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Cold weather camping (aka winter camping) can be one of the most enjoyable experiences for the truly experienced outdoorsmen. This is especially true for those who love their adventure. But comfort, and often enjoyment, hinges on having the right equipment for the activity. Harsh weather camping with the wrong type of tent will not be enjoyable, and can even be very dangerous if it isn’t done properly. Winter weather can turn on you in an instant and you need to be prepared. This is where a good winter camping tent comes into play.
You always want to head out into the wilderness with one of the best winter camping tents available on the market, because there’s not much between you and potentially threatening hypothermic conditions!
That being said, thousands of people enjoy winter tent camping and for good reason! Here is a list of some of the best cold weather tents on the market today to get you the right shelter for those oh so cold winter days so your time is a blast whether you’re an old Sourdough or a pure rookie!
Hilleberg Tarra Winter Camping Options
One of the best cold weather tents for individual usage would be the Hilleberg Tarra 2 Person Tent. When people think about mountain tents, or tents made for the snow, this is the type of tent that comes to mind. Its dome style construction makes for easy setup, but also ensures the tent will stay standing during snow storms and harsh weather.
If you do internet research, you will find countless tales of how this tent performed extremely well in high wind and adverse weather conditions.
At a little less than 10 pounds when packed, this ultra light weight tent (at least as far as the good cold weather tents go – they’re going to be heavier than lighter season tents) is perfect for hikers, climbers, and for anyone that likes to travel to those hard to reach places.
With a price right around $1100, it is hard to find a better value for winter weather tents than the Hilleberg Tarra when you look at factors like cost, durability, ease of setup, and functionality. When you’re looking at staying warm during the coldest months of winter out in the wild, you don’t go for cheap. You want the top rated winter tent that is out in the market and right now there’s little doubt that Hilleberg is king when it comes to camping in Arctic or severely cold climbing conditions.
Overall, this tent is our number one pick for individual or small group camping. (2019 Update: Four years in a row and counting, it doesn’t look like Hilleberg is giving up their title as the best overall affordable winter tent out there – it’s a rock solid tent for those adventurous winter excursions!)
Mountain Hardwear Tents
For people that want to be adventurous and do some cold weather camping, but just can’t afford thousands of dollars, we would recommend the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 Person Tent. At a price of around $650, you will still get a tent ideal for harsh weather camping, but you won’t have to break the bank.
This model of tent has been around since 1995, and is still one of the most commonly used tents for mountaineers, cold weather hikers, and outdoor guides. The focus on design even looked at making an affordable tent that was designed for use with mountain climbing expeditions.
When setup, the tent has about 40 square feet of space, so it is a little roomier than many 2 person tent options which is a plus for carrying more equipment, though space isn’t always a friend, especially when winter camping is involved. You want to make sure to have 2 people to keep the body heat in as too much space during cold weather can work against you even with a good tent and winter sleeping bag.
The extra space does make this the heaviest of the most popular 2 person snowy weather tents. With a strong reputation for being durable, this tent is perfect for people that like to take a few adventurous trips a year.
North Face Tents for Cold Camping
Another affordable option for harsh weather campers is the North Face Mountain 25. The drawbacks of this tent is that it’s harder to setup than many of the other options and it does weigh a little bit more than other 2 people tents but is still well under 10 lbs which makes it pretty solid for a high quality cold weather tent.
These tents also have considerably less space than the Mountain Hardwear Trango, with only about 32.5 square feet but that can be a positive in harsh winter conditions as it keeps body heat contained within a smaller area, making it easier to keep the interior warmer even while in your winter sleeping bags.
The price is very good, being in that $550 to $600 range, and the reviews on it are mostly positive. It has two doors, a poled front vestibule, a great color scheme, and overall, will be a very good tent for most people. Crack tested to -60 F, you don’t want to be out camping in conditions that extreme, but it’s good to know with a sudden cold snap even in winter you have a tent that can handle those radical shifts in temperature.
