The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

The Best Four Season Tents of 2020

There are many good four-season contenders  and they each excel at different things. Some are stronger  some lighter  some more adaptable. Therefore  it is essential to figure out your needs and what types of trips you plan to use your tent for. Here  we're testing on the East Ridge of Eldorado  North Cascades  WA.
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Friday May 15, 2020
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Our team of elite alpinists has spent the last decade testing 35 of the best 4 season tents available and has purchased 12 of today's top models for our latest round of side-by-side evaluations. Our professional testing crew includes nationally and internationally licensed mountain guides who have personally lived in these tents in extremely unforgiving environments like Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Patagonia, and Antarctica. Whether you're looking for a budget-friendly model for casual year-round use and livability, a lightweight model for fast and light four-season objectives, or the ultimate in structural strength and protection from the elements, we'll help guide you to your perfect four-season tent.


Top 12 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12
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Best Overall 4 Season Tent


Black Diamond Eldorado


Editors' Choice Award

$599.95
(18% off)
at Amazon
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 7
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 9
  • Livability - 18% 7
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 7
  • Durability - 10% 10
  • Versatility - 10% 7
Functional Weight: 4.9 lbs | Dimensions (L x W): 87 x 51 in.
Bomber 2-pole design
Exceptionally durable
Fabric handles moisture and condensation well
Compact footprint
Fantastic overall balance of strength, weight, and livability
Mediocre ventilation
Set-up takes practice to become proficient
Heavier than ultralight bivy tents

The Black Diamond Eldorado is our Editors' Choice for its all-around performance and ability to do nearly anything you could ask of a 4-season shelter. If we could only own one 4 season tent, this would be it. Its single wall design is light and compact enough for most summertime alpine climbing objectives and is effective at keeping you dry during spring ski touring. It's stormworthy enough for big routes in Alaska and Patagonia, where it has been proven time and time again. The Eldorado is a little more minimally focused and offers an excellent balance of strength, comfort, and weight. Its Todd-Tex fabric is far the best performing of all the single wall options. While it's a little heavier, it's far more breathable and handles condensation at a level that other single wall shelters can't even touch.

The downside is it isn't as light as many of the new-wave bivy tents, but does offer several advantages. It's more versatile, comfortable, and significantly stronger. While it still has a trail weight of under five pounds, it's more than a pound heavier than the lightest bivy style options. The internal pitch set-up, which is one of the major reasons that this model is so strong despite only having two poles, takes a little practice to master, and unquestionably has a small learning curve. However, the bottom line remains; if you are only going to own one 4 season tent, the Eldorado is tough to beat.

Read review: Black Diamond Eldorado

Best Double Wall Tent


MSR Access 2


Top Pick Award

$599.95
at Amazon
See It

77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 8
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 7
  • Livability - 18% 7
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 9
Functional Weight: 4.1 lbs | Dimensions (L x W): 13 x 48-60 in.
Exceptionally versatile
Fairly spacious interior
Lightweight
Two good sized vestibules
Works far better in rain than single wall models
Easy to pitch
Handles condensation well
Isn't as strong as other 4-season models
Offers a good but not excellent packed size

The MSR Access is one of the lightest double-wall 4-season shelters on the market. While we love and frequently use single wall shelters (for their compact size and weight-saving benefits), they are rarely as versatile. This is what makes the Access 2 so unique; it has a packed weight of just over four pounds and features a reasonably spacious interior, twin vestibules, and great versatility. Its double door design means its occupants don't have to crawl over one another in the middle of the night. After using it on a rainy week-long ski of the Ptarmigan Traverse, we were blown away at how dry we stayed — even in the sleeting rain. We found it perfect for summertime mountaineering in the lower-48 and southern Canada, modest snow camping trips, and multiday ski tours. These are all places where versatility, low weight, and ability to keep its occupants dry are all paramount.

While the Access 2 is strong and unquestionably a 4-season shelter, it isn't quite expedition worthy. It handles moderate winds and snow-loading, but in extreme conditions, this is not the tent you want. We love it for longer ski traverses, where better moisture management and respectable weight are key, like the 10-day Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse or Washington's Isolation Traverse.

Read review: MSR Access 2

Best for Weight and Packed Size


Black Diamond Firstlight


Black Diamond Firstlight
Top Pick Award

$369.95
at Backcountry
See It

57
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 10
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 4
  • Livability - 18% 3
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 7
  • Durability - 10% 5
  • Versatility - 10% 3
Functional Weight: 3.31 lbs | Dimensions (L x W): 82" x 48 in.
Super light
Small packed size
Advantageous tiny footprint
Not completely waterproof
Not as easy to pitch as other models
Poor ventilation
Fabric doesn't breathe well
Not as wind resistant as other models

The Black Diamond Firstlight is ideal for fair-weather multi-day alpine climbing and ski touring adventures because it is TINY, which is why we love it. We don't love it for extended storms or harsh four-season conditions as it isn't completely waterproof. It handles a little rain or snow fine but extended periods of either, and it c,an be challenging to stay dry. You might be wondering, why bring a tent if it isn't particularly stormworthy and suffers from poor condensation? Because it packs down SO SMALL and its low weight is still a wonder. No other model takes up so little space in our pack as this one. The footprint is small, and it can be pitched nearly anywhere there is room for two people to lay down. While not bomber, it does shield its occupants from light-to-moderate winds, keeps the bugs out, and will help its occupants maintain some level of dryness — as long as it doesn't rain or snow too much or too hard.

This model borders on mediocre for wet conditions. However, for fair weather alpine climbing and ski trips, the Firstlight's weight and low packed volume are hard to beat — as long as you can afford to be picky about your weather. As a result, its versatility is limiting, and unless you live in the Sierra, likely won't be the only 4-season shelter you end up owning. However, for the trips most people will embark on, this model is tough to beat.

Read review: Black Diamond Firstlight

Best for Versatility and Features


Nemo Tenshi


Top Pick Award

$700 List
List Price
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 8
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 8
  • Livability - 18% 6
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 6
Functional Weight: 3.9 lbs (no vestibule)/ 5.8 with vestibule| Dimensions (L x W): 85 x 48 in.
Lightweight
One of the more versatile single wall tents; especially for the weight
Includes a removable hooped vestibule
Effective ventilation options
Innovative anchor point attachment
Impressively storm resistant
External poles clips make it quick and easy to set up
There are lighter single wall tents (though maybe none as versatile)
Canopy fabric itself is not as breathable as other models
Okay internal dimensions

The Nemo Tenshi is a stormworthy and relatively lightweight single wall shelter that offers more versatility than most other 2-pole bivy-tents. At first glance, it looks like most other weight-focused 2-pole mountaineering tents, but several subtleties make it more user-friendly and livable than most of them. It's easy to pitch since it sets up from the outside, and sports one of the more comprehensive ventilation systems. This gives it decent performance for lower elevation approaches or occasional three-season applications. All of our testers loved its removable vestibule, which makes using it more comfortable to hang out in, as you can leave the front door open. This makes i,t "feel" bigger and gives its user a place to store stuff on rainy trips. For the majority of people, this model's marginal extra weight is well worth it for the added versatility and comfort.

