The Best Four Season Tent Review

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Hilleberg Saitaris (red) and Jannu (green) with the Mountain Hardwear Hoopster (orange) in Greenland.
Credit: Eric Guth
We tested 23 of the best four season tents on the market in a head-to-head competition that assessed weather resistance, livability, weight, packed size adaptability and durability. Testing took us all over globe, from the alpine climbs in the Lower 48 to Alaska, Canada, Patagonia, Greenland and Antarctica – and while in route we did testing on big mountains like Aconcagua and Denali. This review reflects the experience of dozens of people over eight years of testing. Our ratings and awards identify the best overall tent, the best value tent, the best all-around alpine climbing tent tent, the best expedition tent and the best ultralight single wall "bivi" tent.

If you don't think you'll be faced with four season conditions, also see our Backpacking Tent Review and Ultralight Tent Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Chris McNamara

Top Ranked Four Season Tents Displaying 1 - 5 of 23 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Hilleberg Jannu
Hilleberg Jannu
Read the Review
Hilleberg Tarra
Hilleberg Tarra
Read the Review
Hilleberg Nammatj 2
Hilleberg Nammatj 2
Read the Review
Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
Read the Review
North Face Mountain 25
North Face Mountain 25
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award   
Street Price $885
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $885 - $975
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$610Varies $460 - $600
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $539 - $572
Compare at 5 sellers
Overall Score 
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Strong sidewall, highly resistant to snow loading, pitches quick from outside, great ventilation, three color options.Fortress-like strength for worst conditions, 2 doors, 2 vestibules, good ventilation, extremely durable.Bombproof in high winds, very comfortable, lightweight, highly versatile, extremely durable, pitches quickly from outside, 3 color options.Strong, spacious, great pockets, easy to take down, very livable.Strong, great pockets, reflective guy lines, strong zippers, glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls, Kevlar guylines with camming adjusters.
Cons Less comfortable than Hilleberg Nammatj.Significantly heavier than Hilleberg Nammatj and Jannu.Not as strong as dome tents (not as good for basecamping), only two pockets.Heavy, bulky, time intensive setup.Not as light as other models, Pole sleeves while bomber but aren't as quick to set up.
Best Uses Alpine climbing, high altitude mountaineering, expeditions.Extended basecamping, expeditions.Everything: mountaineering, ski touring, backpacking, bike touring.Mountaineering, base camping, going light with three people.Mountaineeing, base camping.
Date Reviewed Nov 04, 2014Oct 26, 2014Nov 05, 2014Aug 16, 2013Oct 31, 2014
Livability - 20%
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Ease Of Set Up - 10%
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Weather Resistance - 20%
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Durability - 10%
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Weight - 25%
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Adaptability - 10%
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Features - 5%
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Product Specs Hilleberg Jannu Hilleberg Tarra Hilleberg Nammatj 2 Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 North Face Mountain 25
Type Double Wall Double Wall Double Wall Tunnel Double Wall Double Wall
Weight (oz.) 97.3 144 87.4 157 136
Weight (lb.) 6 lb 1 oz 9 lb 5 lb 7 oz 9 lb 13 oz 8 lb 8 oz
Packed Size (in.) 6x20 7x20 6x20 7x24 7x24
Floor Dimensions (in.) 93 x 57 83 x 55 87 x 52 92 x 58 86 x 54
Floor Area (sq ft.) 36 30 30 41 32
Vestibule Area (sq ft.) 13 28 13 11 11
space-weight ratio 0.37 0.21 0.34 0.26 0.24
Peak Height (in) 40 42 38 41 41
Number of Doors 1 2 1 2 2
Number of Poles 3 4 2 5 5
Pole Diameter (mm) 9 10.25 10.2 9 910
Number Pole Intersections 3 5 0 (tunnel tent) 7 7
Number of Pockets Side: 4 Ceiling: 0 Side: 4 Ceiling: 0 Side: 2 Ceiling: 0 Side: 6 Ceiling: 4 Side: 6 Ceiling: 2
Gear Loft Clothesline Clothesline Clothesline Yes Yes
Pole Material DAC Featherlite NSL Green DAC Featherlite NSL Green DAC Featherlite NSL Green DAC Featherlite NSL DAC Featherlite NSL
Number Rainfly Pole Clips 20 39 17 32 20
Rainfly Fabric 30D silnylon 40D silnylon 40D silnylon 70D PU coated nylon 75D PU coated polyester
Floor Fabric 70D PU coated nylon 100D PU coated nylon 100D PU coated nylon 70D PU coated nylon 70D PU coated nylon

