The Best Four Season Tent Review
In this review we tested 22 of the best four season tents (AKA "winter 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; while in route, we also tested 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 All-Around Alpine Climbing Tent, the Top Pick for Weight and Packed Size, the Top Pick for the Most Extreme Conditions and the Best Value tent.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
From tiny 2.5 lb. single wall assault shelters to tank-like 10-pound double wall base-camp fortresses, this review compares every type of mountaineering and 4 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 "4 season" umbrella, with each tent typically excelling 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.
Types of Four Season Tents
Types of 4 season winter tents can be categorized by the number of walls, wall materials and pole design.
One Wall or Two?
The number of walls is one of 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, ski touring, 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 poor ability of moisture management and condensation buildup (i.e. in wet conditions, more condensation will build up on a single wall tent than a similarly designed double wall tent). While single wall tents are less versatile overall, they can't be beat for weight and packed size and are an excellent option for shorter trips.
Double Wall – Heavier and bulkier, typically 30-50 percent more on average compared with their single wall counterparts. Double wall tents are typically more comfortable and designed to be more spacious for extended trips and are overall more versatile. Best for mountaineering expeditions, winter camping, base-camping and polar exploration, double wall tents perform 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. These factors make them an excellent choice for trips where comfort, livability or extreme weather protection are the most important factors.
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: 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.
Criteria for Evaluation
We assessed each 4 season tent based on its weather resistance, weight, packed size, durability, livability, adaptability and features.
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, such as 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 to the overall tent's strength are pole design and pole quality.
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 the 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 4 season 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 att the very 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 you should consider a beefier tent with more poles and more pole crossings.
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, with a few smaller manufacturers using 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.
Four season tent fabrics range from ultralight non-waterproof wind breaking 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 the 4 season tents' specific fabric in our individual reviews.
Coatings: Silnylon vs. Polyurethane
There is a difference between a tent being 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!
Some 4 season tents like the Rab Latok 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 overkill for use on double wall tents.
Most of the 4 season tents we tested had between 3-10 guyline tie-out points. We really liked having at least four, though six was nice for most lower 48 alpine climbing and various ski trips in stormy conditions. For expedition use, we liked having at least six but would much rather have eight. Contrary to most backpacker's beliefs, the guylines have far more holding power than the lower corners of the tents because the guylines 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 4 season tents that will withstand the strongest winds and the heaviest snow loads are the Hilleberg Tarra and the Black Diamond Fitzroy. These were followed very closely by the The North Face Mountain 25, the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, and Hilleberg Jannu. Besides the Fitzroy, the single wall tents with the greatest static strength are the Mountain Hardwear EV 2 and the Black Diamond Eldorado; both of these tents are certainly a step down in their storm worthiness from the formentioned tents. 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 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 that scored a "9" or a "10" and would consider no tent scored lower than an "8."
Weight and Packed Size
We ranked each 4 season tent based on its OutdoorGearLab measured weight and packed volume. We didn't compare their minimum weight, which is typically just that; the minimum weight is tent, fly, poles and doesn't include guylines - no pole sack, no stacks, etc. So instead we tried to do comparison weights of what you'd likely bring for that tent.
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, Rab Latok Summit, and Black Diamond Firstlight, which all three more or less have packed weights of around 3 lbs 5 oz, but can be minimized to around 2 lbs 13 oz in the case of the Firstlight and Direkt 2. Comparatively, 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 contenders taking up as little as one-quarter the space of the bulkiest. Why not just buy a lighter tent? If you are primarily attempting shorter trips (less than 3-5 days) then this is a great idea. But as you would imagine, a lighter, more compact tent is nearly always less versatile and less comfortable for extended hangouts and is often not quite as strong in gnarlier weather.
Like weight, packed size is often the most important consideration for alpine climbers, who may take 30 - 50L liter packs for up to 8+ days of climbing. The Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, Rab Latok Summit, 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 Brooks Range Invasion wasn't too far behind. Supringly, the Hilleberg Jannu is relatively compact for being a double wall tent and is comparable in packability to the Black Diamond Eldorado or Black Diamond Fitzroy.
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 a lot of headaches down the road. Ledges or even camp/bivy sites can be very small, as is the case in many areas of the Cascades, Tetons, Rockies, or Sierra. The tents with the smallest footprints where the Rab Latok Summit, Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, and BD Firstlight with the Black Diamond Eldorado not being too far behind.
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? How well do two full sized pads fit? Can you sit up, 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".
The most comfortable tent to log extended periods of time in is the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, with its 40 square feet of livable space, which was by far the most space in our review. It also featured well thought out pockets and boasted one of the bigger vestibules among the options that we tested. It's worth noting that the North Face Mountain 25, Black Diamond Ahwahnee, and the Hilleberg Tarra were very close seconds all offering slightly different advantages that were all quite nice to log time in. In contrast, the Rab Latok Summit is an ultra small bivy tent that you can't even come close to sitting up in and is the least "livable" tent.
