3-season tent use

12:54 p.m. on September 29, 2007 (EDT)
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I have never been backpacking in the winter. I plan to make my first trip this upcoming winter. I live in North Texas, where is gets very windy and averages around 25-30 at night. I want to do some nights in NM and Texas, where snow is a possibility. But anyways, I have a sturdy 3-season tent and was wondering if I will be comfortable using it in these temps and conditions. Thanks guys!

5:22 p.m. on September 30, 2007 (EDT)
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A lot of it depends on whether or not you "sleep cold".
On my last winter trip in NC ,conditions were about the same as you describe. I was comfortable with a one man
4 season tent (the Kelty Quartz) and a zero degree sleeping bag. I also slept with a wool hat and in heavy weight thermals. That's what it took to be comfortable at night.
A four season tent is noticeably warmer than a 3 season.
Also setting up camp in an area protected from the wind makes a big difference.

12:59 a.m. on October 1, 2007 (EDT)
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I consider the conditions you describe to be within the range of a three-season tent.

Two weeks ago I camped near Lake Superior in a Timberline-type tent and a +20 synthetic sleeping bag, overnight lows around 30 degrees F, with high winds and moderate rain (but no snow). As Stikeen recomended, I camped in an area sheltered from much of the wind and was quite comfortable

I have slept comfortably under a tarp at near zero degrees F. I have also camped in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, but I don't believe I've ever camped in what most would consider a modern four season tent. However, I don't camp in the Rockies and have never had to face a heavy mountain snowfall.

Under the conditions you describe, if heavy snow is not likely, I think it's more important to have a sleeping bag that will keep you warm rather than a four-season tent.

12:46 a.m. on October 2, 2007 (EDT)
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I guess wind is the biggest challenge for a tent, add snow and this is where a four season tent comes in. Any exposed netting that cannot be blocked(with a zippered tent body)will oftimes allow wind blown snow to come in.

Most 3 season tents will work great in the winter though, and when combined with a high R-value pad along with a reliable bag(i.e. zero or below), winter camping is a snap. A good bag is the most important consideration.

1:48 a.m. on October 2, 2007 (EDT)
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Yep, a sturdy 3 season will do just fine in the conditions you described in the first post.

11:51 p.m. on October 3, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks for the help. My tent can handle pretty strong winds so I guess I'll just wing it the first time out, hopefully I don't freeze!

11:34 a.m. on October 7, 2007 (EDT)
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Bring an extra layer to wear in case the cold wind keeps the inside of the tent breezy - but that depends on the tent's ventilation.

I regularly camp in the temperatures you describe, and a little colder, with 3-season type tents with no problems. The key is a good sleeping bag. If you will see snow (especially light, dry snow) and wind at the same time, you may want to see how well your tent will keep the snow out.

2:08 a.m. on October 8, 2007 (EDT)
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Keep in mind that what people experience as "winter" will vary wildly and not all advice about winter camping applies in all conditions. I would be wary of any advice on winter camping unless I knew the exact location and conditions underlying the advice.

For example, I read a trip report from a winter trip into the Sierra from someone I know and on that trip, they had several tent failures, including broken poles and ripped fabric caused by high winds in blizzard conditions. I saw the pictures and the weather was pretty bad.

On the other hand, I was camping in Yosemite last winter in February and the weather was clear and not all that cold. You could ski in shorts and a tee shirt in the afternoon. However, a couple of days later, it was snowing and wet. I was in a cabin by then at a lower elevation, so it didn't matter to me, but I was glad I wasn't still in my tent.

I took a 3 season SD Flashlight on a trip to Yosemite two years ago and would never take a tent like that again. No vestibule and bad weather-snow and rain- is a miserable combination.

My winter tent has five poles and two vestibules. Heavy? Yes, but sturdy. I would feel safe in it in reasonably bad weather. I'm sure there are better designs that are just as sturdy and lighter, but new winter tents are expensive for a reason.

Remember, hope for the best, but plan for the worst. A good tent is worth it in bad weather. I saw a program about Yellowstone in winter and it showed a photographer skiing around the backcountry and sleeping in a big bag under a tarp during a snowstorm. Sure, it can be done, but it didn't look like fun to me.