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Hilleberg Jannu
$735
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Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
$525
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REI Arete ASL 2
$359
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64
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Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2
$500
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64
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Hilleberg Tarra
$885
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84
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Mountain Hardwear EV2
$660
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76
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Nemo Tenshi
$699
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71
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Hilleberg Nammatj 2
$610
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Hilleberg Nallo 2
$625
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Black Diamond Firstlight
$300
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56
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Hilleberg Unna
$560
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Sierra Designs Convert 2
$599.95
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Brooks Range Invasion
$600
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North Face Mountain 25
$539
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77
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Black Diamond Fitzroy
$700
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75
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MSR Fury
$579
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Rab Latok Ultra
$500
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Marmot Alpinist 2
$500
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Black Diamond Eldorado
$600
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69
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MSR Asgard
$580
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MSR Dragontail
$550
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62
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Easton Expedition 2
$750
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62
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Stephenson’s Warmlite 2R
$499
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71
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Black Diamond Ahwahnee
$600
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72
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REI Mountain 2
$349
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Choosing the Right Four Season Tent for Your Needs
From tiny 2.5 lb. single wall assault shelters to tank-like near 10-pound double wall base-camp fortresses, this reviews compares every type of mountaineering and four season tent. Although all models are designed for winter and mountaineering use, it's important to remember there is still a broad spectrum of tents under the "four season" umbrella and each tent excels at something specifically. Double wall tents performed well in other seasons and therefore are the most versatile and adaptable. Due to their limited ventilation, single wall tents generally perform poorly during warmer and more humid three season use. Single wall tents are lighter and pack smaller and therefore are better for short trips where weight and pack space are at a premium or where a flat camping area in which to set up the tent might be in short supply. So it's important to think about what type of trips you plan on embarking on while reading this review. Also make sure to check out our article How to Choose the Best 4 Season Tent

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Our initial round of testing in 2010-2011 included 13 four season tents, pictured above. We expanded the review in 2013 to include 10 more models for a total of 23.
Credit: Max Neale

For fast and light winter travel on skis or by foot with trekking poles, or for three season alpine rock climbing and mountaineering, our testers sometimes prefer floorless pyramid shelters and flat tarps. These shelters are found in our Ultralight Tent Review.

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There are many good four season tents and they each excel at different things. Some are stronger, some lighter, some more adaptable. Therefore figuring out your needs and what types of trips you plan to use your tent on are important while reading this review. Shown here is four season tent testing on the East Ridge of Eldorado, North Cascades, WA.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Types of Four Season Tents
Types of winter tents can be categorized by the number of walls, wall materials and pole design.

One Wall or Two?
The number of walls is possibly the single biggest contributing factor that will affect your tent's versatility, weight and packed size.

Single Wall – The lightest, most compact and typically least comfortable type of tent design. These are usually best for alpine climbing and high altitude mountaineering where low weight and minimal bulk supersede all other factors. They are best in below freezing temps if it's precipitating or drier conditions if it's warmer because of their often poorer moisture management and condensation buildup, i.e. in wetter conditions more condensation will build up on a single wall tent than a similarly designed double wall tent. But again while single wall tents are overall less versatile, they can't be beat for weight and and packed size so they are an excellent option for shorter trips.

Double Wall – Heavier and bulkier, typically 40-50 percent more on average compared with their single wall counterparts. Double wall tents are typically more comfortable and designed to be more spacious for more extended trips, and more versatile. Best for mountaineering expeditions, winter camping, base-camping and polar exploration. Double wall tents work better than single wall tents in most three season conditions and are almost always designed with more features to make it nicer to hang out in, making them a choice for trips where comfort, livability or extreme weather protection or the most important factors.

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Graham McDowell looking down glacier with his North Face Mountain 25 on a two week climbing trip to the Waddington Range, BC.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pole Design
Freestanding – The lightest and most compact type of tent. Best for alpine climbing and high altitude mountaineering. These can be pitched in small spaces with minimal tieouts and have high static strengths for snowloading. Examples: Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, Black Diamond Firstlight, Hilleberg Unna and Black Diamond Eldorado.

