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It’s natural to only think about a cold tent in the winter, but it is not uncommon to find summer weather giving way to cold air come evening. If you are heading outdoors in your tent, you need to learn how to stay warm when the weather changes.
Here are some essential tips for staying warm in a tent:
- Buy a winter tent.
- Wear long-sleeve thermals.
- Don’t go to bed if you’re still cold.
- Use a sleeping bag liner.
- Bring a tent rug.
- Bring a tent heater.
- Place a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag.
- Make sure your tent is ventilated.
- Wear a thick hat when you sleep.
This article will take a deep dive into 27 essential tent-warming tips. These practical steps will help ensure your camping experience is as warm as humanly possible.
Let’s get started.
1. Be proactive.
If you’re constantly reacting to the cold when you’re camping, you’re probably under-prepared.
The moment you start setting up your tent isn’t when you should start worrying about low temperatures. To make things as comfortable as possible, you should prepare for the chilly weather right from when you are packing your bags for the trip.
Research the Weather Conditions
The first thing you should do is research the possible weather extremes around your chosen campsite. Find the answers to the following questions to ensure you’re prepared for all potential events:
- Will the nighttime temperature drop below freezing?
- Is there any chance of snow on the trip?
- Will it rain? If so, how intense will the rain be?
This will ensure you know what to expect, and will also ensure you grab all the equipment or devices you need to withstand any wild weather changes.
Layer Up As Soon As It Gets Cold
If the weather starts to get chilly while you are at the campsite, grab an extra layer of clothing or other forms of protection against the cold (as you’ll find below).
Don’t wait until you are already shivering to start fighting the cold as it will take you longer to warm up. Fighting the cold without a clear head and while in panic can also lead to mistakes that may end up being costly.
2. Buy a winter tent.
Your tent will be your first layer of protection against the chilly air, cold rain, snow, and whatever other conditions you face during the night. As such, one of the best things you can do is buy a tent that has been made specifically for cold weather situations.
Many tents are made with keeping you warm and protecting you from the elements in mind. However, there are a few characteristics that winter tents have that make them better at retaining heat than the average tent:
- Completely stormproof. The quickest way to freeze while you’re camping is to expose yourself to water or snow when it’s cold out. Powerful storms often accompany cold weather, so it’s essential that you have a stormproof tent that will protect you from wind, rain, and snow — no matter how powerful they might be.
- Snow skirts. Snow skirts are essentially long flaps that you can pile snow on top of to help anchor the tent and reduce flapping. If you’re expecting to encounter significant levels of snow, buying a tent with snow flaps is a great idea.
- Quick setup. When the temperature is low, the last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around setting up a complicated tent. You’ll want something that you can throw up within a few minutes of deciding to hunker down for the night.
There are plenty of winter tents out there, but I recommend the Black Diamond Eldorado Tent. This is the preferred winter tent of the well-respected camping website thehikingadventure.com, and it covers every cold-weather scenario you might encounter.
2. Wear thermals.
Long-sleeve thermals (also known as base layers) are a must if you are headed out in autumn and early spring — and it’s even more important if you are out camping in the winter. There are plenty of good brands on the market today, including Fruit of The Loom, Carhartt, and the 1&3 Pack. You should have at least two thermals in your pack, but you can always add more depending on the weather conditions when you are heading out.
3. Avoid retiring for the night while you’re still cold.
If you go to bed while you are still cold, you are likely to remain cold for a while, even with additional bedding and clothing.
This is why you should do something to fend off the cold first before laying down. Here are a few of the easiest options:
- Doing some stationary exercise: Jumping jacks are a great choice).
- Making a hot drink: Boil some water on a camping stove and make some tea.
- Use some hand/foot warmers. Your extremities are the first parts of your body that will get cold. Bring some hand/foot warmers can keep them cozy when the temperature starts dropping.
Once you feel warm enough, you can transfer that warmth into your insulated sleeping bag and enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep.
