New to Winter backpacking...

2:26 a.m. on October 16, 2010 (EDT)
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Hey everyone!
I recently moved to Chicago from Florida. I am eager to backpack some new trails up in this region! A few of my friends and I are trying to plan a backpack trip in Hoosier National Forest (Indiana) this January. Looks like the average temps are from the 20s-40s, and their will probably be snow.


We need some new gear advice and any good tips for winter/snow camping.


Being from Florida, the lowest camping temps I've encountered were in the 40s. So I don't think I have all of the necessary clothing.

I currently have a storm weather Hard Shell, Windstopper Softshell, Fleece layer, and Light weight thermals. Should I add more insulation, such as a down vest?

I have waterproof/gortex hiking boots, will those work in snow?

I am also wondering about my tent. It's a 3-season Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 person (it has 2 vestibules). Do you think it will hold up in those conditions?

Any info or tips would be greatly appreciated!

9:03 a.m. on October 16, 2010 (EDT)
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Hello there and welcome to Trailspace! I'll try to answer some of your questions.

Your 3 season tent will be fine, though it could get a little drafty due to the mesh. It will work pretty well for you as long as you arn't above treeline, or don't knowingly set out into a bad winter storm. The issue with using a 3 season tent in winter is high winds and snow load. If you do encounter a snow storm, it is a good idea to set an alarm every hour or two to get up and knock off the snow from the tent so that your poles don't break from the weight. You can sometimes get around the wind issue by properly guying your tent, and picking a partially shielded location if possible.

Boots: In my opinion gore-tex boots in the winter stink. Yes, they will work in snow and keep you dry and warm. The issue is when you are using them for anything other than a day hike. Your boots WILL get wet from the snow and slush, and at night your boots WILL freeze unless you put them inside your sleeping bag. As I am sure you know already goretex boots take quite a while to completely dry. I have found that this isn't very pleasant in the winter. At a minimum take the insoles out of your boots and put them in your bag. I prefer an all leather boot with no waterproof barrier other than obenaufs treatment on the exterior.

Clothing: Does your hardshell layers also include pants? I find a pair of thermal pants and a hardshell pant invaluable in the winter. I use a military surplus pair of ECWCS goretex pants and parka, absolutely bombproof. It sounds like you have the other layers pretty well covered. I like having a heavier weight thermal if the mercury really drops. If the temps are around 20-30 I typically am find with a capaline 3 baselayer, a fleece vest, and my ECWCS parka hardshell, and capaline 3 thermals and ECWCS pants. At camp I like having a down jacket. If I find myself cool while hiking I will add the down jacket into my layers. Otherwise, the only change I make is if it is close to 0F I will use a thick pair of thermals , think they are polypropelene? they are my old military issue stuff. And of course good headware of some sort, I highly recommend a material that will insulate when wet such as fleece etc.

Gear advice: this is a very broad topic lol. Best generic advice I can give for winter backpacking is some form of traction. I like using Kahtoola Microspikes, they are general purpose, durable, and I really like them. I also carry a pair of MSR denali ascent snowshoes when conditions warrant. An generic Ice axe can be handy if you are traversing very steep terrain or doing any climbing. Trekking poles with snow baskets can be handy as well. And lastly, sleeping bag, make sure you have a sleeping bag properly rated for the expected temps. Just because your bag says its a 15F doesnt mean it really is, it may really be 30F. A good way to judge a sleeping bag is by the EN rating, or if the bag is not EN rated by comparing the fill weight to a similar EN rated bag. It is always a good idea to try out a winter camping setup in the backyard before heading into the backcountry for the first time in winter.

Back to the tent issue. Staking your tent. You can very easily loose tent stakes, guy line etc to the frozen ground and or ice in the morning. If there is snow on the ground I like to use the T staking method. get a stick and dig a little horizontal trench in the snow. Tie a piece of cord to the middle of the stick and place the stick in the trench running the cord in the vertical direction back to the tent and tie your stakeout points to this. Then pack the snow down on top of the stick. This way in the morning, worst case scenario you loose a few pieces of cheap cord and not expensive stakes or damage your tents stakeout points. (an ice axe makes freeing frozen in stakes alot easier)

Hope I gave you some useful information and didn't just ramble on and on. If you have any more questions feel free to ask away! I am sure others will chime in shortly as well.