1:41 a.m. on October 9, 2007 (EDT)
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I have never slept in a 4-season tent myself, yet have fully utilized a three-season tent. I come from what some might consider "up-north" in Wisconsin. The first time I winter camped, I was very young and not smart. We thought the easiest place to set up would be on the lake (well frozen, ice breaking wasn't a concern) but on a lake there is no stopping the wind. It was a cold night, probably -5 or so degrees F. The windchill made it a lot cooler. If you want to be comfortable in that kind of condition, you are going to have to bulk up. I was freezing.
The next time I winter camped, we camped in the woods for shelter from the wind, and I brought a warmer bag and more clothes. That night got down to 0 degrees F., and I never felt a chill. I guess my main advice would be to bring more warming clothes than you think necessary.
One tip is to pour hot water in some nalgenes before you go to bed, make sure they DO NOT LEAK and are SEALED TIGHT, then put them in your bag with you. It retains its heat pretty well becuase of the specific heat of water or something like that, and so gives makes the night a little warmer. Either do that or sleep with a dog in your bag.

8:13 p.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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I would re-iterate keeping off the wind. The single largest thief of heat is the wind. Even if pitching the tent in teh lee of a rock is better then out in the wind.

Cover your head (I like wool and sleeping with ones mummy bag upside down), not too many clothes (again wool rules), and wear gloves (did I mention wool is a good option?).

A word on safety, if I may: Synthetic clothing is wonderful to a point. They are light, dry quickly, and are pretty inexpensive. They are, however, ignitable. In the case of a flash fire they often melt to ones body, then ignite. Natural fibers are FAR safer in this regard. The ignition point for wool is astronomically higher than synthetics (other than Nomex). A friend of mine survived a fire in a hunting shack largely because of his cotton long-johns being worn as PJ's. Two guides that were still in their polypro stuff died in burn units.

Hey, have fun...

10:06 p.m. on October 18, 2007 (EDT)
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I second the mummy bag upside down trick, I sleep on my side with my bag upside down. Just make sure you have a little room for the air to escape so the condensation does not kill your loft. I think some of the new bags have less insulation on the bottem and this will not work.

8:39 a.m. on November 15, 2007 (EST)
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For what you want/need, I would suggest the new Integral Designs Yukon, a variation of their mountain-proven MKI-XL, my favourite singlewall tent.

I think that some of the other guy's have made the point very well, that you need to be prepared for the "worst"that can happen, wherever you are. This tent WILL keep you warm, dry and safe and is a longterm investment if you look after it.

Camping in the trees or in the lee of a big rock is a good idea, it's great to see that you get sound advice here from a variety of sources; I totally agree on wool, especially merino.

11:06 a.m. on November 15, 2007 (EST)
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I haven't used a winter tent either, and don't consider myself much of a winter camper. I tried it a couple times last winter - these were my first real "winter" trips.

On one trip I was camped at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There was a steady snow and light breeze during most of the time I was there, with temps in the 30's during the day and down to mid teens at night.

The other trip was at Sequoia National Park, where it was cloudy, the air felt damp, and down in the 20's at night.

So neither was a true winter "expedition", and neither was "all that cold" by "real winter" standards. But, still, it was "winter camping" for me :).

Anyway, to my point. I used my 3-season Mountain Hardwear Skyview 1.5, Marmot Couloir (0F) bag, ridged ensolite style pad & Mountain Hardwear pad.

I was plenty warm sleeping at night. My main issues were how to keep my hands and feet warm while in camp - especially while doing things like cooking & cleaning, where I couldn't very well wear gloves.

The only real "issue" I had at night was my breathing caused condensation which made the area around my face on the sleeping bag all wet and clammy, so it didn't feel very pleasant. I ended up keeping the tent pretty well opened up for ventilation, which did help some. The Skyview has LOTS of screening, but with the fly on the tent is pretty sheltered.

I also felt sweaty at times in side the bag, but with the cold weather I coulndn't very well open the zipper, because then I got too cold.

I'm not sure if a 4-season tent would have changed that at all.

I guess my feeling now is winter camping adds a new sense of "adventure" to outdoor trips, but I still much prefer nice dry summer weather :).

