I'm heading out this weekend, and the temperature is expected to drop below freezing, with a 20% chance of rain.

I have two tents, a lightweight 2-person, which I primarily use for backpacking, and a medium weight 3-person, which I use for car, canoe and short trek camping. Both tents are have two layers (inner-outer tent style, as opposed to single wall).

I'm not concerned with weight, and have an appropriate sleeping bag and clothing.

Which tent would be warmer under these conditions? It's a toss up between the smaller volume, which would heat up faster, and the heavier fabric which would retain heat better.

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    A lot would depend on the quality of the two tents. A tent is more used to block wind, rain, and snow than insulation. If the lightweight is mesh ceiling (summer) with rain fly then probably no. – paparazzo Oct 19 at 15:59
  • A really lightweight tent (or a cheap fairly lightweight one) could be single skin. That would be colder. Perhaps it would be a good idea to tell use what they are. – Chris H Oct 19 at 16:43
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    They're Tent, Footprint, Fly. I'm not sure what you mean by Single Skin - Does that mean no fly? – Chris Cudmore Oct 19 at 17:08
  • What materials; how many layers? – Jan Doggen Oct 19 at 18:47
  • 2
    What would closing accomplish that asking for clarification would not, other than make extra review work for users? – Charlie Brumbaugh Oct 19 at 19:26

In my experience, different tents aren't incredibly warmer than others. As @paparazzo said in the comments, even winter tents aren't designed to keep warm, just shelter you from the elements.

Your last paragraph, which is how you're basing your choice, makes two questionable assumptions:

It's a toss up between the smaller volume, which would heat up faster, and the heavier fabric which would retain heat better.

Tents lose heat (or gain cold) from conduction. Sure the smaller volume translates to a smaller contact area but all other factors being equal, it won't make a noticeable difference at freezing temperatures. The heavier fabric won't have a big effect either.

The only real criteria you should look at is how good the tents are at blocking wind drafts. The tent which has the fly that goes the closest to the ground, and the tent that has the least amount of mesh will insure a "warmer" tent.

If there is also a chance of snow, take the sturdiest of the two.

Freezing is not that cold. If it is a quality 2 person tent with a good rain fly then I might go that direction. Mine is mesh but the rain fly seals almost all the way down. I camp it all the way down to 20 but my other tent is a 4 season tent.

Is your lightweight considered a 3 season tent? Then I would go lightweight. Many lightweight tents are considered 3 season.

If the weight and size does not bother you then the medium weight tent is the safer bet (assuming similar quality).

As already said, tent are not made to protect from the cold. Even expedition tents are created to protect from the wind or the snow, but not to keep warmth (well, a little, but not mainly). For exemple, a good tent will have aerations to help against condensation, and that will impact the temperature inside.

So the difference in weight between two different tents would be way more efficient if used in objects actually made to keep you warm: puffy, sleeping bag, etc. 500g of down is enough to keep you warm at freezing temperatures.

Approaching this from a slightly different direction, and assuming you're on your own or with one other person and therefore fit in either:

Once you're in your sleeping bag you'll be almost immediately warm enough (if your sleeping bag and mat are sufficient). The times you get cold are getting changed, and if you (or your clean kit) get wet.

If it's wet (rain or snow), you may benefit from the extra space of the larger tent to allow you to get in without getting anything important wet. I know my barely-2-person light tent, in the wet, is tricky in that respect. You either shed your rain gear standing right outside and get rained on, or drip into the inner as the porch is tiny. Either can contribute to getting cold. A 2-3 person tent I have (cheaper and heavier) has enough room to sit on the ground in the porch, with the outer door shut, while removing waterproofs.

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