3-season tents—they have less mesh, are designed to protect you from the elements, and therefore hold in more heat. Yet it’s important to keep fresh air flowing both to stay dry and to save you from the funk of your climbing partner’s socks. Over time, your breath will condense on the inner walls of the tent. In warmer weather, it will turn into beads of water on the ceiling and walls. In colder weather, it will turn to frost feathers. Both can fall on your face while you sleep and get your sleeping bag and other gear wet. And sleeping in a fully enclosed tent can make you feel groggy as you continually breathe stale air.
Proper ventilation will help to alleviate many of these issues. It’s important to remember that even the best 4-season tents are prone to some type of condensation, but some fare better than others. Double-wall designs tend to breathe better than single-wall tents, and the more vents the better. If drafts don’t make you uncomfortable, leaving doors and any available vents open can help mitigate condensation. In the product descriptions above we’ve tried to describe which tents in particular are strong or poor in terms of breathability, which certainly can be an important factor to your comfort.
When heavy winds and six feet of snow bury your tent at 14,000-foot camp on Denali, you want to know that it will be able to stand up to the load. More, at higher altitudes and on glaciers, tents will be subjected to intense ultra-violet rays from the sun. This will wear your tent out faster than it would at lower altitudes or in more hospitable climates. For these reasons, many 4-season tents are made with heavy fabric (70D Nylon Taffeta with a quality coating) to stand up to the rigors of sunlight (which is stronger at higher altitudes due to the fact that there is less atmosphere to filter its rays), high winds, and driving snow and rain.
Time tested tents such as the Mountain Hardwear Trango, The North Face Mountain and VE 25, and numerous Hilleberg models are known for being able to stand up to years of abuse in the toughest climates known to man. They remain relatively light without skimping on durable materials. In general, as the cost of a tent goes down so does the build quality and durability. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule by any means, but cheaper tents tend to be less durable and trustworthy than their more expensive counterparts.
Taking a quick dive into the nitty-gritty of fabric strength and waterproofing, there are two basic types of coatings used on 4-season tents: silicone (also referred to as silnylon) and polyurethane (commonly written as PU). Silicone coated nylons are very expensive, typically weigh less, pack down smaller, and in the case of Hilleberg’s siliconized Kerlon fabrics, have incredible tear strength and longevity. But even Hilleberg uses polyurethane for the floor of their tents. Polyurethane can be laid on thicker than silicone for excellent puncture and abrasion resistance, is much easier to seam tape, and far less slippery than silicone, which is helpful on a tent floor to keep you from sliding around. The main downside is a shorter lifespan, particularly with low quality polyurethane that is prone to delaminating. But the benefits often don’t outweigh the added cost of silicone, so most non-Hilleberg tents have polyurethane coated rainflies and floors.
On an extended trip where inclement weather is likely, having ample space to store and dry your gear is an absolute necessity. Tents like the North Face Mountain 25 and the Mountain Hardwear Trango are lined with pockets upon pockets. It never ceases to amaze me how easily I fill those pockets with food, gear, and electronics once my pack is emptied. And keeping your gear organized and separate from your partner’s is essential on any long trip (you wouldn’t want him to start eating your snacks!). Most tents also feature small loops meant to string guy line across the ceiling, which is useful to dry wet gear after a long day in bad weather.
Perhaps nothing on a 4-season tent is more important to comfort than the vestibule. A tent’s vestibule acts as a separate room that separates the dry, snow and rain-free interior of the tent from the harsh outside elements. Nothing will aggravate your partner more than soaking their dry down sleeping bag with your wet Gore-Tex and snow-ridden boots. The vestibule is where you seal yourself off from the majority of the outside weather and prepare to enter the tent dry, just like you would take your muddy shoes off outside before walking on someone’s carpet. Many tents have a smaller rear vestibule that can hold a few backpacks, but isn’t optimal for cooking or using as the main door.
There are two types of tent pole designs: freestanding and non-freestanding. Freestanding means that once all of the poles are installed, the tent will stand on its own. Non-freestanding tents need to be properly staked and guyed out to achieve their rigidity.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both tent types and it really comes down to personal preference. Freestanding tents like our top-rated Mountain Hardwear Trango are easier and faster to set up. Once all of the poles are in place, you simply guy it out and start getting comfortable. These tents feature cross-bracing poles that give the tent its strength and stability. Even in bad weather, an experienced outdoorsperson usually can set up a freestanding tent by themselves.
Non-freestanding tents typically are lighter but more difficult to set up—they rely on anchors in the ground or snow to stand upright. Once the tent poles are installed, the front and back of the tent is staked and tensioned, then the sides are guyed out to give the tent its rigidity. Non-freestanding tents usually have more of a tube profile as opposed to a broad pyramid. This gives them an aerodynamic shape, which will stand up to high winds when placed correctly. Both types of tents are constantly being used in places like the Polar Regions, the high Himalaya, and Alaska.
