The key qualities to look for in winter backpacking tents are the ability to fold them down into a small light package while being strong enough to stand the sometimes relentless weather that the winter months will throw at it.
Strong lightweight material is almost a given these days when buying new tents but backpacking models have to be in a special low weight class to be of any use over long distances. With a good 1 man backpacking tent only weighing in at about 3 pounds it goes to show what can be achieved with some lightweight materials and intelligent design.
Single person tents also handle bad weather better due to the lower profile with less surface area to catch any wind. Moving on up to 2 man tents does present a problem for backpackers as there are fewer models to choose from that are anywhere near light and small enough not to cause some weight issues, this can be solved to some extent by sharing tent components between each person but if its too heavy to start with both hikers are still going to be affected.
Ease of Setup
A quick setup tent is usually a long distance hikers only real defense against the elements and the last thing you need is to spend too long messing around while the rain is slowly working its way through everything your wearing. Luckily many manufactures produce videos showing exactly how long its takes or failing this you can usually find something on YouTube which can be another invaluable tool in our buying decisions.
The current trend of pop up tents with most of the structure already in place are the ultimate in speed as all that time threading poles is a thing of the past.
The Art of Winter Camping
Even though a properly constructed tent will help to keep us warm to really be comfortable in freezing conditions the age old camping techniques have to be used in conjunction with our modern technology. Its hard to beat the extra warmth that multiple layers of clothing can bring especially while sleeping and getting the best insulation possible between yourself and the cold ground will go a long way to stop the bodies temperature being drawn away as you sleep.
Condensation can be a problem when using a tent in very low temperatures because we try to seal ourselves in blocking out every cold blast of wind. There are many venting systems employed in tent design to get around this problem but after many years of experience we have come to realize its hard to release all the heat the body generates without at least opening the tent up a bit.
The warmth of summer camping kit isn’t that crucial and providing it keeps you dry the gear is unlikely to cause any problems but this changes completely when considering what could be life saving gear for a winter camp. With no chance to test any cold weather tents in anywhere near the conditions they could face the decisions of what is best are often based on passed experiences with a brand (not always reliable), online or offline reviews (can sometimes be helpful) or knowing someone who is already using the product in real situations (the ultimate source of information).
Making the right choice and getting dependable equipment that is going to stand up under pressure is one of the most important parts of off season camping and backpacking.