10:48 p.m. on October 18, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm curious about the "no Goretex in winter backpacking boots" stance ... here and in other threads. I notice all of REI's mountaineering boots use Goretex, and a majority of the "backpacking/hiking" boots do.

What about "mountaineering" makes the use of Goretex acceptable where it's apparently dis-recommended for "winter backpacking"? Maybe this is a simplistic view, but it seems the two activities have a significant overlap.

Thoughts on this?

[and I don't mean to hijack the OP's post... this seems apropos...]

5:38 a.m. on October 19, 2010 (EDT)
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Keep in mind you do not equip based on average weather conditions; I remember Midwest Januaries packing cold snaps that plunged to zero and below. Going out ready for the mid twenties and getting caught in a cold one can ruin your will to ever camp again. You will want heavy thermals, two mid layers each for your top and bottom, a medium strength down jacket, and wind shell, both top and bottom. Some will add down pants and booties to this mix for camp comfort. Don’t forget mittens, gloves and good head protection. Goggles are a plus for extended time out in a cold wind. Bring along eyewear to protect against snowblindness if there is snow on the ground.

Double boots are the preferred hard winter footwear. If you use you summer boots your feet will be cold. Insulation is the issue, not waterproofness per se. Consider using an insulated gator on top of your boots, if you forego the double boot. While on footwear, if you will be trekking over snow, consider a flotation device such as snow shoes or x-country skis, and a pair of ski or trekking poles. Also consider getting crampons for stability over ice and crust, and an ice axe, especially if you are covering inclined terrain.

I would not rely on a three season tent. The winds can howl across the prairie and lakes and force spindrift into your tent through the mesh vents or worse shred the tent. I would also get a camper’s snow shovel and snow saw to aid constructing wind breaks, digging your tent out, or use to dig in – igloos, caves and other snow structures are warmer and quieter than a tent flapping wildly in a blizzard. BTW: don't use stoves in your tent per fire safty considertions, and don't use stoves in closed in snow structures, due to carbon monoxide.

It behooves you to do your first few trips with experienced cold weather campers. There is a fair amount of craft involved comfortably camping in the snow that could take years to learn by trial and error. Ask your prospective buddy for such trips these questions too; there are often local techniques for the areas you visit.


5:43 a.m. on October 19, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm curious about the "no Goretex in winter backpacking boots" stance ...

I don’t know so much about goretex being a no no for winter mountaineering, but most boots do not have sufficient insulation to keep the dogs warm, hence double boots are advised, and plastic shell boots preferred when on snow and ice.


7:45 a.m. on October 19, 2010 (EDT)
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 That is a good point about preparing for worst case weahter such as significantly lower temps. I forgot to mention that. Bring extra layers is the simple answer, you can always add more if you have them. I find that I can get by with minimal layers while actually hiking but when I get to camp I layer up. If you find your sleeping bag to be reaching or exceeding it's limit you can just wear several layers to bed or add a foam sleeping pad to your system to add a little more R value. I have several friends, and have read about many more people online that use 40 degree bags year round, but just sleep in several layers of clothes and use 2 sleeping pads to get an R value of 4.0 or higher.

 The difference between regular hiking/backpacking boots and mountaineering boots is just as whomworry described. They are a two layer boot, most have a plastic shell and an boot insert that goes in that. The outer material may not be plastic all the time, but a mountaineering boot I have always seen to be two layers. So you can take your inner liner out at night and let it dry.

I use the same pair of boots year round. In winter if I find my feet getting really cold for whatever reason I have a pair of neoprene socks I can put on. Since a regular hiking boot isn't two layers , if they get wet be it from snow, rain, slush, mud whatever, they can take a long time to dry especially if they have a goretex layer. This makes it really suck in the morning when you have to put on a literally frozen pair of boots. Now, your body heat will thaw them out, but it's a viscous cycle that keeps repeating itself beceause your boots will probally never dry on a trip if they keep experiencing wet conditions. Where as my leather boots do completely dry overnight as long as I take out the insoles. I will never again use Gore-tex boots for any season. I love goretex hardshell clothing, but I don't think it's use in boots is worth it imho.