Tent Pole Quality
In terms of tent pole quality, 4-season tents will have stronger (and heavier) poles that can withstand big gusts of wind. In cold weather, tent fabric shrinks and plastics and metals get brittle. Snapping a tent pole in a storm easily could result in a shredded tent, but stout metal poles (Easton, DAC, etc.) with long connector joints will provide torsional strength. And beware of any tent pole with a plastic tip (the end part of the pole that connects into the grommet of the tent). One year on Denali, I saw over a dozen of the same poles shear off at the tip when a company switched from metal to plastic.
Everyone who has backpacked knows that the number of doors a tent has matters a lot. Nothing is more frustrating than having to crawl blindly over your partner at 2 a.m. to answer nature’s call, and they would probably say the same. 4-season tents either have 1 or 2 doors, and we’ve provided this information in our comparison table above. In general, lightweight mountaineering tents are most likely to have 1 door—it’s an easy way to cut weight and keep the footprint of the tent small (and it’s not a downside if you’re camping solo). Basecamping and treeline tents are likely to have 2 doors, which allows each person to enter and exit as they please. And one final consideration in relation to doors: a second door often means a second vestibule, which greatly enhances the storage opportunities and comfort.
In environments with unpredictable weather, it’s imperative to make your tent bombproof against wind and storms. Once while returning to Camp Muir after summiting Mount Rainier, we watched a tent roll down the Cowlitz Glacier and fall into a crevasse (true story). I later found out that the team had “anchored” their tent down with basic 6-inch stakes meant to hold a standard tent backpacking in the dirt. A few years later on Denali, a team’s tent was picked up by a gust and flew off the ridge with all of their sleeping bags inside. Luckily, they got it back, but not without tremendous effort. They also had neglected to dig proper snow anchors.
When using a 4-season tent in an alpine environment, it is not uncommon to use backcountry skis, ice axes, pickets, ski poles, bamboo wands, or anything else that can be securely buried and not bend or break under high loads. On big mountains like Denali, it’s advisable to dig down 2 feet or more and compact the area with snow. Large snow stakes work well, but they should be buried and not merely stuck in the snow.
A lighter and more bombproof option is to use snow parachutes. These are made from durable nylon and use their surface area and the surrounding snow to anchor them in. They must be dug deep and, once the snow is compacted and firms up after a few minutes, they are as strong as anything. Another benefit of snow parachutes is that they can remain attached to the tent. This eases the setup process and means you do not have to root around in your backpack to find stakes or random tools to use as anchors.
Four-season tents are the “take anywhere, do anything” tent, and they are designed to withstand the harshest environments in the world. I’ve watched entire vacations go by from the inside of a 4-season tent as inches of snow and rain fall outside, but I remain dry and comfortable inside (albeit stir crazy and disappointed). Like the old adage says: “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” Likewise, don’t bring a tent designed for the Pacific Crest Trail to the stormy realms of the Cascade volcanoes, Denali, or Patagonia’s Torre Valley.
When you are using a 4-season tent, odds are you will be in a climate prone to inhospitable weather. 4-season tents are more robust, heavier, and more durable than standard backpacking tents, and designed to withstand heavy wind, rain and snow. They’re also packed with features, including flies that extend farther down the main body of the tent (and some models feature snow skirts—flaps that are meant to be buried in snow), high bathtubs on the main body to prevent rain and snow from leeching into the tent, and large vestibules that provide ample room for storage and cooking. It’s not uncommon on big mountain expeditions in Alaska to see intricate kitchens where teams have dug pits in the snow and can comfortably stand, cook, and socialize in the enclosed space of their vestibule.
Keep in mind that gear companies make 4-season tents for different uses. If you’re biking through Europe in the fall, you probably don’t need a tent built to withstand storms at 25,000 feet on Mount Everest. To help differentiate the different types of tents, see our tent categories included in the product specs and the top of the buying above.
The tents above feature a pole-supported design that provides 360-degree security from wind, rain, snow, and bugs. But for those that value weight above all else, a 4-season shelter offers weather protection that can come close to a treeline model at half the weight or less. To maximize their strength-to-weight ratios, popular 4-season shelters like the Black Diamond Mega Light and Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 are floorless, non-freestanding, and utilize a center pole (often a trekking pole or ski pole) to create a taut, pyramid shape. When properly set up, these tents can hold strong in moderate wind, and shed driving rain and snowfall. As such, they’re appealing for certain trips where the weather is mild and weight wins out: long ski traverses, fast and light climbs, and backcountry treks that cover a lot of distance and require a light pack.
Not surprisingly, trimming so much weight comes with compromises. To start, the floorless construction invites snow and bugs inside and sacrifices warmth and ventilation (there are optional inner tents, but these typically are optimized for 3-season use). More, the set up isn’t as intuitive as a freestanding tent and can be difficult to get a secure pitch on snow. But in capable hands, a 4-season shelter can be a formidable and spacious home, and a good way to cut pounds from your pack.
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