The 6 Best Winter Tents for Camping in the Cold

Published on 12/11/2023 · 15 min readStay warm and cozy while camping in the cold with our top picks for the best winter tents. Discover your ideal shelter for chilly adventures!
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hunter Reed

Photo by Smit

As we get into the colder months, you may think all your camping trips for the year are over, but actually, they don’t have to be! Just because there’s snow outside and the temperatures have dropped doesn’t mean your camping trips need to come to an end. If you’re an avid backcountry skier or snowboarder, winter camping can be an awesome means of exploring new terrain that you might not be able to hike into or ski over a single day. Whatever your reasons for wanting to camp during the winter season, if you have the proper gear for winter conditions, you can keep sleeping under the stars year-round. A winter tent is one of the most important pieces of gear to be well-prepared for a winter camping trip.

During my time as a camping enthusiast, I have done some winter camping trips here and there, and I've had a few surprise trips where the weather was supposed to be nice or slightly rainy, and instead, I was surprised with snow! I can attest to how important it is to be well-prepared with the right gear for camping in winter conditions. In this article, I will go over what sets winter tents apart from tents you might and share some of the top options for these tents.

What are Winter Tents?

Before we get into the specifics of winter tents, it’s important to understand what makes a winter tent different from a tent that works for camping in the spring, summer, or fall. Tents are categorized into different seasons for the type of weather they are meant to be used in.

Three-season tents are meant for camping in the summer, fall, and spring. They can handle some high winds and rainstorms but aren’t meant to withstand heavy snow. Summer tents or one-season tents are meant specifically for camping in the summer. They are really lightweight and well-ventilated, so you can stay cool. But they aren’t warm enough to handle colder nights and aren’t sturdy enough to handle rough weather conditions.

Winter tents are considered four-season tents. They technically can be used in every season, though they are generally too warm for camping in the heat. They can also take more time to set up and are a lot more expensive compared to three-season tents.

Key Features

There are a few features that make winter tents stand out compared to three-season or summer tents. Here are some of the main features that are different in winter tents:

Design and Structural Differences

One of the most noticeable differences between three and four-season tents is the design and shape of the tent frames. Three-season tents come in a wider variety of shapes, but winter tents are usually geodesic shaped or semi-geodesic shaped. They look like a dome structure but with more crossing poles. The extra poles and contact points between the poles make the roof of the tent stronger so that it won’t bend, sag, or cave in if heavy snow falls on top of it. This design is also more aerodynamic compared to a tunnel or cabin shaped tent (both of which are common tent shapes for three-season tents), which helps the tent stay more stable and prevent swaying in high wind.

Most winter tents also have a brighter color on the body and rainfly, which helps your tent be spotted in emergencies.

Lastly, most tents are sold without a footprint. A footprint is a small piece of fabric similar to the body of the tent that you place the tent on top of before setting it up. It gives your tent floor some extra protection from holes, tears, or punctures. It’s also particularly helpful to have in winter camping tents because it gives you an extra layer of insulation from the ground.

Tent Body and Pole Material

In order to withstand heavy winds and snow, the tent body and pole material will be different in tents intended for winter camping compared to three-season or summer tents.

The tent body material is heavier and thicker, so it can better resist tearing if it comes in contact with ice or if heavy snow accumulates on top of it. The body material of your winter tent should be a high denier ripstop nylon or polyester. Denier is a measure of the thickness of individual threads in a fabric. The higher denier a fabric is, the more abrasion-resistant it is. Ripstop nylon and ripstop polyester are versions of nylon and polyester made from tiny squares of fabric as opposed to one large piece of fabric. The tiny squares prevent any rips or holes that the fabric can get from spreading, so if your tent body does get a puncture or rip in it, it won’t spread.

As for the tent pole material, the best option is aluminum poles or a carbon composite. Both of these pole materials are a bit heavier than carbon fiber poles, which are a common material in lightweight tents, but they are more durable and will help your winter tent stay stable in storms.

Insulation and Ventilation

Winter tents have unique insulation and ventilation properties. Insulation is obviously important in winter tents because your tent should keep you warm inside when it’s snowy weather outside. Unlike your home, which relies on a heater, tents stay warm mostly by retaining the body heat from the campers inside the tent. In order to more efficiently retain this heat, winter tents have fewer mesh windows and doors compared to three-season tents. They also have tighter seals on the doors and windows of the tent to prevent heat from escaping.

