Real need for 4-season tent?

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Mountain Ninja
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Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby Mountain Ninja » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:33 am

Hey all,

I'm wondering, what's the real need for a 4-season tent? I have a Big Agnes UL4 (4-man) 3-season tent, and I'm wondering if this is sufficient for nice-weather days on winter 14er hikes. What benefits does a 4-season tent have over a 3-season?

I won't be climbing outside Colorado with it, and will only use it on days/nights with not-too-much wind, and no significant snowstorms (assuming weather reports are near accurate the day before).

Thanks for your help, guys! :)
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby mtn_hikin » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:38 am

The sealed seams and the way the floor is seamed and any windows usually have a zippered flap that closes.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby Scott P » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:55 am

If you are planning on camping above timberline, a 4 season tent is recommended. Many 3-season tents could easily blow apart above timberline in winter.

If you are camping below timberline, a 3-season tent is more than sufficient for winter in Colorado.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby pvnisher » Wed Aug 29, 2012 11:59 am

Many "4-season" tents that many people will recommend are really more for real mountaineering or very severe conditions. Simply camping in the cold does not require a "4-season", bomb-proof tent.

I echo what Scott P said. I camped for 10 years in the winter (below tree line) with a 3-season tent. It's a bit colder (but less condensation!), but as long as it's not blowing snow it's fine.

I'll also paste a post of mine from an earlier, similar thread:

"Expedition" tent, "4-season tent", and "4-season mountaineering" tents can all have different meanings and different usages. What is your intended use?

For "expedition" your main focus is strength, square footage, liveability (which includes fq ft but also things like doors, windows, vestibules, top height). Definitely want a 3p size for 2p, because you will be spending a lot of time in it. It's probably going to be big, heavy, and expensive.

For "4-season", ie backpacking and snowshoeing, you want those same things, but can sacrifice strength for weight (doesn't need to withstand Himalayan winds, just a good winter storm, hopefully nestled in the trees or off a ridge). If you're planning your trip and not stuck on a glacier, you probably won't head out into a blizzard, right? And you can get cheaper, quality options. REI and Kelty make some 4-season tents that are quite good for winter camping.

For "4-season mountaineering", weight and necessary (not comfy, necessary) sq ft are the drivers. You also want fast setup, particularly in the wind. I like singlewall for that, although there are some innovative double-wall tents with the fly permanently attached. I don't own one, though.

My choice: http://www.sierradesigns.com/p-148-convert-3.aspx. Single-wall, and is very long, which is important for me as a tall dude. Also, I like that it has a zip-out section in the floor for digging snow, cooking, getting into the tent with your boots and crampons on (or putting crampons on inside the tent!), or the emergency midnight pee.
Downsides: No vestibule (the tent interior includes the "traditional" vestibule space, which is ok to keep all your gear inside with you), and isn't as bomber as some of the other tents. With the internal guyline kit (makes an "x" over each door) and properly guyed out it is very strong, never had an issue.
Main downside, which can be mitigated somewhat, is that cooking in it during a storm can be tough. Even with the two snorkle vents open on top, if its blowing hard to where you can only crack the doors and you're boiling water you will get condensation inside.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby CO Native » Wed Aug 29, 2012 12:50 pm

Just adding to Scott's post that another issues is the load the tent can handle. A heavy snow dump will flatten a 3 season tent. The only time I've seen snow falls that heavy in Colorado has been in the spring, and even then it's rare. Still you can mitigate this problem in a 3 season by waking up regularly and going out to clear off the tent, not fun but it's better than a collaped tent.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby blazebo » Wed Aug 29, 2012 8:52 pm

CO Native wrote:Just adding to Scott's post that another issues is the load the tent can handle. A heavy snow dump will flatten a 3 season tent. The only time I've seen snow falls that heavy in Colorado has been in the spring, and even then it's rare. Still you can mitigate this problem in a 3 season by waking up regularly and going out to clear off the tent, not fun but it's better than a collaped tent.


i saw a dude at 14k on denali with a blue walmart tarp and 4 pickets. i heard he made it to the football field and then turned back. probably thought that was the best 9.99 for a "tent" he had ever spent.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby Taillon75 » Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:40 pm

Get a 5 Season Tent. Can't go wrong.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby pvnisher » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:27 pm

On the glacier beneath the Cosmiques hut there were probably 20 tents. Didn't see a single TNF VE25 or MHW EV3 or any of those similar Himalayan-style tents.
Quate a few non-free-standing tube tents, though, which are supposed to be good in the wind and snow (I haven't used one).
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby RoanMtnMan » Wed Aug 29, 2012 11:21 pm

As others have indicated, no need for a 4 season in CO in my opinion, that is if you have proper placement of your tent site and access to NOAA before you leave the TH. The BD light series is a great selection. For longer trips, or for maritime mountains like the PNW or Sierra I would suggest a true 4 season. I have awaken in tight snow caves that I didn't build a few times in those places.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby climbing_rob » Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:53 am

Good comments above, and I mostly agree, but consider a couple more things.

Nights in the winter are of course, very, very long. It's really nice to have a warm haven to spend these in. some 3-season tents will not really provide this. I own the BA fly creek UL2, and it will be a frigid tent in the winter, plus it would not support a snow load at all.

It really is all about above vs. below tree line. Choose your camp site very carefully, using tree circles to help shelter. Avoid small valleys.

also, as as said above, big difference between "winter", when snows are generally light and "spring" when the big heavy ones dump. Be very careful starting in March or so. People suffocate in tents in big dumps. More likely with a summer tent.

If you insist on using a 3-season tent in the winter in CO, I'd consider buying a heavier one than your BA. My 2-person version would not work for me at all. great tent in the summer, to be sure.
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby atalarico » Thu Aug 30, 2012 8:55 pm

I'd also add that the 4-season moniker is sort of misleading. They really should just be called winter or mountaineering tents. They're entirely too warm in the summer and quite a bit heavier than a traditional 3-season tent.

That being said, the reasons you should get one are listed above. Qualify your needs based on anticipated snow loads, frigid temps, and overall greater resistance to winter gales.

Cheers!
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Re: Real need for 4-season tent?

Postby Mountain Ninja » Fri Aug 31, 2012 11:19 am

Wow, thank you all for the awesome advice! This really helps me get a feel for what I want, without going through the painful learning experience of freezing my bum off or having my tent collapse! I've bookmarked this thread :)
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