Gear

12 Best Cold Weather Tents for Winter Camping

by DT Christensen

best cold weather tents
Photo: Eddie Lawhead

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Camping in cold weather can be a peaceful way to enjoy the outdoors without the summer crowds. Here’s how to find the best tent when the mercury dips.

Most decent tents on the market are designed for three- or four-season use and can handle cold weather. But not every tent can handle the elements that often accompany low temps, including high winds, snow, and ice.

If you’re looking to extend your camping season deep into fall and winter, understanding the environmental conditions you’re likely to face in the wild is essential when selecting the perfect cold-weather tent.

Defining Cold Weather Tents

Search through REI’s tent selection and you’ll find nearly all are designed for use in three or four seasons.

Three-season tents are meant for camping in spring, summer, and fall. They’re typically lightweight and focus on ventilation, good air circulation and maximum visibility (mesh walls).

They’re easy to set up and break down quickly, and often have as little material as possible in order to shed weight. Three-season tents are ideal for most folks camping in common weather conditions.

These tents are designed for the masses, but not for extreme weather, though many can adequately handle rain and light snow. For the more extreme campers among us, 4-season tents are capable of handling harsh winter conditions like high winds, heavy snow, pelting hail, and ice.

Four-season tents are designed with unfailing protection in mind, making them generally heavier and sturdier than their 3-season brethren. Where 3-season tents use mesh walls and lighter rainflys, 4-season shelters utilize thicker nylon walls and more durable materials less likely to rip or weaken in the field.

“It would be better to call a ‘3 season tent’ a backpacking tent, and a ‘4 season tent’ an extreme weather tent,” says Michael Largent at Treeline Backpacker.

That said, you can still use a 4-season tent in mild weather, but it may be overkill and limit air circulation that could otherwise keep your shelter cool. Although a 4-season tent suggests year-round use, it’s ideal for harsh weather, making it more of a “winter tent” than anything else.

Which tent do you need?

Those camping in the cold weather but unlikely to encounter extreme conditions should opt for a 3-season tent. It’ll be comfortable in warmer seasons, fall and winter. They’re a suitable companion as long as you’re not dealing with harsh wind or snow.

For example, winter camping in Arizona can get cold, but it’s usually dry and mellow in the desert, so a 3-season tent works well for this type of environment.

If you’re dealing with winters in the Pacific Northwest, however, a 3-season tent may not be hardy enough to deal with the environment. The chance of high winds, snow or ice is best handled with a 4-season tent made with materials and a structure designed to withstand extreme conditions.

  • Three-season tents: versatile, good for ventilation and visibility, ideal for cold weather without wind or snow
  • Four-season tents: durable, designed for harsh conditions, may stifle air flow in warmer months

12 Best Cold Weather Tents for 2020

We’ve broken down some of the best cold weather tents into 3-season and 4-season options.

The first list is ideal for all-year camping with the occasional cold weather trip, while the latter options are great for extreme backpacking and mountaineering trips that require superior protection from the elements.

Best 3-Season Tents

Bestselling

NEMO Dagger 2

3-Season Bestseller

The Dagger 2 has it all: space to relax, lightweight performance and materials made to deal with cold-weather elements.

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Why it’s a good buy: Balance of space, features and weight make it a year-round bestseller.

  • Best use: Backpacking
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
  • Packed weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
  • Floor area: 31.3 square feet

The NEMO Dagger 2 is the roomiest of our 2-person, 3-season recommendations, with more floor space, a higher peak and larger vestibule area than its competition. It’s also one of the bestselling and most reviewed tents on REI, with most users offering glowing feedback of the agile and efficient tent.

The Dagger 2 uses a unique bent-pole design made from DAC Featherlite™ poles that provides ample head space and plenty of room on the ground for sleeping and gear. And with more than 22 square feet of vestibule area, anything that won’t fit in your tent can still be protected by the elements.

Ventilation in the Dagger 2 is excellent and the shelter lives up to its 3-season label in real-world settings. Durable materials and an efficient construction minimize seams and weak points which tend to break down in other tents at this size – it’s a perennial bestseller for a reason.