While it was more versatile than most bivy-tents, we still wouldn't want to use it regularly for three-season applications; this is because its canopy fabric just isn't breathable enough for wetter trips. While most people will appreciate the versatility of the dimensions, ventilation options, and removable vestibule, you can buy a tent that is lighter and more packable.

Read review: Nemo Tenshi

Best for Extended Expeditions


Mountain Hardwear Trango 2


Top Pick Award

$700.00
at REI
See It

67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 2
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 9
  • Livability - 18% 9
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Versatility - 10% 6
Functional Weight: 9.6 lbs |
Strong and has proven time and time again in the world most extreme places
Most spacious in our review
Great pockets
Easy to pitch in higher winds
Versatile
Longer dimensions make it a solid option for taller people
Big vestibule
Not the best headroom despite the roomy dimensions
Heavy
So-So at handling condensation among double-wall models

The Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 is our Top Pick for Expedition Use. This tried and true model has been used from Antarctica to Mt. Everest to the North Pole and back again. It has literally has accompanied people on remote expeditions to the ends of the earth. While a little overkill for modest summertime mountaineering in places likes the Tetons, Canadian Rockies, or the North Cascades, the Trango is well worth every bit of weight when the conditions turn gnarly. It's easily one of the strongest shelters in our review, and is easy to pitch in high winds. It's the roomiest 2-person shelter we reviewed — something that will be appreciated by people living in it for months at a time. Its spacious vestibule will store plenty of gear or provide a place to cook when you simply can't hang outside any longer.

The Trango is 100% designed for expedition use and these attributes make it great in nuclear wind; however, it's a little too heavy for multi-day ski touring or summertime mountaineering. If you aren't planning to go on an expedition anytime soon, you should look elsewhere for something that is lighter, more packable, and a better option for modest alpine objectives. For those looking for a shelter to be used in locations plagued by high winds and heavy snowfall, this tank of a tent is our pick for your home away from home in the world's most extreme environments.

Read review: Mountain Hardwear Trango 2

Best Buy Double Wall Tent


REI Arete ASL 2


Best Buy Award

$399.00
at REI
See It

69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 6
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 7
  • Livability - 18% 7
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 9
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 7
Functional Weight: 3.62 lbs | Dimensions (L x W): 88 x 60 in.
Relatively lightweight, particularly for a double-wall tent
Great price point
Interior fabric handles condensation well
Longer than average dimensions make it a solid option for taller people
Decent headroom
One of the least bomber 3-pole designs
Vestibule is tiny
Only one door

The REI Arete ASL is our Best Buy winner for a double-walled 4-season model. For the price, there is literally no better option. Our taller testers appreciate its roomy dimensions and were impressed by its weight and packed volume, which proved to be one of the lightest amongst double-wall models.

This model offers respectable stormworthiness, but it isn't quite a go-anywhere, do-anything shelter, as it does not provide the top-notch storm protection required of extreme environments. It's ideal for summer mountaineering on peaks like Mt. Rainier or Mt. Shasta and winter camping near or below treeline. It doesn't fare particularly well in moderate-to-strong winds and wouldn't be our first choice for a full-on expedition tent. However, if you're planning more moderate mountainous adventures in the lower-48 and are looking for a great value option, the Arete ASL is tough to beat.

Read review: REI Arete ASL 2

Best Buy Single Wall Tent


The North Face Assault 2 FUTURELIGHT


Best Buy Award

$659.00
at REI
See It

72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight - 27% 9
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 6
  • Livability - 18% 6
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 10
  • Durability - 10% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 5
Functional Weight: 3.62 lbs | Dimensions (L x W): 82 x 45 in.
Lightweight
Decent headroom and interior space
Good ventilation
Comes with a detachable vestibule
Reflective Kevlar guylines with camming adjusters
1.5 doors
Easy to set-up
So-so breathability
Mediocre condensation management
Poor wet weather performance
Not as wind resistant as other models

The North Face Assault 2 is our Best Bang for the Buck for a single wall tent. It's packed full of usable features, offers a respectable weight, and can frequently be purchased for a reasonable price. It's relatively versatile for a single wall tent, thanks to its many vents and included vestibule. It's less expensive than many single wall competitors, though this year The North Face bumped the price. The Assault's included vestibule significantly adds to its already respectable level of versatility. It's above average in its interior floor space, and the short cross poles increase headroom, allowing it to feel slightly larger than most bivy tents.

We weren't that impressed with its performance in wet conditions, and the fabric seemed to saturate faster than others in rain or wet snow. We also had some condensation issues, as the fabric is not very breathable. But, the price is right and the whole packaged is livable and stormworthy enough for most moderate adventures. We really like the Assault, but think the Nemo Tenshi is also a worthy consideration in this model's price, weight, and feature range.

Read review: The North Face Assault 2


We tested all of these models ourselves across the Western Hemisphere. Lead tester Ian Nicholson has personally slept in every model in our review  putting them through their paces from Alaska to Patagonia. Here The North Face Assault 2 above the Inspiration Glacier with Forbidden Peak in the distance.
We tested all of these models ourselves across the Western Hemisphere. Lead tester Ian Nicholson has personally slept in every model in our review, putting them through their paces from Alaska to Patagonia. Here The North Face Assault 2 above the Inspiration Glacier with Forbidden Peak in the distance.

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is crafted by long-time OutdoorGearLab contributor and professional mountain guide Ian Nicholson. Ian is an internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide who has spent nearly 2,000 nights sleeping in a tent over the last decade. As a result, few people can offer his level of expertise and insight when it comes to four-season shelters. He is a member of both the AMGA's and AIARE's National Instructor teams teaching professional level courses for both entities.

To make sure we got an extremely well-rounded comparison we made sure to draw on the experience of over a dozen mountain guides  professional climbers  and guide services. Here a Black Diamond Firstlight is pitched above the Coleman Glacier with Mt. Baker looming above.
To make sure we got an extremely well-rounded comparison we made sure to draw on the experience of over a dozen mountain guides, professional climbers, and guide services. Here a Black Diamond Firstlight is pitched above the Coleman Glacier with Mt. Baker looming above.


