How necessary is a 4 season tent?
- This topic is empty.
Oct 17, 2012 at 6:18 am #1295150Josh LeeMember
Taking a trip out to Rocky Mountain National Park in January, we will be camping below tree line, on snow, elevation between 9 and 10 thousand feet. I have a BA Fly Creek UL2, and would much prefer to take this than have to rent a heavier 4 season tent. I would understand wanting a 4 season for above tree line with strong winds and all, but I don't really see the necessity otherwise. As long as your tent is set up properly I don't see how it would build up enough snow on top of the rain fly to collapse the tent. Then again I don't have any experience camping in snow so I am certainly not an expert. Thoughts?Oct 17, 2012 at 6:42 am #1922086
I haven't camped in a 4 season in winter conditions in the Rockies yet, but I took winter camping with the Colorado Mtn. Club last year, and several of us were successful with 3 season tents (at about 11,000 feet). We learned to stomp down a platform with our snowshoes and used snow saw to cut out blocks. I used the blocks to create a snow wall along my 3 season tent walls–placing the blocks on the tent itself and building them up to block wind. I was very successful with this technique.
Also, we learned that site selection is important..and that you can find a spot under the trees that will protect your tent from winds. Of course, you have to be very careful to stay away from potential "widow maker" trees.
Also very important is checking the forecast before you go out. If there is a huge storm on the way, just go rent the 4 season. If only lighter snows are expected, take the 3 season and you will be fine.
I would recommend that you order this book from your library:
AMC Guide to Winter Hiking & Camping by Yemaya Maurer & Lucas St. Clair
This is the book we used for the CMC course
Hope this helps…very excited to hear about your trip! I'm going out myself several times this winter, and doing a test trip in two weeks! YeaH!Oct 17, 2012 at 6:50 am #1922088
Check out this link. This is the website for the winter camping school, with some good contacts for you. The volunteer instructors are very helpful and passionate and may be willing to speak with you on the phone if you want more advice. Also the pictures are really insightful too.Oct 17, 2012 at 6:57 am #1922093Mike MBPL Member
it definitely can snow enough in a night to collapse a tent, is it likely?- no
I think a "4 season tent" has as much to do w/ wind resistance as handling snow load
if you do get a heavy snow you will likely have some work to do through the night- knocking off building snow and perhaps even some shoveling, but this would be a rare event imo
I use my "3 season" Duomid in the winter and haven't had any trouble, I don't camp atop 14k peaks w/ it though :)Oct 17, 2012 at 7:26 am #1922106Josh LeeMember
I definitely like the idea of snow blocks, it could be a fun camp chore activity to keep warm after we are done hiking. I have to admit I am somewhat concerned about the "widow makers" in winter conditions. I was out at Rocky Mountain National Park in June and there are tons of dead trees everywhere around some of the campsites due to the beetles that made it hard to find a safe flat spot to set up a tent. Hopefully having a larger area to choose a site from in winter will make finding a place with tree cover, but not a lot of dead trees easier.Oct 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm #1922353
It really is a tough call.
I have used 3 season tents in winter and got on well with them but have had a few close calls, these day I pack a Hilleberg Soulo if going solo and just recently acquired a Kaitum 3 for using with a buddy.
Building snow walls are well in good but sometimes you just need to pitch your tent and crawl in to your sleeping bag.Oct 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm #1922367Stuart .BPL Member
I see you're planning the trip from afar. I gather you won't have the luxury of changing the trip date at the 11th hour in case of inclement conditions, so you should consider other contingency plans. That includes location (storms can be very localized); route within a given area; escape route planning; and equipment.
January can be one of the drier snow months in the winter, but I wouldn't trust a forecast more than 24 hours in advance and certainly not months ahead.
I've owned the BA Copper Spur and I wouldn't trust that for strong winds or heavy snow load. The FC2 seemed less storm worthy, and its single entrance limits access options in bad weather. My biggest concern would be the strength of the poles in a winter storm.
What other gear are you bringing? Is any of it truly 4 season? One advantage of a true 4 season tent not discussed yet is that you may not need to bring as heavy a sleeping bag or an additional bivy, as the solid ripstop inner will keep a lot more of the elements at bay than the largely mesh inner of the FC2.
I used a generously (ie unrealistically) rated 15F bag on top of a downmat inside my Hilleberg Soulo in low single digit temps near Breckenridge last December. The pad and tent kept the interior temp significantly higher than the exterior, although eventually I bailed in the wee hours because the hood and draft collar of the sleeping bag weren't up to the task.Oct 17, 2012 at 8:23 pm #1922375R KSpectator
@oiboyroiLocale: South West US
A 4 season tent is going to have a solid fabric inner tent. There's a couple of reasons for that. One, it better blocks any wind that might come in under the outer tent, making it warmer. Two, condensation will freeze on to the outer tent at night, melt when it warms up the next day, causing it to drip on your gear. A solid inner will help prevent that.
A mesh inner tent will work, just not as well. As mentioned, it's really conditions dependent.Oct 17, 2012 at 8:59 pm #1922388Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
If there is wind and snow, a good 4 season tent could save your life above or below tree line. So how necessary depends on the weather forecast.
I have used my BA Seedhouse SL2 in fair weather below tree line and it worked fine.
Read Roger Caffin's article on tunnel tents posted on this site to get an idea of what would happen to your tent in 40 plus mph winds.