The flip side of needing your tent to stay well insulated is that you also need it to remain well ventilated. If it’s not ventilated, the condensation from your breath will react with the cold outside temperatures and form water inside the tent, eventually soaking all your gear inside. Trust me, waking up in a wet sleeping bag is not a good way to start your day! Winter tents do need some vents. However, these are usually more adjustable and heavier duty than vents on three-season tents, which allow you to get air out without snow or ice in.

Weight and Portability

Photo by Frantic00

Though you can absolutely use winter tents for car camping, they are more commonly used for mountaineering or backcountry skiing and snowboarding, which require you to hike or ski into an area with all your gear in a backpack. Therefore, weight and portability are usually a big consideration for winter tents. It’s a fine line trying to find a winter tent that’s sturdy and durable enough to withstand snowy conditions, but still light enough that it won’t weigh down your pack.

If you are car camping, weight and portability aren’t as much of a concern. But if you’re planning a winter trip where you have to carry your gear into your campsite, keep in mind that a winter tent will be heavier than carrying an average backpacking tent.

Top Winter Tents

Now that we have the basics covered, let’s get into our list of the best four-season tents for winter camping:

1. MSR Access 3P

The MSR Access is a three-person tent intended for backcountry ski, snowboard, and snowshoe trips. It’s not quite as robust or heavy-duty as a mountaineering tent (which we will talk about later on this list), which allows it to stay on the lighter side while still providing protection from all but the most severe winter storms.

It has a quick setup with easy attach pole clips on the outside of the tent body, which lets you pitch your tent quickly so you can get out of the cold faster. On the inside, it has limited mesh to stay insulated, but heavy duty rainfly vents to allow moisture to escape as opposed to accumulating inside the tent walls. Any moisture that does accumulate is designed to accumulate on the inside of the rainfly and drip down outside of your tent. The material of both the tent body and rainfly are a ripstop nylon with MSR’s XTREME Shield, which is a waterproof polyurethane and silicone blend. The poles are made from an advanced composite durable enough that they won’t snap under cold conditions, but light enough in weight that they won’t add a lot of extra pounds to your pack. The overall packed weight of the Access 3P is 5lbs 1oz, making it the second lightest winter camping tent on this list.

2. The North Face - VE 25

If you’re looking for a three-person tent but want something that can withstand even the worst of winter storms, the VE 25 is for you. The added durability of this tent does add a bit of weight compared to the Access 3P with the VE 25 weighing in at 10lb 5oz. That being said, it is still lightweight enough to bring along on more mountaineering or intense backcountry trips where you need to be prepared for anything.

It has fully taped seams, doors, and floors to keep moisture out, and two doors on either side of the tent, with the rainfly providing vestibules outside of both doors for gear storage. It has high strength guy lines and snow stakes, which allow you to connect the body of the tent and fly more securely to the ground, making it more stable in high winds or heavy snowfall. The body of the tent is made from a ripstop nylon with a few mesh vents, while the fly is a silicone coated ripstop nylon. The poles are made from an aluminum alloy that is lighter than straight aluminum, but maintains its strength.

There are several thoughtful features packed into this tent, such as glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls, eight internal pockets, and a rainfly that can be setup without the tent if you want to set up a quick shelter to get out of a storm prior to reaching camp.

3. The North Face Mountain 25 Tent

The North Face Mountain 25 is another great expedition tent from North Face. It’s slightly smaller and intended for only two people. It’s essentially the same design as the VE 25 with the same tent body, rain fly, and pole materials as well as the same high strength stakes and guylines and glow-in-the-dark zippers. This tent has two doors, but the vestibule is only on one side. The fly can also be pitched on its own, without the tent body. It also has eight internal pockets to keep your gear organized. It weighs slightly less than the VE 25 at 9lbs 13oz.

North Face skips the flame retardant normally found in tents on this one, which is unique to both North Face tents on this list. Almost all tents, three-season and four-season, have flame retardant coating in their fabric. Though this is a nice safety feature for campers who like to have fires and want the security of staying safe if their fire gets out of control, flame retardant is also a known carcinogen that some campers prefer to avoid. If you want a healthier tent option and to skip the flame retardant, the Mountain 25 or VE 25 are both great options.

4. Big Agnes Copper Spur HV2 Expedition Tent

The Big Agnes Copper Spur line has been a staple in the camping world for the last five or so years. Big Agnes makes bikepacking, ultralight backpacking, and high volume versions of this tent. As of last year, they introduced the winter camping version, the HV2 Expedition. The HV in the name stands for high volume, meaning the internal space is intended to be bigger and more comfortable compared to the average two-person tent.

