Is a 4-Season Tent Necessary?

12:21 p.m. on October 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Let me simplify:

What does a 4-season tent provide that a 3-season does not?

When does one need a 4-season tent?

I want a tent to use on climbs like Mt. Adams or other stuff in the 8-10K foot range in the Cascades, maybe Mt. Baker some day. Do I really need to spend a house payment on a 4-season tent or will some 3-season tents do the trick? The less than stellar performance we experienced from a borrowed 3-season tent on Mt Adams this Spring in the wind has me leading toward something bomb proof.

7:37 p.m. on October 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Short answer-a vestibule, plus design and construction that will withstand winter weather-by winter I mean snow and wind, not LA winter.

Look at winter tents on retail sites like REI, EMS, backcountrygear.com, etc. to compare them to 3 season or summer tents. Look at the manufacturers' sites, like Hilleberg, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardware, Marmot, TNF and Sierra Design to name a few.

The tiny mountaineering tents like the Biblers (sold now by BD) are a lot different from a tent like mine-an old EMS Pampero, which looks like an MH Trango Assault. Mine has five main poles, a big vestibule, is a two wall tent and weighs about 8 lbs. Mine is a convertible with a bit of mesh with zippered covers over the mesh so when fully zipped up, nothing will get in.

The 3 season tents tend to have lots of mesh, tiny vestibule, if any, and fewer poles. They typically weigh 1/2 of what mine does.

For example, compare a TNF Mountain or VE-25 to their three season or UL tents to see the difference-

http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/sc-gear/equipment-tents-filter-category-expedition

http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/sc-gear/equipment-tents-filter-category-3-season

btw, I don't consider a 4 lb tent to be lightweight, like some manufacturers do, 2-3 is more like it.

8:45 p.m. on October 11, 2010 (EDT)
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I pay attention to aspect positioning and anchoring, limiting the time my Nammatj gt is exposed and I'll dig it in really well on ridge lines if I have to be there.

I weighed up every factor and went with a tunnel design, dome being more bomber, as the illusion of more room when tentbound was the clincher along with vestibule height and space among a list of smaller features.

So all up, I'd rather be in a well located, well anchored 3 season tent, than a poorly positioned 4 season tent any time, but if a lot of your time is spent in conditions of variable exposure then without doubt go 4 season. Which one will be a matter of weighing up all the variables of your needs.

9:30 p.m. on October 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Look into high peak. They make a great series of tents - a couple of them are 4 season and if you look on ebay you'll find some great deals. For example, I got the High Peak Enduro 4 season, 2-person tent for $75, brand new. It's double walled, has a vestibule, warm, and has gotten great reviews some of which are on this site.

10:36 p.m. on October 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Wont tell you what brand to buy,everyone has their own opinion on this angle,but will just share my 40 years of personel experiance.Have slept in some of the best and some of the worst tents ever made.When i started climbing there were no dome,geo, or tunnel tents.Just the old A frames and single center pole expedition tents.These guys flapped like flags in strong winds and when it came to snow loading it was a constant struggle to keep them dug out.There have been times in the mountains i was very glad to be in a bomber 4 season mountaineering tent due to the fact that there just was not a good protected spot in wich to set camp.Have also done a fair amount of winter and moutain camping in a 3 season tent but not in one of the newer mostly mesh models,these would not be my choice for any cold weather camping.My suggestion would be to borrow,rent or join groups or persons with a wide variety of tents to check out as many as you can.Listen to the stories of those who have sat thru the big storms in exposed places and learn from there mistakes.Above all else enjoy the adventures that these trips provide because the bottom line is that this is what it is all about.In the end would i purchase a 4 season tent?Yes i would if a large part of my outdoors trips put me in a position that i would need one.

8:09 a.m. on October 12, 2010 (EDT)
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In a nutshell, yes if your trips take you into snow and strong wind. As Paully states a good location can shield your tent from the worst of elements, but as Skiman indicates you are frequently forced select sites based on safety consideration, like ridgelines to be above avalanches, thus will be more exposed to wind than your typical summer camp. I have seen people do just fine with three season tents, but I have also seen rugged four season tents shredded in bad storms. The PNW is known for its temperamental weather; I would plan for the woorse and take a four season tent any time of year I went above the snow line.

