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How necessary is a 4 season tent?
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Josh Lee
How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/17/2012 07:18:35 MDT Print View

Taking a trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park in January, we will be camping below tree line, on snow, elevation between 9 and 10 thousand feet. I have a BA Fly Creek UL2, and would much prefer to take this than have to rent a heavier 4 season tent. I would understand wanting a 4 season for above tree line with strong winds and all, but I don't really see the necessity otherwise. As long as your tent is set up properly I don't see how it would build up enough snow on top of the rain fly to collapse the tent. Then again I don't have any experience camping in snow so I am certainly not an expert. Thoughts?

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
3 season vs. 4 season on 10/17/2012 07:42:48 MDT Print View

I haven't camped in a 4 season in winter conditions in the Rockies yet, but I took winter camping with the Colorado Mtn. Club last year, and several of us were successful with 3 season tents (at about 11,000 feet). We learned to stomp down a platform with our snowshoes and used snow saw to cut out blocks. I used the blocks to create a snow wall along my 3 season tent walls--placing the blocks on the tent itself and building them up to block wind. I was very successful with this technique.

Also, we learned that site selection is important..and that you can find a spot under the trees that will protect your tent from winds. Of course, you have to be very careful to stay away from potential "widow maker" trees.

Also very important is checking the forecast before you go out. If there is a huge storm on the way, just go rent the 4 season. If only lighter snows are expected, take the 3 season and you will be fine.

I would recommend that you order this book from your library:

AMC Guide to Winter Hiking & Camping by Yemaya Maurer & Lucas St. Clair

This is the book we used for the CMC course

Hope this helps...very excited to hear about your trip! I'm going out myself several times this winter, and doing a test trip in two weeks! YeaH!

Edited by flutingaround on 10/17/2012 07:43:46 MDT.

Raquel Rascal

Locale: Rocky Mtn. West
Slide show on 10/17/2012 07:50:05 MDT Print View

Check out this link. This is the website for the winter camping school, with some good contacts for you. The volunteer instructors are very helpful and passionate and may be willing to speak with you on the phone if you want more advice. Also the pictures are really insightful too.

Edited by flutingaround on 10/17/2012 07:50:36 MDT.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
snow on 10/17/2012 07:57:48 MDT Print View

it definitely can snow enough in a night to collapse a tent, is it likely?- no

I think a "4 season tent" has as much to do w/ wind resistance as handling snow load

if you do get a heavy snow you will likely have some work to do through the night- knocking off building snow and perhaps even some shoveling, but this would be a rare event imo

I use my "3 season" Duomid in the winter and haven't had any trouble, I don't camp atop 14k peaks w/ it though :)

Josh Lee
The snow block idea does sound interesting on 10/17/2012 08:26:58 MDT Print View

I definitely like the idea of snow blocks, it could be a fun camp chore activity to keep warm after we are done hiking. I have to admit I am somewhat concerned about the "widow makers" in winter conditions. I was out at Rocky Mountain National Park in June and there are tons of dead trees everywhere around some of the campsites due to the beetles that made it hard to find a safe flat spot to set up a tent. Hopefully having a larger area to choose a site from in winter will make finding a place with tree cover, but not a lot of dead trees easier.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: The snow block idea does sound interesting on 10/17/2012 19:47:23 MDT Print View

It really is a tough call.

I have used 3 season tents in winter and got on well with them but have had a few close calls, these day I pack a Hilleberg Soulo if going solo and just recently acquired a Kaitum 3 for using with a buddy.

Building snow walls are well in good but sometimes you just need to pitch your tent and crawl in to your sleeping bag.

Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Mountains
How necessary? on 10/17/2012 20:50:45 MDT Print View

I see you're planning the trip from afar. I gather you won't have the luxury of changing the trip date at the 11th hour in case of inclement conditions, so you should consider other contingency plans. That includes location (storms can be very localized); route within a given area; escape route planning; and equipment.

January can be one of the drier snow months in the winter, but I wouldn't trust a forecast more than 24 hours in advance and certainly not months ahead.

I've owned the BA Copper Spur and I wouldn't trust that for strong winds or heavy snow load. The FC2 seemed less storm worthy, and its single entrance limits access options in bad weather. My biggest concern would be the strength of the poles in a winter storm.

What other gear are you bringing? Is any of it truly 4 season? One advantage of a true 4 season tent not discussed yet is that you may not need to bring as heavy a sleeping bag or an additional bivy, as the solid ripstop inner will keep a lot more of the elements at bay than the largely mesh inner of the FC2.

I used a generously (ie unrealistically) rated 15F bag on top of a downmat inside my Hilleberg Soulo in low single digit temps near Breckenridge last December. The pad and tent kept the interior temp significantly higher than the exterior, although eventually I bailed in the wee hours because the hood and draft collar of the sleeping bag weren't up to the task.


