Camping in the winter and when it’s cold out can be a lot of fun. Just because the snow is falling doesn’t mean you should stop camping out. To make camping enjoyable in the winter and when it’s cold out it’s important to have the right setup to stay warm. Here are some tips for how to keep your tent warm in the winter or anytime it is cold out. Winter camping isn’t fun if your cold so here is how to stay warm in your tent.
How to keep your tent warm
1 – Tent heater
You can use a small propane heater to warm your tent up at night. Make sure you use an indoor safe propane heater such as those made by Mr Heater. Always use caution when using an indoor heater in an enclosed space such as a tent. You can use a heater to warm your tent up at the start of the night. You should never go to sleep with a heater burning inside of your tent. See this article for more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide and tent heaters.
You can use a wood burning stove as well to heat your tent. You need a tent with a stove jack that was designed to be used with a wood burning stove. See our guide to the best winter tents with stove jacks for more information.
- Indoor-safe portable propane heater for rooms up to 95 square feet. THIS UNIT IS NOT INTENDED FOR GOLF CART USE OR FOR MOTORIZED VEHICLES.
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2 – Tent insulation
Insulating your tent will help keep your tent warm at night. A good way to insulate the tent is with mylar blankets or “Space Blankets” on the inside of your tent. You can also use tarps. You want to attach them to the walls and ceiling to prevent heat from radiating out of the tent. You do not want to seal your tent air tight. You still need good ventilation to let moisture out of the tent. The below video has some tips for adding insulation to your tent.
3 – Put tent on an insulated pad
You don’t want to sleep directly on the cold ground. You need some insulation between you and the ground to prevent heat conduction. A good DIY method is to use a tarp under your tent. Gather as many leaves as you can and place them where you want to put the tarp. A good layer of leaves makes an excellent insulator between your tent and the ground. The below video gives a good demonstration of how to use leaves to insulate your tent.
4 – Tent ventilation
Making sure your tent has good ventilation seems contradictory to insulating your tent. Isn’t a drafty tent going to feel cold? The thing is, if your seal your tent up really good, it will trap all the moisture inside. All this moisture will condense on the sides of the tent and everything in it by morning. You will wake up wet and all your clothes will be wet too. Being wet isn’t warm. Starting the day with wet clothes will ensure you feel cold all day. Make sure your tent has good ventilation and air circulation.
5 – Smaller tent
A big giant tent will have a lot more space to heat. A smaller tent will be much easier to heat. If you are camping in the winter or when it’s cold out, choose a tent just big enough for your needs. This is one time you do not want to go oversize. A small tent will be easier to heat. It will have less area for water to condense on. It will have less surface area to radiate heat.
6 – Choose a protected campsite out of the wind
Picking the right campsite can make all the difference in staying warm at night. You want to find a campsite that is protected from the wind and elements. You want some sheltering from the wind and storms. You don’t want to be completely closed off. Remember your tent needs ventilation. You need some airflow through your tent to keep moisture away. Find a semi sheltered campsite but don’t camp in a cave with no air movement.
7 – Heat rocks
You can use hot rocks to heat your tent. If you have a camp fire you can warm up some rocks in the fire to get them hot. After heating them you can take them into your tent and they will radiate heat and keep your tent warm. This is a technique to use with a lot of caution. You don’t want the rocks so hot they will burn you or melt your tent. You can wrap the rocks with towels to make them easier to handle after heating them up. The below video shows how to use hot rocks to heat a tent.
8 – Hot water bottle
The hot water bottle method of heating a tent is like the hot rocks method. You use a campfire to heat water in water bottles which you then bring inside your tent. The hot water bottles will radiate heat inside your tent. You can also wrap your water bottle in a towel and bring it inside your sleeping bag. Touch the water bottle first to make sure it isn’t hot enough to burn you.
9 – Sleeping pad – SIM (Self inflating mat) – do not use a thick air mattress
Use a foam or inflatable sleeping mat to insulate yourself from the ground. Foam pads or thin inflatable mats such as SIM (Self Inflating Mats) for the best results. A 6 inch thick air mattress will not work well. The air cushion is too thick and you will lose body heat trying to heat the air gap. The air gap will cool faster then your body can warm it which will have the effect of sucking the heat out of your body. Use an insulating pad. Do not use a thick air mattress to stay warm at night in a tent.
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10 – Hand and foot warmers
Chemical hand and foot warmers work great for keeping your hands and feet warm. They last for up to 10 hours so they will work for an entire night of sleeping. If your someone who regularly gets cold hands or cold feet, tick on a pair an hour before you want to sleep. This will get them warmed up in time and give you a chance to make sure they won’t be burning hot after you fall asleep.
