The Search for The Best Four Season Tents of 2017
Looking for a four season tent? Let us help. We researched the 30 most popular tents on the market and put the best 20 in head-to-head tests over several months. Our expert reviewers judged these models on how well they hold up in heinous weather, how much weight they add to your pack, and how livable they are, to name a few metrics. This review not only covered all key aspects of cold-weather shelters but also spanned the globe, pitching in Alaska, Patagonia, Greenland, Antartica and more. We took them up big mountain objectives like Aconcagua and Denali, too. Whatever your needs may be, from budget hunters to alpine climbers to lightweight fast-packers to extreme weather adventurers, this review guides you to your perfect tent.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
Keeping up with the market, we updated this review with information on recent product developments. Two Mountain Hardwear tents have been updated with newer versions available today. We contacted the manufacturer about both models, and while there aren't any major changes, we detailed the differences in the canopies, floors, and weights in their individual reviews. Charts and tables are now also included in the performance metrics to display the comparative differences between products.
Best Overall Four Season Tent
Before we even tallied the scores, we were convinced that the Hilleberg Jannu was our overall favorite because it simply does everything we want very well. This tent ranks among the strongest, most resistant to varying weather, and most versatile, yet doesn't weigh you down and packs up nicely. Even in storm conditions, setup of this tent remains easy. The main drawback is less space for cooking than hooped-style tents (which are also less strong). We do think if you are looking for a tent for mountaineering and alpine climbing in the lower 48, you don't need something as burly as the Jannu and could get away with an all-around tent that's lighter, like the Mountain Hardwear EV 2 or Black Diamond Eldorado. However, if you want the best blend of everything, the Jannu is hard to beat, and therefore wins our Editors' Choice award.
Highly resistant to snow loading
Pitches quick from outside
Three color options
Not super comfortable
Read full review: Hilleberg Jannu
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Mountain 25
The North Face Mountain 25 provides high-performance winter protection without the (relatively) high price tag of most models in this category. This is a four-season tent that we would use on Denali, Aconcagua or on less remote climbs, like Mt. Rainier. At $590, the Mountain 25 is one of the better-priced tents available and gives up nothing for its storm worthiness or livability. Weighing 8.5 pounds, the Mountain 25 is heavier but isn't so outrageous that we wouldn't consider taking it on summer mountaineering climbs. We think the Mountain 25's versatility to be used in a wide range of climates from winter camping to three-season backpacking only increases its value.
Reflective guy lines
Sweet Kevlar guylines with camming adjusters
Read full review: The North Face Mountain 25
Best All-Around Alpine Climbing Tent
Mountain Hardwear EV2
Second strongest two-person single wall tent
Most comfortable two-person single wall tent
Pitches quick and easy from outside
Great for tall people
Poor ventilation in calm conditions
Poor condensation management
Heavier than ultralight bivy tents
This model received a minor update in 2017 to its canopy and floor materials, which brought a small increase in weight, but intended to make this tent stronger. A more detailed description of the newest version is found in the individual review.
This award goes to the Mountain Hardwear EV2. While the EV2 didn't handle moisture as well as the Jannu, it is lighter, more compact and offers more spacious and livable interior than the Black Diamond Eldorado. We think it's bomber enough for climbing in the Lower 48 and should be considered depending on the usage for climbing in the greater ranges. If you're looking for a bigger EV tent, check out the Mountain Hardwear EV 3.
Read full review: Mountain Hardwear EV 2
Top Pick for Weight and Packed Size
Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2
Small packed size
Advantageous tiny footprint
Terrible quality guylines and stakes
Like the EV 2, Mountain Hardwear has confirmed that this tent has seen minor updates to its floor and canopy, as well as increased its guylines and tieout points. Weight also increased. See details in the individual review of this tent.
With a minimum weight of 2 lb. 13 oz and a packable weight of just over 3 pounds, the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 is our pick for the best tent for overall weight and packed size. This itty-bitty shelter is a luxury suite on frigid alpine climbs where low weight, small packed size and a small footprint are the #1 consideration. The Direkt 2 is waterproof and wind resistant, featuring great guylines. For all other fast-and-light winter activities, our testers prefer floorless pyramid shelters, which are found in our Ultralight Tent Review.
