Searching near and far for the best 4 season tent? Let us help. We analyzed 50 of the best models on the market before purchasing the top 20 to put through our rigorous tests. Over the course of several years, our team of experts tested each model in horrendous weather and burly alpine conditions to find out how each one held up. Not only did we travel to Antarctica, Greenland, Patagonia, and Alaska, but we took them on big mountain objectives like Aconcagua and Denali. If you're looking for a model for casual four-season conditions, one that's friendly on your wallet, or you're an alpine climber that believes light is right, this review will help guide you to your perfect tent.
The Best Four Season Tents
|Price||$729.95 at REI|
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|$990 List||$449.95 at Amazon|
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|$699.95 at REI||$653.08 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Bomber, great durability, compact footprint, lighter than average weight, fantastic overall balance of strength, weight, and livability, best two pole model to get rained or stormed on in, ample guy points||Stormworthy, highly resistant to snow loading, pitches quick from outside, great ventilation, multiple setup configurations||Versatile, lightweight, double wall design works far better in rain than single wall models, handles condensation well, big vestibules, easy to pitch||Included removable vestibule, ventilation system, innovative anchor point, robust, external poles clips are quick and easy to set up||Extremely strong, spacious, bomber three-point self equalizing guylines, tight flap-free pitch|
|Cons||Poor ventilation, slightly tricky setup, insufficient guylines included||Zippers are small and slightly harder to grab, less headroom than other models||Isn't as strong as other 4-season models, offers a good but not excellent packed size||Heavy, ventilation system is sweet but the canopy fabric itself is not as breathable as other models, okay internal dimensions, average price||Bulky for a single wall tent, low ceiling height considering the floor space and weight, harder than average to set up, so-so ventilation, expensive, no vestibule|
|Bottom Line||All-around uses are this model's forte, but it's still robust enough for when the weather turns gnar.||Built for the worst conditions but still light and packable enough to consider for summer mountaineering.||This ski and summer mountaineering focused design isn't quite burly enough for full on expedition use but is perfect for any other trip you can dream up.||A solid, lightweight model that offers more versatility than a majority of other 2-pole bivy-style shelters.||Easily among the most bomber tents in this review; extreme storm protection at a respectable weight and its ToddTex ePTFE single-wall fabric handled moisture and condensation better than any other single wall model.|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Eldorado||Hilleberg Jannu||MSR Access 2||Nemo Tenshi||Black Diamond Fitzroy|
|Weather Storm Resistance (25%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond...||Hilleberg Jannu||MSR Access 2||Nemo Tenshi||Black Diamond...|
|Minimum Weight (only tent & poles)||4.5 lbs||6.17 lbs||3.80 lbs||3.9 lbs (no vestibule)||6.28 lbs|
|Floor Dimensions (inches)||87" x 51 in.||93" x 57 in.||84 x 50 in.||85.1 x 48.1in||93" x 60 in.|
|Peak Height (inches)||43 in.||40 in.||42 in.||42.6 in||40 in.|
|Measured Weight (tent, stakes, guylines, pole bag)||4.9 lbs||6.87 lbs||4.1 lbs||5.88 lbs||7.06 lbs|
|Type||Single Wall||Double Wall||Double Wall||Single Wall||Single Wall|
|Packed Size (inches)||7" x 19 in.||6" x 20 in.||18 x 6 in||16.2 x 9.1in||9" x 19 in.|
|Floor Area (sq ft.)||31 sq. ft.||34.5 sq. ft.||29 sq ft.||28.4 sq ft||36 sq. ft.|
|Vestibule Area (sq ft.)||9 sq. ft. (optional)||13 sq. ft.||17.5 sq. ft.||10.5 sq ft||9 sq. ft. (optional)|
|Space-Weight Ratio (inches)||0.38 in.||0.31 in.||0.31 in.|
|Number of Doors||1||1||2||1||2|
|Number of Poles||2||3||2||3||4|
|Pole Diameter (mm)||8 mm||9 mm||9.3||8.84 mm||8 mm|
|Number of Pockets||Side: 4 Ceiling: 0||Side: 4 Ceiling: 0||Side: 2 Ceiling: 0||Side: 2 Ceiling: 1||Side: 4 Ceiling: 0|
|Pole Material||Easton Aluminum 7075-E9||DAC Featherlite NSL Green||Easton Syclone||aluminum DAC Featherlite||Easton Aluminum 7075-E9|
|Rainfly Fabric||3 layer ToddTex||Kerlon 1200||20D nylon ripstop||3 layer ToddTex|
|Floor Fabric||Unknown||70D PU coated nylon||30D nylon ripstop||40D OSMO waterproof/breathable nylon ripstop||Unknown|
Best 4-season Tent
Black Diamond Eldorado
The Black Diamond Eldorado is our Editors' Choice for our favorite do-everything 4-season model. If we could only own one tent for a variety of uses, this would be it. The Eldorado is one of the best all-around alpine models. It's light and compact enough for summertime alpine climbing, effective enough at keeping its occupants dry for spring ski touring, and stormworthy enough for the Alaska Range. It's no doubt strong enough for harsh conditions in places like Alaska or Patagonia, where it has been proven time and time again. The Eldorado is a little more minimally focused, striking what our review team feels is a fantastic balance of strength, comfort, and weight that will serve you well.