Technically rated as a 3+ season tent, this one is not quite as burly as the other tents on this list. If you’re expecting heavy snow, go with something more robust. But if you’re doing more casual cold weather camping where you expect some light snowfall or strong winds, the Copper Spur HV2 Expedition will do the trick. It has a breathable ripstop nylon body, allowing great airflow, and a high denier polyester ripstop fly treated with a waterproof silicone coating, which is designed to mitigate temperature fluctuations and prevent ripping or swaying in high winds or snow accumulation. The poles are made from the same aluminum composite as the poles on the North Face tents, ensuring stability in tough conditions. Setting up this tent is a breeze thanks to the easy attach plastic clips on the body of the tent. As for the inside of the tent, there are 10 mesh pockets to store all your gear easily.

If you’re looking for something lightweight and not quite as heavy duty as a mountaineering style tent, this is a great option weighing only 5lb 5oz.

5. Black Diamond HiLight 2 Person Tent

Black Diamond is a well known name in the extreme skiing and mountaineering world. Their gear is designed to withstand some seriously bad weather. The Black Diamond HiLight 2 Person Tent is no exception to that and is made with a “Flow Manifold'' design, which is a new technology that actively draws moisture out of the air and through the vent on the roof of the rainfly.

The shape of the tent and location of the vents are intentionally designed to prevent any trapped moisture from dripping inside the tent and directing it to the awning over the rainfly (similar to the design on the MSR Access 3P). The shape of the tent gives the inside nearly vertical walls, originally designed to help with moisture mitigation, but also provides an added comfort feature, giving winter campers more headroom (having a peak height of 3.5 ft). Despite this added headroom, it does have a smaller floor space and overall interior space compared to most two-person tents, so it will be a tight fit for two campers, though it’s totally doable. It has only one door with a vestibule outside of the door. The tent body and rain fly are made from a high-tenacity ripstop polyester, which doesn’t stretch at all, preventing flapping in high wings. The poles are twice as thick as regular Black Diamond tent poles and are made from a composite material that provides added strength.

If anything does go wrong with this tent during your trips you can rest assured it won’t mean the end of your trip! The tent comes with a field repair kit for the tent poles.

The overall weight of this tent is a mere 3lb 15 oz, which is the lightest option you’ll find for a 4-season tent, 2 person tent.

6. Mountain Hardwear Trango

Last but not least, we have the Mountain Hardwear Trango. Though it has the highest price tag of all the options on this list, it’s my personal favorite and can withstand any kind of weather you throw at it.

As a two-person tent, it has two D-Shaped doors on either side, large dry-entry vestibules outside of each food, and plenty of headroom and storage space inside (with a total floor area of 40 square feet). The body and fly are made from high denier ripstop nylon and the poles are an aluminum composite.

You won’t find any tent easier to set up than this one, even with gloved hands and in extreme conditions. It has welded loops with large clips on the body of the tent, which can quickly attach to the poles (both the welded loops and poles are color coded). There are extra attachment points on the body and fly of the tent. This provides more connection points to stake out your tent and prevents anything from coming loose during a storm. Inside, you’ll find a tension shelf for storing your important items as well as a large triple reinforced window. This can be zipped up to keep heat in or opened to provide ventilation and visibility to outside. It has internal mesh windows all over that can also provide airflow when needed or be zipped up when you’re trying to keep warm after a long day of exploring in the snow.

Though most tents are brighter in color to allow for easy visibility in emergency situations, the Trango is sectioned into three colors, bright blue, bright red, and light gray. The light gray is intentionally placed on the middle section of the tent to allow more light inside during the day. Most winter tents tend to be dark inside, even in the middle of the day, because of the thicker tent walls and colors of the tents. This means you’ll have to use your headlamp inside if you need to see anything. That’s not the case for the Trango, which is a great feature to help conserve your headlamps battery by giving you some natural light.

All the guylines and stakes on this tent as well as sections of the rainfly have a reflective coating to help you avoid tripping if you’re walking around outside in the dark and to provide more visibility if you need an emergency rescue.

It weighs 9lb 10oz, so not the lightest on this list, but well worth the extra weight for the added features and protection you get. It also comes in a four-person option.

Chat with an Expert

Photo by Michael VBG

Winter camping can feel like a big undertaking, with all the extra gear you need to invest in and all the safety considerations you need to take into account when sleeping in freezing temperatures, but with the right preparation, it’s a great way to get outside in the winter and explore peaceful, snow covered landscapes without the crowds. Hopefully this guide gave you some insight as to which kind of winter tent is right for you, but if you still want to chat through things, reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated. We are happy to offer free, personalized advice on the right gear to make your winter camping trip a fun, seamless experience!

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