Tent Standards?

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

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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.

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