The biggest reason people don’t go camping in the winter is that, well, it’s fricken cold. Who wants to sleep outside in 40, 30, or even 20 degree weather? Well, it can be a lot more fun with the proper gear. The question then is – “how do you keep a tent warm in winter?”. Well, today, I’ll show you some tips for keeping you and your tent warm and cozy.
So, how do you keep your tent warm in winter? Besides the basics of having proper winter gear like an insulated sleeping pad, a rated sleeping bag, wearing thermals, and practicing a few tricks to stay warm when sleeping, there are ways to keep your tent warm itself. Creating a wind barrier, adding tarps and rugs, and using a propane heater are all ways to keep your tent warm in winter.
Do Tents Keep You Warm?
Here’s the thing, most tents, even 4 season tents and tents designed for winter camping, aren’t designed to keep you warm. Tents can get too warm during the summer, but they are really just meant as a covering to keep you out of the rain, snow, and wind, along with keeping the little buggers out.
That being said, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep a tent warm. If you want to keep your tent warm in the winter, you’ll want to insulate it and bring a heat source.
Insulating Your Tent for Warmth
If you’re car camping (driving to a campsite), insulating your tent will be a bit easier since you can bring extra equipment.
Here are some ideas you can do to insulate your tent for winter:
- Bring a rug or tent carpet – this will help prevent the ground from robbing heat and it’s just cozier to walk on.
- Throw an extra tarp over the tent – a tarp will add extra insulation and prevent heat from escaping.
- Bring a sleeping pad – this is probably one of the biggest things you can do to stay warm while sleeping at night.
Here are some tips you can do when setting up camp:
- Avoid windy spots – If it’s windy, have the door be perpendicular to the wind.
- Pick a sunny spot – It’s great to feel the sun’s warmth in the morning and can make a big difference.
- Build a snow wall around your tent – This is a big one. Snow is a great insulator and a snow wall will block the wind and create insulation.
Of course, you’ll also want to insulate yourself too when sleeping.
How to Heat Your Tent in Winter
Okay, so there a couple different ways to heat your tent in winter, depending on what kind of setup you have and the type of camping you are doing.
If you’re looking for something simple that you can toss in your car, a portable tent heater is your best bet. While these heaters are pretty safe when used correctly, it’s super important to read and understand how these heaters can be used.
One of the most popular gas heaters for tents on the market is the Mr. Heater Buddy. This portable propane radiant heaters work great and have safety features built. Many campers use them in RVs and tents. Check out Reviews on Amazon.
Another more rustic approach to keeping your tent warm in the winter is to bring a portable wood stove for your tent. If you’re using this method, you’ll want to make sure you pick the right tent. You’ll want a tent with a stove jacket to make room for the chimney.
Some companies such as Seek Outside make lightweight titanium wood stoves. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have enough wood to burn to keep you warm. Woods stoves are one of the best at keeping you warm and dry. You can even cook on top of them.
Staying Warm When Winter Camping
So we gave you some tips for insulating your tent and keeping it warm, but there are lots of other things you can do to ensure a warm camping experience. Here’s our complete list for staying warm this winter:
Bring a Warm Sleeping Bag
Picking the right sleeping bag along with a good sleeping pad is one of the most important factors in staying warm. You can get away with a lot during the summer, but not so much with winter.
In the cold, you’ll want a sleeping that’s rated for the lowest temperatures you’ll be expecting. Keep in mind, temperature ratings vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and aren’t an exact science.
Down mummy sleeping bags are some of the warmest.
Pack a Hot Water Bottle
Hot water bottles are the secret weapon to staying warm, and you don’t even need a hot water bottle. Before you make that tea before bed, boil some extra water. Wait for it to cool down slightly and pour the rest into your water bottle.
It’s recommended you have a good BPA free water bottle like Nalgene. If the bottle is too hot, wrap it in a sock or shirt so it doesn’t burn your skin.
It’s important that your water bottle does not leak! Having a wet or damp sleeping bag is not fun, and can make the sleeping bag even unusable.
If you want something a little more cozy, you can buy fuzzy hot bottle bottles with soft fur covers.
It sounds obvious, but there are some of us who are stubborn and like to “rough it”. We avoid warming up by not putting on warmer clothes right away and skip the hot beverages out of “convenience”.
Well, here’s a tip – do the little extra work of getting dressed properly and enjoy those meals and beverages. If you find temperatures dropping, be proactive and get ready ahead of time so you won’t feel cold.
Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
Already have a sleeping bag but want to make it warmer? That’s where sleeping bag liners come in. Not only can some liners make your bag 25 degrees warmer, but they also keep your bag clean and make it last longer.
How much more warmth a liner will add to your bag depends on the type of material. Silk, cotton, fleece, and microfiber all hold heat differently. Head over to my page where I test different sleeping bag liner materials and see which material is the warmest.
Use an Insulated Sleeping Pad
This is probably the biggest thing you can do to stay warm, and something a lot of beginner campers miss. Sleeping on the cold ground will absolutely suck all the body heat out of you, even if you have a warm sleeping bag. This is why having an insulated sleeping pad to stay warm is so important.
When picking out a sleeping pad, you’ll want to understand their R ratings. R ratings describe how insulated the pad is. Anything with an R rating of 5 and above is good for winter camping.
A lot of campers will double up sleeping pads in the cold. Having a high R rated air pad or self-inflating pad on top of a closed-cell foam pad will do a great job at preventing heat loss.
Tarp Your Tent
Putting a tarp over your tent to keep it warm is something campers do, but I think there are a few considerations when doing this. If you do plan on tarping your tent, one thing to keep in mind is having proper ventilation. Having enough air flow is important if you’re running a heater or stove.
A regular tarp can work, but you can also bring along one of those tarps with a reflective side to help reflect heat back toward the tent.
Add a Tent Rug
I’ll admit, having a carpet for your tent is more on the glamping side, and that’s perfectly okay! Bringing a rug for your tent isn’t that common, but it can really make your tent have a more cozy feel. When you have a ‘no shoes inside the tent’ rule, having a rug to walk on just feels nice.
When you bring a tent rug, you’ll enjoy more comfort, insulation, and won’t need to deal with that slippery tent noise. And if you have any pets, the extra protection will help.
Build a Snow Wall
Bust out the snow shovels and snow saws, it’s time for building a snow wall. A snow wall is great for blocking the wind and can add some insulation. Snow walls should be a few feet away from your tent to prevent snow build up on the tent and be a few feet high.
Crank up the Propane Heater
Propane heaters can be great for car camping. These heaters are designed to be used in tents and RVs, and are pretty safe to use. You’ll always want some ventilation when running a heat inside your tent.
One of the most popular models is the Mr. Heater Buddy. You can even hook these radiant heaters up to a 20lb propane tank to keep your tent warm for days. As I said earlier, it’s super important to know how to use these heaters properly, so be sure to read the Mr. Heater Buddy user manual.
Use a Wood Stove
A crackling wood stove is a winter signature, and it doesn’t need to be this big honking piece of steel either. There are many portable wood stoves that you can use when camping, and there are even some wood stoves for backpacking.
Of course, if you do go with the wood stove option, you’ll want to bring your own firewood or spend time gathering it at your campsite.
Pack Those Hand Warmers
We’ve all seen those little hand warmers that you shake up, wait a few minutes, and enjoy the heat for hours after. It’s really a small thing to carry that can make a world of difference. Having cold hands and feet are not fun, and they are usually the first to go.
Those hand warmers fit right inside your gloves and pockets. You can even buy some designed for your toes that stick right to your socks and fit right inside your boots. There are also extra large heat warmers to add to your inside pockets and sleeping bags.
It’s always good to carry a few in your pack and car for emergencies.
Use the Right Size Tent
I know, big tents can be really nice. You can set up everything you need and have room for the kids and all your gear. But if you’re warming up your tent, a bigger tent is simply going to take longer to warm up and require more energy to stay warm. If you’re looking to get maximum warmth benefits, consider getting a smaller tent.
Use Extra Blankets
Pack a couple of extra blankets with you and use them around camp. They can be used for sleeping, but also for sitting around camp too.
Wool blankets are warm, fire retardant, and feel rather nice. A good wool blanket though can be a little on the pricey side.
Eat and Drink Up
One of the most overlooked reasons for being cold is not getting enough fluids and calories. Dehydration and low calories can make a big difference. One of the reasons this is so overlooked is because it’s not immediately apparent.
Make sure you are getting enough calories by eating the right foods and drinking enough water. After a long day of hiking, it’s easy to get dehydrated if you’re not careful. For dinner, eats foods high in fat that will burn slower to keep you warm. Right before bed, make some warm tea or some soup.
Dress in Layers
Another obvious one, but one often missed by noobies. Bigger is not always better. Having a big poofy jacket with a t-shirt underneath is not the way to go. If you want to stay warm in winter, you’ll want to learn how to layer properly.
