The best 4-season tents for 2018

Stay protected from the elements year-round in one of the best 4-season tents

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Spending time outside in the dead of winter can be surreal, but the often extreme weather conditions provide a whole new playing field when it comes to backpacking. The lightweight mesh tents that are ideal for the summer won’t cut it when the temperatures drop and the winds start howling in the middle of an unexpected snow squall.

Backpackers who enjoy overnight treks in the most rugged of seasons need a shelter explicitly designed to withstand these harsh conditions without fail. We’ve spent the last month examining these winter tents and have learned a great deal about their good points, as well as a few bad points. Here are our picks of the best 4-season tents currently available.

Nemo Chogori 2 Tent

The best

best 4 season tents nemo chogori winter tent
Packed Weight: 7 pounds 7 ounces
Floor Space: 40.1 square feet
Vestibule: 11.7 + 4.2 square feet

Why should you buy this: High-quality materials and a bombproof design make the Chogori our top pick.

Who’s it for: Mountaineers who want a shelter that’s quick to set up and built to weather any storm.

How much will it cost: $700

Why we picked the Nemo Chogori: 

The Nemo Chogori is one of the most expensive tents on our list and for good reason. The tent just screams quality — everything from the materials used in the tent to the overall design is top notch. This focus on quality is evident as soon as you start assembling the tent. The tent has an innovative external pole framework with an integrated fly that cuts the set-up time in half. This design also reduces the weight of the tent by 25 percent without sacrificing vestibule space, ventilation, and other creature comforts.

This Chogori is spacious on the inside with plenty of room for two people and their gear. If more space is needed, then two Chogori tents can be linked together to form a large, connected shelter. Nemo thoughtfully designed the vestibule so you can open it to the side in inclement weather or to the front so you move in and out of the tent easily when the weather is fair. It also has a window to check the conditions when the weather is severe.

The Nemo Chogori hits the sweet spot between bulky expedition tents and lightweight below-treeline tents. It is rugged enough to withstand extreme conditions but light enough to carry in a backpack especially if you have a partner to split the weight. It is ideal for short expeditions where a heavy mountaineering tent like the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 is overkill and the lightweight MSR Access 2 is too fragile

Mountain Hardwear Trango 2

The best double-wall mountaineering tent

Packed Weight: 9 pounds 13 ounces
Floor Space: 40 square feet
Vestibule: 11 square feet front, 5 square feet rear

Why should you buy this: The Trango 2 offers rock-solid protection from the wind and snow and won’t let you down when you need it most.

Who’s it for: Mountaineers who want a bombproof shelter and don’t mind carrying extra weight

How much will it cost: $650

Why we picked the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2: 

For more than two decades, the Trango series of tents from Mountain Hardwear has been a mountaineering staple and the latest version, the Trango 2, is no exception. With a deep bathtub floor and a fully taped rain fly that extends down to the ground, this double-walled tent has everything you need to stay warm and dry. The main vestibule is equally watertight with a pole for additional headroom and gear storage. Construction-wise, the fabric is durable, the zippers are rugged, and the poles stand up to stress when the wind starts to howl. There’s also ample exterior guy-out points with a reflective coating that makes them easy to find when it’s dark.

On the inside, the Trango 2 has enough floor space for two average-sized people but the sloping sides of the tent cut into its usable space. Thankfully, Mountain Hardwear added several interior pockets, gear loops and an optional gear loft that maximizes the available space by allowing for the storage of gear off the ground. There’s also a roomy vestibule to make up for any space limitations in storage. Despite these extras, taller people may feel cramped in the Trango 2 as there’s not much headroom (just over three feet).

Like most alpine tents, the Trango 2 offers two mesh doors, which are great for convenient exit and entry. There also are windows on both the ceiling and vestibule that aids in airflow. During our own time with the tend, we were able to vary our exposure to the elements by adjusting the rainfly, windows, and vestibule. As a result, we experienced little to no condensation in both above and below-freezing temperatures. This versatility makes the Trango 2 perfect for shoulder season and full-on winter conditions.

Not just a bonus for ventilation, the windows in the Trango 2 also allow ambient light to shine into the tent, making it feel much homier. The most prominent drawback to the Trango 2 is its weight. At almost 10 pounds, it’s arduous to carry into the backcountry alone. You’ll enjoy your outing much more if you travel with a partner who is willing to split up the tent contents and share the burden.

