Best Four Season Tent of 2021
|Price||Check Price at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$600 List||Check Price at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$990 List||$599.95 at Backcountry|
|Pros||Bomber, great durability, compact footprint, lighter than average weight, fantastic balance of strength, weight, and livability, ample guy points||Versatile, lightweight, double wall design works far better in rain than single wall models, handles condensation well, big vestibules, easy to pitch||Inclued hooped vestibule, lightweight, excellent ventilation, good headroom, compressible, robust||Stormworthy, highly resistant to snow loading, pitches quick from outside, great ventilation, multiple setup configurations||Lots of headroom, long internal length, lightweight, versatile, easy to pitch, handles condensation well, water resistant|
|Cons||Poor ventilation, slightly tricky setup, insufficient guy lines included||Isn't as strong as other 4-season models, offers a good but not excellent packed size||Exterior fabric isn't as breathable as other models and absorbed moisture, guylines are light duty||Zippers are small and slightly harder to grab, less headroom than other models||Not strong enough for expedition use in the greater ranges|
|Bottom Line||An excellent all-around option, it strikes a great balance of weight, strength, packed size, and stormworthiness||Offers a tremendous amount of versatility and the ability to keep its inhabitants dry||A versatile bivy style tent that is packed full of features||When you know you're in for crummy weather and want an exceptionally high performance model, choose this one||Strikes an excellent balance of weight, strength, and livability|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Eldorado||MSR Access 2||Assault 2 FUTURELIGHT||Hilleberg Jannu||Mountain Hardwear Outpost 2|
|Weather Storm Resistance (25%)|
|Ease Of Set Up (10%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond...||MSR Access 2||Assault 2...||Hilleberg Jannu||Mountain Hardwear...|
|Minimum Weight (only tent, fly & poles)||4.5 lbs||3.80 lbs||3.24 lbs||6.17 lbs||4.8 lbs|
|Floor Dimensions||87" x 51 in||84 x 50 in||82" x 45 in||93" x 57 in||83" x 50 in|
|Peak Height||43 in||42 in||42 in||40 in||41.5 in|
|Measured Weight, with tent, stakes, guylines, pole bag||4.9 lbs||4.1 lbs||3.62 lbs||6.87 lbs||5.25 lbs|
|Type||Single Wall||Double Wall||Single Wall||Double Wall||Double Wall|
|Packed Size||7" x 19 in||18 x 6 in||7" x 22 in||6" x 20 in||7" x 24 in|
|Floor Area||31 sq ft||29 sq ft||27.3 sq ft||34.5 sq ft||30.6 sq ft|
|Vestibule Area||9 sq ft (optional)||17.5 sq ft||10 sq ft||13 sq ft||13.1 sq ft|
|Number of Doors||1||2||1.5||1||2|
|Number of Poles||2||2||3||3||3|
|Pole Diameter||8 mm||9.3 mm||9 mm||9 mm||9 mm|
|Number of Pockets||Side: 4 Ceiling: 0||Side: 2 Ceiling: 0||Side: 2 Ceiling: 0||Side: 4 Ceiling: 0||Side: 2 Ceiling: 1|
|Pole Material||Easton Aluminum 7075-E9||Easton Syclone||DAC Featherlite aluminum||DAC Featherlite NSL Green||DAC Featherlight NSL|
|Rainfly Fabric||3 layer ToddTex||20D nylon ripstop||50D DryWall durable ripstop polyester||Kerlon 1200||30D Nylon Ripstop 2000mm|
|Floor Fabric||Unknown||30D nylon ripstop||40D ripstop nylon, 3000 mm PU coating, silicone water-resistant finish||70D PU coated nylon||30D Nylon Ripstop 4,000mm|
Best Overall 4 Season Tent
Black Diamond Eldorado
The Black Diamond Eldorado touts superior performance, balancing excellence through all the metrics. It can keep you comfortable while sleeping in warm temps just as well as the Spring conditions of the alpine. It's been tested on ski tour missions, alpine climbing days, and backpacking adventures. Through it all, it's been a hit. It's stormworthy enough for big routes in Alaska and Patagonia, where its integrity 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 by 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 it 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 primary 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 four-season tent, the Black Diamond Eldorado is our top recommendation.
