Tent for backpacking camping in cold weather condition

Discussion in 'Travel' started by yanzhang, Aug 17, 2013.

  1. Dear all,
    I am planing to do two backpacking photography trips in near future, one in the Eastern Sierra of California in end of October this year, and the other one in the Westland mountain area of the South Island of New Zealand next year.
    I am looking for a two-person tent that is good for this backpacking photography purpose. It should be light weight, wind and water proof, and suitable for cold weather condition. In both trips, the temperature could be as low as below 0 Celsius degree in the camping location.
    For these two trips, one we will hike about 10 KM from car pack to the camping location and stay 3 nights there, and the other one we will climb to a mountain of the height 2300 meters with elevation gain of 2000 meters and stay one night up the mountain. So we will carry all our camping and camera gears, and foods etc.
    May anyone who has good experience for backpacking give me some suggestions and advice for what type of tents I should buy for this purpose?
    Thanks very much.
  2. SCL


    I can't help you with brands, but rather with characteristics. You will need a tent which is strong, yet reasonably lightweight. On cold nights, the condensation from your breath will turn to ice coating the interior of the tent, and your body heat may likewise cause the exterior to become ice encrusted. Plus you have the potential for snow, which can easily collapse a lightweight tent. From my years of lightweight backpacking, I would suggest you seriously speak to either experienced winter backpackers and get a grip on reality, or a specialty tent manufacturer, as most tents sold in the USA, are 3 season tents or lighter, not the variety you are looking for. I think you may well have to forego the "lightweight" characteristic from a safety standpoint. How many people are going on the trip, as you use both the words "I" and "we". And how much gear are you taking...exact poundage, and what is your physical condition? Not trying to discourage you, but food, potable water, clothing, photography gear, tent, sleeping bags, etc. isn't light, especially if you are traversing up and down, or at higher altitudes. If you haven't already done so, in prep. for your trip...load up same weight of everything (use sandbags or whatever) into your packs and hike 10km locally as a dry run...you my soon find that you are beginning to par weight rather fastidiously. Good luck.
  3. I would echo the above sentiments. Winter backpacking adds considerable weight to your pack, and assuming you are taking DSLR gear you may be looking at 80 + lbs. of gear. I know that back in my winter hiking days in the 70's, without camera gear and splitting communal gear three ways, my pack was easily 70 lbs. Add the potential of slogging through deep snow...... Not that I wouldn't do your trip in a heartbeat, but make sure you are ready. Or go Nepal and hire porters!
  4. If you are in the US, go to the nearest REI store (or REI.com). You want a good 3 season tent, or possibly a 4 season one. Find one that is easy to set up (matched poles/loops, for example), a full rainfly possible with a built-in vestibule. Doors on both ends and good ventilation that you can control from the inside. Dome tents provide the largest volume for floor space. Be sure to get a tentpad (aka footprint) to go under your tent.
    Stay away from box-store (Wal-Mart, bets buy, Costco etc.) and stick with high end outdoor stores.
    A 2-person tent is tight for 2 and their gear (sure the vestibule helps).
  5. REI is a good source for all camping equipment. Another source to either purchase or just get information on tents is Campmor - you can search tents by size as well as season rating.
    Another big seller of outdoor equipment in the USA is Cabellas
    A reputable Canadian vendor is MEC
    Interesting in that the tents sold by the Canadian outfitter are all made in China, Vietnam, Taiwan - you might try to source a tent directly in those countries after doing your research.
  6. Dear all,

    Thanks very much for your helpful information, that gave me a good idea of where I should start to look for a right tent for
    my purpose.