Read full review: Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2
Top Pick for the Most Extreme Conditions
If we were planning on going to the harshest weather, then we would likely go with the Hilleberg Tarra. There are a few other tents that are as bomber, like the Black Diamond Fitzroy, North Face Mountain 25, and Trango 2, but the Tarra is likely the most bomber of the bunch and will hold up as well as any tent could. It uses thick poles featuring the nicest materials and a tried-and-true design that has been taken to some of the most extreme environments. If weight and packability are important factors, we would go with the Black Diamond Fitzroy, as it is close in strength and is about 2.5 pounds lighter. For most people going to extreme environments, we would recommend this contender because it is more livable and versatile.
Fortress-like strength for worst conditions
Two nice sized vestibules
Significantly heavier than many tents in our review
Read full review: Hilleberg Tarra
Best Backcountry Touring Tent
Stephenson's Warmlite 2R
The Stephenson's Warmlite 2R is our Top Pick for the Best Backcountry Tent. When you're on extended backcountry tours, weight matters, unlike mountaineering or pure winter camping, where you might go light for a summit push, leaving your tent behind. While on an extended ski tour, you almost always have your tent in your pack. For alpine climbing and mountaineering, the Warmlite 2R non-free standing tunnel design and larger interior space can make it more challenging to set up, especially in smaller tent sites. Those disadvantages go away while ski touring, where you are nearly always camped on snow, so you'll never have a hard time staking the tent out (skis, poles, or shovels make for quick and bomber anchors). We also like its weight; the Warmlite 2R offers a lot more livable room, which is nice for the often loftier sleeping bags and clothing you bring while out in the backcountry.
Very spacious interior
Made in the USA
Bomber wind protection
Only requires 3 stakes
Custom features and colors
Pretty sweet price
Questionable thin diameter pole durability
Three stakes need to be bomber
Read full review: Stephenson's Warmlite 2R
Analysis and Test Results
We assessed each four-season tent based on its weather resistance, weight, packed size, durability, livability, adaptability, and features. Check out the table above to see where each ranked in Overall Performance.
This variable assesses a tent's ability to protect from the outside environment, whether that be snow, rain, or wind. We considered pole design, pole type, fabrics, vestibules, and strength features, such as number of pole intersections, number of points and mechanism for attaching the inner tent to the poles, number of points and mechanism for attaching the outer tent to the poles, and the number and quality of guy points. We share many of these specifications in the table above and in each individual review. The most significant factors influencing wind resistance and contributing to overall strength are pole design and pole quality.
The biggest factors contributing to a tent's strength are the number of poles, the tent's overall pole design, and the number of pole crossings relative to size and external height. More crossings relative to a tent's size means more strength. While the Black Diamond Eldorado is strong, it's not as strong as a Black Diamond Fitzroy that uses the same fabric, is the same external height but has more poles and more pole crossing. So how strong do you need your four-season tent to be? That depends on what you are doing. All the tents in reviewed are solid mountaineering tents that will excel in most summertime mountaineering adventures and in modest winter use. If you are planning on logging time in big mountain ranges or spending time exposed above treeline, then you should consider a beefier tent with more poles and more pole crossings.
Besides design, the next biggest contributor to strength is the tent poles themselves. Tent poles used in the tents we tested range from 8mm to 10.25mm in diameter. The majority are aluminum and made by DAC but some are made by Easton and are either aluminum or carbon fiber. DAC Featherlite NSL Green poles are the best available aluminum poles found in mainstream tents, with a few smaller manufacturers using Easton poles that might be slightly stronger for their weight. One company, Stephenson's Warmlite, uses custom aluminum poles that are very strong for their weight but have had complaints about durability.
Four-season tent fabrics range from ultralight non-waterproof wind breaking materials, as on the Black Diamond Firstlight, to strong and light silicone coated nylon, on the Hilleberg Nammatj, Hilleberg Tarra and Hilleberg Jannu, all the way to beefy laminates found in the single-wall Black Diamond Fitzroy, Eldorado, and Ahwahnee tents. We break down the four-season tents' specific fabric in individual reviews.
Coatings: Silnylon vs. Polyurethane
There is a difference between a tent covered on both sides with silicone, called silnylon, and a fabric that is coated on the outside with silicone and the inside with polyurethane (PU). The latter is cheaper but not as durable as strong. The strongest fly fabric used on the tents tested is Hilleberg Kerlon 1800 silnyon, which has a break strength of 40 lb. and is found on their Nammatj and Tarra tents, among others. The weakest fabric tested is used by the Brooks Range Invasion and breaks at a mere seven pounds!