6:41 p.m. on November 15, 2007 (EST)

It's good to have a "full-coverage" fly that extends to ground on all sides including door. Available snow is banked around the edges for added warmth.

Many 3-season tents have such flies, but many don't.

Full-blown, "4-season" tents are really nice on top of ice-caps & such places, but are typically overkill if you can locate sheltered sites in the forest.

11:31 p.m. on December 18, 2007 (EST)
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It's good to have a "full-coverage" fly that extends to
ground on all sides including door. Available snow is
banked around the edges for added warmth.

My (3-season) Mountain Hardwear Skyview 1.5 has such a fly. On a few occasions it has snowed while I've camped with it, and snow has banked around the edges as you described.

When this happens I worry about asphyxiation.... especially when it happens during the night while I'm sleeping. I have this fear that I just might not wake up...

Are my concerns unfounded?

10:51 p.m. on December 19, 2007 (EST)
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If the storm was large enough and dumped enough snow, then asphyxiation could happen. The entire tent would have to be covered though, and snow would probably have to be at least a foot higher then the tent. In that case, the your tent would have collapsed on you already.

11:52 p.m. on December 19, 2007 (EST)
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OK, so there's enough ventilation through the tent material itself to not require actual open air around the fly?

12:26 p.m. on December 20, 2007 (EST)
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In the Complete Walker, Colin Fletcher described 2 deaths caused by shelters made of impermeable fabric and heavy snow or freezing rain. One incident involved the old army mountain tent, over which a ten-inch-thick windslab had formed; with too little ventilation, one occupant apparently died of asphyxiation. However, occupants of a nearby Gerry tent apparently came through just fine.

In the second incident, a young skier who had covered her sleeping bag with a plastic tarp was found dead. As Fletcher wrote: "It is presumed that she had suffocated, for the edges of the tarp were frozen to the ground ice, and she had been sealed in."

I'm not familiar with your tent, but it's not likely to be as impermeable as either the army mountain tent or a plastic tarp. Banking around the sides of a tent is a common practice in winter camping, as is snowfall. However, a little ventilation might be a good idea, and, as Mr. Haze suggested, extreme conditions can and do occur.

2:20 p.m. on December 21, 2007 (EST)

I agree with comment on venting. But most, practically all, modern shelters, including the Mt. Hardwear Skypoint, have vents built into the canopy.

The Skypoint (assuming correct name) is a little peculiar, however, because it is single-wall with impermiable fabric. If you block its lower vents with snow (a good idea) the upper vent will continue to provide plenty of air for breathing, but there could be additional frost and/or moisture build-up inside.

Mostly, this should be tolerable, but it could become a problem at times, especially given small dimensions of the tent. Worst case scenario might be puddles on the floor and a wet sleeping bag. I spent a terrible night in a K-Mart coated puptent during a snowstorm in weather around freezing.

For this reason, and others, (none concerning aspixiation) consider using a sleeping bag cover or lightweight bivy bag, especially with this tent, in winter.

2:41 p.m. on December 21, 2007 (EST)
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The Mountain Hardwear Skyview is a double wall tent that is apparently no longer made. The Skypoint is, indeed, a single wall tent.

6:08 p.m. on December 24, 2007 (EST)
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Right, the Skyview is no longer made. It consists of the tent body, which has LOTS of openings (with zippable panels to close them) hence the name "skyview" :). In dry weather in the Sierra, I much prefer to use it this way.

However in wet, cold, windy, or snowy weather, I use the fly. The fly does not have any "vents" per se. However, now that I think of it, I think the door flap zippers can be zipped downward (normally you zip them open from the bottom). By zipping them down at the top one would provide some ventilation at the expense of potential water/snow getting through and falling onto the occupant.

4:55 p.m. on December 27, 2007 (EST)
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Sorry I confused these two models. Any decent tent maker these days puts a lot of thought into vents and Mt. Hardwear certainly makes good products, though some might find them a tad heavy and pricey on average.

A larger point is, there are "winter" conditions, and then something one might call "expedition," or really severe conditions. One hears of getting snow accumulations in the range of 6 feet or more in a day, and the absolute necessity, also, of building windbreaks around tents.

Typically, you don't just happen on to these conditions, but rather, they are encountered days of travel above treeline, high up on, or above, glaciers in Alaska, or places like that, where you can more-or-less plan for them.