Coleman Cold Weather Camping Shelters
The Coleman WeatherMaster 10 Person Hinged Door Tent is a very good family winter tent, as long as the weather conditions are not overly harsh. The materials are designed to be strong, and will stand up to strong winds and rainy or snowy conditions.
The size is great, especially compared to most all weather tents, since this model can fit 10 people or 3 queen sized air mattresses – that’s plenty of room for both gear and comfort.
However, as you might have already guessed, this particular tent is not specifically designed to be used in especially harsh conditions like some of the other options in this article. This isn’t a deep winter full of snow survival tent by any stretch, but the WeatherMaster tent by Coleman is definitely a great late fall to early winter tent.
Keep in mind that the additional space means you really do need 5-6 people in the tent to get the most out of keeping body heat in and the cold out. This is more for 45-50 degree temps in early winter but not for the solo or couple adventuring up a mountain or tacking their favorite campsite when it’s 0 degrees outside. It serves it’s niche – but it’s not very versatile beyond that.
The price is very affordable, normally in that $220 to $300 range, which is a big plus for budget conscious families.
The Best of the Best: Arctic Oven Tents
Many outdoorsmen consider Arctic Oven Tents to be the king of all cold weather tents, whether for single, group, or family camping in the harsh cold climates that winter is often known for.
While there are several options, when it comes to models large enough for a family (or a group of hunting buddies), the most popular tent this company produces is the Arctic Oven 12 with vestibule.
This American-made tent is all about durability, warmth, gear storage, and is used by outdoorsman for all sorts of exciting adventures. The oven setup means that it can be zero degrees outside while a fully functioning oven inside has the inside temperature at a toasty 70 degrees or more. There’s no question that if you aren’t buying on a budget or hoping to get by, but you’re looking for the actual top of the line tent that stands head and shoulders above the others to take the family out camping in the snow, then you want to give Arctic Oven a serious look.
This is a tent that can take a beating and keep hunters and campers incredibly warm even in especially rough conditions that have below zero outside temperatures and even wind chill.
Why are these tents so good?
Made from heavy-duty nylon fabric, and with a tent frame made from aluminum with steel fittings, durability will not be an issue. The size of the tent is fantastic, giving users 152 square feet of living space and a center height of 7 feet 2 inches. The vestibule is perfect for storing gear, adding an additional 46 square feet of covered space.
You can comfortably fit 4 to 5 people in this tent on cots, and with a heating stove during winter months. You will not find many winter weather tents that can comfortably fit this many people. Your drawbacks are going to be it is a heavy tent, 78 pounds when packed, and it is going to be a costly tent, with prices easily ranging in the $2600 to $3000 range.
On the bright side, you got lots of great color schemes to pick from, and durability won’t be an issue. If you do large group camping during the winter months, this tent is your best option.
Take a look at this video, which is a short, fantastic, and right to the point review on the premium line of Arctic Oven tents and why they are considered the absolute premium of deep winter camping (even winter mountaineering camping tents).
Don’t Forget A Good Winter Sleeping Bag!
While the tent is a seriously important piece of equipment for any camping trip, especially when those temperatures plummet below freezing, you still want to add in a true winter sleeping bag to take care of that core body temperature. Having a low temperature tent that is specifically designed to deal with the challenges that true winter weather brings is absolutely crucial, but you need to double down with a good sleeping bag.
Don’t just assume a normal sleeping bag will do, because most are not built for the level of warmth needed when it is below freezing outside. Look for those bags that are designed to be good at freezing, and make sure you know what 0 degrees they are talking about. A sleeping bag good to 0 degrees Fahrenheit is considerably better than one built for 0 degrees Celsius.
There are many sleeping bags tested into negative temperatures out there, so be sure to spend the money for a truly high end model. You won’t regret it!
In fact, in another blog post we go into deep detail about just how important it is to make sure you have a proper temperature approved 4-season sleeping bag for the type of temperatures you are going to deal with. There are a few bags that are good all the way to -40 or even -50, and those are obviously way above and beyond the experience that a 0 degree rated sleeping bag can provide.