Self-supporting – The most popular design and many people often lump self-supporting tents with freestanding. Poles support the tent to some extent while tieouts support vestibules or awnings and add tension. Best for basecamping and mountaineering. Examples: Hilleberg Jannu, Mountain Hardwear Trango, North Face Mountain 25 and MSR Fury.

Tunnel – The lightest type of double wall tent and the most space for lowest weight of all types. Fantastic performance in high winds if positioned into the wind. The type of choice for polar explorers and ski touring, and the best balance between low weight, livability and strength. Examples: Hilleberg Nammatj, MSR Dragontail, Hilleberg Nallo.

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Types of four season tents, left to right: Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 (single wall + freestanding), Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 (double wall + self-supporting), Hilleberg Nammatj (double wall + tunnel tent)

Criteria for Evaluation
We assessed each tent based on its weather resistance, weight, packed size, durability, livability, adaptability and features.

Weather Resistance
This variable assesses a tent's ability to protect its inhabitants from the outside environment, whether that be snow, rain, sleet or wind. We considered pole design, pole type, fabrics, vestibules and features that relate to strength (number of pole intersections, number of points and mechanism for attaching the inner tent to the poles, number of points and mechanism for attaching the outer tent to the poles, and the number and quality of guy points. We share many of these specifications in the table above and in each individual review. The most significant factors that influence wind resistance and contribute a lot to the overall tent's strength are pole design and pole quality.

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Strong winds (50+ mph) of the Kitchatna spires bending but not breaking the poles of a Mountain Hardwear Trango with Ryan O'Connell looking on pondering why.......
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pole Design
The biggest factors contributing to a tent's strength are the number of poles, the tent's overall pole design, and the number of pole crossings relative to its size and external height. More crossings relative to a tent's size generally mean more strength. While a Black Diamond Eldorado is strong, it's not as strong as a Black Diamond Fitzroy that is constructed of the same fabric, is the same external height but has more poles and more pole crossing. So how strong do you need your tent to be? Obviously that depends on what you are doing. All the tents in our review are solid mountaineering tents that will excel in most summertime mountaineering adventures and at least modest winter use. If you are planning on logging a lot of time in big mountain ranges or spending a lot of time exposed above treeline, then maybe you should consider a beefier tent with more poles and more pole crossings.

Tent Poles
Besides tent design, the next biggest contributor to strength is tent poles themselves. Tent poles used in the tents we tested range from 8mm to 10.25mm in diameter. The majority are aluminum and made by DAC but some are made by Easton and are either aluminum or carbon fiber. DAC Featherlite NSL Green poles are the best available aluminum poles found in mainstream tents. A few smaller manufacturers use Easton poles that might be slightly stronger for their weight. One company, Stephenson's Warmlite, uses custom aluminum poles that are very strong for their weight, but we have heard some complaints about durability.

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It's important to take into account your needs and what you plan to do with your four season tent. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming at first. But read on to help pick which four season tent is best for you. Here Ian Nicholson in a Black Diamond Eldorado camped below Forbidden Peak.
Credit: Jason Broman

Fabrics
Tent fabrics range from ultralight non-waterproof windbreaking materials (as on the Black Diamond Firstlight to super strong and relatively light silicone coated nylon (on the Hilleberg Nammatj, Hilleberg Tarra and Hilleberg Jannu) all the way to the super beefy laminets found in the single wall Black Diamond Fitzroy, Eldorado and Ahwahnee tents. We break down tents' specific fabric in our individual reviews.

Coatings: Silnylon vs. Polyurethane
There is a difference between the nylon that is impregnated on both sides with silicone, called silnylon, and a fabric that is coated on the outside with silicone and the inside with polyurethane (PU). The latter is much cheaper but neither as durable nor as strong. The strongest fly fabric used on the tents tested is Hilleberg Kerlon 1800 silnyon, which has a break strength of 40 lb. and is found on their Nammatj and Tarra tents, among others. The weakest fabric tested is used by the Brooks Range Invasion and breaks at a mere seven pounds!

PTFE Laminates
Some tents like the Rab Latok, Marmot Alpinist 2 and the Black Diamond/Bibler tents use a super burly PTFE laminate (similar to your waterproof-breathable jacket) that is stronger than most silnylon but over-kill for use on double wall tents.

