If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you must have heard about a three-season and four-season tent or probably own one. The debate on the difference between these two has been an interesting topic of many campers and backpackers for many years.
There are those who claim that three-season tents can only be used three seasons in a year while four-season tents can be used all year long. While this is the simplest layman’s way to tell these two apart, there is much more to it as we are about to see.
So really, what is the difference between a 3 and 4 season tent and which one is right for you?
Three-season tents weigh way lesser than four-season tents, reason being they are designed with thin and lightweight poles. If you are looking for something that will fit snuggly in your backpack and not add extra weight to your shoulders, then this is it.
Four-season tents on the other hand usually are made of high-density materials that make them bulkier and much heavier. Definitely, not the best choice for backpacking, especially when you are carrying other hefty equipment.
Although a three-season tent will shelter you from wind and rain, the fact that its poles are made from very light material means that the overall weight load that this tent can hold from above is minimized.
Okay, this is no biggie during summer because even if it rains, the rainwater will just flow off the tent, but in winter, rainwater can condense on top of the tent and add extra weight to it. And mind you, ice is a lot heavier than you may think so imagine a night of heavy rain and snowfall! Don’t you think they snow collected on top wouldn’t have enough weight to crush your tent?
When preparing for a winter camping trip, it would be nice to bring a stronger tent. A four-season tent would be your best bet. Since it is designed with stronger poles, it is more powerful and can hold heavier loads such as ice on top and wind on the sides.
When it comes to letting air inside your shelter, a three-season tent has all the good cards under its sleeve. It is typically designed with open mesh walls, keeping the air in the tent well circulated. This design also prevents condensation build up.
Unfortunately, we can’t say them about the four-season tents. Since these are mostly designed for adventuring in winter, ventilation is minimized. Instead of mesh walls, here we’ve got polyester and nylon materials. The idea is to prevent cold air from entering the tent and making it less warm than it should be. So a four season may not be the best option for a summer tent.
When you plan a trip to the wilderness, you want to bring a tent that is portable, lightweight, and one that is easy to set up. A 3 season tent will be easier to pack, carry and pitch than a 4 season tent.
Setting up a four-season tent requires following a series of complex procedures. If you are a first time camper and had not practiced erecting your tent before, you may spend quite some time trying to figure out how to assemble the whole thing. An experienced camper will spend about ten minutes to pitch a 3 season tent and close to 30 minutes on a 4 season. Similarly, taking down the latter often takes a longer time.
But there is something good about erecting a four-season tent – once you are done, you can be sure that it will serve you optimally. You will be protected against the harshest and strongest winds, storms, rain, and snow. Just make sure to devote enough time to dismantle it once the trip is over.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should start budgeting for a four-season tent when you already have a three season. There is a way you can customize your 3 season shelter to give you good protection just like a four season tent.
For instance, whenever you head out, don’t leave your tarp behind. Instead of water collecting and freezing on top of your tent, it will do so on the fly, so there won’t be any added weight that can collapse the tent. A windbreak will be a good add-on too especially if you will be spending the night in an area with little or no natural windscreen. This will block strong winds that may blow to the sides of your tent and make it to crush.
The fact that four season tents are made of stronger materials than their three season counterparts only means one thing – they are more durable. If you want something that will serve you for the longest time, then a 4 season tent will be the better option here. But that also means you will have to cough more bucks for the same than someone who went for a 3 season.
A four-season tent is quite an investment. Only campers who are in absolute need of such a highly deemed shelter pay for it. However, there many tent manufacturers who produce good three season tents that are not as expensive and still last longer.
Which Tent Is Right For You?
We hope that this quick 3 season vs 4 season tents comparison helps you understand the difference between the two. But the big question is; which is better and which one should you invest in?
The truth is, there is no right or wrong choice; it all depends on what type of outdoor activity you will be undertaking. If you are hiking or backpacking, you obviously need something light and a three-season will be your best bet. But for car camping, either of the two will get the job done.
In summer, you will need something that can allow cool air into the tent when it gets hot during the night and since a four-season tent is not well ventilated, you will be better off with a three-season.
If you are camping in icy areas or places with extreme low temperatures, even a high quality 3 season tent may not be good enough. You will need something that can withstand the harsh winter conditions and the safest shelter to consider will be a four-season tent. This one will also be good for windy areas. Do not risk your safety in icy and windy areas with a 3 season tent.
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Both three season and four season tents serve the same purpose – providing shelter, warmth, and protection. However, each tent has its benefits. To make the right decision on what to invest in, take some time to think about what you want the tent to do for you. You definitely don’t need a 4 season tent in July unless you have a way to make vents on it.
In general, tents have seen major improvements over the years. They are now stronger, more lightweight, and have new features that make them more effective and useful. If you’re going to spend a night outdoors, it is necessary that you invest in a good tent.