Because of weight and cost, a "3-three-season tent," with full-coverage fly, may be pretty close to ideal for most "winter" camping in most places, and perhaps "4-season" is a misnomer, where "expedition" could be better applied.

Mt Hardwear's product nomenclature for example; "lightweight," "all-mountain" and "expedition," I think is more descriptive than "3-season" and "4-season."


7:46 p.m. on December 29, 2007 (EST)
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Just for an amusing counterpoint (real, but don't take this too literally), the tent I was supplied for my Kilimanjaro hike last week (camps at 9900, 12672, 13035, and 15180 ft elevation) was a 2-person 3-season tent (guyed, non-"free-standing", lots of mesh for the inner tent, but fly down close to the ground). I used my -40 deg down bag (microfiber outer cover). It did snow (and rain and sleet), though the low temperature in the camps was probably never much below freezing (the inside of the fly got LOTS of condensation, and at the highest camp was heavily coated with frost). The summit of Kili is 19475 ft. As one of the infamous "7 summits", this is often considered a full-on expedition. Yet the tent was, frankly, a pretty low tech 3-season tent. The brand name is unknown in the US or in Europe (it is sold only in Africa).

I have also used a Sierra Designs Flashlight in full-on winter conditions in the Sierra (subzero, blizzard that dropped 2 feet of snow). Again, non-"freestanding", lots of mesh, and yes, the snow drifted in through the mesh.

These are two cases where many of the above comments have been pretty strong that "expedition" tents are "required". But do not misinterpret what I am saying. The fact is that you do not "need" a full-on expedition tent (I would normally use one in the conditions the original poster specified). You CAN "get away with" a "sturdy 3-season tent" in North Tejas conditions, though it can get pretty brutal there (been there, done that, don't ever wanna do it again! - talk about your winds roaring down over the Plains, kicking up multi-thousand foot high dust clouds and dumping way too much snow on a supposed desert!). I don't know where you want to camp in the Land of Enchantment (your neighbor state), but when you get into the Sangres, you can get deep snows and real blizzards (Taos has some of the finest deep powder skiing in the world, but the Sangres can get some tough blizzards, too).

The main thing is, if you watch the weather forecasts and pay close attention to the changes while you are out there, you can be just fine in your "sturdy 3-season tent". But if you push it to the limits of your personal experience (note I said "experience" , not limits of your gear), you risk getting in over your head (literally). You are talking about learning "winter" in an area that can have real extremes, but one in which with judgment, you can proceed by easy steps and learn your personal and your gear's limitations.

By the way, calamity, one may "hear" of accumulations of 6 feet of snow in a day, but the published climate records show these are pretty rare. The North American record for 24 hours is 76 inches in Silver Lake, Colorado, in April 14-15, 1921, with second going to Echo Lake, Calif (where I camp several times a winter) 67 inches, Jan 4-5, 1982. The single storm record for the US was at Mt Shasta, 189 inches, Feb 13-19, 1952. These extremes are rare enough, and predictable with modern weather data and tools that it is counterproductive to try to scare a prospective winter camper by quoting the all-time records as the expected "norm". By paying a little attention, the newby is far more likely to find a little "skiff" of a few inches, enough to make for a beautiful coating, but not enough to constitute a problem.

5:31 p.m. on December 30, 2007 (EST)
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Bill S.

A minor geography correction: Taos ski area is located in the Sangre De Christo mountain range.

Also, just to further emphasize your point that Kilimanjaro does indeed have benign weather, with low temps rarely below zero on the summit.

I hear about 15,000 people annually try the hike, and can stay in huts if they want. Bet the -40 below zero bag was plenty warm for the expedition, and I hope you worked out your water filter worries

Agreed that it's "counterproductive to try to scare a prospective winter camper by quoting the all-time records." I tried to make the same point by saying that "typically, you don't just happen on to these conditions... but (they) happen in places where you can more-or-less plan for them."

Tents I'm using currently for winter are mainly GoLite Hex-3 and MSR Twin Peaks. They work good.


