Cold weather tents in the snow with northern lights

Cold Weather Tents: The Best Shelters for Winter Camping

If you’re planning on getting some winter camping in this year then making sure you have the right tent to snuggle into is essential. Staying warm when camping in the winter takes some doing. If all that awaits you, at the end of a frigid day out in the wilderness, is a flimsy set up that would be better suited to the muddy field of a summer festival, then things are going to go pear shaped very quickly. However, it can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to cold weather tents. There are loads of different types out there that are all designed for very different winter camping scenarios.

Whether it is a night or two enduring the storms of high altitude mountaineering, or a week of wilderness living deep in the backcountry, this selection of some of the best cold weather tents will have you covered.

ProductType of tentWeightCost
Mountain Hardwear Trango 2Winter expedition tent4.45kg (157oz)$$$
The North Face Bastion 4Winter expedition tent5.89 kg (207.8oz)$$$$$
Black Diamond EldoradoLightweight mountaineering tent2.3kg (81oz)$$$
Rab LatokLightweight mountaineering tent1.4kg (48.2oz)$$$
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6Family tent8kg (282oz)$$$
The North Face 2-meter DomeFamily tent23.13kg (816oz)$$$$$$$$
REI Arete ASL 2Budget tent2.66kg (94oz)$
Geartop 4 SeasonBudget tent2.8kg (99oz)$
Seek Outside 4 Person TipiStove compatible tent1.96kg (69oz)$$$

What’s the difference between 3 and 4 season tents?

Before we go any further, let’s talk about 3 and 4 season tents. After all, you may already have a great 3 season tent sitting at home that will cope perfectly well in less severe winter conditions. Here’s the difference:

3 season tents

These are designed for camping in spring, summer and fall, and are usually lighter than 4 season tents. Although many of the best 3 season tents will hold up perfectly well in high winds and bad weather, their durability and strength will struggle to compete with cold weather tents, especially in snowy conditions. So if it’s cold but very little chance of snow and gale-force winds, you’ll be just fine in a good quality 3 season tent. Check out your options for the best backpacking tents.

4 season tents

Also known as cold weather tents, or winter tents, 4 season tents are designed to withstand high winds and heavy snowfall in cold winter conditions. Compared with 3 season tents, a good 4 season tent will:

  • Usually be heavier
  • Have steep sided walls to help prevent snow from settling
  • Have stronger poles – usually aluminium
  • Usually have more poles and more pole crossings
  • Be made from tougher and more durable fabrics
  • Usually cost more

Although designed with winter camping in mind, good 4 season tents should also be versatile enough to perform well for the rest of the year and not just in the snow.


What to look for in a good cold weather tent

Any great tent should be well made and fit for purpose. But there are also a load of other things to consider when investing in a cold weather tent.

Livability

Generally speaking, winter tents need to be a little more liveable than 3 season tents. If a storm hits, then spending a couple of days at a time stuck in your tent can become unfun very quickly. Unless of course you have a great book, some entertaining card games and an awesome cold weather tent which should have the following:

  • A vestibule

    This is really important to store your outerwear in; boots and jackets etc. The less damp stuff you bring into the main part of the tent the better. This prevents condensation buildup and internal frosting.

  • Good ventilation

    Although tempting to keep out the freezing air, having good ventilation is essential to keep on top of condensation and internal frosting. Double wall tents generally have better air circulation than single wall tents, and good vents will really help this too.

  • Space

    As with any tent, the more space, the more comfortable you will be. However there is a limit! Too much space in your sleeping compartment will make it more difficult to warm up with your body heat. But there needs to be enough room to comfortably carry out the tasks that you need to carry out. Enough headspace to sit up and enough floor space to lay your sleeping pads down should be the minimum.

  • Storage

    Even the most lightweight tents will have some internal storage options. And the number and design of the pockets and hooks comes down to personal preference. Any means to stay organised when camping in the cold should be adopted. You don’t want to be spending time searching for items like gloves and hats, that you really should be wearing to stay warm.

  • Two entrances if possible

    If you are sharing a two man tent, then having a second entrance makes thing so much easier. Constantly having your buddy climb over you and all your stuff to get out of the tent can soon become tiresome, for both of you. It is a less important feature for larger tents, but will for sure make things more convenient.

