Help with 4 Season Tent??

Posted by: jbylake

Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/06/12 07:57 PM

First let me explain my needs.
I'll mostly be using this in KY and surrounding states. Our winters are not brutal by any stretch of the imagination. But..It can easisly drop down to 5 degrees F, or lower, with windchill factors down to -20. Generally mid 30's in the day, even warmer at times, and 15 - 20 at night. Snow fall rarely gets over 6", but we can get suprises, up to 12" or so. More likely we can get 4 - 6", and before it melts another 4 or so, so we can get up to 12" total accumulation, with 2 or 3 feet drifts.

So, I don't need the top of the line "expedition" grade tent.
However, if the opportunity presents itself, I might travel with friends to other areas with much harsher climates.

Now that I'm retired, and basically on a fixed income, buying and trying several tents is out of the question.

So, I guess the bottom line is that I need a tent that'll perform well in the types of environments I described, good quality, but not a $800 tent, designed for extremes, but one that will keep me nice and dry and cozy. Oh, and the lighter the better.

Could I please get a few (or more) recommendations, so I can begin a search? Preferably recommendations of tents that you have actually used?

As far as bags go, I'm good there.

All input will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks ahead...

Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/06/12 09:16 PM

As far as Kentucky and surrounding states, I've used, successfully, the MSR Hubba, MSR Carbon Reflex 1, and Big Agnes Copper Spur 1 in Ohio winters. I'd recommend any of them; the Carbon Reflex 1 is the lightest and most expensive, and my personal favorite. If you're headed to moderately heavier snowloads, I'd probably take the Hubba or Copper Spur 1. They don't necessarily have sturdier pole sets, but the poles have a Y on each end and an integrated (hubbed) cross pole at the top of the tent. I can't speak from my own experience, but I'm thinking that pole arrangement will do a better job of supporting and spreading a moderate snow load than the single-long-pole and non-integrated cross pole of the Carbon Reflex. The Carbon Reflex is a single arch, and gives no direct support to the corners of the tent.
Posted by: jbylake

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/06/12 10:44 PM

Glen, searched all of them. They seem to be 3 season tents? Am I missing something here? All are very light, under 4lbs, but are they capable of handling (w/proper bag of course) my stated maximum of -20 (wind chill temp, not actual) More realistically, temps as low as 15 to 20 degrees F.?

Posted by: TomD

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/06/12 11:46 PM

First of all, a brief primer about tents - unless the tent has a stove in it, a tent will not keep you warm; you will be warmer in a tent that blocks the wind as opposed to one that doesn't (like one that is mostly mesh), but that's because a solid tent blocks the wind better. Tents with stoves in them like they use up North in -30F weather are a whole different story, so forget about them for the moment.

What keeps you warm is you, and no I am not being facetious. You are your own heat generator. A warm sleeping bag, warm clothes and plenty of food are what keep you warm. Anyone who tells you that a particular tent will keep you warmer than a different design other than the mesh/no mesh difference is wrong, with one slight exception-a small tent may be slightly warmer only because some of the heat you generate may slightly warm up the tent, but once you open the door, that's gone.

The big difference between a winter tent and others is how strong they are. My tent has five poles, four of which criss-cross above the tent floor, which is more or less a rectangle-the other is for the vestibule. I will post a picture of it, but the poles are hard to see. Look at a site like Hilleberg to see some serious winter tent designs. Mountain Hardwear, Marmot and North Face, among others, make winter tents.

My tent should withstand far higher winds than a summer tent, that's why it weighs twice as much as a summer tent of similar size (mine is a two person).

Where you are, I think a three season tent would work - it's not about temperatures, but wind and snow load, which for you will be moderate.

Cost - my tent cost me about $100. How is that possible? Simple, I bought it on eBay. There is a lot of cheap junk on eBay, but also a fair amount of really good stuff, like my tent, a discontinued model sold by EMS, a well-known East Coast brand. The trick is to figure out the difference between a good deal and junk. That takes time and research, but if you spend the time, it can be worth it. I also got a winter parka (the one on my avatar) the same way. Craigslist is also a good source, depending on where you are. I bought a nearly new winter bag off Craigslist for less than half retail. Not the latest model, but a quality down bag by a major brand with great customer service.

