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Serious hunters know that camping isn’t just a warm-weather activity. Many hunting seasons stretch throughout the coldest months of the year—and, in many locales, fall can have plenty of winter-like days. If you don’t have access to a hunting camp, or if you just want to mix it up and get further out into the wilderness, the right tent will make it possible. But to spend the night out in the backcountry during the winter, you need to come prepared. An average tent won’t keep you warm or dry during a blizzard. You need a winter tent built for the cold.
Winter tents are markedly different from regular tents. They’re often built with different material, less ventilation, and more insulation than the tent you’d use in the summer. Winter tents come in different shapes and sizes. Some winter tents even boast built-in stoves or stove ports, which let you keep a fire going inside to keep the cold away during even the most frigid winter nights. Here is a guide to finding the best winter tents for your winter camping or ice fishing trip.
Best 4-Season: Marmot UnisexBest for Large Groups: Whiteduck Regatta Canvas Bell TentBest for Wind and Snow Resistance: Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Model Geodesic TentBest for Ice Fishing: Frabill Pro Series Ice Hub ShelterBest Budget: FireHiking Camping Hot Tent
How to Choose the Best Winter Tents for Camping
Before purchasing a winter tent, you need to think about the specific activities you’d use it for, and the conditions you’re likely to face. When it comes to facing the unpredictable elements during the winter, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. You’ll want a winter tent that will protect you not only from the typical winter conditions you’re going to experience, but also the most extreme ones. You can never truly predict when a blizzard is going to hit or when the temps will drop precipitously low. When it comes down to it, a winter tent is a fundamental piece of survival gear.
Are 4-Season Tents a Good Choice for Winter Camping?
The difference between a 4-season tent and a winter tent is that a winter tent is built to be warmer and more resistant to wind and snow. That said, you can find a high-quality four-season tent that will be able to handle most winter conditions—so long as you make sure to layer up, wear a hat, and bring a sleeping bag rated for sub-zero temps. So if you want to buy a tent that will suffice in the winter but be suitable for other times of year, or get a tent that’s light in weight, a four-season tent is an option.
Four-season tents have some attributes that make them an attractive option. They tend to offer more ventilation than a typical winter tent and are typically lighter to boot. When you’re on the hunt for a four-season tent, make sure you’re getting what’s advertised. A lot of companies will advertise a regular tent as “four-season,” without backing up this claim with features. Look for tents that have a heavy-duty frame and are fully waterproof—not just water-resistant.
Best 4-Season: Marmot Unisex
The Marmot Thor is a two-person tent built to withstand the elements. Amazon
The Marmot Thor is a four-season, two-person tent that performs well during the winter and shoulder seasons. The tent does not have heavy insulation or a stove portal, but it does boast strong, lightweight poles and a nylon canopy fabric. The tent’s distinct tube-shaped design maximizes its wind- and snow-resistant qualities. The D-shaped doors make for easy access, even when the tent is sitting in snow, and the tent also features snow flaps and full-seam fly coverage. Two large anterooms provide extra storage space. The 10.5-pound tent is designed for long mountaineering expeditions, meaning it’s light enough to pack in a backpack and durable enough for extended trips.
Will You Have a Large Group?
Because winter tents must be especially strong to withstand wind and snowfall, are often set up amid small drifts of snow, and need to trap heat, they usually don’t have as much surface area as normal tents do. That means that the best winter tents are often in the 2-3 person range. If you go larger than this, the winter tents you’ll find will be pricey and difficult to pack. If you’re willing to foot the bill and are going camping somewhere you can access by SUV or truck to carry the tent, then a large winter tent is worth the investment.
Best for Large Groups: Whiteduck Regatta Canvas Bell Tent
The Whiteduck Regatta Canvas Bell Tent enables you to set up a stormproof hunting camp anywhere. Amazon
The WHITEDUCK Regatta Canvas Bell Tent is more yurt than tent. It’s a large, round canvas tent made with 8.5 oz. army duck canvas in a beige color. It’s waterproof, mildew and UV resistant, and available with a fire-retardant finish. The tent has durable two-layered doors and windows. It’s a hefty tent, but it’s strong. The center pole and entrance pole are both built out of galvanized steel. The 16-foot size sleeps eight adults comfortably. To stay warm, there’s a 5-inch stove flap. This is a bulky tent, but if you’re looking to hang out and camp with a big group during the colder months, it’s a great choice.