If you want to know more about getting the right bag after you purchase a high quality winter tent, then take a look at this detailed blog post about the top rated winter sleeping bags.
What About Canvas Tents?
When properly set up and when all campers are properly prepared, in the right winter environments there are some situations where a canvas tent will be the better option. The extremely thick material is often a better buffer against the cold than even the best of nylon, and when coupled with the right in tent heat source and four season sleeping bags, can actually make for an extremely comfortable setup.
Don’t assume these tents will do it in and of themselves though, as they are generally built for multi-season camping.
While there are many examples of individuals creating a permanent 4-season camp with large canvas tents, virtually all of these will have a raised platform to make sure that your body (and that of any dogs) and your sleeping area is off the heat sucking ground and a wood stove will also be inside for cooking and heat.
However if you are looking for something really solid and thick that will last many years and has the potential to work wonders in all four seasons, then don’t be so quick to discount some of the better or more interesting options that recent canvas tent providers like Kodiak may provide for your winter camping options.
You can also check out our detailed review of the best canvas tents to learn more.
5 Great Winter Tent Camping Tips to Get You Started
If you’ve never been out camping when surrounded by snow, then you’re in for a fantastic experience – but you also need to be prepared for something that is likely very different from any other outdoor experience you have had up to this point. Keeping a few important tips in mind can help even the most greenhorn of rookies get a little bit more comfortable their first time out although it is important to understand the first time out is going to have its share of ups and downs.
Make sure to have safety and warmth covered, and backup plans for both, and then look at the following tips to help you get started on the right foot.
Pack the snow around your campsite
One of the big ones is to pack down your campsite. When there is snow on the ground you want the area you’re going to set your tent to be packed down as tight and flat as possible. This isn’t just convenient for easier setup purposes but it’s important to protect your tent. The last thing you want is to find a soft pocket of snow and punch your leg right through the floor of the tent. No bueno.
Hint: Cross country skis and/or snowshoes make this MUCH easier.
Extra hats, extra socks, extra gloves
This is not only following the old Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared,” but the things you need to worry about most are frostbite and hypothermia. If you have extra socks, hats, and gloves then you always have the ability to make sure your finger and toes are warm and your body head doesn’t escape out your head. This is not only common sense, but it’s an important safety check, as well.
The pee bottle is your friend
You not only don’t want to stomp out of the tent at night, get everything wet in snow, then come back in, but then you have to worry about wet clothes and severe cold. This all matters a lot. The pee bottle is 100% absolutely your friend.
You need heavy duty tent stakes
Even if there is no snow, the ground is going to be frozen solid. Weak materials won’t cut it. Really thin metal that is easy to bend or twist won’t cut it. You need some truly thick and heavy duty stakes to pound into the ground and make sure your tent is safely and properly staked down.
If you’re not sure where to start, no worries, we’ve got you covered there, too. Take a look at our best tent stakes article.
Take care of your footwear
This one isn’t just important, it is an absolute necessity. Having extra socks means it’s not all that important if one or two pairs freeze, but if your boots or boot liners freeze then that is a huge problem. Make sure to talk to experienced winter campers about properly wiping down the boots, and keeping the liners dry and warm in the sleeping bag at night.
The best advice we can give anyone that is planning to do winter camping is to plan according. Make sure your tent is suitable for the weather conditions you are going to be in. Also make sure to pack the right types of support gear. There is nothing worse than being miserable on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere, especially when you’ve spent so much time and effort to get out there.
Winter camping can be a lot of fun, and even if you’re a little dubious at first, you will be amazed at just how amazing wild time out during the winter months can be. Do your research (a great place to start is this article by Section Hiker) and ideally find a friend or mentor willing to show you the ropes, then go have a blast! Having a mentor will help see you through the early roughing it experience in good spirits, and help you avoid the rookie mistakes that many people learn the hard way when they try learning it alone.
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