Best Value

REI Co-op Passage 2

Best Bang for Your Buck

REI's Passage 2 is a no-frills but well-built 2-person tent designed for three-season camping on a budget.

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Why it’s a good buy: Best-in-class value perfect for entry-level campers.

  • Best use: Backpacking, camping
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight: 4 lbs. 2 oz.
  • Packed weight: 5 lbs. 10 oz.
  • Floor area: 31 square feet

REI makes more than 20 tent models, and the Passage 2 is regularly one of the Co-op’s top-selling options. It’s significantly cheaper than many of its competitors, but it doesn’t skimp on quality to get there.

The Passage 2 has a simple cross-bar design that sets up in just a few minutes. Even in cold weather, the tent’s frame and body is easy to assemble and get set on the footprint. Two doors and two vestibules make it accessible from either side, and it’s slim, symmetrical design offers just enough room to stretch and prep for bed.

It’s not the lightest tent on our list, but it’s compact enough to be comfortable on backpacking trips, making it a solid cold weather tent for car camping, the backcountry and anything in between. There aren’t many pockets in the Passage 2, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker at its price point.

For family campers, this is a great kid-friendly option that goes up and comes down quickly. We’ve used it as our backyard camping tent for a few years, and it’s gotten even more use during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Upgrade Pick

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

Ultralight 3-season performance

At home even in the furthest backcountry, with a focus on lightweight design that doesn't detract from best-in-class durability.

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Why it’s a good buy: Ultralight build that won’t break down in cold weather conditions.

  • Best use: Backpacking
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight: 2 lbs. 11 oz.
  • Packed weight: 3 lbs. 2 oz.
  • Floor area: 29 square feet

Although you may not use them in cold weather, two “awning-style” vestibules makes the Copper Spur HV UL2 far more spacious than its 29-square-foot interior lets on.

Every aspect of this Big Agnes tent is designed for ultralight performance, from the ripstop nylon to the the patented TipLok Tent Buckle™ design that keeps the tent, rainfly and footprint all secured in one easy-to-use function.

Its packaged weight makes it a true backpacking-focused cold weather tent, and unlike the Passage 2, there’s a footprint available that covers both the body of the tent and its two vestibules so you’ll have room to store your gear off the cold ground.

There’s excellent storage in the Copper Spur, and the bent-pole design offers a comfortable, if narrow, living space.

Great Alternative

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2

Pole design and materials made to endure

The Hubba Hubba NX 2's been redesigned with better waterproof coating and poles made to bend (and not snap) with the wind.

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Why it’s a good buy: Above-average coating and pole construction make it ideal for winds and cold conditions.

  • Best use: Backpacking
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Packed weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz.
  • Floor area: 29 square feet

MSR’s Hubba Hubba NX 2 is designed to handle the elements, with Xtreme Shield™ waterproofing and poles designed to hold up under harsh winds.

The tent’s “precision-stitched” seams aren’t sealed, so if you’re going to be in cold and wet conditions you may want to seal ’em up yourself. Otherwise, the Hubba Hubba NX 2 is designed to keep you dry even in rough weather.

The tent’s been a backpacking favorite for years but underwent a redesign in 2019. Although most reviews are still positive, there are features in the newest model that some users see as a step back.

“The top seam of the rainfly isn’t sealed like the older generation and you have to do it yourself,” says one user in Seattle. “A rainfly is, by definition, something that keeps the rain out of a tent, so why you would even make one that isn’t waterproof is beyond me.”

Still, the Hubba Hubba NX 2 has more than enough going for it to be a top cold weather contender, and if you’re in dry weather – like our usual desert camping in Arizona – seams won’t be as much of a deciding factor.

Our Pick

Marmot Limelight 3P

Best 3-Person Option Out There

The Marmot Limelight is one of the bestselling 3-person, 3-season tents on the market, and we don't care who knows it.

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Why it’s a good buy: Bestselling 3-person tent focused on living space and utility.