Space-to-weight ratio is measured by dividing the 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.
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 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 and the EV2.
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 use much more caution while setting up a tent with pole sleeves; a pole is more vulnerable, with the tent acting as a kite until the whole tent is erected and can support itself. One small gust can bend or snap the poles if the tent isn't being held correctly; 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.
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 need very little, if any, extra fabric or materials to support the poles. This is why all of the lightest bivy style 4-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 Tenshi, Rab Latok Ultra, and Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2.
Properly setting up a winter 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 of the Hilleberg models, which pitch from the outside (the inner tent is suspended from the outer tent) with a combination of lower pole sleeves, and clips. Of all the single wall tents tested, the Sierra Designs Convert 2 is 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 several models of Hilleberg tents.
Adaptability and Versatility
Versatility is an important factor in choosing a tent; many people who are going to buy a $500-$1100 tent will likely want to use it on a broad range of trips or a user might simply go on an extended trip that crosses multiple climates. A tent's versatility refers to how well it performs across a wide range of conditions and climates. All 4-season tents are designed with snowy and windy conditions in mind; however, we also compared how well they work in rain, warmer three season travel, and desert climates. To amp it up, we also compared how well they performed from a bivy tent perspective and threw in modest alpine conditions that might be found in the lower 48 to full blown expedition use.
In the end, we do feel that tents that are more versatile are a better value. As a whole, 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. There were exceptions, like the Black Diamond Ahwahnee, which featured two full size doors with no-see-um mesh doors underneath; despite being a single wall tent, it was possibly the best 4-season tent we tested for three season applications. The Trango 2, Mountain 25, and Tarra also faired well and would be good options if someone wanted a strong tent for sea-kayaking or simply something that worked well for both three and 4 season use.
A tent scored higher in this category when it had certain features that allowed us to use our tent in different ways. For example, a removable vestibule, as is found on some single wall tents, or having a removable inner tent, which allows you to use and pitch your one tent in different ways.
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.
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 and moisture management of all double wall tents. The top vents on dome tents are remarkably effective in 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.
Other single wall 4 season tents that stood out for adaptability and livability is the Black Diamond Ahwahnee. 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 can be left cracked open even in a light storm, helping ventilate wonderfully. The EV2 also allowed excellent sleeping length for taller users, but didn't quite have as much headroom, nor did it ventilate as well.
The main factor here is the type of fabric used for the fly, the quality of the poles and, less significantly, the floor. The floor matters less because much of the time all 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 slightly more prone to hydrolysis (chemical breakup) than silnylon. They can wear out faster, particularly in wet environments, and aren't quite as resistant to UV degradation.
That said, companies like Mountain Trip, a super well-known Denali guide service (who retires their tents with plenty of life left), gets 8-12 twenty-two day Denali expeditions out of each Trango. Therefore, to say the Trango isn't durable is a stretch. The same could be said about about other guide services we spoke to who use tents from The North Face. While the fabric on the Hilleberg Tarra, Jannu, and Nammatj are more durable, its not as significant an amount for most people who are comparing them with other higher end 4-season tents.
For example, the fly material on the Mountain Hardwear Trango (sil on the outside, PU on the inside) may last for about 120-200 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 between a third or possibly even twice as long. Regardless of what tent you buy, 150 days is a lot of time for a tent to be out in the elements; while it is possible to recoat a fly's fabric, it's much more common to just buy a new outer tent (fly), which is an option from most companies.
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.
The most durable double wall tents tested are the Hilleberg Jannu and Hilleberg Tarra which feature mega high quality poles; they also have the nicest fabric among other contenders in our review. That said, The North Face Mountain 25 and Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 are not far behind and for most users, are at least closely comparable. The least durable double wall tent is the REI Arete ASL 2; while an excellent price, offering a surprising amount of strength, the materials are only so-so in regards to their durability, when compared to other models we tested. The most durable single wall tent is the Black Diamond Fitzroy, Ahwahnee, or Eldorado, all featuring the burliest external fabric in our review. The least durable single wall tent tested was the Brooks Range Invasion, which is also the least durable tent overall, with the Black Diamond Firstlight being only marginally tougher.
Going Ultralight? Consider an Ultralight Shelter
If saving weight is your top priority, and you are not alpine climbing, we suggest considering 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, weighing 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.
The tents that we tested for this review are designed to perform well in 4 seasons, specializing in winter and mountaineering use. Choosing between a single and double wall tent is an important decision depending on the type of trips you plan to be taking. If saving weight is most important to you, a single wall tent might be your preferred option. Apart from that, comfort, space and durability most often rank higher in a double wall tent. We hope that you can use our analysis of these 23 tents to find the product that fits your desires. Read our Buying Advice article for even more detailed information on what to consider when making your selection.
— Ian Nicholson
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