It isn't as light as many of the new-wave bivy tents, but it's more versatile, comfortable, and stronger. With a trail weight of under five pounds, this model is somewhat heavy. The internal pitch set-up, which is one of the major reasons that is so strong despite only having two poles, takes a little practice to master. However, the bottom line remains, if you are only going to own one 4 season tent for a variety of trips, the Eldorado is tough to beat.
Read review: Black Diamond Eldorado
Top Pick for the Best Double Wall Model
Before we even tallied the scores, we knew the Hilleberg Jannu was one of our favorites. It does nearly everything we want, and it does it well. It's one of the strongest on the market and is highly resistant to varying weather. It's also highly versatile and works well for a wide range of conditions. It isn't too heavy and is easy to set up, even in stormy conditions.
The only thing that kept this model from winning our Editors' Choice award is that it's a bit heavy and bulky. While this tent is incredibly bomber and will serve those that use it well, most people can get away with something a little less over the top. The other primary drawback is a vestibule that is slightly smaller than hooped-style vestibules. If you're looking for a tent for mountaineering and alpine climbing in the lower 48, you likely don't need something as burly as the Jannu. However, if you want one of the most bomber tents on the market, this model is the ticket.
Read review: Hilleberg Jannu
Top Pick for Weight and Packed Size
Black Diamond Firstlight
The Black Diamond Firstlight is ideal for fair-weather multi-day alpine climbing and ski touring adventures and is tiny, which is why we love it. You might be wondering, why bring a tent if it isn't particularly stormworthy and suffers from poor condensation? The answer: because it packs down small and is lightweight. No other model takes up so little space in our pack as this one. The footprint is small and fits 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 is not the best for incredibly wet conditions. But, 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.
Read Review: Black Diamond Firstlight
Top Pick for Lightweight Alpine Climbing
MSR Advance Pro
The MSR Advance Pro is a new Top Pick this year. It's our favorite bivy tent for harsh conditions and one of our favorite models for multi-day ski touring or on any trip where low weight and a minimum packed volume is desirable. It's about the same weight as the lightest models in our review and is one of the smallest when packed. What sets it apart from other bivy tents is it's easy to set up, and it's one of the only lightweight models that pitches from the outside. It's also incredibly wind resilient. The poles are robust, and they are always connected at the mid-point, significantly increasing this model's overall strength. It's crafted from super sturdy fabric and has bomber guy-points helping to further set itself apart from other bivy-style models.
At 24 square feet, it ranks towards the bottom for interior floor space, though it is only marginally smaller than most other bivy-tents in our review. It also does not offer the best performance in rainy conditions. There is no bug net to help circulate air at lower elevation camps, which can be a reason to go with the significantly less stormworthy BD Firstlight, which does have bug netting.
Read review: MSR Advance Pro
Best Buy for a Single Wall Model
The North Face Assault 2
The North Face Assault 2 is our Best Bang for the Buck for a single wall tent. The Assault 2 is packed full of usable features, offers a respectable weight, and can be purchased for a fairly reasonable price. It's relatively versatile for a single wall tent, thanks to its many vents and optional vestibule. It's also less expensive than a majority of its single wall competitors, and its price tag includes a detachable hooped vestibule, which is not included with most single wall models (only the Nemo Tenshi). The 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.
Read review: The North Face Assault 2
Best Buy for a Double Wall Model
REI Arete ASL 2
The REI Arete ASL is our Best Buy winner for the double-walled models. For its price, there is 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. 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 Backcountry Touring Tent
Stephenson's Warmlite 2R
The Stephenson's Warmlite Two-Person Tent (Formerly the Warmlite 2R) is our Top Pick for multi-day ski tours. When you're on extended backcountry tours, weight matters. Leaving your tent behind on an extended ski tour is not an option, and you'll almost always have your tent in your pack (as opposed to a sled). The 3.3 pounds never felt overly cumbersome on our backs, and the interior is spacious, which is helpful for the loftier sleeping bags and clothing you bring while out in the backcountry.
When alpine climbing and mountaineering, the Warmlite Two Person Tent is not always ideal. It's a non-freestanding tunnel design with a larger footprint, which can make it more challenging to set up, especially in smaller tent sites. Those disadvantages disappear while ski touring, where you are nearly always camped on snow. This means you'll never have a hard time staking the tent out (skis, poles, or shovels make for quick and bomber anchors). If you're more of a backcountry touring winter camper rather than an alpine environment one, the Warmlite is the way to go.
