Winter camping isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re likely to encounter freezing temperatures, chilling gusts of high winds, and potentially some fresh powder. But it’s a great way to drop crowds, find remote slopes for carving lines, or beat cabin fever (and in 2020, we could all use more of that). Before you head out, you’ll want to pack the right gear that can contend with the elements.
Winter tents are designed to stay warmer than their three-season counterparts and withstand snow loads, high winds, and white-out conditions. We found six great options for basecamp and up in the alpine.
Read about four quality winter tents below, then keep scrolling for helpful buying advice and full reviews of these and other top-performing models.
Given the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it’s more important than ever to check the local regulations at your destination before you leave. Planning a trip close to home is the safest travel option and might be the most convenient as some states have reinstated quarantine rules for out-of-state travelers or residents returning home. No matter where you go, remember to protect yourself and recreate responsibly by wearing a mask, washing your hands regularly, and keeping six feet away from other people.
Characteristics of a Winter Tent
Winter tents are sometimes called four-season or all-season tents. They can be used 365 days a year, but they’re optimized for mountaineering trips and wintertime excursions. The features that keep them standing in harsh conditions—namely, strong pole architecture and burly fabrics—add weight and cost. Price tags range from around $400 on the low end to a couple grand for a veritable albeit temporary fortress. That’s a considerable hit to your bank account but well worth the investment in order to have a safe place to catch some shut eye or ride out snow storms.
Whereas nearly all three-season tents have a double-wall design, winter tents can have a single- or double-wall structure. A single-wall tent is designed to be as light as possible for summit pushes and other short-term excursions when weight is at a premium. In lieu of a rain fly, the tent body is made of waterproof fabric and often has no windows (a potential entry point for precipitation). This limits breathability and can cause condensation to collect within the tent, particularly in warmer months or more humid climates. Manufacturers usually add one or two vents in attempt to increase air circulation, but it’s usually not enough for year-round comfort.
Meanwhile, the addition of a rain fly creates the second layer in double-wall designs. As with a three-season backpacking tent, a winter tent’s fly provides full coverage over the tent canopy and creates a vestibule outside the door. The canopy fabric is more breathable compared to a single-wall tent, and it can include small swaths of mesh. The vestibule offers a covered area to store your pack and other gear. Double-wall winter tents are often roomier and heavier, making them best for use at basecamp or less strenuous treks.
How Tent Shape Impacts Weather Resistance
A tent’s architecture is integral to the weather protection it provides, and having a preferred style can help you narrow down the options. Dome tents are the most common, but other designs offer particular advantages for winter camping. A-frames prevent snow from collecting on the roof, tunnel tents provide relatively large living quarters, and geodesic domes are incredibly strong in the face of high winds.
Once you decide the type of tent you need, find a model with enough sleeping capacity, and don’t forget to factor in room for your pack, unless you don’t mind it staying out in the cold. Many tents are available in a range of sizes, sleeping anywhere from one person to half a dozen or more. If space is an issue, go with a tent that can accommodate one more person than you need it to. Pay attention to how many doors a tent has, too—more than one reduces the chance that your tent mate will crawl over you in the middle of the night should nature call.
Be sure to pack enough stakes, possibly even the wider snow-ready kind that grip powder better than the average model. Your tent will come with some stakes but usually not enough to secure the canopy and all the guy lines. Consider bringing a footprint or tarp, sold separately, that will extend the life of your tent floor and block moisture from the ground. After lengthy storage periods, be sure to inspect your shelter prior to any trips. Look for rips, tears, and weak tent poles. It’s also a good idea to re-waterproof your tent with a spray coating or seam sealant. This is especially true for single-wall tents, where seams are the most vulnerable points for moisture to sneak in.
How We Selected
We don’t take the responsibility of recommending the best winter tents lightly. When you’re facing the worst of winter, you need gear that won’t fail. Using our categorical expertise, we surveyed the market and identified 26 promising picks. We compared them on the basis of construction, features, dimensions, weight, and cost. Reviews from expert sites including Backpacker, OutdoorGearLab, Switchback Travel, and Section Hiker helped cull the list, as did customer feedback on online retailers such as REI, Amazon, Backcountry, and Moosejaw. Ultimately, six models made the final cut. Read about them below.
Mountain Hardwear Trango 4
Packed weight: 12 lb. 12.4 oz. | Floor space: 57 sq. ft. | Peak height: 50 in. | Doors: 2
First released in 1995, the Trango is a tried-and-true basecamp haven. It’s been used on big mountains around the world and is a great choice for weeks-long expeditions on account of its excellent strength and generous size. Mountain Hardwear uses strong yet ultralight DAC poles that connect to the 40-denier ripstop nylon tent canopy with clips instead of peskier pole sleeves. Some of these clips also serve as attachment points for the waterproof 70-denier nylon taffeta fly. This design choice adds to the overall wind resistance of the tent. Meanwhile, a ceiling vent and mesh screens on the doors allow you to control airflow. Thanks to the relatively large interior, you and your tent mates won’t be sleeping on top of one another, and you can stand inside, even if it requires hunching over slightly. Several pockets, a light-diffusing pouch for a headlamp, a small viewport on the fly, and two doors boost the livability. Another thoughtful feature: The front vestibule has a flap that blocks spindrift reasonably well, according to Backpacker. The Trango does pack a weight penalty that most other competitors lack, but when you’re heading into the foulest of weather conditions, the extra pounds are well worth the protection and sizable living quarters.