Read review: Black Diamond Eldorado
Best Bang for the Buck - Single Wall
The North Face Assault 2 FUTURELIGHT
The North Face Assault 2 offers exceptional value with a single wall tent construction. It's packed full of usable features, provides 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. Its 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, allows it to feel slightly larger than most bivy tents.
We aren't that impressed with its performance in wet conditions, and the fabric seems to saturate faster than others in rain or wet snow. It also doesn't manage condensation well, as the material is not very breathable. However, for its livability and packability that's stormworthy enough for most moderate adventures, this is a great deal.
Read review: The North Face Assault 2
Best Bang for the Buck - Double Wall
REI Arete ASL 2
The REI Arete ASL is a high-value double-walled model for four-season use. For the price, there is no better option. Our taller testers appreciate its roomy dimensions and are impressed by its weight and packed volume, which proves to be one of the lightest amongst double-wall models. It handles condensation exceptionally well, with livability that allows you to fully sit up with ease.
This model offers respectable stormworthiness, but it isn't quite a go-anywhere, do-anything shelter, as it doesn't provide the top-notch storm protection required for extreme environments. It's ideal for summer mountaineering on peaks like Mt. Rainier or Mt. Shasta and winter camping near or below the 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, this model has our vote.
Read review: REI Arete ASL 2
Best Double Wall Tent
MSR Access 2
The MSR Access is one of the lightest double-wall 4 season tent options 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 it 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 the ability to keep its occupants dry are 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.
Read review: MSR Access 2
Best 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 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, but in extended periods of either, it can be challenging to stay dry. You might be wondering, why bring a tent if it isn't particularly stormworthy and suffers from poor condensation? We love it for how small it packs down, as well as its low weight. No other model takes up so little space in our pack like 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, it likely won't be the only 4 season shelter you end up owning. However, for the trips most people will embark on where weight is a consideration, this model is hard to beat.
Read review: Black Diamond Firstlight
Incredible for Extended Expeditions
Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
The Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 is an expedition-ready 4 season tent built for long base camp adventures. This tried and true model has been used from Antarctica to Mt. Everest to the North Pole and back again. It 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 and is easy to pitch in high winds. It's the roomiest two person shelter — 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 the 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 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 excellent as your home away from home in the world's most extreme environments.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
Excellent for Lightweight Alpine Climbing
MSR Advance Pro
The MSR Advance Pro is our favorite bivy tent for harsh conditions and one of our favorite models for 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 its ease of setup. It's one of the only lightweight models that pitch from the outside. The poles are robust, and 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. However, for your lightest missions where packed size is of huge importance, this is our top choice.
Read review: MSR Advance Pro
Excellent Versatility and Features
The Nemo Tenshi is a stormworthy and relatively lightweight single-wall shelter that offers more versatility than most other two pole bivy tents. At first glance, it looks like most other weight-focused two pole mountaineering tents, but several subtleties make it more user-friendly and livable. Since it sets up from the outside, it's easy to pitch 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, making it more comfortable to hang out in, as you can leave the front door open; this makes it "feel" bigger and gives its user a place to store stuff on rainy trips. For most 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
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. His experience ranges from ten Denali expeditions, 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, who is obsessed with researching the latest products and putting them through their paces. While Ian spearheads this 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. Test locations include Alberta and British Columbia, Alaska, Patagonia, Antarctica, Peru, Bolivia, Aconcagua, and various other locations worldwide. We examine several factors then determined which are 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. These tents have seen high winds, cold weather well below zero, and days of stormy and sunny weather.
Related: How We Tested Four Season Tents
Analysis and Test Results
We've selected a host of 4 season tents to accurately paint the picture of the current market. We test models that offer different niches across the board, from super lightweight to heavy and mega stormworthy. What's undeniable, is all tents in this review can hold up across a host of conditions, from super sunny conditions to cutting winds. Each is scored against the metrics to help you filter out which tent you need for your ambitions and future travels.
Related: Buying Advice for Four Season Tents
If you've been searching for a four-season tent, you know these products aren't cheap. When prices are ranging over a factor of four, the right shelter — without overpaying for your needs — is key for your budget. When we select our products, we specifically look for high-value options — a great product at a good price. Standing out among the rest for value are both The North Face Assault 2 and REI Arete ASL 2. Both represent a good overall performance score at a great price. Of note, the Nemo Tenshi is a close runner-up in each category. All have different niches and are ones to consider if you're looking to pinch some pennies and save a little money.
