Sleeping bags come in four season variants, each one built to different specifications to deal with increasing temperature extremes and climate conditions. Tents, however, only come in two season ratings: three-season and four-season. Three-season tents are designed and perform very differently from four-person tents, so before you head out into your own wilderness adventure, you should make sure that you purchase the tent with the correct season rating.
The vast majority of camping tents are three-season tents, which are built to withstand light to moderate weather conditions, such as the type you would normally encounter in either spring, season or fall. Since they perform to satisfaction during three of the four seasons, they were dubbed as such. Three-season tents tend to be less expensive than four-season tents, as they are not meant to endure rough winter weather and strong winds, and one should not expect even three-season tents of the finest quality to hold up against Alaska expedition climates. They will almost certainly collapse in heavy snow and torrential rains. This does not, of course, mean that three-season tents are flimsy; rather, the better models are equipped with a waterproof rain fly, a breathable canopy and a water-resistant floor.
Four-season tents, on the other hand, are designed for rugged environments and freezing temperatures. Their structure is made up of multiple reinforced aluminum poles to ensure that they will be able to survive extreme precipitation and the heavy pile-up of snow that could easily crash through a lesser tent. Four-season tents are typically colored darkly so that they absorb heat from the rays of the sun, and from other light sources. They also sport strong, well-defined roof lines to prevent snow and water from accumulating at the top of the tent, and are designed to be able to stand without requiring guy lines and tent stakes in the event that the tent must be pitched in terrain that cannot be hammered into, such as the side of a mountain. The rain fly on a four-season tent is much more encompassing, and the floors of these tents are built like bathtubs, to minimize groundwater seeping into the tent, from rainfall or from snow collecting against the tent floor and eventually melting.
This advanced tent technology that one finds in a four-season tent does not come cheap, however. Four-season tents generally come at a much heftier cost than three-season tents. Even if you’ve got the money to splurge, though, you may nonetheless wish to avoid buying a four-season tent unless you will be heading out into the climate conditions that demand such a tent for your purposes. The other drawback of the four-season tent, a major one for most campers and hikers, is that it really is a one-season tent – that is, it functions fine only in the bitter cold of winter. During other seasons, a four-season tent is simply insulated and reinforced too well, and can prove to be stuffy if not downright suffocating in warm weather.
A three-season tent should be sufficient for the needs of any casual camper or hiker. Only consider a four-season tent if you plan to be the next person to climb Mount Everest, or expect to find yourself in similar circumstances.