Camping in the winter is much different than camping during the rest of the year.
But it can be done. And you can have an enjoyable (and, most importantly, warm and cozy) time while doing it.
In addition to a warm winter sleeping bag, the most important piece of winter camping equipment is a quality 4-season winter tent.
The best winter tent is not only windproof and waterproof, but also easy to set up, comfortable to sleep in, and durable enough for the rigors of outdoor use in extreme weather conditions.
Here’s exactly how to buy the best cold weather tent for winter camping.
- Buyer’s Guide
- Best Winter Tents
- How to Set Up
- Best Accessories
- Alternative Shelters
Why You Need a Winter Camping Tent
A winter tent is simply a tent specifically designed for cold weather camping
Often referred to as a 4-season tent, these tents, as their name implies, can stick up to any weather conditions the coldest season can throw at them.
A 4-season tent is best for those that regularly camp in snow or extreme cold, especially when mountaineering, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or winter hiking.
For the majority of family campers, however, a 3-season tent is the best bet. They can be comfortably used year-round, but still stick up to moderate cold and light amounts of snow.
Benefits of a Cold Weather Tent
The benefits of buying a dedicated 4-season tent over a 3-season tent are numerous.
If you frequently camp in heavy snow or freezing cold, then the extra waterproofing, durability, and stability of a winter tent is a must.
Winter camping tents are built from the ground up to withstand intense wind, snow, and cold, including basecamp camping by mountaineers.
Although cold weather tents are built with thicker fabric with better waterproofing, they don’t necessarily offer better insulation than their 3-season counterparts.
The big difference is that a winter tent has stronger poles and a more supportive pole design to keep the tent stable in high winds. Most also feature steep, rounded sides to minimize snow collection.
Other notable features of winter tents are a lack of mesh panels and an outside rain/snow fly that extends all the way to the ground.
Consider Your Winter Camping Needs
As mentioned above, not everyone needs a dedicated cold weather tent for winter camping.
If you live in a climate with mild year-round weather, you’ll likely get away with a quality 3-season tent, even for winter camping.
The same goes if you only winter camp once in a blue moon. Even in an area with harsh winters, a 3-season tent will do the job if you only winter camp once or twice a year.
A 4-season tent is essential, however, if you camp in snow or freezing temperatures on a regular basis.
Those that participate in outdoor winter sports like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing greatly benefit from a dedicated cold weather tent.
Of course, mountaineers and anyone else camping in alpine conditions during the winter absolutely need a winter tent to stand up to these harsher-than-normal conditions.
In any case, when the temperature drops, the snow starts falling, and the wind picks up, you’ll be glad that you invested in a 4-season tent for camping in the winter.
Winter Camping Tent Buyer’s Guide
Walk into an outdoor gear store or look around online and you’ll likely be overwhelmed with the number of options for winter camping tents.
You’ll find that there are dozens upon dozens of options, most of which don’t look much different from one another to the untrained eye.
Like all outdoor gear or equipment
, some of these models are much better than others – and there are some you should avoid altogether.
Though our complete guide to buying a tent
talks about the basics of buying a tent for any season, the below guide focuses in on the most important features to consider for a winter tent for cold weather camping.
Here are the most important factors to look for in your winter tent:
1. Single-Wall vs Double-Wall
A single-wall tent
consists of a single layer of fabric. This fabric is typically heavy-duty, durable, and robust. It’s completely waterproof.
A double-wall tent
, on the other hand, consists of two layers of fabric. The first, breathable layer is the tent itself. The second, waterproof layer is actually a rainfly (/snowfly).
Both types of 4-season tents have their own pros and cons for winter camping.
A single-wall tent is lightweight, more affordable, and simple to set up. However, they’re far less versatile than their double-wall counterparts.
That said, a double-wall tent is ideal in most situations. They’re usually more comfortable and better ventilated. You can take even take the rainfly of to camp in warmer weather conditions.
The catch is that a double-wall tent is typically more expensive, more tedious to set up, and quite a bit heavier than their single-wall peers.
Winter camping tents are available in two main seasonality varieties
: 3-season and 4-season.
A 4-season tent is designed from the ground up for winter camping. They’re capable of withstanding serious wind, snow, and cold.