Layering means staring with a good base layer. Thermals and long underwear will keep you warm, dry, and be a lot more comfortable when sleeping. Next, add on a middle insulating layer to hold in heat. And finally, an outer layer to protect you from wind and rain.
Air Out Your Sleeping Bag
Sleeping at night causes a lot of moisture to build up. During the day when it’s sunny, it’s not a bad idea to air out your bag. Open up your sleeping bag and leave it somewhere dry and in the warm sun. The sunlight will also help get rid of any odors and bacteria from sleeping.
Change Your Clothes Before Bed
After a day of hiking, you’re bound to get sweaty. Going to bed with sweaty clothes really doesn’t feel good, and it’s just going to rob you of body heat. If you really want to feel good, change your clothes before bed.
And if any clothes are damp, hang them up outside in the sunlight or near the stove. Just remember not to leave them hanging outside overnight.
Use Hot Rocks
Oooh, hot rocks. This is another goodie. Using hot rocks in your tent is a great way to warm it up. The idea is to put rocks into the fire and take them out after a few hours. The rocks give off a surprising amount of heat that lasts for a good few hours.
A few tricks for using hot rocks to stay warm:
- Bigger rocks take longer to heat up but will give off more heat and last longer.
- Use a digging shovel to take rocks out of the fire, but don’t use your snow shovel.
- Make sure your rocks are dry or they risk exploding. Never take them from rivers.
Now, there are a couple of methods for heating your tent with hot rocks.
The first is to place the rocks in your tent as is. Make sure you aren’t placing the tent directly on your tent floor or your certain to melt it.
The second method is more commonly seen in survival books. This method involves digging a hole and burying the rocks a few inches deep. Cover the rocks up and you have a warm place to sleep.
The really good thing about using rocks to heat your tent is they don’t give off any smoke or fumes.
Sleep with a Partner
As they say, two is better than one. Okay, this camping tip isn’t quite for everyone, but it’s basically free heat if you pull it off. And it could be a lot of fun for some couples if done right.
There are some companies that sell double-wide sleeping bags and sleeping pads for couples. If you go this route, one thing to keep in mind is how your tent setup is. You’ll have less room to move things around and you’ll want a tent that is actually big enough.
But even if you don’t get a sleeping bag for two, you can always use the buddy system and stay warm by sleeping next to each other.
Pick the Right Campsite
Setting up your tent in the right spot can too make a difference. Ideally, you’ll want to set up camp in a sunny spot that is out of the wind. Valleys are colder too and should be avoided if you can.
Build a Fire
Campfires are probably half the fun when you’re camping, but they aren’t possible everywhere you go. If you have a fire, it’s a great time to socialize, eat, and stay warm at the same time. Make sure fires are allowed in the area and use proper firewood.
Don’t Breath inside Your Sleeping Bag
Though it can be tempting, breathing inside your sleeping bag to stay warm will just make your bag colder. Condensation will build up and rob you of body heat. If your head and face get cold, try wearing a hat, scarf, and even a balaclava instead.
Wear a Hat and Scarf
If you’re looking to maximize warmth, then you’ll want to cover your body fully. A hat and scarf will prevent body heat from escaping. Plus, the face and head are two areas of the body that are more sensitive, so you’ll get the added benefits of not just being warmer, but feeling warmer too.
As they say, “chop your own firewood and it will warm you twice”. Being active will work the muscles and produce a lot of heat, fast. If you want to warm up quickly, do a few pushups, jumping jacks, or burpees. Doing just 30-60 seconds of activity will warm you up and get your blood moving. Do a few in the morning and before bed to warm up.
Switch into Booties
Ah, after a long day of hiking your feet are sore and sweaty. The first thing you want to do is take off those boots, and the perfect thing you need are camping booties. Booties are the slippers of winter camping and you can wear them outdoors. Add a couple of heat warmers and you’ll have happy toes all night.
Wear Insulated Socks
Socks can really make or break your camping trip. When you’re winter camping, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing warm socks. Smart wool is a popular sock choice. Before you go to bed, be sure to change your socks into a dry pair. You might even want to have dedicated socks that stay dry and are exclusively for sleeping.
Yes, you can actually get too warm! As the Eskimo says, ‘if you sweat, you die’. Sweating will make you wet and turn cold, a potentially dangerous situation. Don’t be afraid to stop and remove layers when necessary.
What You Need to Know
Before you go winter camping, you should be sure to always be familiar with your gear. If possible, test your gear first in a safe environment to know how warm you will be in certain temps. Use these tips as a guide to stay warm and always be safe!
What are some of your favorite tips for staying warm during winter camping?
Photo credit: USFWS