The bottom line is you probably don't need a real winter tent and if you look around and are patient, you can find great deals on used gear.

Note-in this picture, the front vestibule is folded back -it folds forward and it fairly large. The second photo is the interior of a TNF Mountain 25, another winter tent that belongs to a friend of mine, but you can see that this one also has crossed poles -also five if I remember right.

Posted by: jbylake

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 12:21 AM

Tom, thanks for your reply. I pretty much already knew that the tent, in and of itself wouldn't be "warmer". What I have, my 3 season, is mostly net, with a rain fly. Let me back up a second. I have very little experience in cold weather backpacking/camping. O.K., I was under the impression that the cold weather tents were mainly solid walled with little or no netting, and kept cold air, breezes out, much better than a three season. By all means, please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm allways open to education.

Like I said, the coldest that it'll get here would be around 10 degrees or so. Maybe much colder with windchill factor up to a (rare) maximum of 15 or 20 below (F).

So, if I understand both you and Glen, then a quality 3 season tent, with (I already have) an appropriate bag for those temperatures, that not doing extreme trips in extreme conditions, that I could get by with a 3 season quality tent?

Again, excuse my ignorance on the subject. Most (nearly all) of my experience has been in desert, warm woodland and jungle environments, with "cold" temps being maybe 30 to 35 degrees or so.

Thanks to you and Glen for the help and "education". Greatly appreciated.

Posted by: verber

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 12:53 AM

In the KY/OH/TN winter conditions (at least when I lived there 20 years ago), I am with Glen. A decent three season tent will be adequate except if you happen to be out in one of those "once a century" storms. Your warmth mostly comes from your sleeping bag, but blocking the wind does make the inside of the shelter more pleasant. Besides blocking wind, there is a second advantage of a solid fabric inner tent which is if the wind blows snow up and under your fly, it's less likely to come through the solid material than through the mesh.

BTW: I pretty nice compromise between a light three season tent, and a full one winter tent is the MSR Hubba Hubba HP.

Personally, if I was going to purchase a single shelter that would be ok in every condition I might face, my first choice would be a pyramid shelter + a bug tent. I think one of the most versatile options for someone who is mostly doing solo trips is the Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid + the inner mesh.

Posted by: TomD

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 02:20 AM

J, No, you are right, a solid wall tent is warmer than mesh because it traps air better and still air is the goal. What I was trying to convey is that a winter tent is nothing more than a really strong tent because of its design. Not necessarily warmer, but a lot stronger.

For what you are doing, a 3 season tent would work fine. My tent is a convertible as I mentioned. What that means is that the body has some mesh panels, but those can also be closed with a flap that zips over the mesh, much like closing a window. My door is the same- a mesh "screen door" and a solid door. If you are not going to be out in extreme weather, almost anything will do. Some people here will recommend a tarp and bivy, which is a bit too minimalist for my taste, but I have slept out in just my light bivy over my bag on a really clear, still night. I used my shovel to dig a trench, laid my bag in it and slept soundly all night. Had it snowed, different story, which is why checking the weather is important.

fyi, no one knows everything, so no need to apologize when asking a question. I didn't know Jack about winter camping until I tried it a few years ago and am far from an expert. Others here have far more experience than I do, but I know what works for me, because I like the comfort of a tent. I camp alone mostly, so I find being inside my tent at night comforting, for lack of a better word. Even if it were to snow like crazy, I know I don't have a lot to worry about. So, it all comes down to style and comfort level and there is no one right answer. If there was. REI would the size of a 7/11, not an airplane hangar.