Guy line Points
Most of the tents we tested had between 3-10 guy-line tie-out points. We really liked having at least 4 for even lower-48 alpine climbing trips in stormy conditions and for expedition use we liked having at least 6. Contrary to most backpacker's beliefs, the guy lines have far more holding power than the lower corners of the tents because the guy lines pull from the middle of the tent, resulting in a better leverage angle against the wind to keep the tent in place.

The Most Weather Resistant
The strongest and most weather resistant tents that will withstand the strongest winds and the heaviest snow-loads overall are the Hilleberg Tarra and the Black Diamond Fitzroy. These were followed closely by the The North Face Mountain 25 and the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 and Hilleberg Jannu. Besides the Fitzroy, the single wall tents with the greatest static strength are the Mountain Hardwear EV2 and the Black Diamond Eldorado. While the EV2 is bomber, after a few trips we noticed it suffered from low vents that can collect spindrift…so much so that we rate the Nemo Tenshi as to be an equally weather resistant single wall tent. If you are looking for a Denali or similar level storm-worthy tent we would recommend looking at tents we scored at an "9" or a "10" and consider no tent we scored lower than an "8."

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The Hilleberg Tarra standing strong in high winds, Red Rocks, Nevada. (The tents at left are deformed or broken.) The Tarra has four 10.25mm DAC Featherlite NSL Green poles, the strongest available, and a silynon fly fabric with a 40 lb. tear strength.
Credit: Max Neale

Weight and Packed Size
We ranked each tent based on its OutdoorGearLab measured weight and its packed volume. Of all the comparison categories in our review, this is where we saw the biggest difference between models. For example, the lightest tents we tested are the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 and Black Diamond Firstlite, which weigh 2 lb. 13 and 2 lbs. 12 oz. respectively. Compared to those the heaviest tent tested was the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, which weighs more than three times as much at 9 lb. 13 oz. We discovered similar results when it came to packed volume, with some tents taking up as little as one-quarter the space of the bulkiest. Why not just buy a lighter tent? AS you are primarily attempting shorter trips (less than 4-5 days) then this is a great idea. But as you would imagine, a lighter, more compact tent is nearly always less versatile and comfortable for extended hangouts and is often not quite as strong in gnarlier weather.

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Three ultra compact, sub four pound tents embrace the high alpine sunshine. From left to right: Brooks Range Invasion, Stephenson's Warmlite 2R, and Mountain Hardwear Direkt2.
Credit: Max Neale

Like weight, packed size is often the most important consideration for alpine climbers, who may take 30 - 40L liter packs for 8+ days of climbing. The Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 and Black Diamond Firstlight are the most compact tents available and are less than a quarter the packed size of some of their double wall counter parts. The Rab Latok and Brooks Range Invasion weren't too far behind.

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Dan Whitmore appreciating the small footprint of the Black Diamond Firstlight, waking up with nearly 2,000ft of air below after a stormy night on a very small bivi ledge on the Northest Buttress of Mt. Goode, North Cascades WA.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Size of a Tent's Footprint
A tent's footprint is the amount of real-estate it takes up, not to be confused with the "other" footprint that protects the bottom or floor of your tent. For many users this is something that might not be on their radar but could save you a lot of headaches down the road. Ledges or even camp/bivi sites can be very small, as is the case in many areas of the Cascades, Tetons or Sierra.

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On extended expeditions especially in harsh, remote destinations, the livability of your tent becomes more important than factors that would have superseded it like weight on shorter alpine trips. Here Vanessa Kiss prepares for a cold night in the Jannu in western Greenland.
Credit: Graham McDowell

Livability
Here we assessed how tolerable it was to spend time in each tent. We looked at door and vestibule design, zipper quality, number of pockets, peak height, floor area and vestibule area. Then we assessed the overall vibe from each tent. Was it dark and gloomy or cheerful and airy? Did the tent get wet when someone entered in the rain? Do the pockets hold what you want them to? Are two people cramped? Can you face your partner and play cards? Does the fly protect the inner tent from splashback (water dripping off the fly)? We've listed detailed specifications for each tent. As a reference, know that the average size sleeping pad is 20" x 72". Three tents tied for first place in the Features category: the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 is the most spacious and has the best pockets, closely followed by the Mountain 25, but the Hilleberg Tarra is stronger, easier to sit up in, and has two very large vestibules. In contrast, the Rab Latok Ultra is an ultra small bivy tent that you can't even come close to sitting up in and is the least "livable" tent.