Read review: Stephenson's Warmlite 2R
Lightest double wall model award
MSR Access 2
The MSR Access is one of the lightest double-wall 4-season shelters on the market, which is worth mentioning on its own. While we love and use single wall shelters with great frequency (for their compact size and weight benefits), they are rarely as versatile; that is what makes the Access 2 so unique. It has a packed weight of just over four pounds and features a large interior space, twin vestibules, and great versatility across conditions.
While we loved its versatility and found it perfect for summertime mountaineering in the lower-48, modest snow camping trips, or more extended multiday ski tours, this 4-season shelter isn't quite expedition worthy. It handles moderate winds and snow-loading fine, but in more extreme conditions, this is not the text you want; it simply isn't strong enough. It's not a model we'd bring to Denali or Antarctica, but it is a model we'd use to climb Mt. Rainier. We'd also bring it along on longer ski traverses, where better moisture management is key, like the 10-day Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse.
Read review: MSR Access 2
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 and has spent over 3,000 days guiding in the pacific northwest, Alaska, South American, in European Alps, and elsewhere. He is a member of both the AMGA's and AIARE's National Instructor teams teaching professional level courses for both entities.
His experience ranges from 10 Denali expedition, first ascents in Alaska, Patagonia, the Waddington Range, and the North Cascades to and more than 20 week-plus long ski traverses, and few people consider their shelter options as deeply as Ian. 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.
Most of the information comes from specific field testing that has been happening continuously since 2008 and has strived to update this review every year since. Test locations include Alberta and British Columbia, Alaska, Patagonia, Antarctica, Aconcagua, and various other countries. We examined several factors, which we determined were most important in the function of a four-season tent. Having a long testing period and a variety of sources of information, we were 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
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
In a category where prices range over a factor of four, finding the right model without overpaying is key. Just as we trade off certain criteria in every purchase, such as livability vs.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 turned up. The North Face Assault 2 and REI Arete ASL both represent a good overall performance score at a great price. Otherwise, for our Editors' Choice and Top Picks, the cost of each product was not considered.
This variable 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 and quality of guy points.
What we learned from our testing is that the most significant factors influencing wind resistance and contributing to overall strength are pole design and pole quality.
The most significant factors contributing to a tent's strength are the number of poles, overall pole design, and the number of pole crossings relative to the size and external height. More crossings equate to more strength. While the Black Diamond Eldorado is strong, it's not as robust as the Black Diamond Fitzroy.
Both use the same fabric and the same external height, but the Fitzroy has more poles and more pole crossing. How durable do 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 adventures and modest winter use.
If you are planning on logging any time in massive mountain ranges or will be spending extended amounts of time above treeline, then you should consider a beefier tent with more poles and pole crossings, as well as a burlier overall design.
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.
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 and Advance 2, as there can flex much further before breaking. One company, Stephenson's Warmlite, uses custom aluminum poles that are strong for their weight, though users have had complaints about durability.Fabrics
Four season tent fabrics range from ultralight, non-waterproof, wind-breaking materials, as on the Black Diamond Firstlight and HiLight, 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 Fitzroy, Eldorado, and Ahwahnee tents. We break down each tent's specific fabric in their reviews.
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 silnyon, which has a breaking strength of 40 lb. You can find this material on their Nammatj and Tarra tents.
Some 4 season tents, like the Rab Latok and the Black Diamond/Bibler tents, the Eldorado, Fitzroy, and Ahwahnee, 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.
Most of the 4 season tents tested had between 4-10 guyline tie-out points. We liked having at least four, though six is pretty 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. Contrary to most backpacker's beliefs, 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 Most Weather Resistant
One of the strongest and most weather-resistant 4 season tents is the Black Diamond Fitzroy. It is simply bomber; we have used this tent from Denali to Antarctica and are consistently impressed with how strong it is in high winds and heavy snow loads. The Hilleberg Jannu closely follows the Fitzroy, as does the Hilleberg Tarra 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.
Besides the Fitzroy, the single-wall model with the greatest static strength is the Black Diamond Eldorado and the Rab Latok Summit and while exceptionally strong, these competitors are a step down in stormworthiness from the models mentioned above. Similar in strength to the Latok and certainly expedition worthy, the MSR Remote 2 and Nemo Teshi are also worth considering.
Tents like The North Face Assault or Black Diamond Ahwahnee 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. Both of these models acted like a little sail, and as a result, the winds pushed harder on these shelters, and their poles were subsequently further stressed. These models are no doubt strong 4-season shelters and more than suitable for snow-loading and moderate winds, but they aren't models we'd choose to take to Denali or other places we'd expect fierce winds.
