Not all tents are created equal. There are budget pop-up tents, ultralight backpacking tents, outrageous glamping tents (which we secretly love) and expedition tents that can be pitched in the harshest conditions on Earth. There’s also single-walled tents and – more commonly – double-walled ones. Three season tents and ones designed for winter.
Choosing the right tent is not an easy task as each of the above has its advantages. But one thing is certain: opting for a low quality three-season model will make your winter adventure much more challenging!
Snow camping risks
Picture this image. You are deep in the backcountry watching snowflakes slowly transform everything around, drinking your tea (or bourbon) and reading yourself to sleep.
You crawl into your sleeping bag and are ready to drift off ,but the walls of your tent start flapping loudly in the wind. The next thing you know – the top of your sleeping bag is covered with a heavy layer of moisture, even though nothing is leaking. The last straw to your misery comes when you finally fall asleep, only to be woken up by the roof of your tent pressing against your cheek.
Your shelter has collapsed under the weight of snow.
There is only one moral to this story: before heading out winter camping, choose a tent that can withstand winter conditions. Some three-season tents have walls steep enough to endure a light snowfall and might be good enough for sporadic winter excursions below the tree line. However, for above tree line camping in winter, investing in a winter tent is a necessity.
Types of winter tents
Sometimes referred to as four-season tents, winter tents can be used in any weather. However, they are heavier and more bulky than their three-season counterparts, and will probably underperform in terms of ventilation in warm conditions.
The design of winter tents makes them resistant to heavy snowfall and strong winds (pitched correctly, they do not collapse or let the wind in). The materials used are more waterproof and more airtight than in a three-season tent.
Single-walled models are lighter and easier to set up which is why they are often chosen for use in the alpine. Double-walled tents are more comfortable, provide more gear storage and deal better with heavy rainfall or moisture.
Whichever option, choose one that features DWR treatment and remember to apply new DWR as needed before your next adventure.
Before making the final call on buying a winter tent, make sure to read plenty of reviews and seek recommendations.
Winter camping hacks
When choosing your camping spot, look for anything that can act as a windbreaker. Below the tree line, bushes and branches will work just fine but higher up, you can only hope for snow and rock. Digging in or building a snow wall will help protect your shelter.
Create a flat and hard platform by stomping on the snow to pack it down. If you have one, use a tarp. Set up at least one door of your tent away from the wind and pitch it neatly, spreading it to its full size. To pin it down, tie your cord strings around the tent pegs and bury them horizontally two inches under well-packed snow. You will have to wait 15-30 minutes for the snow to freeze and anchor the pegs before they can be used to tension your tent.
Staying warm in winter is easy with the right gear, but if your sleeping bag is not as warm as you’d like, you can make yourself more comfortable by using down booties or placing a hot water bottle in the bag.
Last but not least, pack an empty, wide necked flask. The last thing you want to do in a snowstorm is leave your cozy shelter in the middle of the night.