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3-Season vs. 4-Season Tents

Will a 3-season Tent Work in Pacific Northwest Winters?

The short answer is yes. I’m not going to do a detailed review of particular tents, but I want to mention a few models that I see often on our trips. I’ll also discuss a few pros and cons of using 3-season tents in the Pacific Northwest winter conditions and some of the best 4-season options available. In context, I’ll be referring to small and light tents for backpacking rather than tents that are used for basecamps and long stays in one location.

3-Season Tent Examples

Here are some of the better examples, used by winter backpackers in our group.

These three use the X-Frame design:

These two use a 3-point pole design:

REI half dome tent
The REI Half-Dome tent. It has an X-Frame design, low fly, and roomy tent vestibule.
North Face Stormbreak solo tent
The North Face Stormbreak 1. This 3-season tent has an X-Frame design and low fly.
big agness fly creek solo tent
The Big Agness Copper Creek tent. The fly is close to the ground reducing the effort to keep wind and snow out of the tent.
NEMO Hornet solo tent
Notice how high up the fly is situated on this NEMO solo 3-season tent. In the summer this lets in a nice breeze, but in winter wind you will need to build a small snow wall around the sides.

All of these tents are lightweight and packable. They shed snow and withstand mild wind well. Be aware that most tent designs will be fine when there are low winds and no heavy snow falling. My aim is to point out examples that will do better in at least mild winds and some snowfall.

The wind is an important consideration because stronger winds are more frequent in winter. The wind passes through 3-season tents more easily than 4-season tents making the tents colder inside. Sometimes drifting snow will pass through the mosquito-netting too. These problems make 3-season tents less comfortable. Otherwise, in calm weather, the experience of being in one is similar to being in a 4-season tent.

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Snow stake cords Tent setup Tent Stakes

How to stake a tent in snow without tying knots

This is just a quick tip to help you stake out your tent on snow. You may already be familiar with snow stakes and the deadman strategy for securing the stakes in soft snow. What I want to explain here is a method of setting up your stake cords so that you don’t have to tie any knots when you set up your tent. That is, the only tieing involved is done at home before you head out to the wilderness. Technically, you do need to tie one “knot,” a “girth hitch” to attach the cord to the stake, but this isn’t the kind of knot that requires much finger dexterity or time in cold conditions.

When you get ready to set up camp, you may be tied, it may be getting dark, and the weather may be cold and windy. You’ll want to set up your tent as quickly as possible. Tying knots with gloves on is not easy, so if you can avoid it, why not?

To eliminate this hassle, you can use the 2mm utility cord to prepare