Black Diamond Fitzroy

The best single-wall mountaineering tent

Packed Weight: 7 pounds 1 ounce
Floor Space: 36 square feet
Vestibule: Optional

Why should you buy this: The Black Diamond Fitzroy is pricey but you’ll appreciate the rock-solid construction when the wind blows and the snow starts flying.

Who’s it for: Alpine mountaineers who want to shave weight without compromising strength.

How much will it cost: $850

Why we picked the Black Diamond Fitzroy: First sold under the Bibler brand, the Black Diamond Fitzroy has an outstanding track record of performance in the mountaineering community — making it our top pick for single-wall tents.

The Fitzroy boasts a comfortable 36 square feet of floor space, providing ample room for two people. The vestibule is an optional add-on but recommended if you want to fit more than two people and gear inside the tent. Concerning the inside, there are four mesh pockets for storing and organizing equipment. Because of the single-wall construction, the Fitzroy is lighter and more packable than its double-wall counterparts. It’s not the lightest single-wall on the market but its bombproof construction is worth the small bump in weight. It’s perfect for a multi-day alpine adventure that requires more protection than a fast pack tent, without the added bulk of double-wall tents.

Unlike double-wall varieties that have an outer rainfly and an inner tent, this single-walled tent relies on a single layer of fabric to protect the occupants from the elements. Like many single-wall tents, the Fitzroy suffers from condensation due to its fabric not breathing very well. The doors of the tent provide the bulk of the ventilation but are only adequate when camping at high elevations or in cold temperatures where condensation is less of a problem.

Additionally, the Fitzroy isn’t great at lower elevations — or under warmer conditions — where water may quickly accumulate on the inside of the tent. It’s best suited as a mountaineering tent that shines when used in the harsh conditions of the alpine zone. If you need a moderate elevation tent that handles alpine environments on occasion, you should look more closely at Mountain Hardwear’s EV2 — another single-wall tent with similar durability but better ventilation.

MSR Access 2

The best below-the-treeline tent

Packed Weight: 4 pounds 1 ounce
Floor Space: 29 square feet
Vestibule: 17.5 square feet

Why should you buy this: The MSR Access 2 is a lightweight tent for fast packing in less severe winter conditions.

Who’s it for: Backcountry skiers, splitboarders, and hikers who want an easy to carry shelter for quick overnights in milder winter conditions or shoulder seasons.

How much will it cost: $600

Why we picked the MSR Access 2: At first glance, a treeline winter tent and a 3-season tent have a lot in common. Both are lightweight, come in a variety of shapes and designs, and have mesh walls for ventilation on milder evenings. A treeline tent, however, is often beefier than its three-season counterpart, offering a thicker, bathtub floor, a sturdier frame to handle snow, and a heavier choice of fabrics for the tent body (20D nylon), floor (30D nylon), and rainfly (20D nylon). It’s this niche — lighter than a winter tent, sturdier than a three-season tent — that the MSR Access 2 was designed to fill.

While tents like the double-walled Mountain Hardware Trango 2 weigh a hefty 10 pounds, the Access 2 comes in just above the 4-pound mark, making it one of the best lightweight options on this list. To drop weight, the Access 2 ships with Easton Syclone poles which are made of a composite material that’s light like aluminum but claims to be more resistant to breaking than carbon fiber. You can bend the poles extensively — beyond what’s needed to set up the tent — and they won’t break. MSR also uses lighter fabrics in the tent and rainfly in the construction of the Access 2.

This feathery weight is a trade-off as the Access 2 is not as rugged as its heavier counterparts. When tested below the treeline in milder winter conditions (light winds and light sleet), the tent shed the moisture and blocked wind effectively, keeping the interior warm and dry.

When pitched on an exposed ridge during high wind conditions (60 miles per hour), it was quite a different experience. Air was able to flow underneath the rainfly and threatened to lift the tent from the ground. The tent didn’t collapse or buckle under the strain but the experience was unnerving.

On a comfort scale, the MSR Access 2 has enough floor space for two people and their gear. There’s even ample headroom for comfortably changing clothes. The tent has partial mesh sides that help keep heat in while providing airflow that reduces condensation. The Access 2 is easy to pitch, taking five minutes to set up the tent and attach the fly. It features a cross-pole design that sheds snow efficiently while offering additional interior headroom space.

If you want a lightweight and reliable tent for below-treeline adventures, you can’t go wrong with the Access 2. It’ll withstand most winter storms and the weight won’t break your back. We don’t recommend taking it into exposed areas where the weather is expected to get rough. Backpackers looking for a tent that handles the harsh weather of the alpine zone should consider a beefier double-wall tent like Mountain Hardware’s Trango 2.