His experience ranges from ten Denali expedition, first ascents in Alaska, Patagonia, the Waddington Range, and the North Cascades to and more than 20 week-plus long ski traverses, around the world. Few people consider their shelter options as deeply as Ian and who is obsessed with researching the latest products and putting them through their paces. While Ian spearheaded the review, we made sure to draw upon a pool of more than a dozen individuals and guide services to make this review the comprehensive resource that it is.

Putting the Hilleberg Jannu through its paces in harsh conditions on an extended research trip to Greenland.
Putting the Hilleberg Jannu through its paces in harsh conditions on an extended research trip to Greenland.

Most of the information comes from specific field testing that has been happening continuously since 2008. Test locations include Alberta and British Columbia, Alaska, Patagonia, Antarctica, Peru, Bolivia, Aconcagua, and various other locations around the globe. We examined several factors then determined, which were the most important in the functionality of a 4 season tent. By having a long testing period and a variety of sources of information, we are able to gain valuable insight into things like long-term durability as well as what models fared better or worse in specific conditions.

Related: How We Tested Four Season Tents

We compared each oneand how they stood up to rain  snow  and wind as well as each model's weight  livability  adaptability  and versatility
We compared each oneand how they stood up to rain, snow, and wind as well as each model's weight, livability, adaptability, and versatility,

Analysis and Test Results


We assessed each 4 season tent based on its weather resistance (looking at how it stood up to heavy snow loading, winds, and rain), its weight, packed size, durability, livability, adaptability, versatility across climates and applications, and features.

Related: Buying Advice for Four Season Tents

Some of our test group  including (front to back) the Black Diamond Ahwahnee  Eldorado  Fitzroy  and Firstlight.
Some of our test group, including (front to back) the Black Diamond Ahwahnee, Eldorado, Fitzroy, and Firstlight.

Value


In a category where prices range over a factor of four, finding the right shelter for your needs is key without overpaying on a level of stormworthiness or features. Just as we trade off certain criteria in every purchase, such as livability versus packed weight and size, we often consider the price of our gear and want the most value possible. Not surprisingly, that's where our Best Buy winners turn up. The North Face Assault 2 and REI Arete ASL both represent a good overall performance score at a great price. Of note, the Nemo Tenshi was a close runner up in each category. When we make our Editors' Choice and Top Pick selections, the cost of each product is not considered. However, it's often that high scoring products can end up offering great value.


Weather Resistance


This metric assesses a tent's ability to protect its occupants from the outside environment, whether that be snow, rain, or wind. We compared pole design, pole type, fabrics, vestibules, and other features that affected each shelter's strength. Some of the largest contributing factors include the number of pole intersections, the number of points, and the mechanism for attaching the inner tent to the poles, along with the number of points and mechanisms for attaching the outer tent to the poles. Finally, we also looked at the number, location, and quality of guy points.

We looked at each model analytically for its storm resistance but also tested each tent in the field over several years. We compared them on how they handled snow loading  strong winds  and rain. Here the Black Diamond Eldorado is shown with its optional vestibule put to the test during an early season snowstorm.
We looked at each model analytically for its storm resistance but also tested each tent in the field over several years. We compared them on how they handled snow loading, strong winds, and rain. Here the Black Diamond Eldorado is shown with its optional vestibule put to the test during an early season snowstorm.

What we learned from our testing is that the most significant factor influencing wind resistance and overall strength are pole design and pole quality.


Pole Design

The most significant factors contributing to a tent's strength are the number of poles, their layout within the tent, and the number of pole crossings relative to the size and external height. Nearly always more crossings equate to more strength. The Black Diamond Eldorado is strong.

All the tents in our review are suitable for 4-season conditions  but some can't quite handle the harsher end of the spectrum. This photo shows 60+ mph winds ripping over the upper West Buttress on Denali.
All the tents in our review are suitable for 4-season conditions, but some can't quite handle the harsher end of the spectrum. This photo shows 60+ mph winds ripping over the upper West Buttress on Denali.

How strong does you need your 4 season tent to be? That, of course, depends on what you plan to be doing. All of the contenders we reviewed are robust models that will excel in most summertime mountaineering and multi-day ski touring adventures where camps will likely be made in exposed areas above treeline along with modest winter use.

More pole crossings are generally indicative of greater strength. The Fitzroy's four poles and seven crossings are similar in design to other models like the Hilleberg Tarra  and Mountain 25  all of which are the absolute strongest in our review. The Fitzroy is one of the only ones that pitch from the inside  which is one of the reasons why it's lightweight.
More pole crossings are generally indicative of greater strength. The Fitzroy's four poles and seven crossings are similar in design to other models like the Hilleberg Tarra, and Mountain 25, all of which are the absolute strongest in our review. The Fitzroy is one of the only ones that pitch from the inside, which is one of the reasons why it's lightweight.

If you are planning on logging time in massive mountain ranges or will be spending extended amounts of time above treeline where the potential for regular strong winds and/or heavy snow loads, you should consider a beefier tent with more poles and pole crossings, as well as a burlier overall design.

If extended trips  extreme conditions  or expedition use are in your plans for the future  a sturdier tent with more poles and pole crossings will easily be worth their weight. The North Face Mountain 25 on an early season trip in the North Cascades.
If extended trips, extreme conditions, or expedition use are in your plans for the future, a sturdier tent with more poles and pole crossings will easily be worth their weight. The North Face Mountain 25 on an early season trip in the North Cascades.

Tent Poles

In addition to design, the next biggest contributor to strength is the 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, various composites, or carbon fiber.

Not all tent poles are created equal; we delve into pole materials  construction and diameter of each tent's poles and how it plays a roll in each models strength.
Not all tent poles are created equal; we delve into pole materials, construction and diameter of each tent's poles and how it plays a roll in each models strength.

DAC Featherlite NSL Green Poles are some of the best available aluminum poles found in mainstream tents, with a few smaller manufacturers using Easton poles (which might be slightly stronger for their weight). We particularly liked Easton's new composite pole used on the MSR Access 2, as they can flex much further before breaking.

Fabrics

Four season tent fabrics range from ultralight, non-waterproof, wind-breaking materials, as on the Black Diamond Firstlight, to light and robust silicone-coated nylon, found on the Hilleberg models, including the Nammatj, Tarra, and Jannu. We've also tested beefy laminates (think a 3-layer Gore-Tex jacket) found in the single-wall Black Diamond Eldorado. We break down each tent's specific fabric in their reviews.

