Occasionally we receive outdoor gear questions from readers. Since we figured others would find them useful too, we’ll share some of those Q&A’s here. If you think we missed the mark, let us know by leaving a comment.
I own four tents. Three of those tents are three-season, and one is a four-season. One tent is a child's tent that is waterproof, without a fly. I have yet to find a definition of what qualifies a tent to be three-season and what qualifies for a four-season. My four-season is a Eureka K2-XT, with dome fly and vestibule. One of my three-season tents also has a dome fly with vestibule and the other has a fly that is heavy duty but is open in front of the door, without a vestibule.
Four-season tents typically have more and/or stronger poles and a rounded dome to withstand heavy snow loads and high winds. They are the heaviest and sturdiest of tents, expedition versions being the strongest of all. Four-season tents can be used year-round, but are generally too hot and heavy for warm weather due to their lack of ventilation.
Three-season tents are designed for spring, summer, and fall use and may be a dome, tunnel, hybrid, or single-hoop design. They’re not designed to withstand heavy snow loads, but most should hold up to a light early- or late-season snowfall. Three-season tents are designed with more ventilation than four-season tents, so they stay cooler and are less likely to build up condensation. (Warm weather tents have the most ventilation of all though.)
If you want to bridge the gap, there also are 3-4 season convertible tents that convert from four-season to three-season use with the removal of a couple of poles or zip-off panels. They tend to be heavier than standard three-season models, but offer greater versatility than a three- or four-season tent alone.