If you’re new to bushwalking and are trying to choose a tent, the jargon can be a bit overwhelming. One of the common phrases you will see when researching tents is ‘3 seasons’ and ‘4 seasons’, which refers to the conditions that the tent is designed for. In the guide we will compare 3-Season Tents vs. 4-Season Tents to help you choose the right tent.
Tents are typically categorised by three things; capacity, shape and seasons. Seasons refers to the type of climate that a tent is designed to handle. Tents designed for warmer climates are referred to as ‘3 season tents’, as they are best used in Spring, Summer and Autumn. 4 Season tents can be used at any time of year, but are best suited to winter camping or camping in alpine areas. 3 season tents are not suitable to use in cold climates where there is likely to be snow, such as in alpine areas.
The season rating is not regulated by any industry body, and it is often not stamped on the tent packet. It is a generalised and at times vague description of when you should use a tent.
Where you are going is just as important as when you are going there. If you are hiking in an alpine area, the conditions can be more variable and can change quickly. Alpine environments across Australia can experience snow storms in Summer, so it's important to check the weather before you go to decide which tent is ideal for your trip. If you are going on a longer alpine trip and it is difficult to forecast the weather, we recommend taking a 4 season tent just in case.
3 Season tents
3-Season Tents are tailored for the warmer climates of spring, summer, and autumn, these tents are crafted to be lightweight, breathable, and resilient against rain or mild winds.
4-Season Tents are built to withstand all four seasons, including snow storms and heavy wind and rain. 4 season tents have stronger poles to withstand strong winds and ‘snow load’, which refers to the weight of the snow sitting on your tent. Nylon is used instead of mesh to provide additional warmth and water resistance. Some tents will have a ‘tub’ floor which means that the stronger floor material is raised up the wall of the tent to further protect from water seepage on the floor and lower wall. This helps protect the tent if it is up against snow, ice or puddles of water.
Within the 4 season category, ‘expedition’ tents sometimes known as ‘5 season’ tents are larger, heavier and stronger tents built for extensive trips in high altitude environments that experience extreme cold such as the alps or either pole.
Suitable Environment for Each Tent
3-Season Tents: Designed for bushwalks in temperate zones, these tents thrive in places like Queensland’s rainforests, the iconic tracks of Victoria, or the coastal trails of Western Australia. They shield you from light rain, insects, and offer superb ventilation, making them perfect for most Australian landscapes.
4-Season Tents: Tailored for challenging terrains and conditions. Whether you're ascending the Snowy Mountains or exploring the colder pockets of Tasmania in winter, these tents provide the fortification needed against intense winds, snowfall, and freezing temperatures.
3-Season Tents: While these can handle moderate winds, their emphasis on ventilation over robustness means they may falter in intense gusts. Generally, they feature fewer poles and lighter materials, which may render them less stable in high winds.
4-Season Tents: Built to brave the storm, 4 season tents are engineered to withstand strong winds that you may experience in winter storms. It’s important to follow the pitch instructions as some tents are designed to have a single side facing the wind, and in all cases it is important to peg out all guylines.
3-Season Tents: Equipped to deal with typical Australian showers, they come with a waterproof coating and a rainfly. However, in prolonged downpours or in areas known for heavy rainfall, they may be pushed to their limits. It is important to check both the floor water rating and the outer wall water rating.
4-Season Tents: Offering paramount water resistance, these tents are your shield in lengthy rain storms. 4 season tents will use heavier materials which have a higher waterproof rating, and may adopt the use of bathtub floors to create a protective layer from snowfall or water puddles.
Snow Load Capacity
During snow storms, snow and ice will gather on the roof of your tent. Snow is heavy, and if the tent has not been designed for use in snow, it may cause a pole to break, placing the occupants at risk of exposure.
3-Season Tents: Not built for snow-laden landscapes. Their structure may collapse under the weight of accumulated snow, making them unsuitable for snowy terrains or alpine bushwalking during winter. The lightweight materials will provide little warmth and may be prone to water seepage through the floor and walls. Snow may find its way into the tent through the gap between the inner and outer wall as the outer wall may be pegged several inches off the ground.
4-Season Tents: Ready for the winter wonderland. Structured to bear the brunt of snow loads, they employ stronger poles and sometimes steep walls to ensure snow slides off, avoiding undue pressure on the tent. Some tents may have a ‘snow’ model which will feature additional material on the outer wall covering the gap between the ground and the pegs.
The durability, weight, and resilience of tents are directly tied to the materials used.
3-Season Tents: Often constructed using lightweight materials like nylon or polyester, their structural integrity is supported by aluminum poles. Abundant mesh panels ensure optimal ventilation, a boon in warmer conditions.
4-Season Tents: These employ denser and more rugged materials. Thicker nylon or polyester canvases, sometimes with additional coatings, paired with stronger poles made of aluminum or even carbon fiber offer unmatched strength and insulation.
Your tent is one of the most critical purchases you will make. You will spend considerable time in the tent during the nights and evenings, and you may be stuck inside the tent for days on end in the event of poor weather.
Choosing the right tent is more than just a gear decision – it's a commitment to safety, comfort, and the overall quality of the hiking experience. It's important to take your safety seriously in an alpine country where it can snow at any time of year, and especially so in winter. Having a tent pole break or the floor leak might be a funny story to tell later when camping in warm conditions, but in winter or in alpine environments it can quickly lead to a dangerous situation.
A 3-season tent serves well in most Australian sub-alpine terrains (below the snow line), offering a blend of protection and comfort during the warmer months. 3 season tents can be used in alpine areas, but it's important to check the weather before you go. To help you get started we have put together a shortlist of the best 3 season tents for each sleeping capacity; 1 person, 2 persons and 3 persons. If you want to compare all 3 season tents from dozens of brands, and filter by weight, brand, shape and price, check out our comparison tool for 3 season tents.
If you're exploring alpine areas, especially during the colder seasons, investing in a 4-season tent is strongly recommended. You’ll be warmer and safer with a tent designed to handle strong winds, snow and lots of rain. To help you get started we have put together a shortlist of the best 4 season tents for each sleeping capacity; 1 person, 2 persons and 3 persons. If you want to compare all 4 season tents from dozens of brands, and filter by weight, brand, shape and price, check out our comparison tool for 4 season tents.
Your tent is critical to keeping you and your party dry and warm. Choosing the wrong tent, or setting the tent up incorrectly in winter conditions can place you and your bushwalking party at risk of exposure. Be sure to famalirise yourself with the set up of your tent before you take it into the bush.