Camping can be a fun and adventurous activity. Whether camping alone to test your survival skills or with family and/or friends for an exciting and relaxing weekend getaway, no other activity is quite like camping for experiencing the peace and serenity of nature and the company of those closest and dearest to you.
Although normally considered a warm weather or summer activity, camping can be just as fun and even more adventurous during the winter months. Each year thousands of people flock to the mountains, forests, deserts and beaches of the U.S. to enjoy a bit of summertime fun in the cool of winter. Pursuing activities like fishing, hunting, skiing snowshoeing and snowmobiling, the winter offers scores of recreational pursuits, many of which can only be experienced in that season.
While camping during the winter can certainly offer more than its fair share of excitement, the camping gear that is required for wintertime camping will differ—either slightly or dramatically—depending on the temperature and surroundings—from the gear you would normally use during the summer. And the most important piece of equipment for winter camping is, of course, the tent. Fortunately, there are many manufacturers that offer specialized tents designed specifically for cold weather camping. These tents differ in a variety of ways—such as in size, shape and the material that is used to construct them—and choosing the right tent for your particular situation can sometimes be tricky.
To help you with this task, in the following article we will cover several topics related to wintertime tents and camping, and give you some ideas and options that will help you choose the right tent for your upcoming winter camping excursion.
- Editor Picks: Best Three-Season & Four-Season Tents for Winter Camping (2018)
- Camping in the Winter: Things to Consider
- What To Consider When Shopping For A Winter Tent
Editor Picks: Best Three-Season & Four-Season Tents for Winter Camping (2018)
Last update on 2019-03-18 at 16:27 / Affiliate disclosure / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Camping in the Winter: Things to Consider
Before we speak specifically to the subject of winter tents and how to choose the correct tent for different circumstances, let us first take a minute to discuss winter camping as a whole.
Camping during the winter months is not for the faint of heart, but it can be very enjoyable if you are properly equipped. Naturally, the first thing you’ll want to consider is clothing. Almost anywhere you camp during the winter will require both extra and warmer clothes, as the temperature, especially at night, can range from very cool to icy cold. Thick, warm socks, long johns, thermal gear and cold weather coats are all musts when camping in the winter, as are warm hats and gloves for your hands.
There are plenty of other items that are necessary when camping during the winter months, such as:
- Wood—for campfires
- Waterproof matches—just in case it rains or snows
- Propane—for cooking
- Lantern fuel
- Extra food—just in case you get snowed in
- And more…
All the normal gear you would regularly bring during a spring or summer camping trip will also be necessary during the winter. When packing for your trip, try to plan for the worst possible outcome—such as getting snowed in at your location—and always pack accordingly.
What To Consider When Shopping For A Winter Tent
When selecting the perfect tent for winter camping, it’s imperative that you pay special attention to certain details. To help you with this undertaking, below we will list several aspects and factors to look for when making a purchasing decision.
When it comes to the style and shape of winter tents, there are essentially two choices: dome-shaped tents and cabin-style tents. So which one of these is right for you? This depends on the type of camping you plan to do, where you intend to camp, and how you plan to get there.
Dome-shaped tents are typically designed for very cold winter camping. Most winter-style dome-shaped tents are intended for campers who will experience very extreme weather. Individuals who plan to camp in places like the mountains, in cold weather areas such as Canada, Alaska, and the northern European countries, even those who tend to rough it near the north or south poles, will definitely require a dome-shaped tent that is built specifically for extreme weather camping.
Dome-shaped tents are very light in weight, more compact and take up less space. Hence, they are almost always the tent of choice for hikers and backpackers who will camp on the move. Because of their shape, dome-shaped tents can withstand strong winds. Heavy snowfall that builds up on a tent can be very dangerous, even life threatening. Fortunately, dome-shaped tents are made in such a way that they prevent snow and rain from accumulating on the top of the tent; ensuring campers remain warm and dry during the overnight hours when sleeping.
If you intend to camp in areas where extreme weather is possible—or if you plan to hike or backpack to your preferred destination—a dome-shaped tent is definitely the right choice for you.
Cabin-style tents can also be a great choice for winter camping, provided you are camping in an area not subject to extreme swings in weather and temperature. As the name suggests, cabin-style tents are shaped much like a log cabin, with four walls and a sloping roof—a roof that also prevents rain from accumulating on the top of the tent. Cabin-style tents are ideal for families or when camping in areas such as the desert or the beach during the winter. These tents tend to be much larger and heavier than dome-shaped tents, so they are not recommended for those who plan to hike in to their camping destination. However, their larger size makes them perfect for multiple people—families, friends, and larger groups of people.
As you can see, once you have decided on where you plan to camp and how you will get there, choosing between a dome-shaped tent and a cabin-style tent is pretty easy.