Here's a tent from REI that is reasonably priced and might fit the bill for you-
REI Cirque
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 06:21 AM

They are 3-season tents, but in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, or Tennesee, it would be rare indeed to need a true 4-season tent. These tents will handle a couple inches of snow load (that's what I know from experience; others may be able to add to that) and are very stable in 25 or 30 mile an hour sustained winds, pitched in the open.

They all have a great deal of mesh, so they won't add warmth - but they will be warmer than sleeping in the open. I've always relied on sleeping bags and pads for warmth; the tent is never more than a windbreak - and that works for the Ohio winter weather I go out in (much below 20 degrees, I stay home.)

If you're looking for true winter gear for extreme situations, none of these tents will be suitable.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 06:29 AM

I forgot about the HP series of Hubba tents. I have a buddy who owns one and swears by it as an all-season tent where he hikes (mostly western Virginia and the Smokies.) He says It's a nice compromise between the solid wall's wind-blocking abiliity and the mesh's summer ventilation. (The HP series has solid walls about half way up, then mesh. It's also slightly lighter than the Hubba.) It's still not a true 4-season tent, and I wouldn't take it outside the light winter conditions we use these kinds of tents in - but it is a nice tent.

(Later) I just found out that MSR has discontinued this tent. Pity.
Posted by: rockchucker22

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 11:01 AM

I have a mountian hardware trango 2 and it is pretty bomb proof 4 season tent. But weighs like 6 lbs!
Posted by: jbylake

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 12:17 PM

Thank you all for clearing up the misconceptions I had, and the "free" education. thanks

Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/07/12 06:11 PM

Just remember: free anything is worth every cent you pay! smile
Posted by: TomD

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/08/12 12:40 AM

Glenn is partly right, these tents are not extreme winter tents, but that is not what they are designed for. However the Cirque, the Arete and similar models can be closed up, just like mine.

From the REI website-
•Cirque can be used in a variety of seasons and climates: inner tent is fully closeable with zippered panels that cover the mesh doors and vents

There are ways to make a 3 or 3/4 season tent more likely to survive in extreme weather-one way if the snow is deep enough is to dig out a hole for it so it sits below the snow level. That's where a shovel comes in. Even on Denali, in winter tents, climbers will dig in the tents and make wind walls; then again, Denali can get winds up to 100mph from what I have read. I mentioned a shovel in another thread asking a similar question -I carry a Voile Mini in winter, not that heavy and very handy. I always take mine if there is snow on the ground, even on a day hike.

If you want to learn more about winter camping, get yourself a copy of Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book, about $10 at Amazon. Don't be put off by the title, about half the book is about winter camping.

Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/08/12 06:37 AM

Hi, Tom: I wasn't referring to the tents you mentioned when I said "These tents are 3-season;" I was referring to the tents I mentioned (Hubba, Hubba HP, Carbon Reflex 1, and Copper Spur 1.) I can't comment on the tents you mentioned, since I've never used them. Sorry if I created any confusion.
Posted by: Heather-ak

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/08/12 12:18 PM

I have used both the Hubba and the mountian hardware trango up here in winter. I liked the Hubba better because the ventilation was easier (note I didn't say better!) I had a lot of issues with it snowing inside with the Trango, but I'm 99% sure that was a user issue.

I'm still a little fuzzy on the whole point of a unheated tent in winter unless it is windy or snowing. It doesn't keep you warm and if you sleep under a big spruce tree it will keep the snow and wind off of you (sorry after the whole more snow in the tent than outside (condensation) I've been a bit ... jaded. blush )
Posted by: jbylake

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/08/12 11:01 PM

Why, yes it is, Glen.... laugh
Posted by: TomD

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/09/12 01:23 AM

No worries Glenn. I think I saw one of the REI tents set up in the store a while back. SD makes some convertible models too, one of which I almost bought before finding mine.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Help with 4 Season Tent?? - 10/09/12 01:26 AM

My EMS looks somewhat like the Trango, but I'm pretty sure mine weighs a lot more than the Trango. A pain to drag along (literally, since I towed a sled) but once up, a really nice shelter.