The Hilleberg Jannu uses Kerlon 1800 silnyon  which  despite its slippery feel  has a breaking strength of 40 lbs and will hold up longer overtime to UV and water damage. Why doesn't every company coat both sides with silicone? Because it's a fair bit more expensive and some companies claim it's overkill. However  we have yet to find anyone that debates that it isn't better long term.
The Hilleberg Jannu uses Kerlon 1800 silnyon, which, despite its slippery feel, has a breaking strength of 40 lbs and will hold up longer overtime to UV and water damage. Why doesn't every company coat both sides with silicone? Because it's a fair bit more expensive and some companies claim it's overkill. However, we have yet to find anyone that debates that it isn't better long term.

Coatings: Silnylon vs. Polyurethane

There is a difference between a tent covered on both sides with silicone, called silnylon, and fabric coated on the outside with silicone and the inside with polyurethane (PU). The latter is cheaper but not as durable and strong. The most robust fly fabric used on the 4 season tents tested is Hilleberg Kerlon 1800 silnylon, which has a breaking strength of 40 pounds. You can find this material on their Nammatj and Tarra tents.

Black Diamond's Bibler line of tents used a proprietary ePTFE fabric (similar to a 3-layer Gore-Tex) called ToddTex. While heavier and not as packable as other models  it's insanely strong and breathes noticeably better than all other single wall models. It has thousands of micro hairs built into the fabric to help moisture pass through it more efficiently.
Black Diamond's Bibler line of tents used a proprietary ePTFE fabric (similar to a 3-layer Gore-Tex) called ToddTex. While heavier and not as packable as other models, it's insanely strong and breathes noticeably better than all other single wall models. It has thousands of micro hairs built into the fabric to help moisture pass through it more efficiently.

PTFE Laminates

Some 4 season tents, like the Black Diamond Eldorado,, use a burly PTFE laminate, which is similar to your waterproof and breathable jacket. It's also stronger than most silnylon but is a little heavier and bulkier.

Guyline Points

Most of the 4 season tents tested had between 4-10 guyline tie-out points. We liked having at least four, though six is nice for most alpine climbing and ski trips in the lower-48. For expedition use and extreme weather, six is a minimum and would rather have eight. The guylines have far more holding power than the lower corners of the tent, as the guylines pull from the middle of the tent, they get a better angle against the wind to keep your shelter in place (AKA leverage).

The Tarra standing strong in high winds in 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 pound tear strength.
The Tarra standing strong in high winds in 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 pound tear strength.

The Most Weather Resistant

The Hilleberg Tarra is bomber, and is followed by the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 and The North Face Mountain 25. All these tents are notably strong, which is why the previously listed models will make up a large chunk of the tents you'll see on expeditions from Vinson to Everest, to Denali.

The North Face Mountain 25's four-pole design  plus an additional pole for the hooped vestibule  is the most common pole-design among 4-season shelters (they maximize strength and pole crossings for the given weight). The TBlack Diamond Fitzroy features a very similar design.
The North Face Mountain 25's four-pole design, plus an additional pole for the hooped vestibule, is the most common pole-design among 4-season shelters (they maximize strength and pole crossings for the given weight). The TBlack Diamond Fitzroy features a very similar design.

The single-wall model with the greatest static strength is the Black Diamond Eldorado; while exceptionally strong, these competitors are a step down in stormworthiness from the models mentioned above. The Nemo Tenshi are also worth considering. All of these models are worthy of being taken to big remote ranges like the Alaska Range or the Himalaya.

If you're looking for a Denali stormworthy model or something equivalent, we would recommend looking at contenders that scored a 9 or a 10 in this metric.

Models like this one with a third half-length pole were nice for creating headroom but were not nearly as good in high winds. We found these types of tents great for summer mountaineering but not as good for multi-day ski tours or expedition use in extreme conditions. Peter Webb getting ready to pack up with The North Face Assault.
Models like this one with a third half-length pole were nice for creating headroom but were not nearly as good in high winds. We found these types of tents great for summer mountaineering but not as good for multi-day ski tours or expedition use in extreme conditions. Peter Webb getting ready to pack up with The North Face Assault.

Tents like The North Face Assault are not as sturdy, despite having 2.5 poles, with the .5 pole coming in the form of a third half-length pole that acts as a cross pole to create more headroom. At times, the Assault acted as a sail, and as a result, the winds pushed harder, and the poles were further stressed. The Assault is no doubt a strong 4-season shelter, but isn't a model we'd take to Denali or places we'd expect fierce winds.

Weight is an important consideration since it often lives on our backs during the day. With most options  it's a weight and packed size vs. livability trade-off. The shorter the trip  the more we'd lean towards going lighter and more compressible. The longer the trip  we'd opt for tents with more floor space and features  aiming to make them more versatile and comfortable. Our experts are testing on the Forbidden Glacier after nearly 6 000ft of elevation gain and a couple of rappels. Lighter models excel on outings like this  and offer a significant advantage.
Weight is an important consideration since it often lives on our backs during the day. With most options, it's a weight and packed size vs. livability trade-off. The shorter the trip, the more we'd lean towards going lighter and more compressible. The longer the trip, we'd opt for tents with more floor space and features, aiming to make them more versatile and comfortable. Our experts are testing on the Forbidden Glacier after nearly 6,000ft of elevation gain and a couple of rappels. Lighter models excel on outings like this, and offer a significant advantage.

Weight and Packed Size


We ranked each 4 season tent based on their weight (which we measured ourselves) and their packed volume. We measured both their minimum weight and their "packed weight" for our comparisons.

Tent manufacturers often claim several different weights. This can be confusing to the consumer so let us try to break it down. When manufacturers are stating minimum weight  they mean just that: literally just the tent and poles  no stakes guylines  etc. When they just say weight  they basically refer to the weight of the package  including guylines or the tent stuff sack. We compared models with their pack weight or what you'd commonly bring  which includes guylines and a handful of stakes  plus the tent but not the tent's stuff sack.
Tent manufacturers often claim several different weights. This can be confusing to the consumer so let us try to break it down. When manufacturers are stating minimum weight, they mean just that: literally just the tent and poles, no stakes guylines, etc. When they just say weight, they basically refer to the weight of the package, including guylines or the tent stuff sack. We compared models with their pack weight or what you'd commonly bring, which includes guylines and a handful of stakes, plus the tent but not the tent's stuff sack.

We used these two measurements to accurately compare all models. The minimum weight is the tent, fly, and poles; no guylines, no pole sack, no sacks, etc. The packed weight is the weight of each tent where it is usable, which is generally everything included in the minimum weight plus some guylines, a pole bag, and an appropriate number of stakes. The packed weight is the primary number we used for our comparison.


Of all the comparison categories in our review, this is where we saw the most significant difference. For example, a few of the lightest tents tested, like the Black Diamond Firstlight, has a low packed weight.