After you made up your mind regarding the style/shape of tent you require—dome-shaped or cabin-style—the next thing to consider is the size of tent you will need. Of course, when choosing the proper size the first thing you will want to consider is the size of the group that will be camping with you. However, there are also some other factors to consider when choosing the proper size tent.
Both dome-shaped and cabin-style tents come in a variety of sizes. If you plan to camp alone in an area that may experience very cold temperatures or snowy conditions, we highly recommend you opt for a one-person dome-shaped tent (or a two-person tent when camping with another person, and so on). These tents are designed specifically to keep one person as warm as possible. They are very compact by design, leaving a small footprint and helping to keep the camper very comfortable even in the coldest of conditions. Opting for a larger tent when camping alone in these conditions can potentially be a risk to your safety.
When camping in more moderate climates, the size tent you choose is more a matter of preference and cost than it is safety. Yes, it will depend on the size of the group with which you plan to camp, but for comfort’s sake, we recommend choosing a tent that is at least one or two sizes more than the size of your group. In other words, if you plan to camp alone most of the time, you may want to choose a two-man dome-shaped tent, which will give you a little more room than a one-person tent. If camping as a family of four, we recommend you choose a five or six-man cabin-style tent—or two smaller tents on the same campsite. You should also consider the size and height of those you will be camping with, as this plays a big role when choosing the proper size. A larger tent will also allow room for things like backpacks, boots and other gear.
Another thing to consider when buying a tent for the winter is the number of zippers or openings it contains—the spots where people can enter and exit the tent. If camping where extreme weather is the norm—or even possible—we recommend you choose a tent with the fewest number of openings, an aspect that will depend largely on the size and shape of the tent. The zippered openings on a tent—even when they are closed—are more vulnerable to the wind and the cold than the walled portions. So naturally, the fewer the openings on a tent, the warmer it will be.
On the flip side, when buying a cabin-style tent for family camping, we recommend you select a tent with two or more entrances—one on each side of the tent. This will allow people to enter and exit the tent comfortably, without disturbing those on the other side of the tent—a disturbance that can be very annoying, especially at night.
When setting up your tent, try to determine the direction in which the wind is blowing (if at all), and position the tent so that the openings are away from the wind. This will keep your tent warmer throughout the day and night.
Poles and Pegs
The poles and pegs used to set up and secure the tent are a very important consideration when camping in the winter. Many of the larger, cabin-style or family tents utilize non-flexible or bulky poles for their setup. This is okay if you plan to drive to your destination in a pickup truck, camper or RV, but this is a major problem for those with smaller vehicles or for those who plan to hike or backpack to their destination.
Most dome-shaped tents come with flexible or foldable poles that can easily be stored in a backpack. These poles are usually made from one of two materials: fiberglass or aluminum. Both can be a great choice for the occasional camper, but for those who plan to use their tent regularly, we highly recommend aluminum poles. Fiberglass poles, while slightly heavier in weight, can break with heavy use, adding extra costs to your camping excursion.
Poles are the backbone of every tent, the items that determine the shape and sturdiness of the tent. Sturdy poles can make a huge difference in very windy and cold climates, ensuring the tent withstands the elements. And the more poles a tent has, and the more those poles intersect, the sturdier it will be.
Pegs are also an important part of any tent. These items, when secured into the ground, ensure the tent remains in place throughout the camping trip. Pegs are especially crucial in wintry conditions, so it’s important to choose the right type. Some of the cheaper tents on the market today come with plastic pegs—these are NOT suitable for winter camping. Plastic pegs can be hard to secure even in the best of conditions, but they are especially problematic when the ground is hard or even frozen, as it may be during a winter camping adventure.
Steel pegs, with a sharp point on the bottom of the peg, are definitely the way to go in winter. These pegs are designed to cut through even the toughest frozen earth, and they tend to remain in place much longer than those with a dull end. Also, the more pegs a tent has, the more secure it will be, so look for a tent with extra pegs or consider buying a few separately. This will ensure that every spot on the outside of the tent is properly secured.
When winter camping, the type of fabric used to make a tent is a major factor. Tents are typically made from one of two fabrics: nylon or polyester. Both of these fabrics in tents are woven tightly together for strength and durability.
Nylon tents are a tad bit lighter than polyester tents, but the difference is negligible. Nylon tents are also designed to resist wear and tear, while polyester tents are made to absorb less water and they react less to ultra-violet rays. To find out just how resistant your tent material is to the cold, look for the number or code on the tent. If you are camping in extreme conditions, experts suggest you will want a tent with a code of 70 or above. This will protect you from the icy cold temperatures, but if you are camping somewhere more temperate, this same tent can feel like a sauna. If you are not sure what number to look for when buying your winter tent, consult someone at the store for more information.