4. Buy a sleeping bag liner.
A sleeping bag liner will improve the insulation of your sleeping bag, which will allow you to retain more heat during the night. If it’s going to get chilly, you should have at least one of these with you while out camping.
There are two primary materials used for sleeping bag liners: fleece and silk. Both variants do a good job, but fleece alternatives trap more heat and are more durable when compared to silk alternatives.
If you’re in need of an affordable, high-quality sleeping bag liner, I recommend the REDCAMP Fleece 75” Sleeping Bag Liner. It’ll keep you incredibly warm on even the coldest nights, is compact and machine-washable, and is big enough for both solo campers and couples.
5. Bring a tent rug.
Using tent rugs or carpets on the floor can create some buffer between your sleeping bag and the floor.
These stop the cold from reaching you through the floor and ensure you don’t step onto a cold surface when you need to leave the sleeping bag at night. They also provide decent protection against small bugs that can find their way into your sleeping bag.
If you don’t want to buy a dedicated tent rug, your picnic rugs or rag rugs can also do the job of more elaborate tent carpets.
6. Don’t use oversized tents.
If the tent is too big, it will be harder to keep warm.
Unless you’re using a tent heater, the only heat inside the tent will be the heat generated by your own body. The larger the tent, the less your body heat will raise the overall temperature of the enclosure, which will make it harder to keep the interior warm.
If you don’t want to buy a smaller tent, buying a tent heater should compensate for the additional space. And if you’re on a budget and don’t want to buy a tent heater, focus on making your body and sleeping bag as warm as possible.
7. Wear a head cover.
If you are trying to stay warm in your tent, keeping your head covered will definitely help.
You can still lose body heat from your head even after covering up all other parts of your body. As such, bringing some kind of insulating head cover with you to pull on once you start to sense a change in the weather is an excellent idea.
Here are a few of the best options:
- A wool hat. There’s no need to get fancy. Any old wool hat, ski hat, or beanie will be more than enough to keep your head warm during the night.
- A balaclava. A balaclava is another good headgear option you should consider at this stage too. It can cover your head and neck while leaving the bulk of your face exposed.
- A scarf. If you don’t have the previous two options, a scarf can help you keep your mouth and nose outside the sleeping bag while your head remains properly covered.
- Ear muffs. If the above options aren’t enough to keep your ears warm, you can consider wearing ear muffs. This tip is only relevant to back sleepers, as people who sleep on their sides will find it hard to fall asleep with bulky ear muffs lifting their head from the ground.
Note: While it might seem like a solid option, pulling your head under the sleeping bag is not a good idea. The moisture from your breath can actually make you feel colder due to condensation.
8. Use a tent heater.
Tent heaters are one of the best ways to keep your tent warm. They are typically electric or gas-powered, and are specifically made to keep your tent at a pleasant temperature.
Safety tip: To avoid any risk of fire, you should avoid running the tent heater while you’re sleeping. If it tips over, the heat might cause your tent or nearby flammable materials to catch fire. Running it for 30-60 minutes before your bedtime is usually enough.
If you’re dead set on running it while you’re sleeping, there are a few measures you can take to make things much safer:
- Place the heater on a metal baking sheet. By placing the heater on a large, flat piece of metal, you’ll greatly reduce the risk that it comes into contact with your tent if it tips over.
- Move all flammable objects to the other side of the tent. The simplest way to stay safe when using a tent heater is to move everything that could catch fire out of its reach.
- Buy a battery-operated CO2 alarm. If you’re using a gas-powered heater, a battery-operated CO2 alarm can save your life in the event of a gas leak.
The Best Tent Heaters
When it comes to tent heaters, there’s no shortage of high-quality options on the market.
If you’re looking for an electric heater, the OPOLAR 1500W Ceramic Space Heater is the one I recommend. Here’s why:
- It has an adjustable thermostat that gives you a high level of control over the temperature.
- It has both tip-over protection and overheat protection to make it as safe as possible to use in your tent.
