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Tent Standards?

Are there standards tents must meet to be designated 3- or 4-season?


Are there standards tents must meet to be designated “3 season”/”4 season?” A pole on my new Big Agnes Copper Spur 3 snapped after a full night of strong winds below Longs Peak, plus there was a punctured rain fly and snapped shock cords. A defect or design limits exceeded?

Submitted by - Ed - Bend, OR


No there are no standards to determine the difference between 3- and 4-season tents. But manufacturers know that they do themselves no favors by overstating their products’ abilities, so most seasonal claims are fairly legit. The major difference between 3- and 4-season (a.k.a. “mountaineering”) tents is that the latter is stronger both in terms of the architecture and materials. Here are some specific examples:

-4-season tents typically have more poles and more pole junctures (which translate to stability in high winds). And often they have all or some pole sleeves (as opposed to clips), which tend to increase stability because of the constant connection from pole to tent.
-4-season tents often have lower, more aerodynamic shapes to shed wind and snow.
-3-season tents have more mesh to encourage airflow, while 4-season tents have solid walls and closable mesh windows.
-3-season tents are almost always lighter because they use thinner fabrics, thinner poles (and less of both, as well)

As for your Copper Spur, that is considered an “ultralight” 3-season tent, and UL gear always comes with tradeoffs. In this case, it sounds like you found the wind limits of the tent. When using a UL tent in nasty conditions, take great pains to stake and guy it out to its absolute maximum tautness. A taut tent is able to maintain its structural integrity much better than a floppy one.

I suggest contacting Big Agnes to see if they can repair or replace your Copper Spur. Be honest about the conditions and situation, and my guess is that they’ll take care of you.

1 Comment

  1. J

    I was pretty skeptical when I got my Fly Creek UL1, all the material was so thin and light I didn’t think it would last 3 trips. I’m in the desert southwest so it mostly gets pitched on sharp rocks. After 15+ trips, half of them with a 5 yr old and a boxer stomping around in it there are still no holes. Last weekend I pitched it above 10,000′ for a weekend of 45 mph sustained winds with gusts in the 60’s (per local weather station data) with zero problems, it barely moved at all, and I’d consider that at the far edge or exceeding 3 season wind conditions. I realize this is a different model than the Copper Spur, but most of their smaller tents are pretty similar. Properly staked and guyed with attention to location and orientation I have full confidence in Big Agnes tents in windy mountain conditions and rough terrain. Hope things work out better for you on future trips.

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