This metric assesses a tent's ability to protect its occupants from the outside environment, whether that be snow, rain, or wind. The best are those that will keep you dry without bowing or changing in shape in high winds and relatively poor conditions. We take this metric seriously, which is reflected in our intensive evaluation of each product.
To start testing, we take the time to set up each tent in a variety of conditions, from high ridges to rainy plateuas. In addition to these field tests, we comparatively evaluate the integrity of the tent design. We look at pole design, pole type, fabrics, vestibules, and other features that affect 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 look at the number, location, and quality of guy points. What we learned from our testing is that the most significant factor influencing wind resistance and overall strength are pole design and pole quality.
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. Almost always, more crossings equate to more strength.
How strong 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 and multi-day ski touring adventures, where camps will likely be made in exposed areas above treeline along with modest winter use.
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.
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, 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, 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.
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 a 4 season tent is the Hilleberg Kerlon 1800 silnylon, which has a breaking strength of 40 pounds. You can find this material on their Nammatj and Tarra tents as well.
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.Guy line Points
Most of the 4 season tent options tested have between 4-10 guy line tie-out points. We like 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 guy lines have far more holding power than the lower corners of the tent, as the guy lines 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
The Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 and The North Face Mountain 25 offer excellent weather resistance. They 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 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 is also worth considering. All of these models are worthy of being taken to big remote ranges like the Alaska Range, or the Himalayas.
Tents like The North Face Assault are not as sturdy, despite having 2.5 poles, with the 0.5 poles coming in the form of a third half-length pole that acts as a cross pole to create more headroom. At times, the Assault can act as a sail, and as a result, the winds push harder, and the poles become further stressed. The Assault is undoubtedly a strong 4 season shelter but isn't a model we'd take to Denali or places we'd expect fierce winds.
Weight and Packed Size
We rank each 4 season tent based on their weight (which we measured ourselves) and their packed volume. We measure both their minimum weight and "packed weight" for comparison, and used these two measurements to accurately compare each model. The minimum weight is the tent, fly, and poles; no guy lines, no pole sack, no sacks, etc. The measured weight is the weight of each tent where it is usable, which is generally everything included in the minimum weight, plus guy lines, a pole bag, and an appropriate number of stakes. The measured 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 First light, which has a low minimum weight.
We can then compare it to models like the 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 Canada, light is generally right.
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 prove to be significantly more versatile and comfortable for only a pound more, and we think that for many people, these tents hit a sweet spot of weight, comfort, strength, and livability.
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 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 hiking out.
While there is 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.
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.
One of the most compact models we tested was the Black Diamond Firstlight; no other disappeared as easily in our pack as 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.
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.
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, 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 decent, but also checking in a hair over five pounds.
Ease of Set Up
To look at the ease of set up, we look at whether or not the tent uses pole clips, sleeves, or internal poles. We also evaluate the time for set up and how easy each is to set up in poor conditions.
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 pole's length (compared with 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 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.
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.
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 tent options use an internal pole design.
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, it's 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 before 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.
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.
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.
Adaptability and Versatility
Versatility is an essential factor in choosing a tent. A tent's versatility refers to how well it performs across a range of conditions and climates. Many people looking to buy a four-season tent will want to use it on a range of trips and in multiple climates. All 4 season tent options are designed with snowy and windy conditions in mind, and we compared them across the spectrum of common uses, such as alpine climbing, bivy tent climbing, snow camping, multi-day 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, Trango 2, and Outpost 2 also fared well and would be good options for sea-kayaking and both three and four-season use.
A tent scored higher in this category when it had features that allowed us to use it differently. 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. 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 options. 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.
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 say is nearly every mountaineering or ski tourer at some point.
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 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 retire their tents with plenty of life left), gets eight to twelve 22-day Denali expeditions out of The North Face tents.
A tent such as 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 tent we tested is the Hilleberg Jannu, which features mega high-quality poles; they also have the nicest fabric among other contenders in our review.
We understand that the tent market is vast, and the investment is large when it comes to 4-season tents. We hope that our experiences of exploring, sleeping, and living in each helped point you in the right direction. We know that the search can be tough, but we are here to make it a little bit easier — no matter your budget or adventure.
— Ian Nicholson