Overall, electric heaters are safer than gas heaters. The main issue is that you need to be close to an electrical outlet to power them. If you’re at an established campsite, there might be electric hook-ups for you to use. Otherwise, you’re better off with a gas-powered heater.
Regardless of the option you choose to go with, DON’T leave your heater on while sleeping. Even if you intend to sleep for a few minutes, don’t take the risk. Additionally, you need to ensure you are not using your portable gas heater in an enclosed space. If you must use a gas heater, ensure proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. You can consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm in the tent to further reduce the chances of overexposure.
9. Take a hot water bottle into your sleeping bag.
A hot water bottle is a great way to stay warm in the tent. As long as you have a camping stove, a vacuum-insulated water bottle, and a pot, hot water is a readily available resource.
Here’s the process:
- Boil water with your stove and kettle (remember the carbon warnings).
- Pour the water into a sturdy, leak-proof water bottle.
- Place the water bottle inside your sleeping bag, preferably near your feet.
- As your feet absorb the heat from it, the rest of your body will slowly begin to warm up.
The Hydro Flask is an excellent choice of water bottle that can keep water warm for hours.
Whichever water bottle you choose, make sure you avoid bottles that are not made to handle hot liquids, as they can crack or tear open.
10. Eat a high-calorie dinner.
A high-calorie dinner takes more time to digest, and digestion can warm up your body. This is why you should eat a heavy meal before bedtime if you are expecting cold weather later in the day.
If you must eat a small meal, keep a pack of high-calorie snacks to chew on as the night unfolds. If you don’t have storage for options like protein shakes and fruit mixes, you can tuck into sausages, hotdogs, bread, sandwiches, etc.
11. Buy the right sleeping bag.
Sleeping in a cheap sleeping bag in cold weather is dangerous. In fact, it will most likely sabotage your efforts to warm up using the rest of the methods covered here. A close-fitting mummy bag is your best bet to keep warm in such weather.
Additionally, you need to ensure you are buying a bag suited for all kinds of weather. They are marketed as three-season bags. You can also find one rated for sub-zero temperatures if you intend to camp out during the winter. The Bessport Mummy Sleeping Bag is one such example. Other three-season sleeping bags include Winner Outfitters and SwtMerry.
The right sleeping bag will make the task of staying warm in a tent easier. You may feel tempted to sleep in a double-height air bed instead of buying a sleeping bag, but they are often inadequate to handle the cold no matter the padding you introduce into the mix.
They are more comfortable and easy to get in and out of, but if warmth is your main priority, you don’t need one of these. This is because they will always retain the temperature as dictated by the weather. This means they will get colder as the temperature drops instead of keeping you warm. If you already have one, however, you can insulate it with layers of mylar blankets or a yoga mat before lying down.
So, when it comes to sleeping comfortably and staying warm, a sleeping bag is always the best option. If you decide to choose any other alternatives, be sure to get the right accompaniments, or you may find yourself spending too much time trying to stay warm.
If you want something else other than a sleeping bag, you should consider a self-inflating mat combined with a folding camp bed. The best self-inflating mats come with padding and insulation that will help you to retain body heat and stay warmer. Some self-inflating mat options you should consider, include the Wellax UltraThick FlexFoam, Kamui 2-Inch Pad, and the Coleman Self-Inflating Camping Pad.
12. Get extra blankets.
Even when you have the best sleeping bag sorted, you still need blankets.
Multiple blankets will help you stay warm if the weather drops lower than you initially expected. Even during the summer, it’s not uncommon for some parts of the world to still get really cold at night. If you have thick fleecy thermal blankets, you’ll feel a lot better when the night gets really cold.
If you don’t want to buy thermal blankets, space or Mylar Blankets are inexpensive and effective alternatives for keeping warm. You can place them on your sleeping mattress or mat, and also use them to cover yourself while asleep.
You can also use mylar blankets to reflect the heat in the tent back to you by taping some to the roof of your tent. The heat in the tent will stay a while longer in the room.