I use, and tons of other people also use a 3 season tent for winter. You have to consider your situation on a case by case basis. If you are not in an exposed location, like above treeline, in a praire, etc then they usually work just fine. The only issue I have encountered with a 3 season tent in winter is snowload, you have to get up periodically and clean off the tent to keep it from collapsing. Guy your tent properly, and pitch the tent in a partially shielded evironment if possible. A 3 season tent will work just fine under those conditions, but WILL likely fail in an exposed position. Stop well before sunset to find a suitable location.

A small weather radio can be invaluable also.

12:27 p.m. on October 19, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm curious about the "no Goretex in winter backpacking boots" stance ... here and in other threads. I notice all of REI's mountaineering boots use Goretex, and a majority of the "backpacking/hiking" boots do.

What about "mountaineering" makes the use of Goretex acceptable where it's apparently dis-recommended for "winter backpacking"? Maybe this is a simplistic view, but it seems the two activities have a significant overlap.

Somehow, "stance" conveys the idea that this is a political thing, founded in personal beliefs ("liberals use Gtex, conservatives stick with old-school leather"). Choice of gear should be based on what works in a given situation (yeah, consideration of local gear shops, where something is made, environmental impact, and other important factors in gear selection is somewhat political).

The practical matter is this:

In theory, Goretex makes the boot, jacket, or other gear waterproof while remaining breathable. In fact, gtx and other waterproof/breathable membranes used in laminates are somewhat limited in their breathability (I will touch on the physics in a moment). In boots, the wpb laminate is a liner in the boot (not laminated to the leather or synthetic main boot material, in other words).

In practice, a number of things will reduce or eliminate the breathability of the liner (or of a wpb jacket or overpants, for that matter). Dirt, mud, body oils, an ice coating, or other contaminants will ultimately block the breathability completely. With a jacket, you can put it in the washing machine with an appropriate cleaning agent, plus you can renew the DWR (durable water-resistant coating) to return the jacket to near-new performance. You can not toss the boots in a washing machine, though you can hand clean them to some extent.

When the breathability is compromised (as it is after a few days on the trail from your sweaty feet and dirty socks), that's it - you now have much reduced breathability, and your sweat may be enough to leave you with wet socks (obviously, this depends on temperature, the insulating quality of your socks, and how much your feet sweat). Some people find that even new, a gtx liner doesn't breath enough and they get wet socks from their sweating feet.

Another factor is that the outer layers of the boot may not be particularly water-resistant - there are a number of gtx-lined boots that have a synthetic mesh outer (Barb had a pair that even let dust through on the summer dusty trails around here). Untreated leather will get soaked, so you may have the outer layers of the boot soaked all the way through.

Well, you say, let's just treat the outer leather layers. If you use a wax leather treatment (say, the traditional SnoSeal) and put too thick a layer, the outer part of the boot no longer breathes, so that even if the gtx liner is still breathing just fine, the sweat can't evaporate through the leather, and you again end up with sweaty socks (and probably blisters). There are leather treatments that do preserve a bit of breathability while blocking liquid water.

Some physics - Goretex, eVent, and other wpb membranes depend on having a pore size small enough to block liquid water, but large enough to allow water vapor (individual molecules) to pass through. If there is a gradient of temperature and humidity between inside and outside (cooler and drier outside), these membranes and the laminates work pretty well. But if the outside surface is wet ("wetted out") so that there is a film of water on the outside, the tiny pores are blocked (that's why it is important to clean your jacket and renew the DWR coating when the rain no longer beads up on the jacket). Waxing the boots also blocks the pores, as does standing in snow with the boot surface covered up or with mud covering the boots. Using the right treatment on the leather (check the manufacturer's recommendations) and regularly cleaning the boots helps. However, a top-quality full-leather boot treated with the appropriate water-proofing treatment will still allow the boot to breathe and repel liquid water, even without a gtx liner.

Well, then, what about Sorels which have a rubber lower part of the boot? Or plastic double boots, which have an impermeable plastic shell that obviously does not pass water vapor? It is true that you can get very wet feet inside either. But the Sorels and plastics have a liner that wicks the water to the top of the boot (it helps to wear a wicking liner sock and wool insulating sock as well - which can help somewhat with a full leather boot or a gtx-lined boot).

Note - two problems with wet socks - first and fastest is that wet socks tend to slide around and promote blisters. Second, if your feet stay wet for extended periods, especially in cold conditions, you may get "trench foot", aka "immersion foot".