  • Best use: Backpacking, camping
  • Sleeps: 3
  • Trail weight: 6 lbs. 0.5 oz.
  • Packed weight: 6 lbs. 11 oz.
  • Floor area: 42.5 square feet

We named the Limelight 3P our favorite 3-person backpacking tent for a reason: it’s well-built, extremely spacious and stacks up positive reviews from all types of campers.

The tent was redesigned in 2016 to provide more space in just about every area, from ground-level sleeping room to head space, which Marmot increased 91% from the previous design. All that translates into class-leading living room in a backpacking tent that actually houses the number of people it’s intended for.

“The inside is extremely spacious,” said one reviewer, “and my husband and I fit a nearly queen-size double sleeping pad in there with room to spare.”

Many users are attracted to the Limelight’s vertical walls and ease of use, but its form doesn’t take away from its function as a killer 3-season tent. The materials and construction make it a durable and reliable option for cold weather camping, but it’s light and nimble enough for summer trips too.

Rarely does a backpacking tent offer this much room without adding excessive weight or cutting back on quality, but the Limelight manages to balance everything – and all at an amazing price point.

For Tall Campers

REI Co-op Grand Hut 4

High, Yet Stable

The Grand Hut's known for its comfortable height, but luckily for tall campers, it doesn't sacrifice quality or stability to get there.

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Why it’s a good buy: Tall, sturdy shelter great for cold weather without high winds.

  • Best use: Camping
  • Sleeps: 4
  • Trail weight: 12 lbs. 1 oz.
  • Packed weight: 14 lbs. 2 oz.
  • Floor area: 59.7 square feet

The Grand Hut 4 embodies its namesake: this truly is the hut of tents. Its near-vertical walls allow even taller campers to stand up without having to hunch over, a helpful feature for family campers with tons of gear to organize and sort through.

The trade-off is clear, though – the Grand Hut does well in cold (or any) weather, but it works best when there’s little or no wind. As one reviewer from Bellingham put it, “wind is never a friend when setting up or taking down a tent this size.”

That said, if you’re setting up digs at a campground with nice level ground, the Grand Hut can perform well in light winds, and it’s sturdy enough to stay in place when stakes and guylines are used properly. For most campers interested in the Grand Hut’s design, it’s a welcome trade-off to get extended vertical breathing room.

Reliable Performance

Marmot Tungsten 3P

Best-in-show shelter

Marmot's reputation for reliability and quality doesn't skip a beat with the Tungsten 3P, one of the highest-rated tents at REI and other outdoor retailers.

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Why it’s a good buy: 3-season build and performance that’s well above its price point.

  • Best use: Backpacking, camping
  • Sleeps: 3
  • Trail weight: 5 lbs. 13.5 oz.
  • Packed weight: 6 lbs. 4.5 oz.
  • Floor area: 41.5 square feet

The Tungsten is designed for backpacking, but with a packed weight over 6 pounds, it’s also ideal for car camping with the family. However you camp, the Tungsten offers reliability and quality that may not have any groundbreaking features, but is consistently one of the best-reviewed 3-person tents on the market.

“I’ve used it for several years now for archaeology work in the Northern Plains and it has withstood several years of high wind speeds and fairly harsh conditions,” said Harald Bluetooth out of Bismark, ND. “At one point the winds were nearly 50mph and when I returned to camp it was the only tent still standing.”

The bent-pole design offers semi-vertical walls for plenty of head space, and a color-coded architecture makes it easy to setup and tear down in cold weather. The seams are taped and the 68-denier polyester floor holds up well to any weather, especially with the included footprint.

The rainfly’s vents offer exceptional air circulation without becoming a rain hazard, and the Tungsten’s catenary-cut floor shape makes it easy to comfortably fit four people and their gear.

Best 4-Season Tents

Ultralight

Hilleberg Nallo 2

Lightweight mountaineering tent

Few extreme weather tents can compete with the Hilleberg Nallo 2's balance of weight and protection.

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Why it’s a good buy: lightweight 4-season strength from one of Europe’s finest tentmakers.