Some four-season tents, like the Rab Latok and the Black Diamond/Bibler tents, use a burly PTFE laminate (similar to your waterproof-breathable jacket) that is stronger than most silnylon but overkill for use on double-wall tents.
Most of the four-season tents tested had between 3-10 guyline tie-out points. We liked having at least four, though six was nice for most alpine climbing and various stormy ski trips. For expedition use, we liked having at least six but would rather have eight. Contrary to most backpacker's beliefs, the guylines have far more holding power than the lower corners of the tents, because the guylines pull from the middle of the tent, resulting in a better angle against the wind to keep the tent in place.
The Most Weather Resistant
The strongest and most weather-resistant four-season tents that will withstand the strongest winds and the heaviest snow loads are the Hilleberg Tarra and the Black Diamond Fitzroy. These were followed closely by The North Face Mountain 25, the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, and Hilleberg Jannu. Besides the Fitzroy, the single-wall tents with the greatest static strength are the Mountain Hardwear EV 2 and the Black Diamond Eldorado; both of these tents are a step down in their storm worthiness from the aforementioned tents. While the EV2 is bomber, after a few trips we noticed it suffered from low vents that collect spindrift; so much so that we rate the Nemo Tenshi as an equally weather-resistant single-wall tent. If you are looking for a Denali-storm-worthy tent, we would recommend looking at tents that scored a "9" or a "10" and would consider no tent scoring lower than an "8."
Weight and Packed Size
We ranked each four-season tent based on its OutdoorGearLab measured weight and packed volume. We didn't compare their minimum weight, which is typically just that; tent, fly, poles, and excluding guylines - no pole sack, no stacks, etc. Instead, we tried to do comparison weights of what you'd likely bring for that tent.
Of all the comparison categories in our review, this is where we saw the biggest differences. For example, the lightest tents tested are the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, Rab Latok Summit, and Black Diamond Firstlight, which all t have packed weights of around 3 lbs 5 oz, but can be minimized to around 2 lbs 13 oz in the case of the Firstlight and Direkt 2. Comparatively, the heaviest tent was the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, which weighs more than three times as much at 9 lb 13 oz.
We discovered similar results when it came to packed volume, with some contenders taking up as little as one-quarter the space of the bulkiest. Why not just buy a lighter tent? If you are primarily attempting shorter trips (less than 3-5 days) then this is a great idea. But as you would imagine, a lighter, more compact tent is less versatile and comfortable for extended hangouts and is often not as strong in gnarlier weather.
Like weight, packed size is often the most important consideration for alpine climbers, who may take 30 - 50L liter packs for many days out. The Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, Rab Latok Summit, and Black Diamond Firstlight are the most compact tents available and are less than a quarter the packed size of some double-wall tents. The Brooks Range Invasion wasn't too far behind. The Hilleberg Jannu is relatively compact for a double-wall tent and is comparable in packability to the Black Diamond Eldorado or Black Diamond Fitzroy.
The Size of a Tent's Footprint
A tent's footprint is the amount of real-estate it takes up, not to be confused with the "other" footprint that protects the floor of your tent. For many users, this might not be on their radar but could save headaches down the road. Ledges or even camp/bivy sites can be small, as is the case in many areas of the Cascades, Tetons, Rockies, or Sierra. The tents with the smallest footprints were the Rab Latok Summit, Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, and BD Firstlight with the Black Diamond Eldorado not too far behind.
Here we assessed how tolerable it was to spend time in each tent. We looked at door and vestibule design, zipper quality, the number of pockets, peak height, floor area and vestibule area. Then we assessed the overall vibe. Was it dark and gloomy or cheerful? Did the tent get wet when someone entered in the rain? Do the pockets hold what you want them to? Are two people cramped? How well do two full-sized pads fit? Can you sit up, face your partner and play cards? Does the fly protect the inner from splashback (water dripping off the fly)? We've listed specifications for each tent. (As a reference, the average size sleeping pad is 20" x 72".)
The most comfortable tent for extended periods is the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, with its 40 square feet of livable space, which was the most space in our review. It also featured well-thought pockets and boasted one of the bigger vestibules among the options tested. It's worth noting that the North Face Mountain 25, Black Diamond Ahwahnee, and the Hilleberg Tarra were close seconds, all offering different advantages that were all nice to log time in. In contrast, the Rab Latok Summit is a small bivy tent that you can't even come close to sitting up in and is the least "livable" tent.