Nemo Kunai

The best ‘true’ four-season shelter

best 4 season tents nemo kunai tent narrow

Packed Weight: 4 pounds 13 ounces
Floor Space: 27.6 square feet
Vestibule: 6.8 sq ft

Why should you buy this: The Kunai is one of very few true four-season tents that will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Who’s it for: Backpackers who want a rugged shelter suitable for summer backpacking, winter mountaineering, and everything in between.

How much will it cost: $500

Why we picked the Nemo Kunai: 

The Kunai from Nemo is pricey but you certainly get what you pay for. This four-season shelter is a jack of all trades — light enough to satisfy hikers who travel during the warmer months, yet durable enough to withstand winter conditions.

The Kunai 2P is designed like most three-season backpacking tents with two poles that cross over the top of the tent and a brow extension to increase head room and add some stability to the tent. What sets the Kunai apart from your typical three-season tent is its tapered profile that sheds snow and holds up well in the wind. The tent also uses direct guy-out points that pass through the rain fly and attach directly to the pole to keep the tent securely anchored to the ground.

At just under 5 pounds, the Kunai is significantly lighter than most winter and mountaneering tents. It is ruggedly built with a 30D nylon ripstop floor, a 15D nylon fly and a 20D canopy. Zippered mesh windows at the bottom of the tent and strut vents in the fly help to regulate the temperature in the tent and prevent condensation.

Our one gripe with the Kunai is the size. It’s one of the smaller tents on our list. The vestibule doesn’t have extra room for gear, and you may have to snuggle up to your partner to avoid touching the walls of the tent. When it is cold outside, though, you may appreciate the body heat from sleeping in such close quarters.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2

The best ultralight four-season shelter

Packed Weight: 1 pounds 0.6 ounces
Floor Space: 63 square feet
Vestibule: None

Why should you buy this: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 is your go-to shelter for ultralight expeditions in any season.

Who’s it for: Fast and ultralight backpackers who want a lightweight shelter suitable for summer backpacking, winter mountaineering, and everything in between.

How much will it cost: $715 – $780

Why we picked the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2: 

The Ultamid 2 from Hyperlite Mountain is pricey but you certainly get what you pay for. This four-season shelter is a jack of all trades — light enough to satisfy thru-hikers who travel during the warmer months, yet durable enough to withstand winter conditions. Different from our other top picks which are full tents, the Ultramid is a shelter. It lacks a floor and doesn’t use traditional poles. Instead, it relies on a classic pyramid shape that can be pitched with a trekking pole or ski pole.

The winning feature of the shelter is its material: Dyneema Composite Fabric, formerly known as cuben fiber. The DCF8 Dyneema fabric is ultra-light and extremely durable and is four times stronger than kevlar, capable of being stretched without losing strength. This combination allows you to pitch the tent taut without tearing the fabric. The DCF8 Dyneema fabric also is waterproof and when you add in the fully taped seams,  you have a near bombproof shelter that weighs as much as a loaf of bread.

Marmot Fortress 2P

The best value in a four-season tent

best 4 season tents marmot fortress 2p
Packed Weight: 5 pounds 5.5 ounces
Floor Space: 32 square feet
Vestibule: 9.8 and 7.8 square feet

Why should you buy this: The Marmot Fortress 2P tent is everything you need in a 4-season tent at a wallet-friendly price.

Who’s it for: Winter campers and mountaineers who want a 4-season tent designed to handle everything except the most severe above-treeline conditions.

How much will it cost: $230

Why we picked the Marmot Fortress 2P: 

Just because other picks on this list are more than double in price, the Fortress 2P from Marmot is still an excellent choice for the winter camper or mountaineer. The tent is solidly built and extremely roomy with two entrances and two vestibules for storing gear.

Marmot didn’t skimp when it built the Fortress 2P tent — its a rugged tent for its relatively low price point. The company uses 40D polyester no-see-um mesh and a beefy 68D polyester for the floor, canopy and rain fly. The exterior is waterproofed and the interior seam sealed so the tent won’t leak. Heavy-duty straps and buckles on the rainfly are an extra guarantee that the tent will still be standing even when the winds start to howl. We tested the tent in high winds and snow and felt warm and cozy during our first winter storm of the season.