Hilleberg Nammatj 2
Packed weight: 6 lb. 10 oz. | Floor space: 30.1 sq. ft. | Peak height: 37 in. | Doors: 1
Hilleberg is known for making winter-ready tents, which is perhaps no surprise given the company’s Swedish roots. Its products stand out for a few reasons. First, they all use a silicone-coated nylon in the tent fly that promises exceptional tear strength despite its lightness. Hilleberg calls this fabric Kerlon and reports its strongest version (used in the Nammatj) can withstand up to 40 pounds. Second, the tent canopy and the fly can be pitched and packed simultaneously thanks to a connected (but still separable) design. In addition to saving time, this also keeps the inner tent dry and protected if you’re making camp during a storm. The Nammatj is one of the company’s more affordable offerings that still packs plenty of protection. An abrasion-resistant 100-denier nylon floor is triple-coated with polyurethane to seal out water, and durable 10-millimeter poles create the backbone of the structure. Hilleberg further overcomes the weakness of a tunnel shape by capping the peak height at a squat 37 inches and adding several points for securing guy lines. And despite the burly fabrics, the Nammatj delivers good ventilation thanks to large vents on the fly. The tradeoffs for all this weatherproofing is a high price tag and a somewhat cramped interior with a single door and vestibule. Even so, the Nammatj is a worthwhile investment for a truly portable, practically impenetrable double-wall tent.
MSR Access 3
Packed weight: 5 lb. 1 oz. | Floor space: 41 sq. ft. | Peak height: 47 in. | Doors: 2
Perhaps you can justify doubling up on sleeping bags for different temperatures, but if stocking your gear closet with multiple backcountry ready-tents isn’t feasible (and we don’t blame you if that’s the case), spring for the MSR Access. The impressively light three-person tent is designed for tree-line conditions, but with a largely mesh canopy, it won’t be overkill come summer. The well-ventilated body is protected by a vented ripstop nylon fly that’s been treated with polyurethane and silicone to shed rain and snow and block gusts. Further wind resistance comes from the hubbed Easton Syclone poles. This highly resilient, aerospace-grade composite material mimics the strength of aluminum and the lightweight build of carbon fiber. The tent can withstand a good deal, but for the harshest environments, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Storage space inside is limited to two large pockets and a few hanging loops, but you’ll have enough room to stash essentials. Ultimately, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another one-quiver tent that’s as capable as the Access. And one final note about availability: MSR does make a two-person model of the Access, but it’s currently out of stock.
REI Co-op Base Camp 4
Packed weight: 16 lb. 14 oz. | Floor space: 59.7 sq. ft. | Peak height: 60 in. | Doors: 2
The Base Camp straddles the line between a three- and four-season tent by combining livability with a more durable construction that’s fit for low-altitude winter trips or summer storms. It’s versatile and comes at a significantly cheaper cost than a true winter shelter. The roomy interior boasts the largest square footage and tallest ceiling height—by a whopping 10 inches—on our list. Several gear pockets on the walls and near the ceiling provide plenty of storage to keep things tidy. Especially when the Base Camp is at capacity, two doors ease the entry and exit process, and each has a vestibule (though the area outside the back door is slightly smaller than the front). Vents near the base of the canopy and on the fly, alongside mesh on the doors and at the ceiling, do an adequate job of circulating air. It’s likely the Base Camp will feel stuffy on hot, muggy nights, but on the other hand, you won’t contend with as many chill-inducing drafts during winter compared to most three-season tents. For greater weather resistance, REI adds two additional aluminum poles to fortify the classic dome, and we appreciate that these poles are color-coded for quicker pitching. The focus on comfort does come at the expense of weight. More than four pounds heavier than the Trango, the Base Camp is best for car-camping pursuits, not human-powered excursions, and that might limit how much use you get out of it during the colder months of the year.
Black Diamond Eldorado 2
Packed weight: 5 lb. 1 oz. | Floor space: 30.8 sq. ft. | Peak height: 43 in. | Doors: 1
Black Diamond’s Eldorado has earned fans because of its spacious interior and sturdy, lightweight build. The weight-to-space ratio impresses, and people over six feet will appreciate the lengthy 87-inch sides. That’s enough room to stretch out and still fit a pack and other gear inside. (For more space, tack an additional nine square feet with the optional vestibule.) The Eldorado marries the steep side walls of an A-frame that shed snow with the strength of a dome, and the result is a near-bombproof tent. Another reason for the durability is Black Diamond’s decision to create an internal pole structure, which provides extra support from the walls, not just the poles themselves. Some reviewers liked this setup, and others eventually warmed to it, but pitching efficiently will take practice. Protection also comes in the form of the ToddTex fabric used throughout. This waterproof material is similar to Gore-Tex and has a moisture-wicking lining that keeps condensation to a minimum. The Eldorado, then, is an ideal choice for alpine missions in extreme environments.
Nemo Tenshi 2
Packed weight: 5 lb. 14 oz. | Floor space: 26.3 sq. ft. | Peak height: 43 in. | Doors: 1
Compared to the spartan build of most single-wall tents, the feature-rich Tenshi resembles a backcountry palace. The vented vestibule adds 10.5 square feet of living and storage room. It’s removable if you’re going light and fast, but reviewers appreciated the added space considering the tent’s smaller interior. One of the Tenshi’s strongest points is its ventilation. Three vents on the roof are joined by a large mesh rear window that has a fabric cover for when the weather turns. But as with any tent, condensation buildup overnight still happens. To combat that, Nemo adds a removable Condensation Curtain. The thin fabric hangs near the front of the tent and traps the water vapor from your breath to this area, leaving the rest of the interior drier. Other pluses: The basic dome shape and clip attachment system for the DAC poles make pitching a breeze (there’s a third pole for the vestibule), and a reinforced loop on the roof adds an extra anchor point if you’re sleeping on a narrow ledge. All these extras don’t come light; in fact, the Tenshi is nearly a pound heavier than the double-wall MSR Access. As long as weight isn’t a paramount concern though, the Tenshi makes camping in a single-wall tent a bit more luxurious.
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