Ed

5:44 p.m. on October 12, 2010 (EDT)
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last time i was on Mt. Adams, several inches of snow dropped at night, and the next day, the wind gusted to 100 mph. the poles and fabric of most three season tents aren't engineered to survive that kind of weather.

without a doubt, you're better off finding a place to pitch your tent that is dug in and partially protected from the wind, no matter what tent you use. Nonetheless, in the places you listed, a 4 season tent isn't optional. you wouldn't go up those places without crampons and an ice axe, hopefully, and you shouldn't go there in the winter with a three season tent. unless you think your skills & conditions would allow a snow cave.

6:31 p.m. on October 12, 2010 (EDT)
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About 16 or 17 years ago, I developed a winter camping course for Boy Scout adult leaders. I directed the course for 10 years, then stepped aside to an instructor role. The in-snow session was right on the crest of Donner Pass for much of the time. You will recall that the ill-fated Donner Party was stranded for months in the winter of 1846-7 at what is now called Donner Lake at the eastern foot of this pass. The pass itself, like many passes, acts like a venturi during storms - the windspeed accelerating as it goes through the narrow section.

During the time the course has been given, we have had at least 3 or 4 people bring 3-season tents, despite being warned that a 4-season tent was necessary. Now, the students were generally safe enough, since they are required to build and sleep in a snow shelter (snow cave, quinzhee, or igloo - we see all of them and the occasional "snow coffin" or trench). I have seen 3-season tents blown down, blown away (stakes pulled out and in one case found over a quarter mile away, despite having gear in the tent that the tent owner argued strongly would hold the tent in place), filled with snow that came in through the mesh under the fly, and in one case, had its seams fail. During one storm that dropped 3 feet of snow overnight, one of the 3-season tents was flattened under the load (this photo is of a 4-season tent on the same course, a Sierra Designs Stretch Dome).

You can avoid some of the problems with properly constructed and oriented wind walls. But that requires knowing how to orient the wind walls and how to construct them so they do not collapse on the tent.

Do you have to have a 4-season tent? No, people have survived sleeping out with no tent at all (note I said "survived"). And, of course, you could build a snow shelter (it takes an astounding amount of time and effort, especially the first 2 or 3 you build - but a properly built snow shelter is far more comfortable and durable than the best 4-season expedition tent). I have slept out in heavy storms in winter in 3-season mesh tents, bivy sacks, 3 season convertible tents that were advertised as 4-season, and under a simple tarp (and even a couple times in a plastic tube tent), in all cases because I wanted to see what it was like and I had a way to bail if conditions got too rough (and I did bail a couple times). Do I suggest anyone else try it, especially without a bail plan? Absolutely not. If the storm is at all significant, it is really really uncomfortable. The OP was talking in terms of climbing a Cascade peak, Adams, or Baker, for example. When climbing something like that, you want to get a good rest at night and have good shelter in case of a severe storm, not just "survive". If you haven't gotten rested and been able to prepare a hot, nourishing meal and stay well-hydrated, you reduce your chances of success in the climb (and maybe even your survival chances).

The OP mentioned price - my question in return is "what is your life worth?" Think of that tent that will keep you warm and dry and will stand up to the weather and snowfall as an insurance policy. $500 or even $1000 for a tent is pretty cheap insurance.

I should mention that on Denali, I saw top of the line expedition tents shredded and blown out from behind their windwalls when 70+ knot winds happened during storms. A TNF 25 is not a guarantee (despite the claims of a certain former "hurricane hero").

Your choice - just think about the differences in construction and design, and what the conditions might become.

7:54 p.m. on October 12, 2010 (EDT)
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..I have seen.. ..tents.. ..blown away (stakes pulled out and in one case found over a quarter mile away, despite having gear in the tent that the tent owner argued strongly would hold the tent in place)...

In fact my prior remark about tents getting shredded includes one of the tents getting blown away with two occupants and their gear (they could not determine heads from tails, so they cut their way out, and ended up losing most of their stuff). Imagine how scary that was, tumbling ass over tea kettle, scalded by hot water, meanwhile a flaming stove flying about, as knives slash wildly to create an exit. Dead men (a technique to anchor tents in snow) will not hold fast if the lashing point on the tent fails. Yea, even reputable four season tents will fail in bad, exposed, conditions. Those PNW mountains are totally capable of providing this experience too. Thus not only should you get a sturdy tent, you should also know how to dig a cave, should your gear fail (learning on the spot is too late). I won’t go on trips unless everyone has their own shovel.
Ed

3:22 a.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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If you are going to be out in nice weather like I have in Yosemite or Mt. San Jacinto (above Palm Springs), anything will do. Snowfall, I want something more substantial like my Pampero or a Mt. 25. I got snowed on pretty good two years ago in Yosemite, but it wasn't windy at all. I was glad to have my tent, nonetheless. I sleep much better not worrying about whether my tent will hold up.