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The importance of a four season tent's Livability depends on the users needs. Don't just assume that you do or don't need a more comfortable living space. Are you planning on using your tent for trips to Alaska or planning on climbing basic general mountaineering routes or are you planning on climbing up and over technical routes with your tent on your back? Here Graham Zimmerman and Ryan O'Connell duel it out in yet another game of chess while attempting to climb the west face of Kichatna Spire.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Space-to-weight ratio is measured by dividing floor area (sq. ft.) by weight (oz.). This calculation is found in the table above and in each individual review. Note that it neglects to consider vestibule area and the volume of both the inner tent and the vestibule. Our Livability ratings attempt to take all of these factors into account.

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On expeditions double wall dome tents (left) are excellent for base camping. Single wall pyramid tarps (right) are great for cooking in. Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Credit: Tressa Gibbard

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A massive vestibule, such as on the Hilleberg Keron 4 GT shown here, can provide lots of space for cooking. This setup is great for extended basecamping but can also be replicated for lower cost with a separate pyramid tarp.
Credit: Hilleberg

Ease of Setup
Pole Clips, Pole Sleeves or Internal Poles?
This is an age old debate of what style is best. The truth is that each style has its own set of advantages and disadvantages of ease and speed versus strength.

Pole Clips
Pole clips are the quickest and easiest to set up and offer the advantage of letting more moisture move around the tent, most often resulting in less condensation buildup. The disadvantage of clips is that they are marginally heavier and don't spread the force of wind or snow-loading quite as evenly among the length of the pole compared with pole sleeves. Examples include the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, the EV2, and the Marmot Alpinist

Pole Sleeves
Pole sleeves are pretty darn easy unless it's really windy; then you must be much more careful. While sleeves are easy in pleasant weather they are not quite as easy nor as quick as clips. When it is windy you have to be much more careful setting a tent up with pole sleeves because a pole is more vulnerable and the tent acts as a kite until the whole tent is erected and can support itself. Once set up. they are equally if not marginally more bomber because pressure is spread out as evenly as is achievable. Pole sleeves don't let moisture circulate quite as nicely as clips but this is a smaller difference compared with materials. Examples include the The North Face Mountain 25 and the Hilleberg Nammatj 2.

Internal Poles
Internal poles are seen in lighter weight tents that you generally have to set up from the inside. This is the lightest design style because the body of the tent itself is supporting poles. You don't need any, or very little, extra fabric or materials to support the poles. This is why all of the lightest bivi style four season tents use an internal pole design. This design is also surprisingly strong and can be just as strong as a pole sleeve tent with a similar pole structure The primary disadvantage is that these are the most difficult and time consuming tents to set up. If it's really windy it's a pain to crawl inside and set up. Examples are the Black Diamond Eldorado, Firstlight, Nemo Tensh, Rab Latok Ultra and Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2

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Comparing different styles of tents. The left Marmot Alpinist uses external clips which are the easiest and quickest to set up but slightly heavier and bulkier. The North Face Mountain 25 uses poles sleeves which dissipate force better along the length of the pole but slightly reduce air circulation and are slightly more time consuming to set up. The two right hand photos are of a Black Diamond Ahwahnee that uses the tent itself to support the poles and twist ties to help keep them in place. This is the lightest system but the most challenging to set up.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Properly setting up a four-season tent on snow or ice can take anywhere from several minutes to several hours. Chopping a tent platform or cutting blocks to build a wind wall totally sucks. A tent that sets up quickly can save a lot of energy. A tent that pitches quickly in high winds is even better. The fastest tents to set up are all Hilleberg models, which pitch from the outside (the inner tent is suspended from the outer tent) with either pole sleeves, which are super fast, or big alternating clips. Of all the single wall tents tested, the Sierra Designs Convert 2 and the Marmot Alpinist 2 are the easiest to pitch. The Convert 2 uses internal pole sleeves with a port that allows you to insert and adjust the pole from the outside of the tent. This is a fantastic design that is, much to our disappointment, not used by any other companies. The photo below shows one of the reasons why it's so easy to pitch Hilleberg tents.