The space-to-weight ratio is measured by dividing the floor area (sq. ft.) by weight (oz.). This calculation is found in the table above and in each individual review. Note that it neglects to consider vestibule area and the volume of both the inner tent and the vestibule. Our livability ratings take all of these factors into account.
Ease of Setup
The chart below gives you a picture of how each tent ranked in the Ease-of-Setup metric.
Pole Clips, Pole Sleeves or Internal Poles?
This is an age old debate of what style is best. The truth is that each style has its own advantages and disadvantages of ease and speed versus strength.
Pole clips are the quickest and easiest to set up and offer the advantage of letting more moisture move around the tent, resulting in less condensation buildup. The disadvantage of clips is that they are heavier and don't spread the force of wind or snow as evenly along the length of the pole compared with pole sleeves. Examples include the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 and the EV2.
Pole sleeves are easy unless it's really windy; then you have to be careful. While sleeves are easy in pleasant weather, they are not as easy or as quick as clips. When it's windy, you have to use more caution while setting up a tent with pole sleeves; a pole is more vulnerable, with the tent acting as a kite until the whole tent is erected and can support itself. One small gust can bend or snap the poles if the tent isn't being held correctly; once set up, they are equally, if not more, bomber because the pressure is spread out evenly. Pole sleeves don't let moisture circulate as nicely as clips, but this is a smaller difference compared with materials. Examples include The North Face Mountain 25 and the Hilleberg Nammatj.
Internal poles are seen in lighter weight tents that you generally have to set up from the inside. This is the lightest design because the body of the tent itself is supporting poles. You need very little, if any, extra fabric or materials to support the poles. This is why all of the lightest bivy-style 4-season tents use an internal pole design; this design is also strong and can be just as strong as a pole-sleeve tent with similar pole structure. The primary disadvantage is that these are the most difficult and time-consuming to set up. If it's really windy, it's a pain to crawl inside and set up. Examples are the Black Diamond Eldorado, Firstlight, Nemo Tenshi, Rab Latok Ultra, and Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2.
Properly setting up a tent on snow or ice can take several minutes to several hours. Chopping a tent platform or cutting blocks to build a wind wall sucks. A tent that sets up quickly can save energy; a tent that pitches quickly in high winds is even better. The fastest tents to set up are he Hilleberg models, which pitch from the outside (the inner tent is suspended from the outer tent) with a combination of lower pole sleeves, and clips. Of all the single-wall tents tested, the Sierra Designs Convert 2 is the easiest to pitch. The Convert 2 uses internal pole sleeves with a port that allows you to insert and adjust the pole from the outside of the tent. This is a fantastic design that is, disappointingly, not used by any other companies. The photo below shows one of the reasons why it's so easy to pitch Hilleberg tents.
Adaptability and Versatility
Versatility is an important factor in choosing a tent; many people who are going to buy a $500-$1100 tent will want to use it on a range of trips and in multiple climates. A tent's versatility refers to how well it performs across a range of conditions and climates. All four-season tents are designed with snowy, windy conditions in mind; however, we also compared how well they work in rain, warmer three-season travel, and desert climates. We also compared how well they performed from a bivy tent perspective and threw in modest alpine conditions and full-blown expedition use.
In the end, tents that are more versatile are a better value. As a whole, most of the double-wall tents scored better than the single-wall tents because they handled warmer conditions both with and without moisture. There were exceptions, like the Black Diamond Ahwahnee, which featured two full-size doors with bug doors underneath; despite being a single-wall tent, it was possibly the best four-season tent tested for three seasons. The Trango 2, Mountain 25, and Tarra also fared well and would be good options for a strong tent for sea-kayaking or something that worked well for both three and four-season use.
A tent scored higher in this category when it had features that allowed us to use our tent in different ways. For example, a removable vestibule, as is found on some single-wall tents, or a removable inner tent, which allows you to use and pitch your one tent in different ways, helped.
All Hilleberg tents have removable inner tents that allow you to have a lighter floorless shelter for summer backpacking and fast-and-light winter trips. The floorless option is great for mountaineering because you can dig down into the snow to create a cooking area.
Ventilation can have a dramatic influence on a tent's adaptability and livability. Generally, double-wall tents have better air circulation and less condensation than single-wall tents. The Hilleberg tents and the North Face Mountain 25 have the best ventilation and moisture management of all double-wall tents. The top vents on dome tents are effective in moving air around and mitigating the "it's snowing inside" effect that happens when moisture vapor from your breath freezes, hits the roof, and falls back on you. Of all single wall tents tested, the Nemo Tenshi has the most impressive ventilation system — four vents total — that improve comfort as well as safety while cooking. See a photo of the Tenshi's large rear vent below.