The other question - why are "all" of REI's mountaineering boots, and a large fraction of hiking boots made with gtx liners? Main answer is "it's the latest style." People are demanding it when they go shopping. As for the mountaineering boots, a lot of mountaineering is in fairly dry conditions, with relatively brief exposure to rain or stream crossings. When on snow, the boots for the most part are not deep in the snow, so the boot surface is still fairly free to breathe. But if you look at the top-end boots, you will find that the leather ones are full leather and do not have the gtx or eVent liners. Oh, and one other thing about the majority of the "mountaineering" boots - notice that the majority of the ones with the gtx liners do not have a sole made to take step-in crampons (no notch, especially no heel notch). This is an indication that they aren't intended for really serious mountaineering, but are for hiking.


7:03 a.m. on October 20, 2010 (EDT)
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For packing in the midwest, unless you just ignore the weather forecast and are out for weeks, you'll do better with a good set of leather boots (and good gaiters).  Like was said earlier, the GTX is a liner which for me usually gets a hole worn through it shorlty after purchase form my heal.  A hole in GTX tends to make it worthless.  Take several pairs of sox to rotate through. 

The tent ought to be fine unless you intend to go out into a blizzard.  Again knowing your forecast and planned time out is a key factor. 

The key to being comfortable when hiking in the snow and winter is keeping dry (you may already know this).  I doubt you'd need the extra down vest for hiking, I think a good hat & gloves would be more useful while on the move.  If you really want to add to your clothing, skip the down vest and get a down belay jacket that will keep you warmer while at camp where you will work harder to stay comfortable. 

Start off with a few day trips and vary your clothing to learn what keeps you the most comfortable while on the hike, I bet you'll be surprised at how little you end up wearing while on the move.  At breaks is when you get colder as the body heat dissipates and sweat accumulates. 

For regulating your body temps start paying attention to your body's natural radiators.  The ones we use the most are the head, neck, wrists and shins along with the obvious torso.  Adjust the protection to these areas to adjust how warm/cool you are.  The shins are good for keeping your feet warm (as well as water repelling boots).  The lower back comes into play in camp when you don't have a pack on.  (Someone may point out armpits but we're talking hiking comfort and not hypothermia.)  Your legs will be making the most heat so don't over-dress them. 

When on the move in the cold my jacket us usually never zipped all the way up, more like only 1/2 way to vent excess heat and moisture. 

Start off with short trips where you know the weather for the day (minimize the variables) to learn and then strech it out.  Nothing as peaceful as being in the woods during and right after a snow. 


10:03 p.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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1. You probably already know this: cotton kills. It stays wet, and anything wet is much colder. Don't wear cotton. (The only exception is that tightly woven cotton works well as a breathable wind shell over other insulation in dry-cold conditions--around 20F and below.)

2. Socks, gloves, and probably hats will get wet. Have something else to wear while the other one dries.

3. Here's a simple one which evaded me for too long(!), so I'll list it here: things dry faster when you shake the water or sweat out first.

4. Wool is a good thing. Synthetics dry faster, but also cool you down some while they dry. Wool dries slower, but keeps you warmer while it dries. There are different types of wool. Merino, Shetland, and lambswool are better. When my lambswool sweater has noticeable moisture from sweat or snow, I simply shake it out. It's then just as warm as it was when it was completely dry. I paid a few dollars for it at the thrift store.

5. Feet will get wet from either sweat or snow. Block sweat with vapor barrier liner socks. Block snow with waterproof boots or a waterproof liner on the outside of your socks. With both of these, your insulation (socks) will stay dry.

6. Do a few test runs with all of your gear packed, and then trek deep into the wilderness of your back yard. Setup camp, cook a meal, and sleep out there for a few hours or all night. You can gain winter experience quickly and safely this way.

3:05 a.m. on December 19, 2010 (EST)
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I agree with OhioHiker, wool is king, at least with me also.  I use wool shirts and pants, thrift shops are O.K. and if you are not concerned about style military surplus stores are a great source for woolen pants.  Woolen socks do a good job of keeping your feet warm and extra wool socks work great as emergency mittens.

6:38 p.m. on December 19, 2010 (EST)
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My advice is camp in the backyard to get ready. Nothing like getting out there and doing it.