These cold-weather tents are often designed for use in alpine conditions, above the treeline, making them the go-to choice for mountaineers
The downside to a 4-season winter tent is that the design is so heavy-duty and robust that they’re usually uncomfortable to use in mild weather conditions.
The ultra-waterproofed fabric, full-coverage rainfly, and lack of mesh panels can make them too stuffy and warm for spring, summer, or fall camping.
A 3-season tent, on the other hand, will keep you warm and comfortable in spring, summer, and fall as well as in mild winter weather.
Although you never want to camp in serious wind, snow, or cold in a 3-season tent, the best models will do the job for casual winter camping.
Certain 3-season tents are designed specifically for use in winter. These are typically labeled extended-season or 3-season+.
The choice between a 3-season and 4-season tent depends on the conditions you expect to face and the frequency you camp during the winter.
3. Capacity & Livability
Tent capacity and livability are closely related.
Capacity is the amount of people the tent is designed to comfortably hold. Most winter tents range from 1-person to 4-person capacity, although larger models are available that hold up to 8 people or more.
Although small, 1-person or 2-person winter tent, are a good option for winter backpacking, but larger capacity winter tents have a lot of benefits.
For starters, the extra capacity offers ample space to store your gear. Winter camping often requires additional equipment, such as heavy clothing and boots, that you need to keep dry at night.
Another benefit of a larger winter tent is that it keeps your entire crew together. When mountaineering or camping in serious winter conditions, it’s important to keep the whole team in a single tent in case of whiteout conditions
Livability is closely related to the overall design and layout of the tent. In other words, how comfortable is the tent to sleep in?
Winter camping often necessitates spending more time inside your tent. So, a spacious, comfortable tent is a must.
Many winter campers prefer a tent with enough room for multiple people to sit up in. This gives you enough space to play cards or other fun camping games
to pass the time.
4. Size & Weight
The packed size and weight of your winter tent is important if you’re hiking into your winter camping destination.
Just like with backpacking in other seasons, a winter backpacking tent must be small and lightweight enough to easily haul with you on your trip.
That said, you don’t want to skimp on the robustness of your winter tent in favor of lighter weight if you’re camping in serious winter conditions.
An alternative option is to take one tent for your winter backpacking group. Split up the different components (tent body, rainfly, poles) among each person to lighten the load.
5. Construction & Materials
Overall tent quality is directly related to the construction and materials used.
The best winter camping tents are made from top-quality materials, such as high-denier fabric (including the floors) and aluminum poles.
Take extra time to research the fabric used on the floors. A poor-quality floor material can result in a leaky tent and a very cold night. The floors should use a 40-denier or higher material
The winter tent you select should also have a polyurethane coating rated for 100% waterproofing as well as waterproof seams, especially around the zippers.
Ventilation is another important factor related to tent construction. It might seem counterintuitive, but your winter tent must be well ventilated.
Our bodies naturally produce moisture which results in condensation. If your winter tent is completely sealed, this condensation is trapped inside with you.
This condensation can lead to a wet sleeping bag, which is not only uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous as well. It can result in hypothermia
Finally, construction is also related to the shape and design of the tent. The best winter tents are not only weather resistant, but they are created to shed snow.
You’ll notice that the majority of 4-season tents, and other winter-specific tents, have a dome-shaped roof with steep sides to prevent snow from piling up at night.
6. Additional Considerations
There are countless additional factors to consider when buying a winter tent, but there are three everyone must consider.
First up are doors. You have a choice between a tent model with one or two doors.
For winter camping, two doors is usually your best bet. Not only is this more convenient, but the two-door design makes it easier to avoid wind. You can also tunnel out if snow piles up against one door in a blizzard.
The pole design is equally important. Although there are a ton of different pole configurations, my favorite is two poles that cross once in the center.
Other common options for winter camping tents are three poles with two that cross in the center and four poles that cross seven times total.
For me, the two-pole design is the easiest to set up and saves weight. However, it’s important to ensure that the poles are thick and sturdy as they won’t have the strength of three or four poles.
Finally, there are any number of additional features that manufacturers include in their cold weather tents.
The three that I look at most closely when buying a new tent are vestibules, interior pockets, and guy lines.