Another single-wall four-season tents that stood out for adaptability and livability is the Black Diamond Ahwahnee. The Ahwahnee has the highest single-wall peak height and two 6' plus people could easily sit and face each other. The Ahwahnee's doors can be left cracked open in a light storm, helping ventilate. The EV2 also allowed excellent sleeping length for taller users, but didn't have as much headroom, nor did it ventilate as well.
The main factor here is the type of fabric used for the fly, the quality of the poles, and the floor. The floor matters less because much of the time all-season tents are pitched on snow. Again, silnylon is the fabric of choice for the fly on double-wall tents. Most of the PU formulations used on fly fabric coatings are more prone to hydrolysis (chemical breakup) than silnylon. They can wear out faster, particularly in wet environments, and aren't as resistant to UV degradation.
That said, companies like Mountain Trip, a super well-known Denali guide service (who retires their tents with plenty of life left), gets eight to twelve 22-day Denali expeditions out of each Trango. To say the Trango isn't durable is a stretch. The same could be said about other guide services who use tents from The North Face. While the fabric on the Hilleberg Tarra, Jannu, and Nammatj are more durable, it's not as significant an amount for most people who are comparing them with other four-season tents.
For example, the fly material on the Mountain Hardwear Trango (sil on the outside, PU on the inside) may last for about 120-200 days of use in a wet climate before it needs to be retired. A tent like the Hilleberg Nammatj (three layers of silicone on each side) may last between a third or even twice as long. Regardless of what tent you buy, 150 days is a lot of time for a tent to be out in the elements; while it is possible to recoat a fly's fabric, it's much more common to buy a new outer tent (fly), which is an option from most companies.
Tent floors generally have high-grade PU formulations that resist hydrolysis. The majority of the double wall tents tested have a tough 70 denier floor. Some Hilleberg tents, like the Nammatj and Tarra, use a 100 denier fabric that is burly. Single-wall tents often use lighter floor materials; for example, the Brooks Range Invasion uses a super light 15 denier fabric that's similar to those used on the lightest backpacking tents.
Specific features can also have a large impact on durability. The big three here are zippers, clips, and webbing adjustments. Bigger zippers last longer and can handle expeditions because they continue to work with dust and grit in them. Some clips are better than others: Martin Zemetis helped to design the clips used on the Mountain Hardwear Trango series and improved them with the clips now found on SlingFin tents, which are easier to use and stronger.
The most durable double-wall tents tested are the Hilleberg Jannu and Hilleberg Tarra which feature mega high-quality poles; they also have the nicest fabric among other contenders in our review. That said, The North Face Mountain 25 and Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 are not far behind and for most users, are comparable. The most durable single-wall tent is the Black Diamond Fitzroy, Ahwahnee, or Eldorado, all featuring the burliest external fabric reviewed. The least durable single-wall tent was the Brooks Range Invasion, which is also the least durable tent overall, with the Black Diamond Firstlight being only marginally tougher.
Going Ultralight? Consider an Ultralight Shelter
If saving weight is your top priority, and you are not alpine climbing, we suggest considering a floorless pyramid shelter, which is lighter and more spacious than any single-wall tent. Pyramids pitch with trekking poles, ski poles, or skis and have up to three times as much space, weighing less than a tent supported by dedicated poles. Check out our Ultralight Tent Review for details.
Forget the Footprint
Unless you are camping on sharp knives, we are confident that there is no need for a footprint for any winter tent. The majority of the tents tested use a tough 70 denier floor that's more durable than floors found on backpacking tents, which use 15 to 30 denier fabrics. We only recommend a groundsheet for basecamping and car camping on dirt or rocks. Then, consider cutting your own from Tyvek Home Wrap, available at hardware stores for around $10. Tyvek is more puncture-resistant and cheaper than the expensive ($50-80) footprints offered by manufacturers. The weight of the tent and your sleeping gear hold it in place.
The tents that we tested are designed to perform well in four seasons, specializing in winter and mountaineering use. Choosing between a single- and double-wall tent is important depending on the type of trips you're planning. If saving weight is most important, a single-wall tent might be preferred. Apart from that, comfort, space and durability most often rank higher in a double-wall tent. We hope that you can use our analysis of these 23 tents to find the product that fits your desires.
— Ian Nicholson
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