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The Hilleberg Jannu's three different vestibule configurations. The middle is our testers' preferred option because it is easier to enter and exit. You can also roll the vestibule away completely!! (not shown).
Credit: Max Neale

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The Hilleberg Jannu's pole structure is incredibly easy to set up, even with one person in high winds while wearing gloves. After staking the base of the tent out, the poles insert into partial pole sleeves (shown here) that stand up by themselves.
Credit: Max Neale

Adaptability
Adaptability can be an important factor on long trips that cross multiple climates because it increases the versatility of a tent, i.e. you can use it in more places, from camping on the coast to alpine traverses in the mountains. In that sense adaptability makes a tent a better value. There are two primary ways that a tent can be adaptable, (1) Is how well the materials and the design of the tent fare across a wide range of conditions. From hot and dry, to wet and warm, to cold and wet or cold and dry. Most of the double wall tents scored better than most of the single wall tents because they handled the warmer conditions both with and without moisture. (2) The second way we gave higher scores to tents for adaptability is certain features that allow you to use your tent in different ways. For example, a removable vestibule, as is found on some single wall tents, or having a removable inner tent, allow you to use and pitch your one tent in different ways.
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Using a four season tent for family or warmer weather three season camping can be less ideal depending on how adaptive your tent is and can range from straight-up uncomfortable to rather pleasant. Here tester Ian Nicholson takes a collection of four season tents on a wet low elevation family camping trip.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ventilation
Ventilation can have a dramatic influence on a tent's adaptability and livability. Generally, double wall tents have better air circulation and thus less condensation than single wall tents. The Hilleberg tents and the North Face Mountain 25 have the best ventilation of all double wall tents. The top vents on dome tents are remarkably effective moving air around and mitigating the "it's snowing inside" effect that happens when moisture vapor from your breath freezes in the cold air, hits the roof and falls back on you. Of all single wall tents tested, the Nemo Tenshi has by far the most impressive ventilation system – four vents total – that can greatly improve comfort as well as safety while cooking. See a photo of the Tenshi's large rear vent below.

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The Nemo Tenshi's rear vent is fantastic. You can seal it up tight (left), have a small opening (center), or open it fully (right). Mesh netting further allows you to customize airflow or vent in warmer conditions with insects.
Credit: Max Neale

Other single wall tents that stood out for adaptability and livability are the Black Diamond Ahwahnee and Marmot Alpinist. The Ahwahnee has the highest peak height among single wall tents and two 6' plus people could easily sit up and face each other and hang out. The Ahwahnee's doors that can be left cracked open even in a light storm help ventilate wonderfully. The EV2 and the Marmot Alpinist also allowed excellent sleeping length for taller users but didn't quite have the headroom or ventilate quite as well.

One cool thing is all Hilleberg tents have removable inner tents that allow you to have a lighter floorless shelter for summer backpacking and fast and light winter trips. The floorless option is also great for mountaineering because you can dig down into the snow to create a cook area with benches and a table.

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Mountain Hardwear Trango on a sea kayak expedition in Chilean Patagonia. Double wall tents work well in both the worst winter conditions and also in challenging three season conditions.
Credit: Max Neale

Durability
The main factor here is the type of fabric used for the fly and, less significantly, the floor. The floor matters less because much of the time four season tents will be pitched on snow. Again, silnylon is the fabric of choice for the fly on double wall tents. Most of the PU formulations used on fly fabric coatings are more prone to hydrolysis (chemical breakup) than silnylon. They wear out faster, particularly in wet environments. For example, the fly material on the Mountain Hardwear Trango (sil on the outside, PU on the inside) may last for about 120 days of hard use in a wet climate before it needs to be retired. A tent like the Hilleberg Nammatj (three layers of silicone on each side) may last up to twice as long. This assessment is based on our direct experience using the Trango for 90 consecutive days in Patagonia and from speaking with mountaineering guides in Alaska, the North Cascades, Argentina and New Zealand. Eventually, however, any coating will wear off. It is possible to recoat a fabric but it's much more common to just buy a new outer tent (Fly).

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McKenzie Long climbing in Patagonia with the Black Diamond Eldorado tent, one of the toughest single wall tents available.
Credit: Luke Lydiard


Tent floors generally have high grade PU formulations that resist hydrolysis well. The majority of the double wall tents tested have a 70 denier floor that's very tough. Some Hilleberg tents like the Nammatj and Tarra use a 100 denier fabric that is ultra burly. Single wall tents often use lighter floor materials. For example, the Brooks Range Invasion uses a superlight 15 denier fabric that's similar to those used on the lightest backpacking tent floors.