The Black Diamond Firstlight is one of the absolute lightest tents we tested. While it scored low for comfort and stormworthiness there is something to be said about a 4 season tent that is as light and small as this one. Here the Firstlight stands below the Price Glacier on Mt. Shuksan a classic carry-over-style alpine route.
The Black Diamond Firstlight is one of the absolute lightest tents we tested. While it scored low for comfort and stormworthiness there is something to be said about a 4 season tent that is as light and small as this one. Here the Firstlight stands below the Price Glacier on Mt. Shuksan a classic carry-over-style alpine route.

We can then compare it to models like the Hilleberg Tarra, The North Face Mountain 25, or the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, which all weigh significantly more, and are essentially 2-3 times the weight of the lightest models. That means depending on what shelter you opt for, there is likely no other piece of gear that facilitates as much weight savings (or additional weight) as your shelter. For most fair-weather summer mountaineering trips in the lower-48 and Southern Canad, light is generally right.

At just a hair over four pounds for its true packed weight  the Access 2 impressed us as one of the lightest double-wall models we tested. While light  it doesn't give up anything for its versatility and compresses smaller than a number of single-wall options.
At just a hair over four pounds for its true packed weight, the Access 2 impressed us as one of the lightest double-wall models we tested. While light, it doesn't give up anything for its versatility and compresses smaller than a number of single-wall options.

We loved models like Black Diamond Eldorado, The North Face Assault 2, MSR Access 2, Mountain Hardwear Outpost 2, and Nemo Tenshi. All of these models weigh just a little over four pounds and are heavier than several of the extremely weight-focused bivy-style tents; all proved significantly more versatile and comfortable for only a pound more, and we think that for many people, the tents listed above hit a sweet spot of weight, comfort, strength, and livability.


We that said, we love bivy-style tents for short trips with nice weather. However, if you are only going to own one tent, getting something just a little bit heavier (often only 8-16 ounces more) that provides significantly greater ventilation, comfort, and strength could be totally worth it, especially since most climbers in North America use a short "short-term base-camp". This refers to hiking into a camp, then leaving camp to summit a peak, and returning to camp before then hiking out.

The Eldorado  pictured here on Mt. Shuksan  is one of the more durable products out there. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his well over 200 days. While it isn't the most packable nor the lightest  it is lighter and smaller than most models we tested and is bomber and surprisingly pleasant to hang out in. Camped out below the Sulphide Glacier  Mt. Shuksan  North Cascades  WA.
The Eldorado, pictured here on Mt. Shuksan, is one of the more durable products out there. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his well over 200 days. While it isn't the most packable nor the lightest, it is lighter and smaller than most models we tested and is bomber and surprisingly pleasant to hang out in. Camped out below the Sulphide Glacier, Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades, WA.

While there are no shortage of carry-over routes in North American and many people might embark on 1 or 2 a season, most people aren't bringing the tent up and onto the route, where weight would become even more crucial.

It's important to take into account your needs and what you plan to do with your product. With so many options available  it can be overwhelming at first. But read on to help pick which option is best for you. Here Ian Nicholson and the Eldorado are camped below Forbidden Peak.
It's important to take into account your needs and what you plan to do with your product. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming at first. But read on to help pick which option is best for you. Here Ian Nicholson and the Eldorado are camped below Forbidden Peak.

Packed Volume

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. Most of the time, we'd much prefer a more compact model compared to a larger one. The exception being expeditions to more extreme environments, where even a fair amount of extra bulk is 100% worth it in comfort and strength. A shelter is literally one of your most important lifelines if on a remote glacier being pounded by winds and snow.

For most climbers and skiers embarking on 2-5 night trips, packed volume is weighed pretty heavily. Similar to weight, and depending on the types of trips you typically go on, a little more bulk can provide a lot more versatility and strength.

The stuff sacks that most tents come with are basically meant for storage and to be left at home when you leave on your trip. While we generally prefer to not use a compression sack for our tent and use it to fill open spaces in our pack  we must admit that the highly water-resistant compression sack included with the Tenshi was functional  and a nice addition overall.
The stuff sacks that most tents come with are basically meant for storage and to be left at home when you leave on your trip. While we generally prefer to not use a compression sack for our tent and use it to fill open spaces in our pack, we must admit that the highly water-resistant compression sack included with the Tenshi was functional, and a nice addition overall.

One of the most compact models we tested was the Black Diamond Firstlight; no other disappeared as easily in our pack like this one. Options like the TNF Assault, Nemo Tenshi, MSR Access 2, Mountain Hardwear Outpost 2, and Black Diamond Eldorado weren't a whole lot less packable but provided more comfort and versatility.

A small footprint isn't just for tiny ledges mid-route (though it is nice for that too); it also comes in handy for a lot of summertime  alpine climbing where big flat areas are generally hard to come by.  Smaller dimensions let you take advantage of more places on rocky outcroppings or between boulders as seen here with The North Face Assault.
A small footprint isn't just for tiny ledges mid-route (though it is nice for that too); it also comes in handy for a lot of summertime, alpine climbing where big flat areas are generally hard to come by. Smaller dimensions let you take advantage of more places on rocky outcroppings or between boulders as seen here with The North Face Assault.

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 floor of your tent. For many users, this might not be on their radar but could save headaches down the road. Ledges or even established camp/bivy sites perched on rocky moraines or nestled between boulders can be small, as is often the case in many areas of the Cascades, Tetons, Colorado Rockies, Wind Rivers, or Sierra.

Small footprints aren't just important in the greater ranges. Here Dan Whitmore appreciates the small footprint of the Firstlight  waking up with nearly 2 000 feet of air below after a stormy night on a very small bivy ledge. Buttress of Mt. Goode  North Cascades  WA.
Small footprints aren't just important in the greater ranges. Here Dan Whitmore appreciates the small footprint of the Firstlight, waking up with nearly 2,000 feet of air below after a stormy night on a very small bivy ledge. Buttress of Mt. Goode, North Cascades, WA.

Hooped vestibules unquestionably add to a given model's livability. Besides making the tent "feel bigger" they provide a place to leave wet gear  change before entering the tent  and allow you to leave doors completely open to maximize interior ventilation. While unnecessary for short trips with good weather  vestibules are 100% worth their weight for extended or stormy adventures. The Vestibule of a MSR Remote 2 shown here.
Hooped vestibules unquestionably add to a given model's livability. Besides making the tent "feel bigger" they provide a place to leave wet gear, change before entering the tent, and allow you to leave doors completely open to maximize interior ventilation. While unnecessary for short trips with good weather, vestibules are 100% worth their weight for extended or stormy adventures. The Vestibule of a MSR Remote 2 shown here.