6:39 a.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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Let's see, most 3 season tents have mesh inner tent walls, totally useless in a spindrift blow. In the old days you couldn't get a backpacking tent with unsealable mesh canopies, now they are everywhere(Hubbas, Seedhouses, etc). And in tough conditions, even a 4 season tent will be bombarded and stretched to its limits, hence the use of inner tent guylines running from corner to corner, etc.

I've only had a tent pole break twice, once in South Dakota in a bad high plains blow, and another in a Mt Hardwear tent using crappy Atlas poles. Another time I had my Nammatj 3 get a bent pole and had several stakes pulled out of the ground so I had to use rocks to hold them down. That storm bent one of the Hilleberg poles, but it did not break. It's all about the pucker factor and your Trust In Nylon.

Another time I was on Haw Mountain in a terrible windstorm and my Staika was pegged down with all 16 stakes and it still got frequently flattened but it always popped back up and no poles got bent or broke. When I look for a tent, it's always a 4 season tent, and it's always part of my standard load. Because even in July you can get walloped in a thunder-inspired windstorm on an open bald, and you can't let an inferior shelter dictate your route or where you want to camp. So, with more weight comes more freedom. This is especially true in the winter(down parkas, booties, 4 season tent, etc).

9:54 a.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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I appreciate all the experienced assistance. Yes, I can and have built igloos and snow caves. I will bite the bullet and start researching and saving up for a 4-season bomb shelter.

11:42 a.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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Found this tent onlin called the Chinook Cyclone 3. Its a 4- season tent that costs under $250. Is this company for real? Is this tent for real? Anyone have experience with this tent or company? I am skeptical.

If this is a real 4- season tent for under $250 Its noteworthy. Never heard of this brand though. There is one glowing review on trailspace,but only one.

1:42 p.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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This has aluminum poles(doesn't specify Easton aluminum or DAC, etc.), is probably made in China(what isn't), the design is very good, it's the same as a Walrus Terramoto 3.0./MSR Fusion 3, and available online for $121.75 +24.66 shipping. Call them up and see what they have to say regarding the specs on the poles(diameter, composition).
GREENLAND SALES CORP.
Suite 11
2221 Niagara Falls Blvd.
Niagara Falls, New York
USA 14304
Tel: 1-800-513-8299
Fax: 1-800-273-8451

3:09 p.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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If you are trying to save $ and you truly want a 4 season tent this may be in your budget. It has very good reviews.

http://www.trailspace.com/gear/eureka/alpenlite-xt/

5:31 p.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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again, I have the High Peak Enduro, which I bought brand new for $75. It is very sturdy, well made, warm, and so far has led me to believe that it is high quality. There are several reviews online here at trailspace for the high peak tents.

 

I have used the Enduro for several trips now. I didn't have any problems with moisture on my last trip, where temperatures reached 30F. I didn't even sleep inside my sleeping bag until half way through the night because it was so comfortable inside the tent. If you open the vents just a crack, the moisture tends to pool up in the outer layer that makes up the vestibule.

 

With ANY tent, regardless of brand, if you are going to experience extreme weather, you need to provide the tent with reinforcements. Stake the tent in, put some ice and snow on the base part of the tent on the outside walls, build snow walls around the tent or dig in to break even more of the wind. I haven't had any problems with my enduro, and honestly if it were me choosing an "insurance" plan, I'd still go with my $75 tent.

 

Tents that are $500 are brand priced. I don't care if my tent says North Face or High Peak. Hell, if Walmart made a high quality dependable winter tent, I'd but that one. Too many people are brand snobs. What counts is how it works, and the enduro has. Other reviews support me here, and again, it's less than 100 bucks. WHy spend more???

5:58 p.m. on October 13, 2010 (EDT)
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You don't have to spend a fortune to get a decent winter tent. I got mine used on eBay. Buying a high end used tent is in my opinion, much better than a lesser tent that is brand new. Mine looked brand new when I got it-still does, since I don't use it that much.

