Do you need a 4-season tent for winter camping?

Definitely, a 4-season tent is needed for winter camping especially when you hit early season snowfall or mixed weather conditions at higher elevations. They are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions like snow or heavy rain, but they won’t handle blizzards or feet of snow. 4-season tents also provide great value for money when you are looking to purchase only one tent for year-round use. They could save you up to 500 bucks and a bit of room in the gear closet. The good thing about winter tents is that they can be used in other seasons. Also, they are a better option for most people.

The downsides

There are some downsides to using winter tents. They tend to be bulky, they are not enough roomy as some other 3-season option, and sometimes they provide less breathability. These tents try to provide maximum insulation and they have extra layers, which make them feel crowded. If you will be backpacking mostly in warmer conditions, go with a traditional lightweight backpacking tent as there is no need to carry extra weight on your shoulders.

What about 3-season tents?

A 3-season tent can be used for winter camping if you set them up below the treeline. Most premium brands offer tents with strong aluminum or carbon fiber poles that withstand snow. Do not use poles made of fiberglass as it shatters in cold temperatures when stressed. You may need additional clothing depending upon the climate to stay comfortable during the night. You can also winterize your 3-season tent by insulating the tent floor, adding an additional tarp, and building windbreaks.

What options are available?

There are plenty of camping tents available in the market and choosing the right one for your needs is not an easy task. But if your main goal is camping in the winter, here are two of my recommendations as they are strong, reliable, and provide good value for money.

1. MSR Access

MSR Access
Weight: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
Floor Dimensions: 84 x 50 inches
Peak Height: 42 inches
Sleeping Capacity: 2 or 3 persons

MSR Access is a popular choice among winter campers. It is one of the 4-season tents that can also be used for multi-day ski touring and mountaineering. The tent is lightweight, still versatile, and it weighs around 4 pounds when packed. Its double-wall design works great in moderate snow loads. When dealing with colder temperatures, it performs really well compared to those single-wall tents. The MSR Access strikes a good balance between weight, durability, and price while offering good weather protection needed for winter camping. As I mentioned, this tent is versatile and that’s because of its weight. You can also use it for the occasional 3-season trips.

What I like: Versatile, lightweight for a winter tent, double-wall design, handles condensation well, reasonably priced, easy to pitch, and big vestibules

What I don’t like: Isn’t as durable as some other 4-season options.

See the MSR Access 3

2. REI Arete ASL

Weight: 6 lbs. 5 oz.
Floor Dimensions: 88 x 57 inches
Peak Height: 43 inches
Sleeping Capacity: 2 persons

The Arete ASL is a budget option from REI that provides great performance in winter camping near the treeline. This tent will work in a variety of weather conditions but it isn’t the do-anything option as it doesn’t provide top-notch storm protection. You can use it for summer-time mountaineering or winter camping near-and-below treeline. Don’t expect super storm protection as it doesn’t provide weather protection like some high-end models. However, it’s cheaper, lightweight, moderately spacious, and easy to pitch as long as it’s not too windy. You will also appreciate the longer dimensions and it provides decent headroom for taller folks.

What I like: Affordable, lighter than most 4-season options, interior fabric handles condensation well

What I don’t like: Small vestibule, only one door, below-average weather protection

See the REI Arete ASL


A 4-season tent is a compelling choice for winter camping but it is not an ideal option for year-round use. Also, if you are on a tight budget, you won’t appreciate the premium price of the tough and light components. If your primary goal is to camp in the winter, definitely go for a 4-season tent as it is going to keep you safe and protected in the bad weather. You can also borrow or rent if winter camping is only a once-a-year occasion for you.