Livability


Here we assessed how pleasant (or in some cases tolerable) it was to spend time in each tent. We looked at interior space, headroom, door and vestibule design, zipper quality, the number of pockets, peak height, and vestibule space. Then we assessed the overall vibe on how pleasant it was to share each model with another person. Was it dark and gloomy or bright and cheerful?


Did the tent get wet when someone entered in the rain? Do the pockets hold what you want them to hold? Are two people cramped? How well do two full-sized pads fit? Can you sit up, face your partner, and play cards?

How much liveability and floor space you want depends on the types of trips you'll be going on. For shorter trips  during times of generally stable weather  we prefer a lighter and smaller tent. Hopefully  we won't be hanging out in it much and it's lighter and more compact in our packs.
How much liveability and floor space you want depends on the types of trips you'll be going on. For shorter trips, during times of generally stable weather, we prefer a lighter and smaller tent. Hopefully, we won't be hanging out in it much and it's lighter and more compact in our packs.

We also considered if the fly protects the inside from splashback or water dripping off it. Here are our ratings for each model's livability. As a reference, the average size sleeping pad is 20 x 72 inches or 10 square feet.

Double wall tents tend to be a lot more versatile and comfortable  making them right at home on expeditions where a little extra weight and packed volume are easily worth the extra strength.
Double wall tents tend to be a lot more versatile and comfortable, making them right at home on expeditions where a little extra weight and packed volume are easily worth the extra strength.

Among the most comfortable in the sub five pounds category, The Nemo Tenshi, MSR Access 2, and Black Diamond Eldorado were our favorites. Each one struck a nice overall balance between weight and comfort with the Mountain Hardwear Outpost also being nice but also checking in a hair over five pounds.

The importance of a four-season tent's livability depends on the user's 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 climbing basic general mountaineering routes? 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.
The importance of a four-season tent's livability depends on the user's 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 climbing basic general mountaineering routes? 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.

Ease of Set-Up


Pole Clips, Pole Sleeves, or Internal Poles?

Clips or sleeves: an age-old debate which we'll decipher for you here. The truth is that each style has its advantages and disadvantages, particularly when it comes to ease and speed versus strength.

Comparing different styles of tents. The Marmot Alpinist  left  uses external clips  which are the easiest and quickest to set up but slightly heavier and bulkier. The North Face Mountain 25 uses sleeves  which dissipate force better along the length of the pole but slightly reduce air circulation and are 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.
Comparing different styles of tents. The Marmot Alpinist, left, uses external clips, which are the easiest and quickest to set up but slightly heavier and bulkier. The North Face Mountain 25 uses sleeves, which dissipate force better along the length of the pole but slightly reduce air circulation and are 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.


Pole clips are much faster and easier to set up than sleeves and while they don't support the pole quite as well  this is a much more subtle difference.
Pole clips are much faster and easier to set up than sleeves and while they don't support the pole quite as well, this is a much more subtle difference.

Pole Clips

Pole clips are the quickest and easiest way to set up a tent and offer the advantage (in the case of double-wall tents) of letting more moisture move around the tent, resulting in less condensation buildup. The disadvantage of clips is that they are heavier and don't spread the force of wind or snow as evenly along the length of the pole (compared with pole sleeves).

Pole clips have the advantage of ease and speed but also help protect the poles while pitching it in windy conditions. This is because you can clip the tent from the bottom up versus threading the pole through a sleeve  where it can act as a sail. This is the time your pole is at the most risk of breaking.
Pole clips have the advantage of ease and speed but also help protect the poles while pitching it in windy conditions. This is because you can clip the tent from the bottom up versus threading the pole through a sleeve, where it can act as a sail. This is the time your pole is at the most risk of breaking.

Pole Sleeves

Pole sleeves are more supportive than clips as they spread the weight out more evening across a wider area. Clips are slightly faster though though sleeves are challenging unless it's incredibly windy; then, you have to be very careful. When it's windy, you have to use more caution while setting up a tent with pole sleeves; a pole is more vulnerable, with the tent acting like a kite until the whole tent is erected and can support itself.

Some models  like the Mountain 25 (pictured here) use pole sleeves rather than clips. Sleeves do a slightly better job of supporting the pole while spreading out pressure more evenly. They can also be more challenging to pitch  particularly in strong winds.
Some models, like the Mountain 25 (pictured here) use pole sleeves rather than clips. Sleeves do a slightly better job of supporting the pole while spreading out pressure more evenly. They can also be more challenging to pitch, particularly in strong winds.

One small gust can bend or snap the poles if you aren't holding the tent correctly. Once set up, they are equally, if not more bomber because the pressure will spread out evenly. Pole sleeves don't let moisture circulate as nicely as clips, but this is a smaller difference in materials; examples include The North Face Mountain 25 and the Hilleberg Nammatj. Some models use a hybrid of pole sleeves and clips, like the REI Arete ASL 2.

Some models use a hybrid of pole sleeves and clips  like the REI Arete ASL 2 (seen here). This combination gets some of the benefits of both clips (ease of set-up) and sleeves (strength).
Some models use a hybrid of pole sleeves and clips, like the REI Arete ASL 2 (seen here). This combination gets some of the benefits of both clips (ease of set-up) and sleeves (strength).

Internal Poles

Internal poles are found in lighter weight tents and you typically have to set them up from the inside; this is the lightest design because the body of the tent itself is supporting the poles and no real clips or cleeves are needed though several designs use small pieces of velcro or twist tie type features to keep the poles in place. As you don't need true pole clips or sleeves to support the pole you need very little if any, extra fabric or materials to support the poles. Thus, many of the lightest bivy-style 4 season tents use an internal pole design.

The Black Diamond Eldorado has an internal pole design. The advantage of this design is that it's lighter weight and marginally less bulky overall  and the poles are exceptionally well supported. The disadvantage is a slower set-up time which takes more practice  and if it's snowing or raining  it's hard to keep the interior of the tent completely dry.
The Black Diamond Eldorado has an internal pole design. The advantage of this design is that it's lighter weight and marginally less bulky overall, and the poles are exceptionally well supported. The disadvantage is a slower set-up time which takes more practice, and if it's snowing or raining, it's hard to keep the interior of the tent completely dry.

This design is also incredibly strong and can be as strong or even stronger than models that use sleeves with a similar pole structure. The primary disadvantage is that internal pole setups are the most challenging and time-consuming to pitch. If it's windy, its an even bigger pain. The reason is you have to crawl inside to set up. Examples are the Eldorado and Firstlight. These models have a very tight pitch which makes them incredibly strong for their weight; they also have the biggest learning curve to pitch efficiently while avoiding stabbing a hole through the floor. The learning curve is hardly extreme, but it is worth setting up in a park or your backyard a few times prior to having to deal with it for real. A tip from Tester Ian Nicholson is he stands feet on the ground, and starts from the back corners — working towards the door.

