Backpacking and camping are great ways to experience the outdoors. While spring, summer and fall are all seasons associated with the hobbies, winter can be a great time for camping too. However, to do that you’ll need a good winter tent.
A good winter tent keeps backpackers and mountaineers safe and protects them from extremely high winds and low temperatures. Winter tents withstand heavy loads without collapsing during blizzards and heavy snowfall, while also providing plenty of warmth.
Below, we’ll go into more detail about what makes a good winter tent, so you can understand what to look for when planning your next trip. We’ll also discuss the differences between 3 and 4-season tents, and talk about some of the essential gear you need for camping in the winter.
Characteristics Of A 4-Season Winter Tent
Withstanding Wind And Snow
A good winter tent must be able to withstand high winds. Because of this, winter tents are made from sturdy materials that bounce back from heavy winds without losing their rigidity. Winter tents must also be able to withstand heavy snow. Blizzards roll into campgrounds often with little warning. These storms also bring with them super-fast wind speeds and gusts up to hurricane force.
Snow, rain, and sleet create a wet barrier on top of the tent. The tent must withstand the hydrostatic pressure difference and prevent water from entering the tent. For this reason, winter tents have multiple layers of protection, double walls, and a higher hydrostatic head rating than non-winter tents.
Keeping Their Shape
A good winter tent retains its shape after being pounded by the elements all night during a storm. The winds kick up, the snow falls heavy on the tent, and the tent shape-shifts throughout the night. As long as it returns to its upright position, all is well.
However, in the blink of an eye, a tent that loses its form becomes extremely dangerous and life-threatening. For this reason, 4-season winter tents come equipped with strong and flexible poles and thicker tent fabrics.
Finally, a winter tent in the harsh arctic-like environment must have a durable, waterproof bottom. A good 4-season tent comes with a durable and puncture-resistant and waterproof bottom.
What Is The Difference Between A 3-Season And 4-Season Tent?
Choosing the right tent is paramount to having a successful backpacking trip. Both 3 and 4-season tents protect you during a backpacking trip. However, 4-season/winter tents protect you during extremes in weather systems.
A 3-season tent is designed to protect you from mild to moderate rainstorms with light to moderate winds. They are termed 3-season because they are best used during the spring, summer, and fall months.
These tents have lightweight fabrics, poles, ground covers, and rainflys to allow easy transport in your backpack. In addition, meshed windows and doors provide ventilation and breathability during hot and humid summer months. When compared to its beefy 4-season cousin, the 3-season tent has a relatively small vestibule.
On the other end of the tent spectrum is the 4-season tent. These tents’ designs take a beating in the harshest weather conditions like heavy rains, blizzards, and piercing cold temperatures while providing life-saving protection.
Winter tents are made from heavier, more durable materials and are either single or double-walled. Their heavy-duty polyester nylon fabric material placed over a rigid exoskeleton provides durability, strength, and extreme weather protection.
In addition, these tents possess very steeply angled sides to prevent snow build-up and often have flaps facing outward to lay snow on for more stability.
What Is The Temperature Tolerance Of A Winter Tent?
Because of its construction, a 4-season tent can withstand extremes in temperature. Waterproof and windproof materials like polyester nylon blends provide superior protection. Also, a 4-season tent uses very little nylon for ventilation.
These tents are used in the winter months where humidity is lower, and as the temperature drops, so does the humidity. This makes stuffiness and condensation less of an issue.
Keeping You Warm
A good 4-season tent can withstand temperatures far below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a backpacker still requires a low-temperature sleeping bag and proper clothing, including a jacket, when sitting in the tent. We will get to the sleeping bag and clothing in a moment. But for now, let’s look at the most commonly used winter tent design, the geodesic dome.
The Geodesic Dome Tent
Walther Bauersfeld, a German Engineer working for the Weiss Company, introduced the geodesic dome to the world in 1926. An astronomer friend of Baursfeld asked him to design a planetarium building. After a brief hiatus due to World War I, the Zeiss Company completed the planetarium, known as the Zeiss I Model, in 1923.
Bauersfeld’s difficult task was to create a building that was extremely lightweight, strong enough to withstand high winds, and large enough to provide a projection area for the planetarium’s stars and planets.
While not directly intended, the geodesic dome eventually became the basic design for winter 4-season tents. In the 1970s, Buckminster Fuller designed the first geodesic dome tent along with The North Face. North Face and Buckminster Fuller created the first geodesic dome tent in 1975.
What Makes The Geodesic Dome Tent So Strong?
A geodesic dome’s strength comes from the coupling of the arch shape with the triangle. The triangle is well-known to be the strongest geometrical shape. This combination of geometry and structural strength allows the geodesic dome to withstand huge loads, as weight is dispersed evenly throughout the tent’s sides, giving it plenty of stability.
How Are Geodesic Dome Tents Made?
Like other winter tents, a geodesic dome tent has a tent body made of high strength polyester, with a highly water-resistant bathtub-style bottom. Built to endure up to 60 miles per hour winds, the tent features a dual-layer water-resistant exterior. In addition, the ripstop flooring has a hydrostatic head rating of 10,000 mm.
The dome tent has 5 main poles plus an ‘equator’ pole that is used in the construction to provide base stability. It has a fully seamed flysheet, 5 small windows with vents, and 2 additional quick open vents. This tent comfortably sleeps four with the ability for a person to stand upright in the tent.
These tents are designed for easy setup and takedown because of the conditions where they are used. Set up takes about 10 minutes, but it may take a little longer in extreme conditions.
14 Ways To Stay Warm In A Winter Tent
1. Mylar Blanket
A lightweight mylar blanket provides warmth directly to your body.