  7. it


    Consider a Hennessy Hammock. I have been using one for the past 6 years and they are amazing. They are mosquito and water proof and very light. Plus you don't have to worry about finding flat ground. I rarely have a great sleep in a tent but I have a perfect rest every time in my Hennessy. They are much lighter and bulkier than tents. For cold conditions I use a sleeping pad under me to keep up the R-value of my down bag. I recently did a 560 km kayak trip and it was in my top 3 most important items, after my 'yak and my CF paddle. They are incredibly well made. I made it though Typhoon Sendong in mine.
  8. Just from looking around on the web, for late October in the high Sierra's you probably need a 4 season, not 3 season tent. A double wall tent alleviates many of the condensation problems discussed above. If you talk to somebody who is experienced at REI, they should have something. There is also all kinds of reviews and "best of" information on the web.
  9. Dear Ian and Barry,
    Thanks for your inputs, they are important to me to know such detailed issues. I will take a further study on that.
  10. If you are looking for premium quality all season tents, I would suggest the Hilleberg. They have a very informative web site, helping you to decide which model suits best for your needs.
  11. This is two very different trips. Hiking 10k to a camp for three nights calls for comfort. Packing for 2000m up and one night at the top calls for a light back pack. And you start by picking a good sleeping bag. If the temperature may drop to freezing, pick one designed for five below. It is the sleeping bag, not the tent, that keeps you warm. Any tent will do as long as the wind stays below a gale, and if I make the right deduction of what you write, you should not be up on the mountain in worse conditions.
    Staying warm gives you the mental surplus you need for focusing on taking the pictures, if that is an important part of the hike.
    For the one night on the top, I would seriously consider dropping the tent in dry weather and camp under open sky. That will ensure that you do not sleep through all the exiting changes in the light.
  12. Dear Gaute, Your input is important to me, I will take all sorts of issues into account for these two trips. Thanks very much.
  13. REI is a great source. But it is not the tent, it is the sleeping bag you need to be most concerned about. Or, the combination of the two. I would talk to the people at REI and not just order out of the catalogue. Every year people who are unfamiliar and unprepared die of exposure in the mountains. It is also the gear you will be using during the day. You should not take lightly any excursion into the back country.
  14. I would count on rain and likely snow in the Eastern Sierra that time of year. I would also count on temperatures below freezing, maybe well below, at night. Especially at higher elevations. I'd have some alternative locations in mind if the weather looks to be stormy or road closures imminent. Last year I was in Yosemite the last week or so of October and had freezing temps at night in the valley and a lot of rain. There was snow above 6000 feet a couple of times and extended closures on some of the high country roads even before seasonal closures.
    I have (haven't used it for years), an earlier version of the North Face VE 25. One of the problems I had with it (and other tents) before was somewhat of a tendency of the poles to snag some in putting it up or down but it says on the webpage the new poles won't snag (as much?). We did fit 3 people in it on a Sierra Club BMTC trip many years ago and saved a fair amount of weight by not needing two 2 man tents instead. The new design has real vestibule space. I used it for car camping as a one person tent in Yosemite several times and it was fine under extremely heavy rain conditions even without the newer, larger vestibule areas.
    Other tents use combinations of sleeving and/or clips and while I don't have any clip tents, that might seem to be faster than threading sleeves.
    You can share elements of the tents so not one person has to carry the whole thing. The presence of a larger fly with vestibule coverage - on this or other tent - can help by providing for added storage space under cover for your gear allowing more interior space to sleep in. Vestibule space or added interior floor space can also be important if you might need to cook in the tent or consider the potential for a fly of some sort but that's added weight. You should also become very familiar with any cook stove you expect to use. Use inside a tent under bad weather conditions can be awkward or dangerous depending on the types of fuel used, the potential for spills, etc.
    Try to see one of the tents you are considering set up in the store, and practice several times before going out. Expect that windy conditions can make things tricky and rain adds to the fun of set up. Also, the use of longer poles and/or sleeves or more complex frame designs may make it not entirely easy to set them up without practice so it's not something you want to do the first time at night or in bad conditions.
  15. I first went on winter back-country ski trips (Cascades and Sierras) in the early 70s using a (then) novel dome tent designed by A-16. These days, this tent design is ubiquitous with a large number of manufacturers producing models of all sizes from 2-man to families. We weathered wind and blizzards in our 4-man dome tent. The OP didn't state how many in his hiking party, but that pretty much decides the tent size and how many backpacks share in carrying the load of food, cooking gear, and shelter. The tent will have screen vent panels, but these should be closeable (some summer season tents do not).
    As already mentioned, a cold weather sleeping bag is a priority item.
    In my experience, the stove is another critical item for cold-weather camping. I always took my Optimus white-gas stove which never failed to fire up at altitude and cold (the current "Hiker" model is similar to mine). REI developed their Whisperlite which is lighter and addresses the problem of refilling the small fuel tank in the stove, but I had to fabricate a flat base so the stove could sit on packed snow. The flat Optimus stove case could sit on snow (with an insulated pad).
    If the OP is in California, I believe that he can rent tents and other gear to try out and determine what sleeping bags and tents are going to be warm enough for the anticipated conditions.
  16. Dear John, Thanks for your inputs. I am in Sydney, Australia. But I will do the hike with a friend in San Jones. I can purchase winter sleeping bag in Sydney, and my friend in San Jones will be able to go to outdoor shops to test tent, and other things we need.
  17. Take a look at this review site. http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Backpacking-Tent-Reviews
  18. As it's been mentioned, renting a high quality tent might be the way to go. Back in '78 I went on this 3-day Winter journey into Sequoia Natl PK....and we rented real top-end tent (Himalayan type). We were on snowshoes appx 95% of the time and the temps would range 17-25F degrees (warmer in the sun). We rented high quality sleeping bags w/liners (way way better than the stuff we owned). We continue to be amazed how warm it was inside the tent (around 60).
    My suggestion is: try not to pay too much attention to sleeping bag rating. I bought 25-degree REI bag and up to 38-40 degrees it performed adequately, but at 24 outside (in Denali few weeks ago)...this heap of hollow-fill couldn't do anything for me.....and I was inside a van....so the temp couldn't be that low.
    Oh, one more thing, make sure your feet are totally comfy and warm. The 2 guys I was with (back to Sequoia), they had their toes numb on the last morning. Part of it from not waterproofing the boots and partially being macho. The feeling in their toes returned (a close call) within a month and they realized how they underestimated this crucial part of hiking. I had these AF-issue boots with sock inside and never felt any cold.