Correctly setting up a tent on snow or ice can take several minutes to several hours. Chopping a tent platform or cutting blocks to build a wind wall is time-consuming and hard work. A tent that sets up quickly can save energy; a tent that pitches promptly in high winds is even better. The fastest tents to set pitch from the outside and generally use clips.

The Nemo Tenshi was the quickest and easiest single wall model to pitch as it uses external clips set-up.
The Nemo Tenshi was the quickest and easiest single wall model to pitch as it uses external clips set-up.

Of all the single wall tents tested, the Nemo Tenshi was the easiest to pitch as it uses two external poles, both held in place entirely by pole clips. The North Face Assault uses a combination of sleeves and clips, both pitching from the outside. What sets these models apart is that the sleeve is closed off at the end. This means that when you are setting up the tent, you don't have to snap the first side of the pole into place; it just automatically locks into place.

The Jannu's three different vestibule configurations are shown here. The middle is our lead tester's preferred option because it is easier to enter and exit. You can also roll the vestibule away completely  not shown.
The Jannu's three different vestibule configurations are shown here. The middle is our lead tester's preferred option because it is easier to enter and exit. You can also roll the vestibule away completely, not shown.

The Jannu's pole structure is 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.
The Jannu's pole structure is 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.

Among double-wall models, the Hilleberg contenders were BY FAR the easiest to pitch. Unlike most double-wall tents, where you pitch the body with the poles and then throw the fly over the top of everything, the Hilleberg models are suspended from the fly, and you erect the entire thing from the outside. This minimizes the amount of time your tent could become damaged by the wind or filled with snow. For more traditional double-wall designs, we found the REI Arete was easier and faster than others.

Using a four-season tent for family or warmer weather three season camping can be less than ideal. This depends on how adaptive your tent is  which can range from uncomfortable to rather pleasant. Here tester Ian Nicholson takes a collection of four season tents on a wet low elevation family camping trip.
Using a four-season tent for family or warmer weather three season camping can be less than ideal. This depends on how adaptive your tent is, which can range from uncomfortable to rather pleasant. Here tester Ian Nicholson takes a collection of four season tents on a wet low elevation family camping trip.

Adaptability and Versatility


Versatility is an important factor in choosing a tent. A tent's versatility refers to how well it performs across a range of conditions, and climates. Many people who are looking to buy a four-season tent will want to use it on a range of trips and in multiple climates. All 4 season tents are designed with snowy and windy conditions in mind and we compared them across the spectrum of common uses: alpine climbing, bivy tent climbing, snow camping, multiday ski-touring, and expedition climbing. We also compared how well each model performed in the rain, warmer three-season travel, and desert climates.


In the end, more versatile tents are generally a better value. As a whole, most of the double-wall tents scored better than the single-wall tents because they handled warmer conditions both with and without moisture. The Mountain 25, Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, and Mountain Hardwear Outpost 2 also fared well and would be good options for sea-kayaking, and both three and four-season use.

Versatility is important for those who don't want to buy a quiver of tents. It's hard to get a tent that's perfect for everything but some are certainly more versatile than others. Pictured here is The North Face Mountain 25 that has been used for extended expeditions on three continents  as well as summer alpine climbing in the North Cascades. Here we used it for a week-long sea kayaking trip on Vancouver Island's West Coast in the Broken Islands. It is worth noting that because of exposure to higher winds and with weight and bulk being slightly less of an issue  many sea kayakers may choose a three or four season tent.
Versatility is important for those who don't want to buy a quiver of tents. It's hard to get a tent that's perfect for everything but some are certainly more versatile than others. Pictured here is The North Face Mountain 25 that has been used for extended expeditions on three continents, as well as summer alpine climbing in the North Cascades. Here we used it for a week-long sea kayaking trip on Vancouver Island's West Coast in the Broken Islands. It is worth noting that because of exposure to higher winds and with weight and bulk being slightly less of an issue, many sea kayakers may choose a three or four season tent.

Adaptability

A tent scored higher in this category when it had features that allowed us to use it in different ways. For example, a removable vestibule, as is found on some single-wall tents, or a removable inner tent, which allows you to use and pitch your one tent in different ways, was helpful. We also loved models like the North Face Assault and Nemo Tenshi, which came with removable vestibules, adding to their versatility and adaptability. I;is worth noting that you can buy a vestibule for all of Black Diamond's single wall models, but unlike the previously mentioned models, it isn't included.


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 excellent for mountaineering because you can dig down into the snow to create a cooking area.

Inside the Hilleberg Nammatj 2 without the inner tent. Going floorless saves 30.9 oz. for three-season backpacking or fast and light winter travel. The walls seal fairly well with the ground and even minimizes the number of flying insects from entering. Setting up with only the fly and poles is possible with nearly all Hilleberg designs.
Inside the Hilleberg Nammatj 2 without the inner tent. Going floorless saves 30.9 oz. for three-season backpacking or fast and light winter travel. The walls seal fairly well with the ground and even minimizes the number of flying insects from entering. Setting up with only the fly and poles is possible with nearly all Hilleberg designs.

Ventilation

Ventilation can have a dramatic influence on a tent's adaptability and livability. Double-wall tents often have better air circulation and less condensation than single-wall tents. The Hilleberg models and The North Face Mountain 25 have some of the best ventilation and moisture management of all double-wall tents. The top vents on dome tents are useful in moving air around and mitigating the "it's snowing inside" effect that happens when moisture vapor from your breath freezes, hits the roof, and falls back on you.

Of the single wall tents, the Nemo Tenshi and The North Face Assault sported impressive ventilation systems. Both these models feature four vents total, with a vent on the front door, one on each side, and a door/window/escape hatch that allowed for ventilation and air circulation. The hatch also allows for improved safety while cooking.

The North Face Assault (and the Nemo Tenshi) sported one of the most impressive ventilation systems for a bivy-tent. Both of these models have four vents total. They each have a vent on the front door  one on each side of the tent protected by an awning  and a door/window/escape hatch that allowed for great air circulation.
The North Face Assault (and the Nemo Tenshi) sported one of the most impressive ventilation systems for a bivy-tent. Both of these models have four vents total. They each have a vent on the front door, one on each side of the tent protected by an awning, and a door/window/escape hatch that allowed for great air circulation.