Winter tents, whether made from nylon or polyester, are also often coated with either polyurethane or silicon. Polyurethane is usually added to polyester tents. An outer coating of polyurethane on these polyester tents, along with making the tent warmer, protects it from outside water, while keeping the fabric breathable and letting perspiration escape the inside of the tent.
Silicon, on the other hand, is typically applied to the outer and inner walls of nylon tents, improving their elasticity and giving the walls extra strength. This is particularly vital for winter tents, since the season is much harsher and the outside elements require much more preparation for the camper. If your tent doesn’t have this type of protection, it exposes you to a huge risk from the outside temperature, rain and snow.
Whether you choose a nylon or polyester tent, be sure it is coated with some type of waterproofing agent like polyurethane or silicon. Also, be sure to select a tent with a rain-fly—one that reaches all the way to the ground. This will provide the opening of the tent with an extra level of protection from the wind, cold and rain.
Double Roof Tents vs. Single-Wall Tents vs. All-in One Tents
No matter where you plan to camp during the winter—on a mountain peak or at the beach—you simply must choose a tent with either a double roof or select a single-wall tent. As the name suggests, a double-roof tent has an extra layer of protection overhead. This protects campers from rain and snowfall, while also keeping the tent warm and toasty inside.
A single-wall tent is much lighter than a double-roof tent, and thus is usually the choice for hikers and backpackers. Single-wall tents are designed specifically for harsh winter conditions. The walls of these tents are typically are made of the fabric Gore-Tex, which is popular for its ability to keep the weight of the tent down while adding superb protection and breathability. What’s interesting about these tents is that they use vapor pressure, which pushes out the moisture, thus lowering the chances for condensation on the inside walls.
A relative newcomer to the world of winter camping is the all-in-one tent. All-in-one tents, also called bivies, serve as both a tent and sleeping bag in one package. It looks just like a sleeping bag, only near the head there is a pop-up structure that covers the face and protects it from the cold. While not offering as much protection from the elements as the other two types of tents, they are a great choice for those who choose to travel very light on their journey. There is even an all-in-one tent that can serve three purposes—a sleeping bag, tent and jacket.
The floor is another major consideration for your winter tent. Although every tent has a floor that is made out of the same material as the tent, you must keep in mind that your body will be in contact with that floor, making it extremely cold in very harsh conditions. There are several flooring options for keeping you comfortable and protected in your tent, the two most popular of which are a sleeping pad and a footprint.
Sleeping pads are designed to keep campers comfortable while they sleep, and they do offer some protection from the cold. However, they tend to be very bulky and hard to carry, especially for hikers and backpackers. A footprint, on the other hand, is a floor covering designed specifically for the brand, type and style of tent you purchase. Footprints are not only comfortable to sleep upon; they provide a layer of insulation from the cold that is much more protective than any sleeping pad.
A vestibule is a type of entryway or hallway just outside the opening or openings of the tent. Not all tents have vestibules, but we strongly recommend you select one that does, especially when camping during the winter. A vestibule provides a comfortable and enclosed space just outside of the tent. These areas are great for activities like putting on your shoes without disturbing others sleeping inside the tent. It also keeps those inside the tent warm, without exposing them to the harsh cold outside.
Three-Season vs. Four Season Tents
There is a major difference between three-season and four-season tents. Four-season tents are designed to be used in the very coldest of conditions. They are usually dome-shaped, coated for water protection, and very insulated. Some have double roofs, while others are lighter and single-walled with Gore-Tex. They are absolutely the choice for anyone who plans to camp in the mountains or anywhere else where the temperatures can potentially drop below freezing.
Three-season tents, while warm, or nowhere as near as warm as the four-season counterparts. They are perfect, however, for California camping at the beach, desert winter camping, or anywhere else that is cold—but not icy cold.
Selecting a winter tent—as you can see—depends on a variety of factors. Dome-shaped tents are definitely the choice for harsh conditions and for those who plan to backpack to their destination, while cabin-style tents are great for temperate family camping. Unless you plan to brave the high winter peaks, try to select a tent that is one or two sizes larger than the size of your group. These are more comfortable and include space to store some of your gear.
Pay special attention to factors such as openings, poles and pegs, and choose a fabric that is appropriate for the style of camping in which you plan to engage. Consider double-roof, single-wall or all-in-one tents for camping in freezing conditions, and choose a floor option that insulates you from the icy earth. When camping in a cabin-style tent, a vestibule can offer both comfort and protection—and while three-season tents are great for the beach or desert, four-season tents are a must for the wintry mountains.
top image: anatoliy_gleb(Deposit Photos)