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3 season vs 4 season tents

Updated July 24, 2021

I often get asked why 3 season tents exist if you can pick up a perfectly good 4 season tent. It can be quite confusing to find out that the season rating of a tent is just a general guide, rather than a technical definition. Especially when you throw the existence of 5 season tents in!

So which tent should you pick up? As per usual … this depends on what you need it for. The wrong choice of tent can lead to a very unpleasant camping experience.

So read on to find out what 3 and 4 season tents are and how they compare for you.

Looking for a family friendly camping experience? Check out our guide to the best cabin style tent.

What are 3-season and 4-season tents for?

A 4 season tent is designed to handle winter weather. This includes strong winds, harsh rain and heavy snow.

A 3 season tent is designed to handle backpacking in non-extreme weather. The three seasons refer to Spring, Summer and Fall.

You might be wondering why, beyond price, anyone chooses to go for a three season tent but the different season ratings can be misleading. There are design decisions that tent manufacturers have had to make to ensure a 4 season tent stands up to harsh weather and often most people would be better off with a 3 season tent.

3 season tents

3 season tents are ideal for backpacking. They are typically lightweight as they require less insulation which allows for thinner and lighter materials. The tent poles are typically made from lightweight materials as they don’t have to stand up to extreme winds or heavy snow falls. Some tents don’t even require tent poles, instead they can be propped up by trekking poles, helping you cut the carrying weight even further.

Three-season tents also don’t need to have the same extreme levels of protection from freezing winds and heavy snow, so they come with more ventilation. This massively helps when you’re trying to sleep in the summer heat or wanting to avoid any condensation problems at night.

3-season tents typically come in dome or more boxy shapes than four season tents. This provides more headroom and comfort for campers, although four season tents do tend to be a bit roomier in width to store all your winter gear and equipment.

4 season tents

4 season tents should perhaps be renamed “winter tents”. They’re brilliant at handling harsh winds, ice, hail and snowy weather.

They keep you well insulated but the cost of this is that they have less ventilation. For example, its much less common for four season tents to include mesh materials. If they do, these are usually mesh windows that can be zipped closed.

Instead 4 season tents rely on nylon (or sometimes polyester) as the main material of the tent and strong aluminium tent poles which can handle the weight of snow. Ventilation typically is still included to try and counter condensation in warmer temperatures, but these are in the form of small air vents.

The rainfly of four season tents also typically extend all the way to the ground which gives the tent extra protection. Four-season tents typically come in an A frame shape too. This can help combat sagging and flapping in the wind, as well as avoiding snow loading.

They also often come with plenty of guy line points, gear lofts, storage pockets and extended vestibules.

So what are 5 season tents?

 Tent seasons don’t have any strict definitions. Instead they refer to the level of protection you can expect and are somewhat arbitrary but also somewhat industry standard.

This is where 5 season tents enter. These are built for the most extreme situations – think climbing Mount Everest or mountaineering in general. As you would expect, the price matches the extreme requirements.

3 season vs 4 season tents compared

 If you’re not planning winter camping anytime soon, we’d definitely recommend a three season tent.

They’re cheaper – sometimes much cheaper. And they can handle pretty bad weather, even if not howling winter gales.

But mostly because they’re well ventilated and light, which makes them good for summer camping. You certainly don’t want to be stuck in a four season tent in summer. So if you have to choose between one or the other – choose 3 season.

3 season vs 4 season tents compared:

Feature3 season tents4 season tents
Price$$$$$
Summer performanceGoodPoor
Winter performancePoorGood
WeightLight weightModerate weight
Rainfly coverageHalf to full coverageFull coverage
Wind protectionModerateHigh
Rain protectionModerateHigh
VentilationModerateLow
Extreme cold performanceVery poorPoor

What’s next? Check out our guide: Do you need a tent footprint?

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.