Specific features can also have a large impact on durability. The big three here are zippers, clips and webbing adjustments. Bigger zippers last longer and can handle the thrashing of expeditions because they continue to work with dust and grit in them. Some clips are better than others: Martin Zemetis helped to design the clips used on the Mountain Hardwear Trango series and improved upon them with the clips now found on SlingFin tents, which are easier to use and stronger.

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Four season expedition testing on Denali's West Buttress.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The most durable double wall tents tested are the The North Face Mountain 25, Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 and Hilleberg Tarra. The least durable double wall tent is the REI Arete ASL 2. The most durable single wall tent is the Black Diamond Fitzroy or Eldorado and the least durable single wall tent tested is the Brooks Range Invasion, which is also the least durable overall with the Black Diamond Firstlight being only marginally tougher.

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The Hilleberg Nammatj (model 3 GT shown here) and Tarra use a super strong 40 denier ripstop silnylon for the fly and a wildly durable 100 denier PU coated tafetta nylon for the floor. These are the burliest materials used on any 2 person tent tested.
Credit: Brad Miller

Going Ultralight? Consider an Ultralight Shelter
If saving weight is your top priority, and you are not alpine climbing, we suggest a floorless pyramid shelter, which is lighter and more spacious than any single wall tent. Pyramids pitch with trekking poles, ski poles or skis and have up to three times as much space and weigh less than a tent supported by dedicated poles. Check out our Ultralight Tent Review for details.

Forget the Footprint
Unless you are camping on razor sharp knives, we are highly confident that there is no need for a footprint for any winter tent. The majority of the 23 tents tested here use an ultra tough 70 denier floor that's much more durable than floors found on backpacking tents, which use 15 to 30 denier fabrics. We only recommend a groundsheet for basecamping and car camping on dirt or rocks. Then, consider cutting your own from Tyvek Home Wrap, available at hardwear stores for around $10. Tyvek is more puncture resistant and cheaper than the expensive ($50-80) footprints offered by tent manufacturers. The weight of the tent and your sleeping gear hold it in place.

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Tyvek "Home Wrap" is our favorite footprint for car camping and basecamping because it's waterproof, highly puncture resistant, and exceptionally durable. We prefer clear polycro plastic groundsheets for weight conscious applications.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Editors' Choice Award for Best Overall: Hilleberg Jannu
If we could only have one four season tent it would be the Hilleberg Jannu. The Jannu is the ultimate "do-everything-well" tent. Even if it isn't the absolute best at everything, it is really good at most things. The Jannu is straight-up one of the strongest, most weather resistant, most adaptable tents, yet is still on the lighter and more packable side of tents we tested. The Jannu has several setup options and scored at the top as far as ease of setup, even in Denali worthy storms. Its only drawback is its average space for sitting up and a vestibule that is cramped for cooking.

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The Hilleberg Jannu pitches from the outside with a combination of partial sleeves and reinforced alternating clips. This is the lightest available double wall tent with PHENOMENAL static strength.
Credit: Max Neale

Best All-Around Alpine Climbing Tent
Mountain Hardware EV2
In this category we looked at what would be the best four season tent for alpine climbing in the lower 48. This includes climbs in the North Cascades, Tetons or Sierra. For these trips livability is typically less important because trips tend to be shorter (less than one week) and so weight and versatility are more important because climbs will typically cover more climate zones. There was no runaway winner among several standout choices. It was a tough call between the Mountain Hardwear EV2, Hilleberg Nammatj 2, Marmot Alpinist and the Black Diamond Eldorado. All four are great tents that almost anyone would be happy with, and each offers slightly different advantages. The Eldorado is certainly the toughest, one of the most storm-worthy and offers the smallest footprint. The Hilleberg Nammatj 2 is also bomber and is certainly more versatile for three season use and more comfortable to hang out in than any of the above tents. But for this category, because of its slightly heavier and a non-freestanding tunnel design, we didn't choose this high scoring tent for our Best All-Around Alpine Climbing Tent. In the end we gave our award to the EV2. While the EV2 didn't handle moisture as well as either of the other fore-mentioned tents, it is lighter, more compact and offers more spacious and and liveable spaces than the Eldorado.

