Were getting into the arena of hair-splitting, but the difference is something like this: Most tents that are meant to bridge from fall to winter are labeled convertibles." Convertibles typically have zip-out panels that you can leave at home in warm weather to expose more mesh or take with you when its chillier. Some also have poles than can be left home. Sierra Designs Alpha ($359; sierradesigns.com) is a good example of such a tent. By leaving parts of it at home, you can trim a pound from the weight of the tent.
But, if winter camping is your aim, Id really just get a tent thats well-suited for that purpose. A true four-season tent has pole placement that helps shed snow and just enough ventilation to ensure condensation isnt a problem. It should also have a roomy vestibule for keeping gear out of the weather. There are several good tents out there that meet these criteria. REIs Arete ASL 2 ($249; rei.com), for instance, sleeps two in a sturdy design that has a large door at the head of the tent for access and gear storage. It weighs just under six pounds. Sierra Designs Omega, a slightly smaller version of the Alpha, can be had at Campmor (campmor.com) currently for $230 (thats $70 off regular price).
But I think the all-time bargain for a winter tent is the Eureka! Alpenlite XT ($239; www.eurekatent.com). It is a design that has been around, to be honest, for a decade or more. But that means youre not paying for design workthat was amortized long ago. It has an extremely rugged A-frame design, lots of interior pockets and gear loft attachments, plenty of outside guy-line attachments, and a sturdy polyester fly. It shrugs off wind and snow like a turtle. The only drawback is that the XT is slightly heavy at just over seven pounds. But thats not bad for a tent that will keep you snug in just about any storm.
Check out the 2008 Winter Outside Buyers Guide, packed with reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves. Its available on newsstands now.