Part of the allure of mountaineering and backcountry skiing is the challenge of traveling through complex terrain while enduring the winter-like conditions. In these environments, the robust protection of a 4-season or mountaineering tent is often required. From heavy snow to high winds, these cold weather tents are designed to handle the harsher conditions experienced at higher elevations or in deep winter. MSR’s line of 4-season tents features four distinct models, each carefully engineered for its intended use. The best 4-season or mountaineering tent for you will depend on your priorities and whether you’re backcountry skiing, alpine climbing, or on a mountaineering expedition.
4-season vs. 3-season tent
First, what distinguishes a 4-season tent from a 3-season tent? In a word, strength.
Designed for camping in high winds and snowy environments, 4-season tents offer greater protection than most 3-season backpacking tents. They feature tougher fabrics, stronger poles, less mesh, reinforced stress points and other winter-specific detailing. To achieve their sturdier frames and increased warmth, they may sport a bit of extra weight, though ultralight designs do exist. 4-season tents let you rest assured your shelter won’t collapse under snow build-up or ferocious winds.
In contrast, 3-season tents are great for most non-winter adventures such as fall backpacking, spring treks, or summer campouts. Equipped with mesh panels for ventilation and a double-wall construction that includes the tent body and a rainfly, they’re designed to offer protection from bugs, wind, and rain while remaining lightweight and breathable.
MSR’s 4-season tents
|Model||Min Weight||Floor Area||Construction||Intended Use|
|Access 1™||3 lb (1.37kg)||
19 sq. ft
|Access 2™||3 lb 10 oz (1.64 kg)||
29 sq. ft
|Access 3™||4 lb 6 oz (1.99 kg)||41 sq. ft||Double-wall||Skiing/Snowshoeing|
|Front Range™||1 lb 10 oz (0.74 kg)||81 sq. ft||Single-wall, floorless||Alpine traverses|
|Remote 2™||6 lb 11 oz (3.02 kg)||33 sq. ft||Double-wall||Mountaineering|
|Remote 3™||8 lb 2 oz (3.69 kg)||46 sq. ft||Double-wall||Mountaineering|
|Advance Pro™||2 lb 14 oz (1.30 kg)||24 sq. ft||Single-wall||Alpine climbing|
Access Ski Touring Tent
Access tents allow backcountry skiers, splitboarders and snowhoers to camp in winter without hauling around a heavy mountaineering tent. Designed to keep packs light, Access tents balance winter protection in easy-to-carry designs. You can think of the Access tent as a warmer, stronger version of our backpacking tents. These tents feature an extra support pole to create a sturdier frame that withstands snow loading. They use robust fabrics, and feature limited less mesh for increased warmth. Their designs make Access tents ideal for the winter conditions found near or below treeline, out of constant wind exposure. They’re suitable for everything from mid-winter camping to shoulder-season adventures.
Front Range™ Ultralight 4-Season Tarp Shelter
The 4-person Front Range tarp shelter was built to keep adventurers moving fast and light on big alpine endeavors, such as spring ski traverses. This hyper-efficient floorless tarp features rugged fabrics, reinforced guy-out points, and sets up with ski or trekking poles to save weight. (An accessory pole is sold separately; we found most adventurers prefer to use their poles.)
While it sleeps four, the Front Range’s minimum weight—1 lb 10 oz (0.74 kg)—makes it ultralight even for two people. Barely noticeable in your pack, it also makes a great dining hall for mid-winter basecamps. The tarp’s zippered door rolls back completely on both sides for sweeping views, and its stake loops fit skis and other mountaineering gear for solid anchoring in the snow.
Remote™ Expedition Mountaineering Tent
If you’re looking to summit a serious mountain like Denali or Mt. Rainier, the Remote tents are your expedition-grade shelters of choice. With generous vestibule storage space for bulky winter climbing gear and a robust double wall design for harsh winter conditions, these tents are built specifically for exposed, above-treeline mountaineering pursuits. A large footprint also means plenty of space for sitting out harsh winter storms, while a sturdy snow-flap helps guard the vestibule against blowing snow. The Remote was built for mountaineers spending several days to several weeks moving up the mountain as they push toward the summit.