13. Ensure proper ventilation in the tent.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you want to stay warm, you need to keep your tent ventilated at night.
The heat from inside your tent can lead to the buildup of condensation, which can make everything inside the tent feel damp. This will, in turn, make you feel cold.
Keeping the tent ventilated ensures you can keep out the dampness and condensation. As long as your tent stays dry, you will feel warmer.
This is one reason why you should avoid wrapping yourself up so much that you end up sweating. Once you begin to feel too hot, remove some of the protective layers you’ve got in place to ensure you don’t drench your clothes and sleeping bag.
Once your clothes and sleeping bag becomes wet, it will be harder for you to stay warm.
Of course, you can change your clothes, but that’s far from ideal. And besides, your sleeping bag will stay wet for a while in such a scenario. So, remember the first point in this article and stay proactive in this regard.
14. Choose the right campsite.
Your campsite position is very important when it comes to staying warm in a tent. You should seek a spot that has some kind of protection and avoid low lying areas. A spot that is 50 feet away from the valley floor will be warmer for you when the weather gets chilly.
You should also choose a campsite that isn’t prone to excessive winds. Apart from the cold that will come with the winds, such exposed spots can damage your tent if the winds get a bit heavy. You don’t want to waste time you should be spending staying snuggled up and warm repairing your damaged tent.
So, the right campsite is one that is elevated, dry, flat, and protected from the elements.
15. Dry out your sleeping bag.
After you have rested in your sleeping bag, don’t forget to unroll it to dry any moisture that has collected in it. Remember, a damp bed will make you feel colder when the weather starts to drop.
To dry the sleeping bag, lay it out and ensure all the interiors are exposed to the sun and air—even better if you can hang it somewhere.
However, you need to ensure you won’t make things worse by leaving the sleeping bag in the rain or snow. If there is any inkling of rain or snow in the forecast, open up the sleeping bag and leave it in the tent. A bit of dampness from sweat will always be better than allowing the bag to get soaked. If you are out camping with a group, you can consider taking turns to watch the drying sleeping bags (and the tent in general). The point is, find a way to keep your sleeping as dry as possible.
16. Wear socks to keep your feet dry.
A pair of dry socks on your feet is another excellent way to stay warm in a tent.
Your feet are one of the most sensitive regions of the body when it comes to temperature. If they get cold, the rest of your body will follow quickly. So, you should have a pair of wooly dry socks strictly worn inside the tent only.
Using the same socks for your adventure outside the tent as your resting socks in the tent is counterproductive, as the sweat – or even worse, wetness from leaking boots – will ensure your feet aren’t dry when you need to stay warm.
17. Wear the right nightwear.
The right clothing will help complement your other efforts to stay warm in your tent. You should change into your nightwear when you are done with the day’s exertions. The best options are loose cotton thermals (mentioned above). They will keep you warm enough inside your sleeping bag, without leaving you feeling too sweaty in minutes.
Thermals also ensure adequate blood circulation while you are resting—an important factor in staying warm. Don’t wear denim or collared t-shirts. Your silk nightwear should also be reserved for your bedroom only.
18. Warm up with exercise.
In really cold weather, you may need to give your body some form of a jumpstart to start feeling warm and get the other methods of staying warm working for you. Exercise is a great way to do this. Once you are warmed up, you can then slide into your sleeping bag, throw on blankets, etc.
The best exercises for this are aerobics. So, you should try squat thrusts, burpees, jumping jacks, and other such routines to get your blood pumping. If you don’t want to leave your sleeping bag for an exercise, you can do crunches while inside it. Remember, the goal is to get warmed up and not to sweat.
19. Mind your hydration before bed.
During the peak of the day, you can drink as much water as you need. However, as the evening draws near, you’ll need to be mindful of how much you drink. If you have to get out of the bed fairly frequently to urinate, you may be exposing yourself to too much cold. Also, any heat already generated or built up in your tent will dissipate with the constant movement.