  • Best use: Mountaineering, backpacking
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight:4 lbs. 7 oz.
  • Packed weight:5 lbs. 5 oz.
  • Floor area: 28 square feet

Named after a distinct Swedish mountain peak, the Nallo 2 is an award-winning 4-season tent from Hilleberg, a tentmaker doin’ the damn thing since 1971. These guys make hardy all-season shelters used across the world in the harshest conditions, and the Nallo is one of their bestselling models.

The Nallo 2 is renowned for its lightweight performance, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any other 4-season tents clocking in under this tent’s 5-pound packed weight. The Nallo 2 uses an efficient tunnel-style construction with one entrance and vestibule that cuts weight and stabilizes the tent in nearly all weather conditions.

The outer tent’s made of Kerlon 1200, a tough ripstop nylon coated in several layers of silicone for maximum strength. Inside, continuous sleeves house the Nallo’s poles to eliminate messy setup in cold conditions and further stabilizes the tent’s body.

There’s a GT model available with an extended vestibule, though the standard model offers a 14-square-foot vestibule that’s exactly half the tent’s interior, so there’s just as much room for gear as for backpackers. The Nallo’s a shining example of a 4-season tent that’s just as practical in warmer months as it is in the dead of winter.

Popular Buy

Mountain Hardwear Trango 2

High-Alpine Performance

For decades, the Trango's been one of the most well-known and reliable expedition-style tents on the market.

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Why it’s a good buy: Comfortable alpine digs – even when the temps drop and the wind picks up.

  • Best use: Mountaineering
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight: 8 lbs. 9.7 oz.
  • Packed weight: 9 lbs. 10.2 oz.
  • Floor area: 40 square feet

Since 1995, the Trango series from Mountain Hardwear has set the standard when it comes to accessible expedition tents. The Trango 2 is a low-pitched mountaineering tent that doesn’t weigh much more than a standard car camping shelter, all while offering first-class protection against the elements.

The tent’s framed by five anodized Featherlite® aluminum poles providing a peak height of 38 inches, so it’s lower than most tents but makes it ideal in high wind and snowstorms. The bathtub-style floor and durable nylon exterior keep out rain and snow, and inside you’ll find mesh pockets for practical off-the-ground storage.

There’s a large front vestibule with plenty of space to keep your gear dry, and a small rear vestibule for extra ventilation and storage. Color coding setup and a three-way connection for the tent’s body, fly and footprint make it easy to set up camp under challenging conditions.

“I’ve used the Trango design since 1999 and it continues to get better and better as fabrics and new elements develop,” said one reviewer from Victor, Idaho. “My oldest Trango tent is 19 years old and is still performing.”

Mountaineer's Choice

Big Agnes Battle Mountain 2

Heavy duty without the heavy weight

The Battle Mountain 2 was designed with input from sherpas, and it shows in the tent's practical design.

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Why it’s a good buy: The gold standard (literally) in lightweight 4-season tents.

  • Best use: Mountaineering
  • Sleeps: 2
  • Trail weight: 6 lbs. 10 oz.
  • Packed weight: 7 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Floor area: 31 square feet

Big Agnes’ Battle Mountain 2 – named after a mid-1800s skirmish between trappers and Native Americans – is a traditional mountaineering tent with superb technology and features.

Two doors with windows offer just enough vision outside to prepare for inclement weather, and when it arrives, the Battle Mountain’s sleek profile is ready for high winds, heavy snow and more.

The vestibule offers several setup options, including an awing-style opening when weather permits. Setting up the tent is easy in cold weather because of oversized twist clips and color-coded architecture, and the final protection – Dominico® ripstop polyester with epic tear strength  – keeps you protected from the elements at any elevation.

“Plenty of space for two and storage pockets,” said Tyler from St. Paul. “The overhead storage net is well thought out and durable.”

The tent’s golden-yellow hue comes as a tribute to the Tibetan Buddhist goddess of prosperity from Big Agnes ambassador Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, whose 16 summits of Everest make him one of the most accomplished mountaineers today.

