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Gear Guy

Are there any low-cost insulating jackets and three-season tents that can handle the conditions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early September?

Hello Mr. Gear, I'm going to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge late August/early September this year. Since the place is beyond the Arctic Circle and the timing is going to be late, I wonder if my insulating jacket—a Wild Things primaloft sweater—is going to be warm enough. Also, what's the difference between a three- and a four-season tent? We're trying to decide on a tent to take along, but I wonder if I should take a four-season tent. Last year we took a Sierra Designs Meteor Light to Alaska, but it really didn't perform under the gusty conditions. And this year, we're expecting very very windy conditions as well. Is there any three-season tents that can live up to gale force winds, or I'm just stuck w/ the dead weight of a four-season tent? Blanche Ingr Brisbane, Australia

A: Depends. Warm enough for what? Warm enough to wear when walking around? Probably. Warm enough to wear around camp when you're fixing dinner or breakfast and not real active? Possibly not. I'd consider taking a light down parka—something like Feathered Friends' Volant Jacket ($235), a garment that is astonishingly warm for its light weight (22 oz.) and comactness. But take the Wild Things sweater, too—both will come in handy.

Three- and four-season tents vary in several ways. Most obvious is that the winter-ready tent has less mesh, so they're not as drafty. Typically, a four-season tent ought to have a little more floor space so you have room for bulkier sleeping bags and clothing; and a pole-supported vestibule that can serve as an outdoor kitchen.

Sometimes a four-season tent will have an extra pole to better resist wind and snow-loading, but not always. In fact, to be honest, I would have thought that your Meteor Light would stand up well to wind, as Sierra Designs' tents typically are well designed in that regard. Did you have it thoroughly guyed out? If not, then that's the key—and the same will hold for a four-season tent. Face it, if by "gale force" you mean 50-mile-per-hour winds or more, few tents can take much of it. You might consider purchasing an extra pole set for any tent, and doubling up on the poles.

In the four-season realm, excellent tents include Mountain Hardwear's Trango 2 ($440), The North Face's Mountain 25 ($399) and Sierra Designs' Hercules AST ($399). All are sturdy, well-made tents that do weigh two pounds or more over their three-season equivalents, but are made to take about all the weather you'll want to encounter.

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