These first two features mostly relate to comfort and convenience. Interior pockets give you a place to stash important gear at night. A vestibule
acts as a sort of mud room for you to remove cold gear before entering the body of the tent.
, on the other hand, serve a valuable functional purpose. Quality guy outs give you a place to attach guy lines to firmly hold your tent in place when the wind picks up and the weather gets rough.
7. Brand Reputation
Personally, I prefer to buy all of my outdoor equipment, including a winter tent, from a company with a good brand reputation.
Although there are plenty of reputable up-and-coming brands with quality products, buying from an established brand with a long track record of happy customers is almost always the safest bet.
Not only do you know what you’re getting when you buy from a respected brand, but the company is also that much more likely to stand behind their products in full
– sometimes including a lifetime-guaranteed, no-questions warranty.
The top outdoor brands are also known, for the most part, for their excellent customer service in case you have a question or issue with your cold weather tent.
Best Winter Tent Reviews
After reviewing our winter tent buying guide, you should have a much better idea of what to look for in your cold weather tent.
To make finding the perfect tent for winter camping even easier, we reviewed the top models to narrow down your options to a handful of the best models, no matter your specific needs or budget.
Here are 7 of the best winter tents currently available:
1. Best Overall: Mountain Hardware Trango 2
The Mountain Hardware Trango 2
is a two-person tent rated for 4-season use.
This winter camping tent has a double-wall basecamp-style design that utilizes high-denier waterproof nylon fabric and featherlight aluminum poles.
It features two doors, dry-entry vestibules, snow flaps, and countless interior pockets to stash your important gear.
The Trango 2 is notable for its ample floor space, comfortable peak height, and roll up doors.
This model is a versatile option for those that want a winter tent for mountaineering that’s still suitable for milder winter camping conditions.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Durable construction
- Spacious floor plan
- (Reasonably) affordable price
- Heavier than other models
2. Best for Mountaineering: The North Face Mountain 25
The North Face Mountain 25
is another serious winter mountaineering tent.
It’s a double-wall 2-person 4-season tent specifically engineered for extreme cold and snow. It’s made primarily of 40-denier polyurethane-coated nylon fabric with featherlight aluminum poles.
The cold weather tent has two doors and vestibules which adds a lot of convenience when it’s used by two people.
The Mountain 25 is notable for its sturdy construction, excellent ventilation, eight interior pockets, fully-taped bucket floor, and high-strength guy lines with multiple attachment points.
This model is an excellent option for anyone looking for a basecamp or mountaineering tent.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Sturdy construction (even in high winds)
- Excellent ventilation
- (Reasonably) affordable price
- Heavy weight (although it is easy to split up components)
3. Best for Casual Winter Camping: Big Agnes Shield 2
Not everyone needs or wants a full-blown 4-season mountaineering tent.
Others prefer something a little less robust for slightly milder winter camping conditions that still include cold and snow.
The Big Agnes Shield 2
is the answer. It’s a single-wall 2-person 4-season winter tent that does the job for mountaineering or more casual winter camping.
It’s notable for its lightweight 3-layer construction that manages to breath well and protect your from the elements despite the single-wall construction.
The tent has a compact footprint, strong exterior pole design, and optional vestibule if you don’t mind the added weight.
Because of its lightweight construction, the Shield 2 is popular with backpackers, skiers, and snowshoers looking for a quality cold weather tent they can pack along with them.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Breathable fabric
- Optional vestibule
4. Best for Winter Backpackers: Black Diamond Eldorado
The Black Diamond Eldorado
is yet another one of the best tents for winter camping.
It incorporates a classic tent design with a compact layout and a single-wall construction. It’s a 2-person, 4-season tent that’s durable enough for mountaineering in deep snow.
The tent has one door and an optional vestibule. A number of interior pockets give you plenty of places to stash your valuables.
What’s so great about the Eldorado is its one-two punch of extreme toughness and its light weight – it’s rugged enough for use on Everest expeditions
but light enough for use as a winter backpacking tent.