Will You Encounter a Lot of Snow and Wind?
Winter tents come in several different shapes and sizes. The shape is as important as fabric and pole material as far as how the tent will stand up to winter elements.
A-frame tents are common for backpacking because the shape is usually easy to break-down and pack. The steep walls of this style tent shed water and snow with ease, but the large, broad sides are weak in a direct wind. Two main structural poles cross to create a dome shape that is strong and easy to set up. They’re pricey, but they are the most storm-resistant option.
Best for Wind and Snow Resistance: Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Model Geodesic Tent
Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Model Geodesic Tent is built to withstand wind that would crumple lesser tents. Amazon
Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Model Geodesic Tent is designed to withstand extreme conditions. The geodesic shape constructed with 7 shock-corded fiberglass poles is extremely rugged. The 75D polyester ripstop construction sheds rain and snow, and has a waterproof coating. The bathtub-like flooring is extra thick and is meant to keep out ground moisture, which could otherwise seep in from melting snow. The tent boasts plenty of storage pockets and gear panels. All in all, this is a great dome tent—and comparatively affordable.
Are You Looking for a Tent to Use While Ice Fishing?
On warm winter days, you can ice fish without any shelter at all. But if you’re hitting hard water when there’s inclement weather, you need an ice fishing tent that’s heavy-duty and warm. Ice fishing tents are also known as ice fishing shelters.
The best ice fishing tents are easy to set up. Pop-up construction makes that easy. Ice fishing shelters should be insulated and built to withstand heavy wind, as are other winter tents, but ice fishing shelters do not have any flooring, so you can access a fishing hole. You cannot use an ice fishing tent for normal winter camping trips. That said, they can be a great option to set up outside during the day to hang out in when you’re not fishing.
Best for Ice Fishing: Frabill Pro Series Ice Hub Shelter
You can focus on the fishing, not the cold, inside the Frabill Bro Hub Insulated Ice Shelter. Amazon
The Frabill Pro Series Ice Hub Shelter is spacious; Frabill advertises it as being able to fit two to three “bro-sized” anglers. The ice fishing shelter is fully-insulated and boasts 600-denier polyester walls and roof, as well as an extra-tough 900-denier skirt section to protect against weather stress or errant boots. The ice shanty has 4 removable windows with shades, two interior pockets, and one exterior clear pocket license holder. When it’s broken down, it fits inside a duffle bag that has a built-in pocket to stash your tackle in. It’s easy to pack and carry, which is a plus when you need to change spots.
Best Budget Winter Tent: What You Get for Under $100
Winter camping gear is generally more expensive than normal camping essentials. Winter tents need to be made out of high-quality material if they have any chance of standing up to extreme winter conditions. If you’re on the market for a winter tent, consider buying the best-quality portable structure you can afford. That said, there are several less expensive options that will give you a good bang for buck value and keep you warm at night, as long as you’re willing to bundle up.
Best Budget: FireHiking Camping Hot Tent
The FireHiking Hot Tent is an affordable and functional winter tent. Amazon
The FireHiking Hot Tent is a great option for the budget-minded winter camper. The tepee shape sheds snow and rain, and there’s a stove vent, which allows you to use a portable stove inside. The fully polyester outside is water-resistant and tough, though not as effective as a pricier winter tent offering. The tent is easy to assemble and can be stored in a backpack when it’s broken down.
About Stove Holes on Winter Tents
Many winter tents feature reinforced, fire-resistant stovepipe vent holes or “stove jacks” at or near the top of the tent. Portable camping stoves have pipe chimneys that poke out of that stovepipe hole and release smoke into the air. A stove will add weight to your load, but once you set it up inside the tent and get a fire going, it’ll warm up quickly.
A Final Word on Shopping for the Best Winter Tents
You don’t want to cut corners when you’re camping in winter, because resisting the cold is key to having a good time. You’ll probably be outside all day, so make sure the tent you bring is a good one, with sturdy construction and good materials, so that you’ll be comfortable once you go inside of it. The best winter tent will let you focus on the fun, not on the tent itself.