Advance Pro™ 2 Ultralight Mountaineering Tent
For alpinists or serious winter adventurers seeking an ultralight construction and a smaller footprint for easier pitching on high-altitude ledges, we built the Advance Pro 2. Proven in extreme environments like the Himalayas, its 2-person, single-wall design sheds weight for those who want a lighter pack as well as durable protection in technical terrain. It utilizes nearly indestructible composite poles and can be set up fast even in on precarious perch so you can escape incoming weather quickly.
How to choose a 4-season tent
As you research 4-season or mountaineer tents for your pursuits, start by considering your activities and the terrain in which you’ll be. First and foremost is ensuring you have enough protection for the environment. Do you need a large expedition tent or a featherweight tarp?
From there, determine your priorities in the shelter—for example, do you prefer more livable space or less weight? You may also consider the number of doors, vestibule size, and single vs. double wall construction. Pole strength, guy-lines, fabric durability, even waterproof coatings should all factor in. Simply put, the more aggressive the weather and conditions, the more robust you want your shelter.
Head over to our guide for steps to choosing a 4-season tent.
Single-wall vs. double-wall tent
The number of walls your tent has plays into its versatility, weight and the types of conditions its ideal for.
Double-wall tents consist of a tent body and a rainfly. This 2-layer construction allows for greater flexibility, ventilation and gear storage. Most 3-season backpacking tents use a double-wall design to provide for the greatest range of conditions. The rainfly is 100% waterproof; the inner tent is 100% breathable. Together, they allow for full protection when you need it, or airflow when you don’t.
Single-wall tents are constructed of a single layer of waterproof fabric. They often feature small vents to achieve airflow and reduce condensation. This minimalist design makes single-wall tents the lighter option. It also makes them easier and quicker to set up, which helps in a blizzard or when digging out a bivy platform in technical terrain. Single-wall tents typically forego gear storage and tend to allow more condensation. Thus the cold, dry environments of the alpine are where these tents reign.
Learn more about the pros and cons of single-wall and double-wall tents.
Best tent stakes for snow camping
Anchoring your tent in the snow takes greater effort than it does in dirt, but it’s perhaps more crucial to given potential winds. Winter gear, such as ice axes, skis and shovel handles, make excellent anchors. In lieu of those, MSR’s Blizzard Tent Stakes provide the extra strength and holding power needed in various snow conditions. They feature a broad profile and may be placed as a deadman anchor with snow packed on top.
How to set up a tent in the snow
Fortifying your tent against high winds and heavy snow loads requires that you guy it out and anchor it securely. This is less imperative below treeline, where you’re sheltered. But in the alpine, where you’re in constant exposure to the elements, it’s critical.
Start by digging down in the snow to create a platform for your tent. Use the snow blocks that you extracted for the platform to build a snow wall around your tent.
Use all of the tent’s guy lines to secure it. Pack snow along the base of your tent and atop any snow flaps your tent might feature. Prior to going to bed, re-tighten all stake and guy lines.
Tips for camping in the snow
Snow offers unique camp site opportunities, such as the ability to build a kitchen out of snow. It also presents challenges, like staying warm at night. We rounded up a collection of tips that will help you camp in the snow like a pro, including which types of mattresses to pack and where to choose a campsite. Check out the full list of winter snow camping tips here.
Mountaineering Tent vs. Backpacking Tent
Can you get away with just a backpacking tent on a winter excursion or an alpine adventure? It all depends on the weather and conditions. If you anticipate constant heavy winds or snow storms, we recommend a 4-season tent. But many winter and shoulder-season endeavors, such as desert missions or fair-weather snowshoe overnights, may only call for 3-season tent. Only greater and greater experience will help you navigate the decision more confidently.
And if you head to the flanks of Mt. Rainier during the summer, you’ll witness every level of tent, from mountaineering fortresses to 3-season shelters braved by hardy souls.