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.
The minimum weight is just 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 pretty usable. 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 are the MSR Advance Pro, Stephenson's Warmlite 2R, Rab Latok, and Black Diamond Firstlight and HiLight, which all have packed weights of around three pounds lbs five ounces. All of these tents had "minimal weights" of about two pounds 13 ounces, with no stakes, guylines, or pole bag.
Compare this to models like the Hilleberg Tarra or The North Face Mountain 25, which all weigh significantly more, or 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.
We loved models like Black Diamond Eldorado, The North Face Assault 2, MSR Access 2, Sierra Designs Convert, and Nemo Tenshi. All of these models weighed just a little over four pounds and were around one pound heavier than several of the extremely weight-focused bivy-style tents; all proved significantly more versatile for only a pound more.
Don't get us wrong, we love the 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 8-12 ounces more) that provides much greater ventilation, comfort, and strength could be totally worth it, especially since most climbers in North America "short-term base-camp". This refers to hiking into a camp, then leaving camp to summit a peak, returning to camp, and hiking out. Many climbers in North American aren't bringing the tent on route, where weight would become even more crucial.
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. Exceptions include expeditions to more extreme environments where an even a fair amount of extra bulk is 100% worth it in comfort and strength as a shelter in their situations is literally one of your most important lifelines.
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.
One of the most compact models we tested was the Black Diamond Firstlight; no other disappeared as easily in our pack like this one. Not far behind was the Black Diamond Hilight and MSR Advance Pro. All three of these models we significantly smaller than any other model. Options like the TNF Assualt, Nemo Tenshi, MSR Access 2, Sierra Designs Convert, and Black Diamond Eldorado weren't a whole lot less packable but provided more comfort and versatility.
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 between boulders can be small, as is often the case in many areas of the Cascades, Tetons, Rockies, or Sierra.
The tent with the smallest footprint was the MSR Advance Pro, which we could pitch anywhere two people would have a chance of laying down.
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?
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.
Among the most comfortable in the sub five pounds category, The Nemo Tenshi, MSR Access 2, Sierra Designs Convert 2, and Black Diamond Eldorado were our favorites. Each one struck a nice overall balance between weight and comfort.
In contrast, the Rab Latok Summit has the shortest height (off the ground), and you can't even come close to sitting up in it, making it the least "livable" tent. The MSR Advance Pro is also extremely tight, but far more livable than the Latok; and, while small, you can still fit two regular sized sleeping pads side-by-side. If you're 5'10", it is no question that your head and feet will press up against in the interior walls.
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.
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 sleeves are pretty easy unless it's incredibly windy; then, you have to be very careful. While sleeves are easy in pleasant weather, they are not as easy or as quick as clips. 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.
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 MSR Advance Pro and the REI Arete ASL 2.
Internal poles are found in lighter weight tents that you usually have to set up from the inside; this is the lightest design because the body of the tent itself is supporting poles. 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.
This design is also strong and can be as durable and robust as a pole-sleeve tent with a similar pole structure. The primary disadvantage is that these are the most challenging and time-consuming to set up. If it's windy, its an even bigger pain. The reason is you have to crawl inside to set up. Examples are the Black Diamond Eldorado and Black Diamond Firstlight.
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.
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 MSR Advance Pro and The North Face Assault follow closely behind, using a combination of sleeves and clips, both pitching from the outside. What sets these models apart from others 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 MSR Advance Pro takes this one step further, as you only have to push half of the pole through the sleeve, and the other half of the pole is held in place by plastic clips.
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 MSR Remote and the REI Arete were easier and faster than others.
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. There were exceptions, like the Black Diamond Ahwahnee, which features two full-size doors with bug doors underneath; despite being a single-wall tent, it was possibly the best four season tent tested for three season use. The Mountain 25, and MSR Remote also fared well and would be good options for sea-kayaking or both three and four-season use.
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 Assualt and Nemo Tenshi, which came complete with removable vestibules adding to their versatility and adaptability. It 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.
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.
The Black Diamond Ahwahneeis a single wall 4 season tent that stood out for adaptability and livability. The Ahwahnee has one of the highest single-wall peak heights, and two six-foot plus people could easily sit and face each other. The Ahwahnee's doors, which make up the entire sides of the tent, can be left wide open (with option bug netting) in nice weather or be left cracked open in a light storm; this helps with ventilation, as they are covered by a short third pole, which creates small awnings for the doors. Though shorter with less interior floor space, the HiLight had a similar design. It features one full-sized door on one side and a massive vent that's half the size of the door on the other.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Assualt, or double wall models like the Sierra Designs Convert 2 or MSR Access 2.
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.
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.
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 20 competitors to find the product that fits your wants and needs.
— Ian Nicholson