If you’re planning a winter adventure, such as mountaineering to the top of Mt. McKinley in Alaska’s Denali State Park, a February trip to the White Mountains or the Adirondacks, you will certainly have to consider a four-season tent. Four-season tents are engineered to withstand extreme weather conditions, common in winter and found at higher elevations. “Why can’t I use my ordinary backpacking tent?” you may ask. Since conditions in winter will be far more severe and challenging than at any other time of the year, you need a tent that is sturdy enough to face the elements. Four-season tents have the structure and architecture to withstand colder temperatures, strong winds, and the weight of snow.
Built mainly with stronger, more durable materials and fabric, four-season tents are normally dome shaped (igloos were designed like that for a reason), and feature steep angled sides to prevent snow from accumulating on the top. This design also maximizes airflow over and around the tent to keep movement or shifting to a minimum in high wind. The poles are made out of aluminum, which is much sturdier than fiberglass, which can crack in colder temperatures. Four-season tents tend to have heavier duty waterproofing and higher strength stitching and hardware, such as zippers.
Many four-season tents use solid breathable material on the inner wall, unlike three-season tents which feature mesh for greater ventilation. While they are heavier to carry and provide limited ventilation compared to three-season tents, four-season tents offer reassuring and dependable shelter in harsh, wintry conditions.
Most four-season tents include a vestibule, which provides storage space outside the interior of the tent to put packs and boots as well as wet snowy clothing. As the old mountain man adage goes, “keep your powder dry”. Keeping your sleeping area dry is keeping you sleeping area warm. A four-season tent with two vestibules as an added feature, allows you to use one for storage and the other for entry. In milder weather, vestibules can be short sheeted which means you can roll back the flap to create active cross ventilation.
Many four-season tents have vents built into the fly, which provide ventilation. It may be cold outside, but ventilation is something you want to maximize in your tent. Without ventilating your four-season tent, condensation will crystallize on the fly, and snow down on you while you’re asleep, dampening your sleeping bag and clothing.
While color should never be the first priority when selecting outdoor gear, with four-season tents, the brighter the color, the easier it is to locate, in case of an emergency.
Just as fleece and thermal clothing or insulated boots are imperative for winter expeditions, so is a four-season tent. As always, do your homework and research before reaching a decision. Ask questions and do not hesitate to contact the experts for further help and information!