    Good luck.
  19. Yan, what previous experience do you and your friend have camping or backpacking?
  20. Dear Thomas,
    We have car camping experiences, and a lot of relatively long distance hiking experiences as well. But we haven't done backpacking camping before. This will be only first such backpacking camping.
    Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.
  21. I'd keep the first backpack relatively short until you are comfortable with your abilities and gear selection.
    Be wary of weather conditions. A mild hike can turn ugly if several inches of rain or snow fall. Staying dry will keep you alive.
    Provide a trusted individual your planned route and schedule. Let them know if you return early or change things around too much.
  22. A few things you should consider

    1 buy quality - if the tent is under about $300 then there will be compromises in its construction
    2 different designs work in different conditions - it is likely you can get away with a three season tent but if you really
    expect heavy snow or very strong winds then a four season is better (but heavier and more expensive
    3 weight matters but very lightweight tents (say under 6-7 lbs) have a lot of compromises
    4 geodesic designs tent to be stronger and more stable
    5 decide if you want inner or outer first pitching (inner first gives more space, outer first is better for pitching in the rain
    6 you want a two skin tent - single skin goretex (or similar) models are not as warm and too specialized for your needs
    7 consider getting a footprint (clip one second groundsheet) if you expect to be camping on rough ground or wet
    8. Cooking in small tents takes care - in my opinion the best stove (safest) to use in a small tent awning (never cook in the
    inner tent) is the Swedish Trangia design as it is very stable and does not give off a lot of heat.
    9 get good quality sleeping pads - the therm arrest design is the best (there are some copies that work well). If you like
    comfort or expect to be on snow the 3.8 cm thick ones are very nice.

    One final thing is too be careful of condensation if you are in wet and cold conditions - never take a cold camera into a
    warm and moist environment unless you give it some form of insulation (e.g. Wrap it in a down jacket or towel). This way
    it warms up slowly and the risk of condensation is greatly reduced. On this topic if yOu have space / money a light down
    jacket or pullover is a very useful thing to take. I would also suggest that you get a few extra pegs - usually the plastic up
    breakable kind work well just in case you bend / break some or are camping in very rocky ground. Manufacturers tent to
    go very minimal on pegs to claim a lower weight. Also it helps if the tent bag is a bit bigger than it looks like it needs to be
    in the store. In the store you are looking at a brand new tightly packed tent that was packed dry. Packing a wet tent in a
    storm gives you a much bigger package and the last thing you need is to spend 20 mins trying to put it into a rather small
  23. Yan, your trip dates are rapidly approaching. You have received lots of good advice, but I think Craig's comments above are worth considering.... start with an easy trip with a clear line of retreat should you need it. Maybe a short overnight trip, even if you can then only take 2 days for your subsequent Sierra backpack. That way you will learn what is truly necessary and what can be left behind before attempting a more ambitious outing. It's good to hear you have some experience camping and hiking, but I think you will find a 10km hike is very different when you have 30-50 lbs on your back, even more so at elevation and in inclement weather. Still, everyone has their first trip and learns from the errors they make on it. Hike smart, and have a good time.
  24. Dear Thomas,
    Thanks very much for your advice. Yes, we are getting close to the date of our backpacking trip. I have bought 4-season tent, and -20F sleep bag. We have already had initial testing use on these, and they are great. The weight of backpack is an issue, we need to hike light, but also need minimal necessary stuff. My trip partner just had a one night stay test in the area, and find out we also need down pants during the night when we try to make night photographs.
    Thanks all for your very helpful advices and information.
  25. Down pants are probably overkill (but may be nice) I have only ever used them in winter in the canadian rockies (and then only because i already had them ) and at high altitude in the Karakoram and Himalayas. As I said earlier a good sleeping mat is essential as even a four season bag compresses when you lie on it. If you can try and keep your packs below 45lbs and ensure you stay below 60 lbs if you can. Once you get over this weight it gets tough especially if you have limited experience
  26. Dear Philip,
    Thanks for your advice. I will have to definitely keep my backpack under 45lbs, in order to hike 10km+ to get the site. The down Pant is about 3 oz (90grams) weight, I only need it during the night outside the tent in order to make photos. I will get a good sleeping mat.
  27. Yan, sounds like you are getting well equiped. I had a look at some of the portfolio you have posted here on P-net. Marvelous images. Please post some more from your upcoming trips, and if you would share a description of the backpacking part of your trip, I think many of us would be interested to read this.
  28. great photos - it looks like you shot by where I live in 2012 (by Banff). As I mentioned if it is very cold (and damp) watch
    for condensation when bringing the camera into a warm tent. Just wrapping it in something to allow it to warm up slowly
    works - a cold camera in a warm (damp) tent can suffer from internal condensation and fail.
  29. Hi Thomas, Thanks for your message again. Definitely I will post something and photos here after I complete the trip.
  30. Hi Philip,
    Thanks a lot for mentioning the condensation issue. I will take an additional care for this when I shoot in the cold weather.
  31. Check out Stephenson's Warmlite equipment at warmlite.com. Not cheap but well-designed, very lightweight gear for cold weather camping. Good stuff . . .

Share This Page