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Mountain Hardwear EV2
Credit: Mountain Hardwear

Top Pick for Ultralight and Alpine Bivi Tent
Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2
The 2 lb. 12 oz. Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 is our highest rated ultralight single wall tent for fast and light alpine climbing. This itty-bitty shelter is like a luxury suite on brutal, frigid alpine climbs where low weight, small packed size and a small footprint are the #1 consideration. The Direkt 2 offers several significant advantages over our previous favorite ultralight climbing tent, the Black Diamond Firstlight: it is stronger, probably more durable and completely waterproof. The Direkt 2 performs very well for alpine climbing and relatively poorly at most other applications. For all other fast and light winter activities, our testers prefer floorless pyramid shelters, which are found in our Ultralight Tent Review.

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Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2

Top Pick for the Most Extreme Conditions
Hilleberg Tara
If we were planning on going to some of the harshest weather on the planet, then we would likely go with the Hilleberg Tarra or the Black Diamond Fitzroy. Both of these tents are ridiculously bomber and will hold up as well as any tent could ever be expected to. We would go with the Fitzroy if weight and pack-ability were important factors, but for most people going to the most extreme environments, we would recommend the Hilleberg Tara because it is much more livable and versatile.

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Hilleberg Tarra
Credit: Max Neale

Best Buy Award: Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
The Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 is a high performance winter tent that doesn't cost a fortune. This is the tent we would like to use the most on Denali, Aconcagua or just hanging out in places like the Ruth Gorge or Kichtatnas in the Alaska Range. Weight is a factor but not as much as strength and overall livability. There was no runaway winner in this category and we like the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 the North Face Mountain 25 and the Hilleberg Tarra. We considered the Black Diamond Fitzroy in this category and while it has plenty of living space and strength, it is harder to set up and you need to be more careful to manage condensation. As in other categories, all of these tents offer different advantages depending on where you are going and the weather conditions you might face. Some of these difference can be the biggest factor for you. While all of these are good tents, in the end we choose the The Trango 2 because it is a little more liveable than the equally bomber Mountain 25 and easier to set up when it's nuking out.

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Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
Credit: Mountain Hardwear

Best two person tents, specific applications
Most verstaile double wall tent: Hilleberg Nammatj 2
The Nammatj preforms well at everything from three season backpacking trips to arctic crossings. It's one of the lighter double wall four season tents with its only downfall being its slightly larger footprint and marginally more time consuming tunnel-style setup.

Most versatile single wall tent: Black Diamond Ahwahnee
The Black Diamond Ahwahnee is the ultimate in-between single wall four season tent. It will handle pretty harsh four season conditions found on Mt. Rainier, Shasta or lower elevation Alaska Range trips (Not Denali) but is also versatile enough for three season backpacking trips even if it's raining hard outside. For this we think the Ahwahnee is a great option for many trips in the lower 48, including the North Cascades and Wind River Range.

Best four season tent for backcountry skiing
If you want more protection than a tarp on a multi-day backcountry ski tour, we like the Brooks Range Invasion and Stephenson's Warmlite 2R because both of these tents are really light but offer a little more room on the inside for our often bulkier winter camping gear than the smallest of small bivi tents. Also, both of these tents' bigger footprints are less of a big deal when backcountry ski touring.

Best three or four person tents, specific applications
Best three person expedition tent
The Best three person expedition tent award goes to: The North Face VE-25 with the Top pick going to the Mountain Hardwear Trango 3. Both of these tents are bomber and are very livable. We have used both of these tents on extended trips to Patagonia, Andes and the Alaska Range. The VE-25 manages moisture and condensation better but isn't as easy to set up as the Trango 3 or Trango 4.

Best four person, four season expedition tent
The best four season, four person single wall tent award goes to the Hilleberg Saitaris. Similar in design to the Hilleberg Tarra but bigger and maybe not quite as strong. The Saitaris remains super bomber, very comfortable, spacious, easy and quick to pitch and super tough. The down side: at around $1500 it is one of the more expensive tents of its size there is. We also like the The North Face Bastion 4 and the Mountain Hardwear Trango 4, which are almost as good and around 60 percent of the price, both costing $800. We also really like how light the Hilleberg Keron 4 is for four people, but it isn't quite as comfortable nor as storm worthy as the above mentioned tents.

Best four person four season single wall tent: The Black Diamond Bomber Shelter
We have used the Black Diamond Bomb Shelter in some of the most extreme conditions and while not as versatile for low elevation camping, it provides extreme weather protection for four people in even the most Himalayan style conditions for just over 8 lbs. It does take a little practice setting up, but it is relatively comfortable and spacious for four people and has nicely sized vestibules.

Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara
Buying Advice
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 How to Choose the Best 4 Season Tent

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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