2. Foam Mat
Foam mats provide a layer of insulation between you and the cold tent floor.
3. Tent-Safe Heater
A tent-safe heater provides low-level warmth inside the tent. You can find tent-safe options here.
4. Do Light Exercises
Doing some light exercise increases circulation and warms up your body. However, don’t overdo it, as you don’t want to sweat too much, as this can then cool you down.
5. Sleeping Bag Cover
Sleeping bag covers keep your body warmer in the sleeping bag.
6. Hot Water Bottle
This old fashioned remedy will keep you warm if you have a camp stove with which you can heat up some water.
7. Eat A High-Calorie Meal
This will provide energy to your body and increase your core temperature. Greenbelly makes super tasty meals with lots of calories. The meals are great for weekend and weeklong trips.
8. Use A Balaclava
A balaclava will keep your head warm and prevent you from losing too much heat through your head.
9. Heat Rocks
You can use some rocks that have warmed by your fire to provide some warmth to your tent. Just make sure they’re not too hot to handle or you’ll burn yourself (or your tent).
10. Hand And Foot Warmers
Good hand warmers can last for a long time, and they’re often reusable.
11. Cuddle Up
Two people’s body heat is better than one!
12. Low-Temperature Sleeping Bag
Always have the best sleeping bag for the trip. Make sure you purchase a bag that is rated for below the expected temperatures.
13. Moisture Absorber/Dehumidifier
These are fairly inexpensive and portable. They help reduce the humidity and help the tent stay comfortable.
If you have a dog with you, they can help provide heat and pair as a good cuddle buddy!
Frostbite And Hypothermia
When winter backpacking, the two biggest health concerns are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is damage to the skin when exposed to temperatures below freezing for a prolonged period of time. While it can affect many parts of your body, fingers, toes, and the face and nose are the most susceptible to frostbite.
As a person’s body cools off, the body shunts circulation to the core organs. It does this to supply the internal organs and brain with warm blood to keep the core temperature up. When this happens, the blood vessels in your arms and legs constrict, reducing the circulation into the fingers and toes.
Symptoms Of Frostbite
Symptoms of frostbite include coldness and pain in the affected area. As the frostbite continues, tingling and numbness occur. As the cold progresses, damage to the skin begins. If not addressed quickly, you can experience damage to the point of needing debridement (removal of necrotic or dead skin) or even amputation.
Hypothermia occurs after prolonged exposure to the cold. It is when you lose body heat faster than you can replace it. Our natural body temperature hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia begins as the body’s core temperature lowers past 95 degrees.
Symptoms Of Hypothermia
As hypothermia begins, your body starts to shiver. This is a way that the body tries to warm itself by rapidly contracting muscles to produce heat. Other symptoms include slurred speech, lack of coordination, sleepiness, slower breathing, a slower pulse, confusion, and eventual loss of consciousness.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to try and warm up fast. However, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately.
18 Must Wear Cold Weather Hiking Clothes
1. Winter Hat
A good wool or fleece hat helps to keep the heat in.
2. Waterproof Winter Hat
We recommend carrying a waterproof hat or having a waterproof hood on your jacket.
Taking off and putting on the balaclava when you get too hot or cold helps regulate your body temperature.
4. Polypropylene Underlayer
This helps to keep moisture from building up against your body. When this moisture evaporates as sweat, it can cool you down more, which you don’t want in already cold temperatures.
5. Long Sleeve Wicking Shirt
Like the underlayer, this wicks sweat away from your body.
6. Fleece Or Wool Sweater
A good fleece or wool sweater provides warmth as the fibers allow for body heat to accumulate and stay near the body. The sweater also allows humid air to escape, minimizing heat loss through sweat.
7. Waterproof Parka Jacket With Hood
Nothing is more valuable than a good breathable waterproof jacket. This protects everything underneath from the elements outside, and keeps you warm when you’re in your tent.
8. Rain Gear
Even when you are out just for a simple winter day hike, it is good to have rain gear that you can put on at a moment’s notice.
9. Glove Liners
As the temperature drops, glove liners provide extra protection. They are useful when you need hand dexterity, but you don’t want to have your fingers exposed.
Always choose appropriate gloves for the trip. Many ski gloves aren’t breathable, so they are not always the best to hike with. A good waterproof and breathable fabric helps keep your fingers warm without allowing sweat to accumulate.
11. Waterproof Glove Coverings
These are for those extra cold days where you just need more protection from the extremely low temperatures.
12. Polypropylene Underwear Layer
Just like our tops, we start with a wicking underlayer down below. This provides initial protection and keeps moisture from accumulating against our skin.
13. Long Wicking Pants
These continue the wicking action but also allow air to accumulate between the inner and outer layer providing some extra warmth.
14. Fleece/Wool Pants
Wool is great for providing extra warmth.
15. Waterproof/Weatherproof Pants
A well-fitting pair of pants should reach your ankles but not further. Also, the pants should stay above your ankles to prevent snow from entering your boots.
16. Long Wool/Synthetic Socks
A good pair of socks protects your feet from frostbite. If you have circulation problems, spend the extra money on a good pair of socks.
In deep snow or when snowshoeing, a pair of gaiters is a must. They are your initial protection from the snow.
18. Waterproof Hiking Boots
These are a must in winter conditions. Get a good pair, make sure they fit well, and try them out several times before you venture off for a weeklong trip.
A good winter tent keeps you warm while also allowing for some breathability. Your winter tent should be highly water resistant, and remain structurally sound even when exposed to particularly high winds and heavy snow. Overall, a good winter tent keeps you safe in extreme weather conditions.