11 – Dress warm – wear some thermals
If you want to stay warm then dress warm. There is no substitute for a good set of thermal underware and warm socks. You want clothes made of wicking and breathable material. You want your clothes to transfer the moisture away from your body. If you wear cotton clothes you will wake up feeling soggy, wet, and cold in the morning. I personally like base layers made by Hot Chilly’s. I have been using them for all my outdoor winter activities for years.
12 – Put new clothes on for sleeping (don’t sleep in sweaty wet clothes)
Put on new clothes for sleeping so that you’re starting off with dry clothes. Starting out the night with sweaty clothes will make it almost impossible to stay dry. If you are not dry you won’t be warm either. A really good idea is to change clothes inside your sleeping bag just before you go to sleep. This will get you moving around and generating body heat inside your sleeping bag. That way you are starting the night off warmed up.
If you are camping in the rain, never go to sleep with wet clothes on. See our article on camping in the rain hacks to learn more staying warm tips.
13 – Wear a hat
Your head is one area that you can lose body heat. The idea that you lose lose 50% of your body heat through your head is a myth. You still do lose some body heat that way. Wearing a hat is a quick and easy way to remove that source of heat loss and stay warm in your tent at night. Throw a hat on before bed. Make sure it’s a dry hat.
14 – Use a warm enough sleeping bag
Choose a sleeping bag that is rated for the temperature you will be camping in. If your going out camping on a 20F to 30F weekend, get a sleeping bag that is good for those temperatures. A better sleeping bag will be made from breathable materials. This ensures you don’t collect sweat inside of it all night. A tighter fitting sleeping bag is better too. Tighter fitting insulation will reduce the air gaps where heat can radiate out.
15 – Sleeping bag liner
Using a sleeping bag liner or blanket can add a bit more insulation to your sleeping bag. If you don’t have a sleeping bag that is quite good enough for the temperature outside, a liner can be a good idea. Choose a liner made with breathable material. Don’t choose something made of cotton that will sponge up moisture and be cold and wet all night.
16 – Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is always important any time you do any outdoor activity. Dehydration will make you feel cold. Hypothermia can set in faster if your dehydrated. Drink plenty of fluids while you are outside camping in the winter.
17 – Eat more before bed
Having a snack before bed can help your body generate some heat. If you go to bed hungry your body will not be generating as much heat as if your full. You want some excess calories in your system that your body can turn into heat while your sleeping. Eat an energy bar or some other snack a short while before sleeping if it’s going to be a cold night in your tent.
18 – Be active before bed
If you do a little bit of activity before bed it will get your body generating heat. This can warm up your tent and sleeping bag at the start of the night. One way to do a little bit of activity in a really useful way is to get in your sleeping bag to change clothes. This will force you to squirm and wiggle around to get your clothes on and off. The struggle will be just enough to get you and your sleeping bag warmed up while doing something useful. If you don’t like that idea walk around a few minutes or do something else to get moving.
19 – Put tomorrow’s clothes inside the tent to warm up with you
You don’t want to put on cold clothes in the morning. Put the clothes you will be wearing the next day inside your tent the night before. They will stay warm with you this way. When you wake up in the morning you won’t get the chills from putting on cold clothes first thing. You can put them in a sealed bag if you are worried about them getting wet from condensation in the tent.
How does your body lose heat
To make your tent warmer, first, we need to understand how you get cold, to begin with. Your body can lose heat in 5 ways. We need to set up the tent to combat these so that you stay warm. For a more detailed look at how your body loses heat, see this article here.
- Evaporation – Body heat turns sweat into water vapor which then rises away from the body.
- Convection – Heat transfers from your skin to the air as it moves across your body. Faster moving and colder air will increase the rate at which convective heat loss occurrs.
- Radiation – Your body radiates heat similar to a heating element or fire. Your body will radiate heat even on warmer days as high as 70 degrees.
- Conduction – Heat transfer through contact. When you touch something cold, you transfer heat from your skin to the surface making you feel colder.
- Respiration – When you breath air in, your body warms it inside your lungs. You exhale the air losing the heat.
What if your too cold – Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite
Hypothermia and frostbite are too common conditions you can get if you get too cold. Both of them can have serious consequences if they are aren’t immediately treated. These could include loss of fingers, toes, limbs and up to death. Lets have a quick look at what are hypothermia and frostbite in case your tent isn’t warm enough.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurrs when your body is exposed to cold temperatures. In this situation your body loses heat faster then it generates heat. Your core body temperature will begin to drop. If a person’s body temperature drops below 95F you should seek medical assistance immediately.
