3-season vs 4-season tents

When night falls on your latest adventure, pitching the right tent is essential to ensure you have adequate shelter from the elements. But choosing the ideal tent for your trip can be challenging. Whether you want to pack light for a backpacking trek or prepare for more challenging conditions, key features to consider are weight, durability and stability. 

Tents are often categorised as 3-season or 4-season, although the names apply more to the types of weather than times of the year. 3-season tents provide lightweight, breathable canopies that are suitable for most excursions and offer protection against wind and rain. 4-season tents are designed for intense winter weather. Heavier than the 3-season option, they offer protection against storm winds and heavy snow.

What makes a 4-season tent?

A 4-season tent is designed to withstand harsh winter weather. Built with a rigid structure to remain stable in high winds and utilising thicker walls to provide warmth and protection from snow, ice and hail, 4-season tents are intended to take anything mother nature throws at them.

4-season tents are specifically built for use in winter conditions, rather than all year round, when they are likely to be unnecessarily hot and heavy. 3-season tents can handle light winds, general rain and even a bit of snow. Their portable construction makes them ideal for most trips, with mesh walls increasing airflow to avoid condensation.  The North Face Stormbreak 2 person tent is a good example of a 3-season tent.

When more extreme weather is on the agenda, a durable winter tent is needed to give you peace of mind whatever the forecast. In a winter tent, thick walls that minimise mesh are used as wind barriers and trap body heat within the tent in cold climates. Materials are chosen for their durability and are heavier than 3-season tents. Rain flies extend all the way to the ground in order to deal with extended periods of rain and snow, allowing you to sleep soundly in a shelter tough enough for a brutal environment. The North Face Summit Series is designed for high altitude mountaineering and extreme expeditions and has been tested by athletes the world over. The classic Summit SeriesTM Mountain 25 tent demonstrates the importance of material choice; crafted from nylon with a ripstop weave with welded reinforcements at key points in the construction gives it extra security in a storm.

4-season tents also employ an increased number of rigid poles, often using fabric sleeves instead of clips to increase strength and stability. Winter tents will take longer to set up than their lightweight counterparts but will be able to handle more severe weather. Dual-entry systems ensure that occupants won’t get blocked in by an overnight drift, and snow stakes produce a strong anchor to enable secure pitching in alpine conditions.

A winter tent will usually stand out due to the use of bright colours to enhance visibility and often have a distinctive shape. Basecamp tents use geometric designs to prevent the build-up of snow and steep walls to maximise interior space, essential for accommodating all the equipment you’ll be carrying to navigate winter landscapes. A great example is the hemispherical shape of the Summit SeriesTM 2-metre dome tent, trusted by top mountaineers in environments which show no mercy.

To choose the right tent for your next outing, consider the conditions. A 3-season tent will be light, airy, quick to set up and will offer protection from the elements on most camping trips. When facing sustained exposure to harsh weather, look for a 4-season tent made from durable fabric to handle precipitation and a structure that can endure high winds.  Wherever you’re travelling, discover our range of tents at The North Face.