Is there really a difference between a 3.5-season and 4-season tent?

I’m looking for a relatively inexpensive tent for winter camping. I’ve seen some tents advertised for three-and-a-half-season use, but I'm not exactly sure what this means. What is the difference between a three-and-a-half-season tent and a four-season tent? Michael Poynette, Wisconsin


We’re 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 it’s chillier. Some also have poles than can be left home. Sierra Designs’ Alpha ($359; 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.

Eureka! Alpenlite XT Tent

Alpenlite XT Tent

But, if winter camping is your aim, I’d really just get a tent that’s well-suited for that purpose. A true four-season tent has pole placement that helps shed snow and just enough ventilation to ensure condensation isn’t 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. REI’s Arete ASL 2 ($249;, 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 ( currently for $230 (that’s $70 off regular price).

But I think the all-time bargain for a winter tent is the Eureka! Alpenlite XT ($239; It is a design that has been around, to be honest, for a decade or more. But that means you’re not paying for design work—that 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 that’s not bad for a tent that will keep you snug in just about any storm.

Check out the 2008 Winter Outside Buyer’s Guide, packed with reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves. It’s available on newsstands now.

Filed To: Tents
Lead Photo: courtesy, Eureka!