Upgrade Pick

The North Face VE 25

Built for Extreme Weather

The VE 25 pulls no punches with its rugged design meant for any mountaineering environment.

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Why it’s a good buy: Tried and true high-alpine performance that doesn’t compromise.

  • Best use: Mountaineering
  • Sleeps: 3
  • Trail weight: 9 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Packed weight: 10 lbs. 5 oz.
  • Floor area: 48 square feet

The North Face’s VE 25 is used on mountaineering expeditions around the world to great fanfare – from wind-swept peaks in Nepal to rugged trips closer to home in the Rockies.

It’s designed for easy use in severe weather, with snow stakes, reflective non-stretch guylines and a pole structure that’s ideal for high winds and snow. This model’s been a TNF favorite for decades, but the most recent iteration offers flexibility and convenience the old model lacks, like a second door and various internal pockets.

“I have had it for two years and three 10-day trips to the Kamishak Coast in Alaska,” said Wayne from Alaska. “Not high altitude but some very serious weather and no easy or quick assistance in case of problems.”

It’s a 3-person tent on paper, but most owners say only two bodies and gear fit comfortably, even taking into consideration the VE 25’s 16 square feet of vestibule space.

Our Pick

Marmot Thor 3P

True 4-season usage

An all-season tent that functions more like a 3-season tent than you'd expect.

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Why it’s a good buy: Typical Marmot quality in a sturdy 4-season package.

  • Best use: Mountaineering
  • Sleeps: 3
  • Trail weight: 9 lbs. 10 oz.
  • Packed weight: 10 lbs. 12 oz.
  • Floor area: 47 square feet

Ventilation is often a problem with bulky 4-season tents that focus more on protection than air circulation. Not so with the Marmot Thor 3P, a relatively heavy but practical shelter that’s ideal for year-round use.

“Even though it’s a 4 season tent I’ve found it be be great in the Oklahoma summers as well,” said Lee in Tulsa, OK. “Set it up, open the roof vents and vestibules, then open the doors on each end and the breeze will keep it fairly cool.”

There’s also a ventilation-friendly “Bare Bones Setup” with the fly, poles, and footprint that provides an even more comfortable warm-weather approach.

For those looking to use a tent in the fourth season, the Thor 3P performs under demanding conditions. Internal guylines keep the tent anchored in place, and Marmot’s Knees pole design allows the shelter to flex without giving into high winds.

The Thor’s poled vestibule offers 12 square feet of space with ventilation, making it functional for cooking and storage even in cold weather conditions.

Cold Weather Camping Done Right

An appropriate shelter in cold weather is only half the battle, but to truly enjoy winter camping, you’ll need a game plan that keeps you as warm as possible.

Unless you’re going Naked and Afraid style, here’s how to stay warm during your cold-weather camping trips.

Layer up and down. Layers help regulate your body temperature while allowing you to add and remove clothing as needed. If you’re hiking or moving around a lot during the day, remove sweat-laden layers before you hit the sack.

Make the best use of your sleeping bag. Using a sleeping bag rated for temps lower than what you’ll actually face is a good way to stay warm. Once you’re cozy, free your face from your bag’s interior to avoid collecting condensation inside.

To keep things extra toasty, throw in a hard bottle of fire-warmed water or some Hot Hands before you zip up. Try not to overdo it on the clothing, or your sleeping bag will lose its ability to capture and radiate your body warmth.

Use a tent heater. If you’re car camping, consider a tent heater that runs on propane or other fuels. Heaters with safety features like low-oxygen sensors are safe to use in tents, though you’ll want to crack a door or window for sufficient ventilation.

Eat, drink and be merry. It’s easy to think you don’t need to drink up as much in the winter, but water and extra calories are your friends. “Make hot, nutritious breakfasts and dinners and enjoy quick snacks and lunches,” says Katrina Bloemsma at REI. “Be sure to hydrate throughout the day.”

It also helps to do a few jumping jacks or exercises to warm up before bed, though you don’t want to break into a sweat that’ll quickly cool in the night.

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