Although it costs a pretty penny, you really can’t beat this winter tent in terms of its lightweight, minimalist design.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Lightweight (only 4 lbs 8 oz)
- Compact design
- Extremely durable
- Difficult to pitch because of interior poles
5. Best on a Budget: ALPS Mountaineering Tasmanian 2
Not everyone has $500+ to dish out on a high-end mountaineering tent for winter camping.
Those that want a lightweight, durable winter tent that will still keep them warm and dry should look into the ALPS Mountaineering Tasmanian 2
The 2-person, 4-season mountaineering tent for winter camping features a double-wall design, fully-extended rainfly, free-standing aluminum pole system, excellent ventilation, and numerous interior pockets.
This winter tent boasts a unique shape that maximizes headroom and makes it even more stable in high wind conditions.
It’s nearly impossible to find a budget winter tent that can hold a candle to the Tasmanian 2.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Affordable price tag
- Spacious, stable design
- Two built-in vestibules
- Heavier than any other on this list
6. Best for Mild Winters: Geer Top 4-Season
Not all winter campers are planning to camp in extreme winter weather conditions like those faced by mountaineers.
In fact, I’d wager that a lot of you are probably more interested in the idea of a mellow winter camping trip during the milder part of the cold season.
For those that don’t need a full-blown mountaineering tent, the Geer Top 4-Season
is a good option. Although it is rated for very cold use, it’s much less burly than the other winter tents on this list, making it work well for spring, summer, and fall camping as well.
This double-wall, 2-person tent is extremely affordable, simple to set up on your own, and does a great job resisting inclement weather.
It’s capable of shedding off snow and rain with ease. It holds up to heavy wind without a whimper. Although this tent will do the job for winter camping, it’s better used on the outskirts of the season.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Surprisingly lightweight
- Good for spring, summer, fall camping as well
- Not as robust as others on this list
7. Best for Large Groups: The North Face 2-Meter Dome
Looking for something a little larger than a standard 2-person or 4-person winter camping tent?
Then The North Face 2-Meter Dome Tent
might be for you. A massive (and expensive) 8-person tent, this double-wall 4-season behemoth boasts 3 doors, an 81-inch peak height, steep walls for more interior space, chimney vents, and exterior windows.
Despite the large size and all of these extra features, this model is still extremely stable, even in high winds in exposed terrain. Heavy-duty nylon oxford walls with 1,500 mm PU coating and a heavy-duty nylon taffeta floor with 10,000 mm PU coating make for extreme weatherproofing.
According to The North Face, this mountaineering tent can hold up to extreme cold weather in environment as harsh as the Himalayas and Antarctica.
Those looking for the ultimate basecamp tent will have a hard time finding something better than the 2-Meter Dome Tent.
What We Like:
What We Don’t Like:
- Fits 8 (or more) people
- 81-inch peak height
- Holds up to extreme conditions
How to Set Up a Winter Tent
A proper winter tent setup
is quite a bit different than a warm weather setup.
Although you must follow your model’s specific instructions to pitch the tent itself, there are a handful of tips that will make the experience more enjoyable.
Here’s exactly how to set up your tent for cold weather camping:
1. Select the Right Site
It’s extremely important to pick a safe, sheltered campsite when winter camping.
Of course, in a pinch and with the right tent, you can camp anywhere, even on the side of a mountain, but you’ll get a much better night of sleep with the right spot.
The best campsite for winter camping is sheltered from the wind. It must be free of avalanche danger
and away from any widow makers
(large tree branches that might fall).
2. Create a Solid Platform
The best place to pitch your tent while winter camping is in an established campsite.
Look for a flat area that’s not on top of any vegetation. Pitch your tent on bare ground, such as underneath a tree without any hazardous branches, if possible.
Pack down the snow before you pitch your tent. Hard packed snow is less likely to melt due to your body heat. You can simply stomp the snow flat with your boots before setting up your winter tent.
3. Pitch Your Tent
Pitch your tent on the hard packed area.
It’s typically a smart idea to use tent stakes to secure your tent, especially if the weather forecast calls for wind.
Although normal tent stakes might do the job, serious winter campers should invest in special snow stakes that are designed to be used in the snow.
4. Build a Wind Block
If you have the time, and there’s enough snow to do so, it’s never idea to build a wind block.
Your best bet is to build the wind block from the direction the wind is forecasted to come from, although you can always build the structure around the entirety of your tent.