Bug Screen

Unlike most three-season models, not all 4-season tents have a bug screen. For those not going on an expedition-style climb, having a bug screen is pretty essential. It lets you leave the door open, which allows for ventilation, and also ensures you won't be driven insane from mosquitos or black flies. This is particularly true for climbers or ski tours who are likely to have a few lower elevation camps, below treeline where its buggy; which would would say is nearly every mountaineering or ski tourer at some point.

Having a door you can leave open for ventilation is ideal  especially if it features a bug screen; a bug screen is more than worth its weight and could be a pivotal factor when finalizing your decision between models.
Having a door you can leave open for ventilation is ideal, especially if it features a bug screen; a bug screen is more than worth its weight and could be a pivotal factor when finalizing your decision between models.

Durability


The main factors influencing durability are the type of fabric used for the fly, the quality of the poles, and the floor. If pitching on snow, the floor will matter less. 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 can wear out faster, particularly in wet environments, and aren't 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 eight to twelve 22-day Denali expeditions out of The North Face tents.

A tent like the Hilleberg Nammatj, with three layers of silicone on each side, may last between a third or even twice as long. Regardless of what tent you buy, 150 days is a lot of time for a model to be out in the elements. While it is possible to recoat a fly's fabric, it's much more common to buy a new outer tent (fly), which is an option with most companies.

McKenzie Long climbing in Patagonia with the Black Diamond Eldorado  one of the toughest single wall products available.
McKenzie Long climbing in Patagonia with the Black Diamond Eldorado, one of the toughest single wall products available.

Tent floors have high-grade PU formulations that resist hydrolysis. The majority of the double-wall tents tested have a tough 70 denier floor. Some Hilleberg tents, like the Nammatj and Tarra, use a 100 denier fabric that is burly. Single-wall tents often use lighter floor materials.


Specific features can also have a significant impact on durability. The big three here are zippers, clips, and webbing adjustments. More prominent zippers last longer and can handle expeditions because they continue to work with dust and grit in them.

Besides pole design and the number of walls  tent fabric is one of the most important factors that contribute to a tent's performance. Photo: Graham McDowell looking down the glacier with his TNF Mountain 25 on a two week climbing trip to the Waddington Range  BC.
Besides pole design and the number of walls, tent fabric is one of the most important factors that contribute to a tent's performance. Photo: Graham McDowell looking down the glacier with his TNF Mountain 25 on a two week climbing trip to the Waddington Range, BC.

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.

While the Black Diamond Firstlight isn't necessarily the best all-around four-season tent  it is an excellent option for certain trips where weight and compressed size are of the utmost importance. The Firstlight is seen here in its element  camped in Washington's North Cascades.
While the Black Diamond Firstlight isn't necessarily the best all-around four-season tent, it is an excellent option for certain trips where weight and compressed size are of the utmost importance. The Firstlight is seen here in its element, camped in Washington's North Cascades.

Considerations for Bivy Tents and Alpine Climbing


For most summertime mountaineering and alpine climbing in the lower-48 and southern Canada in places like the Colorado Rockies, Bugaboos, Cascades, Tetons, and Sierra, we prefer single wall tents. This is because we are often choosing to go out in nice weather; while the tent is something of a just-in-case option, it's also being brought for wind, bug protection, and warmth as much as it is for protecting us from a storm.

For most summertime climbs in the lower-48 and ranges in southern Canada  we almost always prefer a tent that leans towards being smaller and lighter. Our hope is we won't be logging too much time in it  so we'd rather have something lighter rather than roomier.
For most summertime climbs in the lower-48 and ranges in southern Canada, we almost always prefer a tent that leans towards being smaller and lighter. Our hope is we won't be logging too much time in it, so we'd rather have something lighter rather than roomier.

Since we are choosing to go out in weather that isn't grim, we aren't going to log as much time in it. Therefore, opting for a lighter shelter is one of the easiest ways to save a significant amount of weight in your pack. In these regions, you are often sleeping on rocky ridges or un-defined campsites, which means a model with a smaller footprint is both easier to find a spot to set it up and often easier to pitch it in a more desirable place.

John and Michael Yarnall packing up at Luna Col in the North Pickets.
John and Michael Yarnall packing up at Luna Col in the North Pickets.

How light you want your shelter depends on how much you'll have to spend hanging out inside of it, how far you are walking, and if you'll need to climb up technical ground with it on your back. Once you're climbing technical ground, the smallest and lightest bivy-tents are the way. If you are climbing in areas where you rarely carry your shelter up a route and primarily use it as a short-term base camp, going a little heavier (like a pound heavier) will add tremendous comfort and versatility with single wall models such as the Nemo Tenshi, Black Diamond Eldorado, The North Face Assault, Nemo Tenshi, or double wall models like the Mountain Hardwear Outpost 2 or MSR Access 2.

The perfect application for the Firstlight -- a multi-day ski tour in AK. This tent is best for trips where weight and compressed volume are paramount  and it's unlikely to rain.
The perfect application for the Firstlight -- a multi-day ski tour in AK. This tent is best for trips where weight and compressed volume are paramount, and it's unlikely to rain.

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 model supported by dedicated poles. Check out our Ultralight Tent Review for details.

Not every trip in the mountains requires a burly four-season tent. Here Dan Whitmore and John Collingwood are hanging out by the Colonial Glacier on Day 6 of the Isolation Traverse  North Cascades WA.
Not every trip in the mountains requires a burly four-season tent. Here Dan Whitmore and John Collingwood are hanging out by the Colonial Glacier on Day 6 of the Isolation Traverse, North Cascades WA.

Forget the Footprint


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

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.
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.

Conclusion


We tested our favorite four season tents in a variety of locations  from expedition climbing in the Alaska Range and the Andes to summer alpine climbing in the Cascades  Sierra  and Tetons. We also went on multi-day ski tours and took them winter camping. Here we test while camped at White Rocks Lake on Day 3 of a six-day journey across the North Cascades' Ptarmigan Traverse  with Spire Point and the Elephant's head looming above the Dana Glacier.
We tested our favorite four season tents in a variety of locations, from expedition climbing in the Alaska Range and the Andes to summer alpine climbing in the Cascades, Sierra, and Tetons. We also went on multi-day ski tours and took them winter camping. Here we test while camped at White Rocks Lake on Day 3 of a six-day journey across the North Cascades' Ptarmigan Traverse, with Spire Point and the Elephant's head looming above the Dana Glacier.

The tents that we tested are designed to perform well in four seasons, specializing in winter and mountaineering use. Choosing between a single and double-wall tent is essential, depending on the type of trips you're planning. If saving weight is most important, a single-wall tent might be preferred. 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 competitors to find the product that fits your wants and needs.


Ian Nicholson