Locale: South West US
Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/17/2012 21:23:16 MDT Print View

A 4 season tent is going to have a solid fabric inner tent. There's a couple of reasons for that. One, it better blocks any wind that might come in under the outer tent, making it warmer. Two, condensation will freeze on to the outer tent at night, melt when it warms up the next day, causing it to drip on your gear. A solid inner will help prevent that.

A mesh inner tent will work, just not as well. As mentioned, it's really conditions dependent.

Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
How Necessary is a 4 Season Tent on 10/17/2012 21:59:39 MDT Print View

If there is wind and snow, a good 4 season tent could save your life above or below tree line. So how necessary depends on the weather forecast.

I have used my BA Seedhouse SL2 in fair weather below tree line and it worked fine.

Read Roger Caffin's article on tunnel tents posted on this site to get an idea of what would happen to your tent in 40 plus mph winds.

If I were expecting a bit of snow, I would take my MLD duo mid, bury the edges, dig down, and build snow walls. If I were expected a real storm, or did not want to take the time to rig the duo mid, I would take my BA StringRIdge 2.

Did you learn how to build a snow cave (~3 hours of digging) or snow trench (~1 to 2 hours) in your winter camping class, that is the lightest option.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/17/2012 22:12:11 MDT Print View

There main issues you may have are snow load, spindrift getting in through the mesh,and wind resistance. You can easily get enough snow to collapse the tent overnight if you get a big dump and if it is relatively wet snow. But you can deal with that by getting up several times during the night to clear snow off the tent - ad from around the base of the tent walls. The last is pretty important as it gives the snow that slides of the tent someplace to go rather than piling up against the tent.

I would look at it this way: if the trip is one or two nights, you can look at the forecast and judge before you go - if the forecast is good, you'll probably be okay with the light tent. If the forecast is sketchy, rent something more substantial and you'll enjoy the trip more. If the trip is more like 3 or 4 nights, I wouldn't trust the forecast much for that long, I'd get a more robust shelter.

I would also say that I have never once in all my years of snow camping regretted carrying a reliable shelter, but I have on a few occasions wished I had something more robust along when the weather got bad.

In the main, I would always keep in mind that the choice isn't so much about what tent it is possible to put up with but rather it's about what will make the trip the most fun. A couple more pounds in the pack is well worth it if the weather turns foul, especially if you are new to snow camping.

Edited by paul on 10/17/2012 22:34:39 MDT.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/17/2012 22:50:45 MDT Print View

R K brought up a great point about a solid inner tent.

There are plenty of 3 season tents that could support a snow load and lots of wind, but you're still not going to want to be in them when it's cold and windy outside because it'll be just about as cold and windy inside as well.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/18/2012 18:14:22 MDT Print View

Bumping to make this thread visible again.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/18/2012 19:29:17 MDT Print View

I've gotten by with my old SD Halfmoon, three season tent in high winds, two feet of snow overnight. We were in the Carson Pass area here in CA, close to Kirkwood which gets the most snow in the US I believe. I suffered two slightly distorted poles and lost one shephards hook stake. I had to lay on my back and support the four corners with my feet and arms whenever a big gust hit. The Big Sky tent that was being reviewed by a fellow bper, suffered some damage, but then, it was a three season tent. Good story trip for the eight of us that went.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/18/2012 19:36:48 MDT Print View

Sounds like a wild night, did you get any sleep?

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Four-season tent on 10/18/2012 22:00:49 MDT Print View


As folks have said, it depends on the actual conditions, particularly snow. Whenever there's a possibility of snow in the Northern Rockies winter - most of the time - I take a solid four-season tent, either my Hilleberg Unna for solo use or Bibler Bombshelter for two. As noted by another poster, the tent's bearing up to a blizzard could save your life. In my never-humble opinion, worth an extra few pounds.


Edited by richardglyon on 04/20/2013 10:08:04 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/18/2012 22:38:17 MDT Print View

If you're where feet (not just inches) of heavy wet snow can fall in a short time (definitely true in the Cascade Range in WA and OR), you either want a sturdy tent that will support the weight or you'll have to get out every hour or so to remove snow from the tent.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/19/2012 10:37:49 MDT Print View

Great discussion, it reminded to buy some new snow pegs.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/19/2012 11:22:30 MDT Print View

Stephen, I slept part of the night, early morning hours, you could hear the gusts coming so could be prepared. When we got to the SnowPark, due to the high snow fall, they kept the highway open, but not our parking lot. We shoveled ourshelves out by about 5 that afternoon. The SnowPark on the other side of the road was kept clear. Luckily I had a real square point shovel besides my bping one.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: How necessary is a 4 season tent? on 10/19/2012 12:31:40 MDT Print View

Sounds like you had tough work getting your car out Duane,

Would you take the same tent again in the same conditions?

Have great weekend,


Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re "How necessary is a 4 season ten on 10/19/2012 12:38:07 MDT Print View

If you need a 4 season tent, you wouldn't be asking.