If I were expecting a bit of snow, I would take my MLD duo mid, bury the edges, dig down, and build snow walls. If I were expected a real storm, or did not want to take the time to rig the duo mid, I would take my BA StringRIdge 2.
Did you learn how to build a snow cave (~3 hours of digging) or snow trench (~1 to 2 hours) in your winter camping class, that is the lightest option.Oct 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm #1922391Paul McLaughlinBPL Member
There main issues you may have are snow load, spindrift getting in through the mesh,and wind resistance. You can easily get enough snow to collapse the tent overnight if you get a big dump and if it is relatively wet snow. But you can deal with that by getting up several times during the night to clear snow off the tent – ad from around the base of the tent walls. The last is pretty important as it gives the snow that slides of the tent someplace to go rather than piling up against the tent.
I would look at it this way: if the trip is one or two nights, you can look at the forecast and judge before you go – if the forecast is good, you'll probably be okay with the light tent. If the forecast is sketchy, rent something more substantial and you'll enjoy the trip more. If the trip is more like 3 or 4 nights, I wouldn't trust the forecast much for that long, I'd get a more robust shelter.
I would also say that I have never once in all my years of snow camping regretted carrying a reliable shelter, but I have on a few occasions wished I had something more robust along when the weather got bad.
In the main, I would always keep in mind that the choice isn't so much about what tent it is possible to put up with but rather it's about what will make the trip the most fun. A couple more pounds in the pack is well worth it if the weather turns foul, especially if you are new to snow camping.Oct 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm #1922396
R K brought up a great point about a solid inner tent.
There are plenty of 3 season tents that could support a snow load and lots of wind, but you're still not going to want to be in them when it's cold and windy outside because it'll be just about as cold and windy inside as well.Oct 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm #1922657
Bumping to make this thread visible again.Oct 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm #1922675USA Duane HallBPL Member
@hikerduaneLocale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
I've gotten by with my old SD Halfmoon, three season tent in high winds, two feet of snow overnight. We were in the Carson Pass area here in CA, close to Kirkwood which gets the most snow in the US I believe. I suffered two slightly distorted poles and lost one shephards hook stake. I had to lay on my back and support the four corners with my feet and arms whenever a big gust hit. The Big Sky tent that was being reviewed by a fellow bper, suffered some damage, but then, it was a three season tent. Good story trip for the eight of us that went.
DuaneOct 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm #1922679
Sounds like a wild night, did you get any sleep?Oct 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm #1922709Richard LyonBPL Member
@richardglyonLocale: Bridger Mountains
As folks have said, it depends on the actual conditions, particularly snow. Whenever there's a possibility of snow in the Northern Rockies winter – most of the time – I take a solid four-season tent, either my Hilleberg Unna for solo use or Bibler Bombshelter for two. As noted by another poster, the tent's bearing up to a blizzard could save your life. In my never-humble opinion, worth an extra few pounds.
RichardOct 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm #1922722Mary DBPL Member
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
If you're where feet (not just inches) of heavy wet snow can fall in a short time (definitely true in the Cascade Range in WA and OR), you either want a sturdy tent that will support the weight or you'll have to get out every hour or so to remove snow from the tent.Oct 19, 2012 at 9:37 am #1922849
Great discussion, it reminded to buy some new snow pegs.Oct 19, 2012 at 10:22 am #1922861USA Duane HallBPL Member
@hikerduaneLocale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Stephen, I slept part of the night, early morning hours, you could hear the gusts coming so could be prepared. When we got to the SnowPark, due to the high snow fall, they kept the highway open, but not our parking lot. We shoveled ourshelves out by about 5 that afternoon. The SnowPark on the other side of the road was kept clear. Luckily I had a real square point shovel besides my bping one.
DuaneOct 19, 2012 at 11:31 am #1922892
Sounds like you had tough work getting your car out Duane,
Would you take the same tent again in the same conditions?
Have great weekend,
StephenOct 19, 2012 at 11:38 am #1922895Diplomatic MikeMember
@mikefaedundeeLocale: Under a bush in Scotland
If you need a 4 season tent, you wouldn't be asking.Oct 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm #1922903
I know I would be packing a 4 season tent in those conditions.Oct 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm #1922906Richard FischelBPL Member
having some confidence in your tent lets you relax (somewhat), read a book, catch up on sleep drink hot chocolate, periodically step outside to clear some snow from around the tent and empty the pee bottle (do not forget the pee bottle). if you are unable to sleep because your bracing your tent for the next gust, or buried in spindrift that blows thru the mesh inner, you will probably survive (dead people usually aren't found in tents unless they are in an avalanche), but it will take a lot of the fun out of the adventure, but may provide good cocktail party chit-chat at some future date. Also, if you question your shelter you might decide it's better to hike out than hunker-down, and that's when they will find you in the spring thaw.
in reality, many people use a 3-season tent in winter conditions and not have any issues. you just need to decide where you want to be on the risk curve.
enjoy your trip.Oct 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm #1922937
Bumping again to make this thread visible again after the latest spam attack.Oct 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm #1923477
uninvisibility bumpOct 29, 2012 at 8:58 am #1925080
I think we might have exchanged a few e-mails on this topic, and I just wanted to follow up with some pictures from the CMC winter camping course that may be helpful (or fun!) for you to look at.
These pictures were taken by one of the instructors from the course:
Let me know if you can't see them…
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.