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I'm looking to buy a new trekking tent, a good quality one, e.g. Hilleberg, Fjällräven, Vaude, etc. At Vaude they categorise tents in 2, 3, 4, or 5-season. What's the difference between a 4- and a 5-season tent? I know 4 seasons (although the Sami have 8 seasons) and have camped in all of them in a sub-Arctic mountain climate (northern Fennoscandinavia) with my Wechsel Rafter tent, which now starts to leak water after 6 years.

How important is the "seasonality" of a tent? In my understanding, a tent protects against wind and precipitation, which occur in any season; a sleeping bag protects against the cold. Then why are tents sorted by seasons? What does a 5-season tent have that a 4-season tent does not, how does this differ from a 3-season tent, etc.? And what is the 5th season?

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I hadn't seen any of these but a quick Google does indeed seem to bring up a few!

From a quick glance around, though this isn't an authoritative answer, it seems that 5 season tents are specifically designed for the harshness of Arctic-like climates, rather than a 4 season tent being designed more for your average winter in non-arctic conditions. I guess in this sense the 5th season would be the "uber-harsh" winter, and therefore 5th season tents (I would guess) could stand heavier winds and snowfalls.

However, the seasons of a tent generally can be important. No, it doesn't protect you from the cold directly but depending on conditions a tent needs to be able to stand up to wind, rain, snow, ice, hail, etc.

As a general guide:

  • A 2 season tent will likely only be designed for camping in relatively good weather in the sunnier parts of the year. It'll cope with mild rain and wind, but anything really heavy could push it beyond its design. It may have permanent ventilation flaps you can't close to keep you cool that will let wind through but stop mild rain.

  • A 3 season tent will be able to stand up to heavier rain and winds, and hence while it'll often have ventilation flaps you'll often be able to close them on a 3 season tent to stop heavier rain and winds driving though. It'll also probably have more / stronger guy ropes, and the material may be stronger too.

  • A 4 season tent will be designed for use in winter / snowy climates - so as well as the above will be able to survive snow being driven at the tent, heavy constant winds, etc. Ventilation flaps probably won't be a feature - otherwise even when closed, fine snow could blow into the tent. This will often be replaced with a panel at the top of the inside tent that can be opened to provide some ventilation in warmer climates; but the main purpose of the tent is to protect against harsh elements rather than provide features for warmer climates.

You can see by the general logic why I'd expect a 5 season tent to be an extension of a 4th. Generally, while higher season tents are more durable, they're also more expensive and often heavier - so it's not an all out constant advantage. A 4 season tent in sunny climates would probably be rather uncomfortable without ventilation too!

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With my current/previous tent, when it's really warm and dry I just put up the inner tent only –  gerrit Aug 9 '12 at 12:27
I slightly disagree in regards to 4 seasons tents and vent flaps. The fly won't have flaps, but the inside tent will usually have a panel in the ceiling that can be opened to let out moisture in warm temperature areas. –  furtive Aug 10 '12 at 23:17
@furtive You make a good point, I've edited to include your point. The main thing I was trying to put across is that while 4 season tents may well have these features, they're more of an afterthought and it's clear the main design of the tent is there to protect against harsh, snowy climates. –  berry120 Aug 11 '12 at 13:23

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