The Fortress 2P’s interior is roomy for two people and their gear. A small vestibule provides extra storage but it is not big enough for cooking or eating. The vestibule works best as a shelter so you can put on your boots and zip up your coat before you brave the cold. Airflow is surprisingly good in the Fortress 2P. You can open the rainfly if the conditions allow or open the strut vent at the top of the tent for some fresh air. This mesh vent provides excellent ventilation and helps avoid condensation build-up, making the Fortress 2P ideal for use either below or above the treeline.

MSR Twin Sisters Tarp

The best winter tarp

best 4 season tents msr twin sisters winter tarp
Packed Weight: 3 pounds 1 ounce
Floor Space: 45 square feet
Vestibule: None

Why should you buy this: The MSR Twin Sisters Tarp offers ample space and outstanding protection from the elements in an easy-to-pitch tarp.

Who’s it for: Backcountry skiers and backpackers who want a relatively lightweight shelter for quick trips into the wilderness.

How much will it cost: $400

Why we picked the MSR Twin Sisters Tarp: 

The Twin Sisters Tarp from MSR is a rugged two-pole pyramid tarp for backcountry explorers who want a simple shelter for their winter adventures. It includes two poles and a slight catenary cut that makes it easy to get the correct pitch. We were able to get the right pitch on our first try, which is a testament to how well designed the tarp is.

MSR uses a rugged 30D nylon that is coated with silicone and urethane. It is pitched so snow will fall right off and seam sealed to keep rain and sleet from seeping into your living space. Two doors provide easy access to a spacious interior that is suitable for two people and their gear. There are no vestibules, but the interior is large enough that they are not needed.

The tarp has a snow skirt that keeps the wind and snow out and the warmth and heat in. It does limit airflow so you’ll have to open one of the doors if you need some fresh air. The tarp is rugged and stood up well at 40 miles-per-hour wind and rain. The adjustable tie-outs were helpful as they allowed us to change the tension on the tarp as the conditions changed. The only negative is its weight — at 3-pounds, it’s fine for the winter when you want a rock-solid shelter, but heavy for three-season use.

How we test

When possible, our four-season tent recommendations have been field tested across a variety of terrains and weather conditions. We try to check each tent under the conditions which it will be most frequently used.

When testing a tent is not possible, we look at the features of the tent and compare it to existing models in our arsenal of gear. We examine how the tent has changed and what improvements, if any, were made for the current year. We also comb through product specifications and both manufacturer and retailer videos for insight into any new technology advances that were developed for these latest and greatest tents.

Bonus helpful advice

Single-wall vs. double-wall

One major feature to consider when buying a winter tent is whether you want a single-wall or double-wall tent. We recommend double-wall tents as they are more versatile and allow you to choose whether you want to use the fly or not, depending on the weather. The inner tent also provides excellent ventilation, while the outer fly provides ample protection from the elements. Double-wall tents also tend to be stronger and more durable than their single-wall counterparts and, last but not least, if you tear your outer rainfly layer in a brutal storm, you can just buy a replacement.

With all the advantages of a double-wall tent, why would anyone want to buy a single-wall? Though they aren’t as durable or breathable, single-wall tents are significantly lighter and are much easier to pitch. They also tend to be smaller, allowing you to pitch them on ledges and other areas when space is at a premium. Single-walled tents are ideal for short trips where being fast and light is critical.

Ventilation

When you sleep, you breathe out warm, moist air and inside a tent, this air rises and condenses. In the summer, this condensation builds up and often rains back down on you, leaving you and your gear damp. During winter, this same condensation freezes and instead of it raining, it can actually snow. This snow obviously makes everything inside wet, including your clothes and sleeping bag. To prevent the buildup of condensation, tents need to be adequately ventilated using either physical vents which allow fresh air to circulate or breathable fabrics that allow for the exchange of moisture.

In our testing, we found that vents are the most effective way to reduce this condensation. Single-walled tents struggle with condensation because they only have a single layer protecting you from the elements. They don’t feature many vents because each leaves an opening for rain or snow to get inside. Instead of vents, most single-wall options rely on breathable fabrics but even the best material doesn’t exchange water as well as a vent. The Big Agnes Shield 2 (a single-walled tent) tries to maximize airflow by using two strategically placed side vents that allow water vapor to escape.

Conversely, double-wall tents use mesh in their interior tent, a construction that allows water vapor to escape under the rain fly. One of the best ventilated double-wall options is the Nemo Chogori (our top pick), which has several vents that open from the inside of the tent and provide ample airflow.

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