Man sitting in entrance of cold weather tents

Strength and weather resistance

The most important features of cold weather tents are their ability to endure strong winds and deal with heavy snowfall effectively. Primarily this comes down to tent design, but using the right materials for the job also contribute to the robustness of winter tents and their ability to stand up to bad weather time and time again.

Tent type and shape

A tent with steep sides is far better at dealing with excess snow than a tent with a flatter roof. Winter tents can be either single wall (just a fly waterproof sheet and no inner), or double wall (a waterproof fly sheet over the top of a non-waterproof inner).

  • Poles – For maximal stability, the more poles the better (in general). And things get even more stable if there are multiple poles crossing each other. To balance weight and strength, poles are usually aluminium.
  • Tent fabric – The fabric of 4 season tents should be stronger than that of 3 season tents with their thickness measured in Denier (D). The tent fly should have a DWR (durable water repellent) coating; either impregnated with silicone, coated with PU (polyurethane) and silicone, or coated with PTFE (a non-toxic waterproof membrane).

Weight

Due to the strong materials used, winter tents usually weigh more than 3 season tents. When it comes to backpacking, mountaineering and alpine expeditions, keeping things as light as possible can often be higher up on the priority list than comfort and livability. This is especially important when everything being carried weighs more than during summer expeditions; more food, more fuel, thicker sleeping bag, more layers, warmer sleeping pad etc etc. However for those setting up their winter camp straight from the car, the weight of your tent is less of an issue.

Versatility

Just because a 4 season tent is designed for winter conditions, doesn’t mean that it is totally inappropriate for use during the rest of the year. In the ideal world, one tent would be suited to all our camping needs. But as this is a pretty tall order, it makes sense to choose a tent that will also perform well enough for the majority of the year. Versatile tents tend to be the most liveable, with a double wall set up being preferable to a single wall tent.

Cost

High quality and durable materials come at a price, and as mentioned, cold weather tents are usually more expensive than other tents. But picture yourself waking up in the middle of a snow storm with half your tent collapsed onto your face, and it’s easy to appreciate the importance of paying for that quality.


Types of cold weather tents

Choosing the right tent for your winter camping capers really comes down to what you are going to be using it for. And there are a number of different routes to go down. These excellent cold weather tents cover a number of different camping scenarios.

Winter expedition base camp tents

Winter expedition tents need to be light enough to carry for a day or two of trekking, but big enough to be comfortable for extended periods of mountain living. They are also suitable for those doing multi-day winter backpacking trips, wanting a little more comfort than super lightweight winter tents provide.

Mountain Hardware Trango 2 4 season tent

Mountain Hardwear Trango 2

With 4 poles supporting the core of the tent and another on the vestibule, this Mountain Hardwear tent is an excellent example of effective pole configuration and good tent design. The Trango 2 boasts industry leading DAC Featherlite poles, and durable 70D DWR coated nylon floor and fly. The result is an ultra strong and weather resistant tent that is one of the world’s most popular winter expedition tents.

With 40sq feet of internal floor space, 2 doors and 2 vestibules, this is a highly liveable and super robust little tent. And although it won’t win any awards in the weight department, at 4.45kg (157oz) it is still carryable between two people.

The all important ventilation system keeps air flowing through the mesh and canopy vents, and there are even two clear windows to keep the mood bright whilst checking for the weather to clear.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Looking for something bigger?


Lightweight mountaineering tents

For alpine climbers and mountaineers, a lightweight tent is essential, and many opt for a single-walled design to keep the weight to a minimum. Ideally, it should be freestanding to enable it to be pitched in small and awkward spaces, with steep sides to shed snow effectively.

Black Diamond Eldorado mountaineering tent

Black Diamond Eldorado

The Eldorado is an incredibly durable and weatherproof lightweight winter tent. The fabric of the single wall is coated with PTFE, putting it ahead of the game compared with other single wall tents that use a PU coated fabric. The simple design of this two pole tent creates a steep-sided and highly stable shelter that excels in windy and snowy conditions.

At 2.3kg (81oz), there are lighter tent options in this category, but the Eldorado provides a more liveable space to ride out the storm in, despite its lack of vestibule and second entrance. It is generous in length, allowing for tall inhabitants to spread out, or for gear storage, and the zippered vents keep air flowing well enough.