An alternative option is to pitch your tent near a large rock or other formation that will naturally block the wind.
5. Tend to Your Tent
Check on your tent periodically to make sure that it’s surviving the harsh conditions.
If it’s actively snowing, remove the snow from the top of the tent at regular intervals, although most cold weather tents are designed to prevent snow from piling up.
Remember to remove any sharp equipment, such as crampons or an ice axe, before entering the tent to prevent tears and other damages.
Best Winter Camping Tent Accessories
A top-quality winter tent will go a long way towards an enjoyable winter camping trip.
But packing the right accessories is also essential. These accessories will help you set up your tent, secure it in place during bad weather, and keep you warm at night.
Here are the most important winter camping accessories to consider:
1. Ground Cloth/Tarp
Almost all 4-season tents have a waterproof floor, but some 3-season models need a little extra help.
A ground cloth or tarp helps provide an extra layer of waterproofing and insulation when camping on cold, wet ground.
The Outry Waterproof Multi-Purpose Tarp
is a good option.
2. Snow Stakes
Most tents come with stakes meant for mild weather conditions.
But winter camping, especially mountaineering, often comes with extreme wind conditions that require a little extra oomph from your stakes.
Snow stakes, like the MSR Toughstake Snow Stakes
, have over 10x the holding force of normal tent stakes.
3. Sleeping Bag
The best winter tents go a long way towards keeping you warm at night.
But the right sleeping bag is also essential. Our complete guide to buying a sleeping bag
will tell you what you need to know about buying a winter sleeping bag for cold weather camping.
One of the best cold weather sleeping bags is the Marmot Trestles 0 Sleeping Bag
4. Backcountry Shovel
A backcountry shovel has a lot of beneficial uses while camping in the snow.
The tool helps you flatten an area to pitch your tent, build a wind block out of snow, and helps you dig your tent out if it becomes snowed in with a blizzard. You can even use it to build an emergency shelter like a quinzhee or igloo.
The Backcountry Access Bomber B1 Avalanche Shovel
is a lightweight, durable choice.
5. Winter Tent Heater
Seriously cold winter camping conditions often necessitate a winter camping heater.
A winter tent heater provides that little extra oomph of heat that you need without any safety issues.
The Mr. Heater Little Buddy
is a good option for winter tent campers.
Alternative Shelters for Winter Camping
A tent is far from the only camping shelter that works on a winter camping expedition.
A hammock, quinzhee, igloo, canvas wall tent, and canvas tipi are three other options to consider for your trip. Each comes with its own set of pros and cons.
Here’s what you need to know about these winter camping shelters:
It might sound crazy – but hammock camping in winter not only can be done, but it’s pretty darn fun as well.
Our winter hammock camping guide
details the ins and outs of this type of winter camping, including how to stay warm and the best accessories to take along.
The pros of using a hammock for winter camping are the lightweight and versatility. The method is great for backpackers and others concerned about saving weight. A hammock also keeps you up off wet or snow-covered ground.
The cons of winter camping in a hammock are the lack of insulation. The suspended design also allows cold air to circulate all around you. It’s important to pack an underquilt to provide extra insulation.
Our hammock camping gear setup and checklist will help you choose the best camping hammock and accessories.
Although this method can keep you warm and cozy, winter hammock camping
is typically best used by backpackers and others looking to save weight on short winter camping trips.
A quinzhee is a traditional snow structure
made from piling up snow.
After the snow is piled up to the desired width, height, and shape, you then hollow out the inside after waiting for a few hours for the snow to freeze into place.
Most quinzhees also utilize a small ventilation hole in the ceiling, as well as the larger door opening, to aid in air circulation.
The main pro of using a quinzhee for winter camping is the cheap cost. Other than a shovel, you need almost nothing to create this snow structure. They’re also warm, block the wind, and can be customized to your personal preferences.
The main con of winter camping in a quinzhee is the effort it takes to build one. You’ll likely spend two to three hours digging out the shelter and another two to three hours waiting for it to solidify.
Like all snow shelters, a quinzhee comes with inherent risks. Most importantly, you must prepare for potential collapse.