10:34 a.m. on December 20, 2010 (EST)
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Get a down vest, bouble boots and a decent sleeping bag. At the least.

To helps with moisture in a boot I carry multiple odor free insoles as they suck in moisture a bit more than conventional ones. And the cost is close to nothing. I also use a 1.5x1.5 square of EVA foam for resting, standing and others general use. (Ex: emergency splint)

Try camping out side for two days in your backyard or at least in a controled area where you can bail out easily. That alone, will learn you tons. remember that fire is sometimes not available/legal/logical in winter as in summer, so dont rely on it. Also a good book on winter camping can cover a mutitude of tips that would take 15 page of posts to start covering them.  

As for Goretex Bheiser1, it pointless to the point of uselessnes to argue the point. People shun it, swear by it, love it, hate it... I personnally believe that is has it's uses but not everywhere. I've learned by trials and errors what I like about it and I now live a balanced ans peaceful life. ;-)

Good hiking, and if in doubt, charge. Winter camping is the best,

10:38 p.m. on December 21, 2010 (EST)
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I do not have the world wide experiance of Bill S but have been an alpine mountaineer for near 40 years and having climbed a lot in the pnw rarely use a plastic boot.Even on a few winter climbs on Mt Rainier i have used insulated non plastic mountaineering boots.My main use of plastic boots has been in Alaska on Denali and other peaks in that area.As for hiking i do not like the current trend of putting gore-tex or event in boots.These make for an overly warm hiking boot for 3 season use and just drives the cost of the boot up.A lot of the new technology used in boots is wonder full but i do not include wbb to be one of them.ymmv.As for tents the only 3 season tent i would even consider for winter camping is one with no mesh in the body.Way to drafty and not as warm as a solid body tent.Also i would take a good look at the pole strength and design for snopw loads and wind.Always plan for the worst and enjoy the best.

6:15 p.m. on December 25, 2010 (EST)
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a lot of good info.

-you probably want dedicated winter boots for hiking in the midwest.  you can probably start out with a pair of insulated hunting or winter boots - try cabela's or LL Bean.  you should be able to find something less expensive, and if you truly love winter camping/hiking, you may decide to go with something more technical and expensive later.

-good socks and hand gear are essential.  medium to heavyweight merino wool socks, glove liners, and well-insulated gloves or mitts.  preferably shell mitts or gloves with removable liners, which helps in terms of drying out the liners in the field.  always bring spares of both.

-you need layers that stop the wind for top and bottom.  hardshell vs. softshell is preference more than function, in my experience.

-you might find lightweight long johns aren't warm enough for colder midwest hiking.  merino wool or synthetic long johns, at least mid-weight, can be a real asset in cold weather.  

-you asked if you need a down vest.  i think it's a good idea to have a decent down jacket or parka with a hood for times when you're sitting still - whether it's a stop on the trail or at night.  

-three season tents have a few winter bugaboos.  (1) the fabric usually isn't as sturdy in high winds, which means they are more prone to flapping and ripping.  (2) the poles aren't as well-suited for weighting, like a heavy snowfall.  See those videos of the Minneapolis Metrodome? you don't want that to be your tent.  (3) agree with the comment above, tents with a lot of mesh feel pretty chilly in a cold breeze.  


to answer the mountaineering boot question, you don't see gore tex on most mountaineering boots because the plastic double boot or a leather boots are all independently waterproof.  you will note, however, that synthetic mountaineering boots, like the la sportiva trango or some of the lowa boots, do have a gore-tex membrane.  years ago, there were no quality synthetic mountaineering boots, so you never saw gore tex.  my feet don't fit the la sportivas or lowas, but the synthetic boots are selling and have a following.  they tend to be lighter than plastic double boots, and they can be more forgiving, depending on how they are made.  

the main diff between mountaineering boots and other winter boots is step-in crampon compatibility and ease of use with crampons.  there are plenty of well-insulated hunting or winter boots that are fine for winter hiking and snowshoeing, and that work reasonably well with strap crampons.  some people find that winter boots aren't great with strap crampons because the sole is relatively flexible.  mountaineering boots have a stiff sole and, usually, have a sole that is made to mate with step-in crampons.  



11:01 a.m. on December 29, 2010 (EST)
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THANK YOU EVERYONE!! Really great advice all around!