At 30.8 sq ft, the footprint of this compact and simple setup is highly appealing for those on ‘sleep where you can’ type expeditions, but the winter specific design makes it less versatile for year round camping.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon

Looking for an even more lightweight mountaineering tent?

  • Rab Latok tent for mountaineering

    Rab Latok

    • 1.4kg (48.2oz)
    • Sleeps 1-2
    • Single wall
    • No vestibule

Cold weather tents for family camping and car camping

The weight of your tent is not so much of an issue when it comes to car camping, and although you don’t want to be hauling a marquee out of your car, you can afford to prioritise a bit of luxury. Smart tent design becomes even more essential when you are dealing with larger tents, as they are much more easily affected by high winds.

Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6 4 season family tent

Big Agnes Flying Diamond 6

This 6 person 4 season tent is not just an excellent choice for winter car campers, but is also ideal for family camping at any time of the year. The larger 8 person version won the Cool of Wild All-rounder Award in the family camping tent category.

The Flying Diamond has 5 poles that make up the two room freestanding main compartment. A further pole attaches to the front to create a highly spacious main vestibule, whilst a more modest porch gives access to the second bedroom at the rear of the tent.

Big Agnes have also included loads of internal pockets and hooks, and a super tough polyester floor and polyester fly – both treated with a 1500mm waterproof PU coating. Super liveable and highly versatile for year round camping trips with your family or friends.

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Need something even bigger?


Budget 4 season tents

Most 4 season 2 man backpacking and mountaineering tents are around $600-$700 with some well over $800. And unless you plan on embarking upon regular winter expeditions and camping trips, many of those tents will be overkill for what you need. Thankfully, there are some really excellent quality 4 season winter tents that won’t break the bank but will still perform in the way that they should.

REI Arete ASL 2 cold weather tent

REI Arete ASL 2

Compared with the more pricey 4 season backpacking tents, the Arete struggles to compete when it comes to durability and strength, but it will still hold up well enough when under attack from snow and wind. Compared with the 70D thickness of the Trango 2, the siliconised nylon fly of the Arete is only 30D. However the three DAC Featherlite Combi poles ensure high levels of structural stability to make up for it.

At only 2.66kg (94oz), the Arete is much lighter than the Trango and only marginally heavier than the Eldorado. And impressively, that includes a 9.1 sq ft vestibule in addition to 32.5 sq ft of internal floor space. Along with two ceiling vents, the double wall tent has air flow well under control. And to top it off, this excellent value winter tent also has multiple storage options including corner pockets, hooks and roof pockets.

Find the latest price on:
REI

Got a really tiny budget?


Cold weather tents with stoves

Choosing a ‘hot tent’ that is compatible with a stove, opens up a whole different kind of winter camping. It is suitable either for car campers, or for those hauling their gear into the wilderness on sleds. It is also not out of the questions for backpackers, as there are some very lightweight tents available if you also have a lightweight stove. It’s super important to know what you’re doing before you go lighting up underneath flammable nylon, but when done properly, hot tent camping provides a rustic yet highly comfortable way to enjoy getting out into the wild right through the snowy season.

Seek Outside Tipi with tent stove

Seek Outside 4 Person Tipi

At only 1.96kg (69oz) this single wall tent is impressively light, even compared with 2 man 3 season tents. It may not look as stable as modern backpacking and mountaineering tent designs, but this Seek Outside Tipi will deal with high winds without a problem, if put up correctly. Adding a tent footprint (not included) will add a little extra weight, but the ability to set up the stove inside the tent and comfortably sleep two people (four without the stove), makes this a really appealing option as a base camp tent in the backcountry.

The nylon 30D fly, although relatively thin, is impregnated with Ultralight silicone and has a waterproof rating of 3000mm. Whilst its single carbon pole seems somewhat spartan on the stability front, the tent shape and guy outs provide enough toughness to weather the storm with confidence.

The tent also provides a whopping 115 sq ft of floor space and 6’10” of headroom at the tallest point, and of course features a stove port and vents to prevent condensation build up.

Need a stove to keep the temperature up?

You may also like

Open Menu