20. Don’t hold in urine.
Even after you have rationed your water consumption properly, cold weather will make you feel the urge to urinate a lot more. In this situation, don’t hold in the urine. Apart from the fact that your body has to use up calories to keep the urine warm, it is not always a good idea to hold your urine from a medical point of view.
Understandably, leaving your sleeping bag and tent in the cold weather may be too difficult. In this case, you should have a designated pee bottle. Ensure it is properly marked to avoid any “accidents.” For women, a female urination device or a wide-mouthed jar will be more practical than a bottle. However, practice first at home to avoid wetting your body.
If you don’t have a warm bottle for heating, as discussed above, you can also use the pee bottle with warm urine. It can stay warm for up to 30 minutes—but ensure there are no leaks. Sounds too gross or extreme? Then put away the bottle safely after peeing and only use the conventional warm water bottle to stay warm.
21. Use Disposable Hand Warmers
Disposable hand warmers can give you an extra layer of warmth on the coldest nights. You can add some of them to the foot of your sleeping bag and by the sides of it to keep you cozy. Using hand warmers is also an excellent way to make your sleeping bag more comfortable. A good hand warmer brand to consider is HeatMax.
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22. Buy Disposable Heat Packs
Disposable heat packs are really useful while outdoors. You can put a few of them in your pockets when you start to feel really cold. You can also use them to line up the sides of your sleeping bag for even better results. Some options include Dynarex and Medpride.
23. Cuddle Up
If you are in the tent with your loved one and have sleeping bags that can be zipped together, you should ensure you are resting in a cuddle. The body heat exchanged will keep both of you warm.
If you went camping with your dog, you could get the same results, as long as the dog is comfortable with being in a tent.
You can alternate between the cuddle and breaking off as your core body temperature increases or declines. This is to avoid sweating. However, don’t wait until you start feeling too cold to get back in a cuddle. If your partner isn’t up for it, throw on an extra blanket or wear a second thermal to balance things out again.
24. Drink Liquids With a Straw
A running theme on this page is that you should avoid anything that will lead to dampness in the tent. A straw ensures you don’t spill any liquid you are drinking on your clothes or sleeping bag. You can buy a pack of paper straws, but a reusable stainless-steel straw is easier to manage. Apart from the durability, it allows you to disinfect easily.
A great option for stainless steel reusable straws is the StrawExpert Set of 16.
25. Keep Your Electronics Protected
Did you go camping with an electronic heater? You need to ensure it is protected from the elements to keep it working for the duration of your stay. The same applies to your smartphone, extra batteries, and anything else that can stop working in extremely cold weather or if in contact with moisture (think about your cooking system). With electronics, you need to ensure you are not using them outside the recommended temperature range.
26. Heat Up Some Rocks
This is an extreme DIY approach you should only practice when all else has failed. It will also work best if you are out camping in the winter. This approach involves placing a few sizable stones in your campfire and heating them up considerably. When they cool down a bit, wrap the rocks in a cloth and place them in the foot of your sleeping bag. This way, your feet, covered with socks, can stay warm for hours.
You can also heat more rocks and place them at the center of your tent. The heat released will warm up your whole tent, and will stay in if you’ve used mylar blankets for insulation as discussed above.
An alternative approach that can also retain more heat is to dig a trench for the hot rocks. The size of the trench should mirror the size of your sleeping bag. Place the hot rocks inside the trench, cover it all the stones with a few inches of dirt (to avoid burning the bag), and then make the bed on top of the warm trench.
Remember, this approach isn’t for everyone. It is only for experienced campers. Don’t heat wet rocks as they can expand and burst while in the fire, sending hot shards flying. Most of the other tips covered on this page will be enough to keep you warm in your tent, so this should be reserved for the most extreme situations.
27. Think Warm Thoughts
If you’ve covered all of the physical warming techniques, try a mental one.
Thinking about warm things like a toasty fire or a bubbling Jacuzzi can make the sting of the cold a bit less harsh. While the other methods mentioned in this article