6:32 p.m. on December 30, 2007 (EST)
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I said -


the Land of Enchantment (your neighbor state), but when you get into the Sangres,

"Sangres" is the shortened way of referring to the "Sangre de Cristo" range (not "Christo") in northern New Mexico, the "Land of Enchantment", where Taos is located (and Wheeler Peak, NM version), a destination resort for northern Tejanos (the original, and some would claim, "correct" designation for Texas - not that any current Texans would agree, but it's a way of ribbing the residents of the Second Largest State, at least those with a sense of humor). The OP said


I want to do some nights in NM and Texas, where snow is a possibility.

So just trying to help him out a bit on his plans for a neighboring state, that is a destination for him and his neighbors. My geography is correct - I have spent many months in the area. Taos, which is located in the Sangres, does have some of the finest champagne powder in the world, but it (being part of the Sangres, and the jumpoff point for Wheeler Peak) can get heavy blizzards, as I stated. I have experienced a couple of those blizzards (one in late September one year that cut short a hike up Wheeler - thankfully I had my AWD so I could get out of the upper parking lot, which is normally closed with the first snowfall of the season)

7:18 p.m. on December 30, 2007 (EST)
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Oil and Water

4:59 p.m. on March 18, 2008 (EDT)
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My experience shews that you should be alright using an three-season tent in your part of the country. I lived in Wisconsin for nearly three years and I spent the last three Winters camping in my tent (since I had a pine woods directly behind the house I was renting). Most of the time I used my three-season tents, either my ALPS Mountaineering Taurus Outfitter or my Trekk Vega 2. Both tents performed well, though I will admit the ALPS tent did not hold up as well to snow loads due to the fact it was an two-pole wedge dome design (not really designed for snow loads).

I think you should be just fine. Go out and have yourself a great time!

8:47 p.m. on May 25, 2008 (EDT)
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I did a winter camping trip this year with 6 of my looniest friends, 3 days 2 nights over President's Day weekend. This was on Polliwog Pond nearby Lake Placid NY.

We had an assortment of tents and equipment. One guy had a 4 season tent but the rest of us had a variety of 3 season stuff. Mine was a Northwest Territory dome tent I bought at Wal-mart probably 15 years ago!

Although we had to pitch our tents in between 12-18 inches of snow, we didn't get a lot of snow while we were there. However, we did see temps as low as -17F the first night, and well below 0F the second.

My biggest mistake was overestimating my sleeping gear. I thought my sleeping bag was rated to 10F, and I figured if I used a summer-weight sleeping bag inside I should be good. Well when I got home I looked up the rating on my "winter" bag and found out it was only good to +30. No wonder I shivered some that first night but hey, I didn't die :) Other than a slight case of frostbite one guy had (from poor boots choices) we all came through with flying colors. Pictures here for the curious http://s110.photobucket.com/albums/n119/rickstrat/camping/

Probably my worst moment was on the colder night when I woke up at probably 3:30am and HAD to "go see a man about a horse". From now on, when winter camping, a good-size empty bottle will come in the tent with me at night, and I won't be leaving it. Zippers are tough to operate when you've lost the feeling in your hands.

Just this weekend I ordered a three-season tent with full rainfly and two vestibules, and also a -30 mummy bag. I know I won't get to play with the sleeping bag for months, but I figure this is the time to get a good deal on one. Look forward to using the tent all year 'round.

10:00 p.m. on May 25, 2008 (EDT)
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I have had a Mountain Hardware Skyview 2 for several years now. It is a double wall, full fly 3 1/2 season tent with excellent ventilation and a large vestibule. I chose it after being dissatisfied with single wall tents. You definitely have less condensation inside the tent. The last thing you need in cold, windy conditions is damp clothing or gear. I agree completely with earlier comments concerning the use of a wool hat and midweight thermals, socks and gloves. It is really handy to already be "suited up" in case you have to venture outside during the night, thus not loosing as much body heat as those mad dashes with only bottoms on.

4:10 a.m. on May 30, 2008 (EDT)
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Went to Devil's Bathtub (About 9,000 feet) this past weekend w/ $30 double wall/two hoop tent, and a 20* synthetic bag. Snowed about 4 inches, temperatures around 30*. I was warm and the tent survived. Lucky we left a day early before the snow really picked up.

Although if next time I know I'm going to be camping on snow, I'd want a 0* bag and 4 season tent.

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