You love to camp and have made it a spring break tradition since you were in high school. You love backpacking and hiking in the summer and fall – it is a way of life. As much as you enjoy camping, you have yet to do so in the winter. You've decided this is the year to give it a try. There is just one problem: You don’t have a cold weather tent. The 4 season tents you have is waterproof and good enough for the mild fall temperatures, but not for the cold that you will encounter at the height of winter. Taking the plunge and investing in buying 4 season tents don't have to be stressful if you know what to look for.
Who Is Camping and When Are You Going?
Here are a few things to consider when looking at 4 season tents:
1. How Many in Your Party?
If you are a solo camper, the type of tent you purchase will be drastically different from the one you buy if you are going with a group. While solo camping in the summer and spring may make sense, doing so in the winter may not. In the warmer months, retreating to your single tent helps lessen the sweltering temperatures. It gets a whole lot warmer inside the tent with the more bodies packed in.
If you are camping in the winter, however, body heat is something that you actually want inside the 4 season tents. The more people sleeping in a shared space, the more body heat is generated. The extra heat lessens the amount of winter gear you need to sleep in and therefore bring. Before you head out to the store, think long and hard about how many people you can reasonably expect to go camping with you. You don't want to purchase a 4 season tent that's too small, and conversely, you don't want one that is going to be mostly empty.
2. How Long Is the Trip?
When looking at 4-season tents, the amount of time you plan on using it in the cold may help determine how insulating it should be. The longer the trip, the more time you will spend outside in cold weather. That means you'll want to have a well-insulated and warmer tent to return to after spending all that time out in the cold. You need to be ready for wet clothes, snowfall and the possibility of gale-force winds. A tent built for winter can keep you warm when it's time for you to retreat for the evening by minimizing the effects of wind. The construction of the tent, usually a dome shape, allows the wind to blow around it and not through it. A good-quality winter 4 season tents won't rip or tear in the face of a cold and blustery evening.
3. How Much Gear Will You Bring?
No matter how short or long your trip, you will need more gear than summer camping necessitates. It isn't just the amount of equipment, but the size and depth of it that must be considered. You'll need space in your tent to be able to stow your gear comfortably. Not only that, but you'll want to feel confident that the gear you keep in your tent will stay dry.
What To Look for in 4 Season Tents?
It is important to note that the term "4-season tent" is misleading. This is because 4-season tents are not ideal for summer use. When camping in the summer, heat is not something you want to keep trapped in the tent. The opposite is true in the winter. Therefore, a tent made to retain heat is not for summer use. Only invest in a 4-season tent if you plan on using it in colder weather. It should not replace your summer tent.
The difference of a 3 Season and a 4 Season Tents
Another difference between a 3-season and a 4-season tent is its functionality. A 3-season tent is lighter and made to repel water and driving rain. A 4-season tent is built to withstand gale-force winds and bitter cold. However, one of the most critical differences is that in winter, your tent needs to be able to keep the snow from gathering on it. If too much snow accumulates on the roof, the weight of it will cause it to collapse. One of the critical design elements of a winter tent is its dome-shape that allows wind to blow around the tent and prevents snow from gathering on top.
Thicker walls are also a feature of a winter tent. This feature allows for more protection against bitter wind and temperatures. The extra insulation keeps the frigid wind out and helps retain inside heat.
Here’s a useful list of features to look for when shopping for your 4 season tents:
The size of the tent again depends on how many people are using it. The simple rule of thumb is to size up. If there are two people, then a four-person tent gives you room for sleeping and storing gear. When buying a tent for winter, while you definitely want the extra space for equipment, you want to keep it as small as you can for heat-retention purposes. Sizing up is still recommended, but don't get one that is much bigger than you need.
There are options when it comes to the thickness of the tent walls. Double walls are made to provide an extra layer of protection, keeping the tent more insulated. However, double walls mean double the overall weight of the tent. How long you plan on camping in colder temperatures should dictate whether or not you want double walls. If you are using your tent for only weekend trips, and if the weather is cold but not frigid, then a good quality single-wall tent may be warm enough. Just pack extra clothes and layer up. Keep in mind that the heavier the fabric, the harder it will be to heft the tent around. If you are camping in the snow, consider bringing a sled to transport the tent to and from the campsite.
With winter comes the threat of heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures. You want to make sure that the poles and stakes that come with the tent are built to last. Look for aluminum-reinforced accessories. These are stronger, heavier and less prone to rust when exposed to long-term moisture.
When looking at a 4-season tent, you want to pay close attention to the type of fabric it is made of. The material needs to be waterproof. You want to make sure you are well-insulated against the cold temperatures during the day and at night. Canvas is one material that is ideal for winter camping.
The tent floor is also a key factor to pay close attention to. If the floor is not thick enough, the cold and moisture will seep in. If even the slightest bit of moisture breaks through the floor, you may come back from a winter hike with a layer of ice on the floor of your tent. Therefore, the thickness of the floor is critical when buying a tent for winter conditions. These are specifically designed for tent floors and will aid in providing vital insulation.
Ventilation is an essential factor to consider when shopping for any tent. Another important point to consider is that body heat creates moisture. If body heat has nowhere to go, it will turn into condensation inside the tent, which, in turn, will make everything wet. There is nothing you want less in your tent than moisture, especially in the winter. Therefore, even in the cold weather, you want to be sure your tent is well-ventilated. This may be more of a challenge with the heavier fabric used for most 4-season tents. However, a good-quality tent will provide adequate ventilation. Double-walled tents are actually quite good at keeping air flowing. Having enough windows and doors will also allow you to partially unzip to keep air circulating.
If you want a casual and more comfortable winter camping experience, perhaps vehicle camping is the way to go. This usually involves using the back of a truck, SUV or trailer to camp on. You still need to purchase a tent that can withstand the snow; however, because the tent will be kept off of the ground, the frigid temperatures will not permeate the bottom of the tent. This may be a good way to experience snow camping for the first time to confirm that it's something you want to continue with.
Camping in the winter can be an extraordinary experience. As long as you're adequately prepared to face snow and bitter temperatures, your trip should be a good one. When shopping for the perfect tent, 4-season tents provide the protection, insulation and ventilation you need to be a successful all-season camper. Packing the proper gear and purchasing the right tent can make or break your camping experience. Do your research and keep this article handy to aid in your search for the perfect tent to expand your adventure-seeking vacations.