We have decided the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin is what we want to do. However, we are pushing it back a year due to some members not having the funds to get the essential gear. (Instead we are doing Ocala National Forest in FL)

I have added some new clothing, since being in Chicago:
FA Merino Wool base layers
REI Merino Wool Hiking Socks
FA Down-lite Jacket
EMS 3-in-1 Gloves (with liners)
MW Windstopper Cap
OP Gators

I'm looking at some Keen insulated Boots. And I think we are considering getting a 5-season tent that will fit our standard group. 

12:27 a.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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Winter camping can be fun as long as you have good equipment.

Long underwear is one of the best essentials. Wool socks keep your feet warm even when wet. And wool gloves the same. Wearing liner gloves like polypropolene help, same with socks. Some people have a allergic reaction to wool. Some wool clothing has a inner liner of nylon to combat this.

A tent that is designed for possible heavy snow is good, I use the North Face Mtn 25 which replaced my old NF VE24 that I used for 27 years.

A cold weather bag is good, tho I use a 20 degree bag now, I used to have  EMS-30 degree bag and it was superwarm, but only good for the extreme cold.

Be sure if you use water bottles not to leave them filled or they could expand and break if they freeze at night (or the daytime). You can keep  a water bottle with you in your sleeping bag to keep it warm enough not to freeze, wrap a extra sock around it to keep it from aking you feel cold.

Sleep in as little as possible. A good bag will keep you warmer if you are in the least amount of clothing. Clothing can hold in perseration which can make you feel colder in the bag.

Use a good insulator sleeping pad like a thermarest to keep your body off the ground or the cold tent floor.

A stove that uses multifuels is better than one that use's only certain fuels. Some of the newer Butane/propane stoves work fairly well in the cold as long as they stay warm. Butane canisters get colder as the fuel burns up from it. Wrap a extra peice of clothing around the cansiter to keep it warmer.

 Wear multiple layer of clothing rather than one heavy piece like a coat. If you get to warm, its nice to be able to take off under or over garments than to have only one and nothing underneath,

Boots that are weather resistant or that can be oiled or waxed are best for wet conditions. For extreme snow condition you can wear Supergaiter that cover the whole boot down to the soles. Regular gaiters are good to keep snow from entering the tops of your boots.

Trvael on crosscountry skiis can be much faster or just use snowshoes. Poles help when walking on snowshoes to keep your balance. Crampons either instep or full bottom models may be needed and are helpful for traction. Things like Yaktrax help on icy sidewalks in the city but often are'nt much good in deep snow.

5:44 p.m. on January 11, 2011 (EST)
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Which 4 season tent would you suggest for winter camping?

3:18 p.m. on January 13, 2011 (EST)
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There is no such thing as a four seasons tent. But depending on the type of Winter camping youre gonna do ( In the woods or the alpine?) some three seasons tent can work. I have a Marmot 2p swallow and it works well for an all year use. The reason for that are simple, all the mesh windows can be zipped shut so it keeps heat in. Alas, in the summer the tent is also hotter. It resist wind, snow, rain, quite well and I've never seen water seep through it in over 5 years of good use. What you'll want for a do it all tent is simple: Vents that can closed or opened easily, and a bombproof waterproofness. For alpine climbing I bought a MH trango 2 as it's a standard and very good when things go bad.

Good luck with winter camping.

11:16 p.m. on January 13, 2011 (EST)
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Nemo has created the Losi Storm 2P and 3P tents and classified them as a four-season tent.  Basically they took the Losi tent and replaced some of the mesh panels with wind-resistant nylon.  Personally I think the classification is more about marketing than creating a legitimate new product category.  All that being said I agree with Louis-Alexis that a three-season tent where you can zip shut the mesh panels will work is basically what Nemo is classifying as a four-season tent (not mountaineering).

Stepping up to the mountaineering class of tents would add a bit more but provide more protection if that's what is needed.  Some options there would include:

  • Mountain Hardwear Trango or EV3
  • North Face VE 25
  • Nemo Tenshi

Have fun!

3:04 a.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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"There is no such thing as a four seasons tent." Not exactly true. A four season tent is one designed to withstand winter conditions. Not the ideal tent for the rest of the year because of weight and generally lack of ventilation, but mine for example can be used all year round fairly comfortably because of the vents it has. However, it weighs 8 lbs and would be overkill for summer where a light tarp would do just as well.