Signs of hypothermia
- Slurred Speech
- Memory loss
- Fumbling hands
First aid for hyothermia
If you suspect someone has hypothermia you need to immediately take action. Do not wait. You need to get that person’s body temperature rising. Take them to a sheltered location. Somewhere heated if available. Remove all of their wet cold clothes. Wrap them with blankets and anything else you can insulate them with. Give them warm fluids to warm them up inside.
If the situation is serious and it’s needed, nothing warms up someone faster than contact with another warm body. If you think someone has hypothermia get them to medical help as soon as possible.
See the below video for more information on Hypothermia.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite occurs when part of your body has frozen. Frostbite usually occurrs first on fingers, toes, nose, ears and extremities. It occurrs when the tissue starts to freeze and no longer has blood circulation. If not treated frostbite can lead to permanent tissue damage and loss of fingers, limbs, etc..
Signs of frostbite
- Waxy or rigid feeling skin
- Discolored skin that is white, grey or yellowish colored
First aid for frostbite
If you see signs of frostbite take immediate action. Don’t wait as the problem will only keep getting worse. You need to warm up the effected area and get blood flowing back again into those tissues. Get into a heated area. Put it into warm water to warm it up. Don’t put it in hot water as that can cause more damage. You need to warm it up slowly. If you can’t do that than use body heat. Heat the effected area by sticking it into someone’s armpit.
Do not rub an area with frostbite as that can break apart the frozen tissue causing permanent damage. If someone has frostbite on their toes they should avoid walking on the affected feet.
To learn more about frostbite and hypothermia see this article from the CDC.
How to keep your tent warm FAQ
Q: How do you safely heat a tent?
You can use a portable propane heater designed for indoor use such as those made by Mr Heater. You should always use caution using any gas powered heater indoors or in a tent and should not use it while sleeping. Other ways to heat a tent include hot rocks and heated water bottles.
Q: How do I insulate my tent?
You can use space blankets hung from inside your tent to stop heat from radiating out of your tent. You can also use a tarp or other plastic covering over your tent. You should not close off all the ventilation. If you seal off the tent too well, moisture will build up and condense all over everything inside of the tent. You can also insulate the tent from the ground by piling leaves where your tent will go. Then put a tarp on top of the leaves and use it as an insulator from the ground.
Q: What is the warmest tent?
A 4 season tent will be much warmer than the typical summer or 3 season tent. 4 season tents have superior water proofing and ventilation so that they shed snow and keep moisture out. Some also have insulated sides and bottoms. If you plan to camp out a lot in the winter you should consider getting a good 4 season tent.
Q: How much warmer does a tent keep you?
A tent provides protection from the elements. Your body heat will heat the air inside the tent making it warmer than sleeping outdoors. A tent can be 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. If your tent is insulated or sitting in direct sunlight it can be even warmer.
Q: How do campers stay warm at night?
Wearing warm baselayers is a good start. Other things that help keep you warm at night include insulating your tent and sleeping on a insulating pad. You should always start the night with fresh clothes that are dry. That will help keep you warm inside your tent at night.
Q: How do you keep a tent warm without electricity?
You can use a small propane heater designed for indoor use. Use caution and don’t leave it burning when you go to sleep. Other ways to heat a tent include hot rocks and warm water bottles. If you have access to electricty where you are camping you can also use a small electric heater.
Q: Is sleeping in a car warmer than a tent?
A car can make a good place to sleep at night while camping. It will protect you from the wind and rain. It really isn’t insulated any better than a tent. You should do all the same things for sleeping in a car that you would in a tent. Use a good sleeping bag. Sleep in an insulating mat. Keep the windows cracked open for ventilation.
Q: Should you put a tarp over your tent?
Putting a tarp over your tent can add an extra layer of waterproofing and insulation. Your tent is made of very thin material unless it is a 4 seasons tent. A tarp can prevent a lot of the radiated heat from leaving your tent. You shouldn’t wrap your tent so tight with a tarp that you close up all the tent ventilation.
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- How To Heat A Tent. 9 Great Ways To Make Your Tent Warm And Cozy At Night
- The Best Wood Burning Camp Stoves Helpful Guide
- The Best Winter Tents With Stove Jacks Helpful Guide
About the author
My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water. I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.