I don't consider my tent to be in the same category as a Mt. 25, but it is close. I wouldn't take it mountaineering since it has a pretty big footprint and is a bit complicated to set up, but for general winter camping, I'd stack it up against most anything except maybe a Hilleberg. Based on some hits I found online, including some reviews here on Trailspace, apparently it was designed by someone who used to design for Moss-the color scheme is similar. Looks like it sold for around $250 new in the early 2000's. A bargain for what it is.

Big vestibule, door half open

Vestibule folded back

Completely closed up, front view. The vestibule stakes out with one stake and opens with two zippers along the pole ridge that open each half inward. It's hard to see, but you can see where the poles cross on the main tent body. It uses clips, except for a sleeve for the vestibule hoop.

Many winter tents are a similar design. This design is probably ten years old or so.

12:52 a.m. on October 24, 2010 (EDT)
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just used my High Peak Enduro for an overnight in the Presidentials of NH yesterday. We saw temperatures of 15 degrees, snow, hail, and sustained 75 mph winds.

 

The tent held up perfectly.

 

And once again, it cost me $75.

7:44 p.m. on October 24, 2010 (EDT)
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i, I'm glad that you're pleased with your High Peak Enduro. I feel compelled to give you a heads up regarding the reason your tent is so affordable compared to what you call "brand priced" tents. Two words: reverse engineering(or reverse design) which equates to piracy or theft. I don't consider myself a "brand snob" as I primarily require functionality from my gear, which name alone doesn't guarantee. I am very satisfied as to the functionality of most of the Walrus tents I've used. Walrus wasn't a top of the line product, but did create some outstanding designs. Yes, Walrus employed designers, did R&D, developed specialized fabrics, such as their trademarked "Diamondback" blend of polyester and nylon which "resists UV degradation better than nylon alone, and is more dimensionally stable". On the flip side of the coin is the Chinese outfit that employs reverse engineering; instead of designing their own tent, they use an existing tent, either Walrus or MSR, from which a pattern is copied. There's also no need to use costly materials like Diamondback, or brand name poles such as Easton or DAC. Take a look:enduro_nofly.jpgHigh Peak Endurofusion3_t_34front_right.jpg             MSR Fusionenduro_wfly.jpgHP Enduroterramoto_fly_3-4_front.jpg          Walrus Terramoto

You've got a good tent. Is that because High Peak markets it, or because Walrus designed it?                     

11:04 p.m. on October 24, 2010 (EDT)
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+1 on the Eureka Alpenlite.  It's not a very sexy tent, but you could do much worse.

2:02 a.m. on October 25, 2010 (EDT)
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I have done a lot of winter camping, quite a bit of it solo and I would NEVER take a chance on a three season tent in the conditions sometimes found on Mt. Baker. I have owned and used quite a few tents and I now have a Kifaru 8-man tipi, two Hillebergs and two original Integral Designs tents.

If, I ever buy another tent, it would be a Hillberg "Jannu", my idea of a tent for seriously horrible weather. I have a "Soulo" and a "Saivo", my basecamp sleeping, terrible weather "safehouse" and these, while costly, can often be found "preowned-like new" and are WORTH the cost....what is your life worth.

There are three guys on this forum, whose knowledge impresses me and I strongly suggest listening to BillS, Skiman John and TipiWalter, they know whereof they speaketh.

I have owned/used Early Winters, Bibler and ID singlewall tents and I like the ID's best by far, my MKI-XL is a fine rig for one person in winter conditions, but, a Hilleberg sets up faster for me and I would have bought a "Jannu" if they were available at the time I got my ID.

A severe snow storm where I am from and spent most of my time winter camping will dump enough snow to bury your tent in a few hours and the temps. range from 20*F to -40* and that is VERY cold; no light duty tent will cope with such conditions and Mt. Baker is not as cold, but, the conditions are quite similar, why take a chance?

6:46 a.m. on October 25, 2010 (EDT)
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abman - interesting I hadn't heard of that before. As you said, I have a good tent, and that's what matters in the long run I guess when I'm in a storm and need the shelter.

 

I'm surprised there's no copyright laws that could cause high peak any problems...

1:33 p.m. on October 26, 2010 (EDT)
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..I'm surprised there's no copyright laws that could cause high peak any problems...

Actually patent laws are the legal provisions in this context.  Unfortunately a general tent design isn't patentable, and specific design feature that are can usually be modified to get around such protections.  Something to keep in mind whenever buying an off brand made in the third world...

Ed

December 22, 2014
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