There are many winter tents designed to withstand harsh wind and snow conditions. Look at the websites for some of the general gear retailers like REI,, and others you'll find with a search and you will see many of them. Some are made by small specialty companies, but many are made by major manufacturers like Eureka, Mountainhardwear, North Face, Black Diamond (BD and Bibler) and Integral Designs.

4:53 a.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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There is no such thing as a four seasons tent...

Now that Tom has highlighted your opine, I am curious.  What do you mean there is no such thing as a 4 season tent?  What category are tents equipped with poles designed to support heavy snow loads, or have snow flaps?  We won’t waste time digressing on tents designed to withstand winds you’ll never see in summer, except maybe in a tornado or hurricane.  But who camps in those situations anyway?


9:20 a.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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Simply put the pros of one are tha cons of the others, for example:

Mountain hardwear Skyledge 2.1 v.s Mountain Hardwear Trango 2.1. Now we all agree one can sleep easily in summer with any of the tent mentionned above but you'll be a lot more comfortable in the skyledge due to the ventilation. Now if you put the skyledge in winter...not so much of good idea. Of course there are many tent with zip mesh and all that ( I own one myself) that work pretty well in winter. So would these qualify as four season tent? Everything points to yes, but I still believe  that you'll sleep better and have less weight to carry with a "skyledge" or other more summery tentin summer, then an 8 pound 4 seasons tent. As Tom said.  It's all a matter of how you see things. If you go for optimum your better off with two tents.

Have fun.

12:17 p.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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It depends on which type of winter you're planning to camp in. :) Tell us the general region in which you intend to camp, or describe the most extreme conditions you would likely face.

1:24 p.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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.. It's all a matter of how you see things...

So how would one categorize a snow cave?

While I agree part of the reason I do not use my winter tent in summer is for comfort and weight considerations, and vice versa regarding my summer tent, I think attempting to redefine the terminology used to classify tents does more to add confusion than clarify anything.  Taking your observation a bit further, one can state we shouldn’t even attempt classifying tents by seasonal use. A typical summer day at Windy Corner on Denali is way more extreme by every metric than the average winter day in Tampa.  So what then makes a summer tent not a winter tent? 


Is the 3/4 season categorizations flawed? Certainly, but any alternative I can conjure suffers similar short comings.  For example you can eliminate these arbitrary classifications, and instead go with matrixized comparisons based on an exhaustive list of all possible features and permutations.  But that would be unwieldy and confusing to many.  IMO the 3/4 season tent designations seem designed to connote a general level of safety/serviceability you can anticipate while alluding to general design features, with evaluating creature comforts being a secondary purpose.  It ain’t perfect but most generally understand the madness to the method.  For the sake of all of us being on the same page it is sometimes necessary to adopt less than perfect terminology, such is the nature of social order.



3:10 p.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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Someone with the knowledge and experience to know the conditions that a given location will present should know what level of tent and other equipage are required for those conditions and locations. Of course there are those who do not have the experience or knowledge, who will just go buy their gear without understanding the demands that will or will not be placed upon those items.  But further parsing and defining the classifications of tents won't help that individual. Why?  Because the classifications and delineations would have to become more technical to eliminate classification flaws. The more technical information gets, the more confusing it gets for those who don't already possess the knowledge of what is needed. For those with who are able to understand the technical information, it is available from quality manufacturers. If a maker doesn't provide more detailed and technical information, it is safe to assume their quality and reliability is suspect.

At least that's my experience.

2:19 a.m. on January 15, 2011 (EST)
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"So what then makes a summer tent not a winter tent?"  I just got done with this same discussion on another website I moderate. It ended up much the same way this one appears to be going.

My winter tent is a double wall five pole, two door tent with a large front vestibule and a small rear vestibule. The four main poles cross in two Xes which make the tent very stable, self supporting and with the big vestibule, very dry. I can climb into it without dragging snow or rain into the main tent. It can take a significant snow load. It weighs about 8 pounds.

Contrast that with a tent like a Six Moon Design single wall tent supported by one trekking pole. Which one would you rather be inside during a big snowfall?


