You might already know about four-season tents, but what in the world is a five-season tent?
Five-season tents, explained
A five-season tent is basically designed to withstand more extreme winter weather conditions than a four-season tent. Four-season tents are ideal for winter camping, but for severe weather and harsh conditions that you might see in the mountains or arctic/subarctic regions, a five-season tent is a better option.
Think blizzard-like conditions with extremely high winds, several feet of snow, massive snowdrifts, complete whiteout visibility, and freezing cold temperatures. A four-season tent might work, but a five-season will give you better peace of mind in knowing that you and your gear are as well-protected from the elements as you can get in a tent.
Five-season tents are also known as “expedition tents” or “arctic tents.”
That fifth season isn’t really a season at all. It’s just a way of saying that this tent is built for some seriously extreme conditions—the kind that you really only get in the harshest of environments.
The difference between four-season and five-season tents
While four-season four-season tents are designed to withstand winter weather, five-season tents are built to take on more than your typical winter in temperate regions. Here are some of the key differences between four-season and five-season tents:
Sturdier frame and construction. Five-season tents have a stronger, more durable frame that can withstand heavy snowfall and high winds. They typically use at least five poles made from thicker, heavier-duty materials like aluminum or carbon fibre.
Tougher fabrics. The canopy and rainfly of a five-season tent are made from thicker, more durable fabrics that can withstand severe weather conditions better than the lighter-weight fabric used on four-season tents.
More coverage. Five-season tents have a larger footprint and more headroom than four-season tents, giving you more space to move around and stay comfortable in inclement weather. They also have full coverage vestibules that extend all the way to the ground, so you won’t have to worry about any moisture, snow, or wind getting in.
Better ventilation. Most five-season tents have multiple vents and often vents at the base of the tent to help regulate temperature and keep condensation from building up inside.
Stronger tent pegs. The pegs used to secure a five-season tent to the ground are typically made from thicker, stronger materials like aluminum or steel. This helps them withstand high winds and keep the tent anchored in place.
Almost always brightly coloured. Five-season tents often come in bright colours like red and orange, which makes them easier to spot in low-visibility conditions like a blizzard.
When would you need a five-season tent?
If you camp as a hobby, you definitely don’t need a five-season tent. In fact, most people don’t since the average person doesn’t camp in extreme weather conditions. Even if you do a lot of winter camping, a four-season tent will likely be all that you really need.
Of course, five-season tents are good in some situations—but these are very specific. Here’s when you would need a five-season tent:
- You’re going mountaineering at high alpine elevations
- You’re planning an expedition to a remote, arctic or antarctic region
- You’re a researcher, scientist, guide, outdoor educator, or other type of professional working in the mountains, the arctic, or antarctic region
As you can see, most people don’t fit these criteria. If you don’t, then you probably don’t need a five-season tent, which is probably a good thing because five-season tents are:
Heavier since they use more poles, thicker fabrics, and heavy duty tent pegs to hold them in the ground under harsh weather conditions.
More expensive because they’re made with higher-quality materials and construction. You can expect to spend at least $1,000 on a good five-season tent—but probably even more than that.
Not as easy to set up as four-season tents since they have more poles, knots, and a larger footprint.
Not as versatile. Their heavier weight and bulk make them less attractive options for backpacking or ultralight camping.
Not necessary in any season other than winter. Despite being called a “five-season” tent, it’s not really made to be used in spring, summer, or fall. You’re way better off investing in a good three-season or four-season tent.
The term “five-season” is really misleading, which is why this type of tent is referred to as an expedition tent more often than not. And you don’t really want to use one of these tents as your all-season tent because it has a very specific use.
Are five-season tents warmer than four-season tents?
That’s a hard question to answer because it really depends on the tent, your location, and the weather conditions. Both four-season and five-season tents offer full coverage design and fabric that’s meant to withstand high winds and keep moisture out.
You can expect the typical four-season tent to offer as much as 5 to 10°F of extra warmth inside compared to outside, so you can expect the same or perhaps slightly better from a five-season tent. Again, it really largely depends on what kind of tent you’re getting—including how it’s designed and the quality of the materials used.
The warmest tent you can get, by far, is a hot tent. A hot tent it basically a big canvas tent that’s designed to work with a wood stove inside of it. There’s an opening in the top of the tent for the stove’s chimney to go through, and the stove is used to heat the air inside the tent.
These tents are incredibly warm—and very popular with winter campers, mountaineers, and people who live in cold climates. They are, however, very heavy and bulky—making them ideal for basecamp trips where you plan to stay at camp for at least a couple of days.
Where to find five-season tents
If you’re still interested in looking around at five-season tents, we have some suggestions. You may have already noticed that you can’t find them at your local big box store or even at most outdoor retailers. That’s because they’re not as popular as three-season and four-season tents, so they’re not carried by as many stores.
Here are a few places you can find five-season (a.k.a. expedition) tents online:
REI has almost everything, including five-season/expedition tents. When searching tents, make sure to select “4-season” and “Mountaineering” under Best Use.
MSR is a top outdoor equipment brand you can trust, with five-season/expedition tents ranging from around the $1,000 range up to $6,500. Unfortunately, at this time, they all appear to be out of stock.
Mountain Hardwear has several five-season/expedition tents ranging from as low as $700 to as high as $7,500 USD.
Mountain Designs offers at least two options for affordable prices under $1,000 USD.
These can get you started, but be sure to do your own research. Remember, a five-season/expedition tent is specifically for camping in the mountains or extremely harsh winter environments, so think carefully about whether or not you really need one before making your purchase.
If possible, consider looking at a comparable four-season tent and seeing if that will work better for your needs. You might be surprised at how well a four-season tent can actually perform in winter conditions.
And that’s a wrap on five-season tents! Now you know what they are and how they differ from four-season tents. You also know where to find them if you decide you need one for your next camping trip.
Happy (and safe) travels, wherever you may go!
Ross is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. He loves looking at maps, planning new routes, sport fishing, and developing his nature photography skills. He’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).