Never sleep inside a quinzhee in temperatures over 25°
F to reduce the risk of collapse. One person should stay outside the structure with a shovel while the other person excavates the inside to quickly dig them out in case of collapse.
At night, once you go to sleep, it’s important to 1) leave the snow shovel outside the structure for easier rescue if it collapses 2) place a branch or hiking pole near each person’s head to create an air hole in the event of a collapse.
Although this winter structure is certainly cheap and can be constructed safely, a quinzhee is typically best used only in emergency situations.
The Art of Manliness has an excellent guide on how to build a quinzhee snow structure.
An igloo is another traditional shelter built from snow
Although the finished product looks similar to a quinzhee, the actual construction process is much different.
Rather than pile up snow and then excavate a sleeping area, an igloo is made by building a dome out of snow blocks.
Because of the finished shape of an igloo, and the construction from snow blocks, they have a much less likely chance of collapsing than a quinzhee.
Indeed, igloos were used by some Inuit and Eskimo cultures as permanent or semi-permanent living and sleeping structures.
For winter campers, an igloo is another very cheap option. You don’t need any tools or equipment other than a snow shovel, although the Icebox Igloo Building Tool
makes the process easier.
Other benefits of this winter shelter are its overall durability and low risk of collapse. You can safely build them much larger than a quinzhee, even high enough to stand inside. Igloos are also one of the most insulated, and thereby warmest, winter camping shelters.
The biggest con of winter camping is an igloo is construction time. This type of winter survival shelter takes multiple hours and a lot of effort to construct.
Although winter camping in an igloo is a whole lot of fun, it’s generally not the most convenient option, unless you plan to camp in one place.
If that’s the case, then building and sleeping in an igloo is a lot of fun, especially if you are family camping with children
Popular Science has an excellent guide on how to build an igloo snow structure
4. Canvas Wall Tent
Another option for winter camping is a canvas wall tent.
Although this type of tent is arguably the most comfortable, durable, and weatherproofed, the catch is that they’re extremely heavy and time-consuming to set up.
That said, a canvas wall tent like the PlayDo 4-Season Bell Tent
is truly a 4-season tent that you can live in year-round, including the coldest and snowiest winter conditions.
This particular model is notable for its thick cotton waterproof canvas, PVC floor, taped seams, and extremely spacious design. There’s even a stove pipe opening (the entire tent is fireproof) if you want to use a wood stove for long-term winter camping.
Although a canvas winter tent is too much for most winter campers, it’s a good idea for anyone looking for a comfortable, long-lasting winter tent alternative. They’re particularly popular among winter hunters
5. Canvas Tipi
Another favorite winter tent alternative among hunters is the canvas tipi.
Although they’re similar to canvas wall tents, this winter structure favors the traditional tipi (or teepee) shape.
The big benefit of this shape is the peaked roof with steep sides to more effectively shed off snow during extreme winter weather conditions.
Like a canvas wall tent, a canvas tipi offers superior insulation. Not only is the thick cotton fabric waterproof, but the floor is typically constructed from PVC and all the seams are taped.
Another benefit of a canvas tipi for winter camping is the compatibility with a wood stove. Select a model with a stove pipe opening and fire-safe design. You’re hard-pressed to find anything quite as cozy.
The downsides are pretty obvious: a canvas tipi is heavy, time-consuming to setup, and requires regular maintenance.
Although a canvas wall tent or canvas tipi isn’t the best option for most casual winter campers, it’s a fantastic choice for those looking to establish a winter basecamp for all of their outdoor winter activities.
The 8-Person Tipi from Seek Outside
is an excellent option for anyone interested in this winter camping tent alternative.
A winter camping trip can easily sound intimidating to first-timers.
But with the right camping gear and equipment, camping in the winter is actually enjoyable and comfortable. Of utmost importance is selecting the right winter tent.
The best cold weather camping tents are specifically designed for cold weather conditions, including heavy snow and wind as well as freezing temperatures.
Our winter tent buyer’s guide and best cold weather tent reviews will help point you in the right direction of the right model to buy.
As long as you’re prepared and bring along the right equipment, winter camping in a tent can be just as fun as the warmer weather variety.
And, remember to check out our complete guide to buying a tent for even more information about buying a tent for both cold weather and warm weather camping.