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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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2 Answers 2

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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

Four season tents should be good for 4 seasons. Winter tents are good for winter. I don't think a tent that is a winter tent can accurately be called a 4 season tent because it's not. Not expert analysis just common sense.

What makes a good 4 season tent is the ability to withstand cold and heat. Huge mesh panels on the inner tent for when it's hot that have solid panels to completely cover them when it's extremely cold. Breathable fabric on the inner.

Completely enclosed to the ground by waterproof material on the outer tent. Good ventilation system for the outer tent structure. Strong poles and guy line attachments. Ventilation is more important when it's cold outside. It is absolutely imperative that there is good ventilation or it will be raining or snowing inside the tent. Other special clothing and bedding is necessary unless you have a heater which of course you still need special clothing to go outside or when the heater breaks.

Most 4 season tents are two tents in one that can be pitched separately if needed. May need some extra accessories for that on some.

Because it's the best tent in the world it's extremely heavy which makes it useless for some people that can't handle carrying it to the camp site. In this case compromises need to be made and people will need many kinds and sizes of different tents. That's why they make 3 season tents and such. There are also some light weight 4 season tents but they are not ultralight. Unless of course you get a very small tent.

A three season tent will have exposed breathable material but mesh panels should have panels that close when it's cold. The outer rain fly will shed rain but not fully cover the tent. Like the one I have been using for several years.

A four season tent would be something like this one..

If you really need a four season tent it could be a matter of life or death so you don't mess around. Otherwise a $14 tent might do fine.

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