With vestibule folded back


One half of the vestibule open. Taken after a night of snowfall in Yosemite at Badger Pass-about 7200 ft. mid February. The last two pics were taken on a different trip than the first two, but all were taken around Badger Pass at close to the same place.



Can you camp in these conditions with a summer tent? Sure, you could do so with just a tarp, but I guarantee my tent is far more comfortable than a skimpy summer tent. I've been in the same place with a SD Flashlight and it was nowhere near the tent my EMS is for these conditions.

Notice what you see in each of these photos? My shovel. I know I harp on this, but IMHO anyone who goes out into the winter snow without a shovel does not understand how important it is to have one with you. I even carry mine while day hiking in case I get caught out and need to dig a shelter. PS-forget the plastic bladed ones-they are useless in hard snow or ice. You can buy one on Amazon for less than $20 from Lifeline. Mine is a Voile Mini, but BD and others make them too.


1:39 p.m. on January 16, 2011 (EST)
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I offered this suggestion previously. Chemical emergency heaters principally for toes and hands would be a good addition to your gear. Frostbite and hypothermia are major winter concerns. You could additionally use them to keep your water warm and/or from freezing unless you keep your immediate drinking water close to your body. Adding salt to drinking water would mitigate freezing. I also suggest lightweight clothing for increased freedom of movement and a water resistant down parka. Clothing layers will provide flexibility for changing thermal, moisture and wind conditions. Polypropylene underwear is my preference - low cost and high performance. lightweight wool underwear is fine if you don't mind the cost and low durability. One of my zip turtleneck polypro long sleeve shirts has lasted several decades. The current wool underwear will last about six months and cost about fifty dollars. Gaiters are valuable if the snow is deeper than about five inches higher than a solid base layer and provides thermal, moisture and wind protection as well. I could go on and on but won't bore you and others further.

3:49 p.m. on January 16, 2011 (EST)
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I have seen a lot of ripped and abandoned  tents in the Alps. Spend the extra money for a reliable tent. We do a lot of hiking in the snow, even areas without trails. This includes forests and mountains The one piece of equipment we always take with us is hiking poles with the snow attachments. Four legs is better then two. I almost slipped on an Alpine trail in Austria, but placing my poles saved me from a world of hurt. They also helped me find areas that I could sink into. I do not know I was about to walked onto a snow/iced covered stream once. The poles warned me ahead of time. My feet and legs would have been very cold that day. Tom D is right about that shovel!

9:16 a.m. on January 17, 2011 (EST)
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Gonzan, Ed, good point about keeping it simple. And Ed, I love a good snow cave, I'm taking my little brother for the first time out winter camping near our sugarshack at the end of the month. (I'll post you guys pictures.) and that is always a promises of good times. Good point about the shovel Tom. When Bryan tells us where he plans on camping out we can guide him better.

Until then, winter's half done and before it's over, let's go play.

9:21 p.m. on February 9, 2011 (EST)
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Anyone hiking in HNF this winter would probably need crampons to make it up and down those hills...


In general, to any Hoosier hikers out there, Indiana's never thrown anything at me that my Merrells w/Gore-Tex couldn't take. Sometimes gaiters are helpful/necessary, but even with our ice storms some SmartWool liners and their heavy hiking socks have kept me warm and dry all winter.

9:52 p.m. on April 14, 2011 (EDT)
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THANK YOU EVERYONE!! Really great advice all around!

We have decided the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin is what we want to do. However, we are pushing it back a year due to some members not having the funds to get the essential gear. (Instead we are doing Ocala National Forest in FL)

I have added some new clothing, since being in Chicago:
FA Merino Wool base layers
REI Merino Wool Hiking Socks
FA Down-lite Jacket
EMS 3-in-1 Gloves (with liners)
MW Windstopper Cap
OP Gators

I'm looking at some Keen insulated Boots. And I think we are considering getting a 5-season tent that will fit our standard group. 

New member here, but I felt I have to inform Silence (and others) that the Ice Age Trail only allows off-trail camping in the northern counties and is not permitted in counties south of Langlade.  The trail also traverses many private lands and caution should be used during the hunting seasons (autumn and early spring for turkey and deer).  Wearing some blaze orange gear during those times would be quite beneficial


Just my 2 cents from someone who's lived in WI for 41 years and never far from the IAT.

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