As someone who loves camping, I don’t want the cold weather to limit the days I can get out in nature. Being able to do it all year requires learning how to stay warm in a tent.
There are many ways in which to do it, and everyone will find the methods that work best for them. Since not every solution is right for every person, I wanted to share a list of all the options and things I’ve tried that worked well.
1. Choose the Right Tent
The tent you buy can have a huge impact on how warm you stay overnight. Ideally, you want an insulated tent made for all four seasons. A three-season tent may also work with some additional insulating on your part.
Any tent you buy should have ventilation options that are easy to use. You want it to also be waterproof, especially if you plan to camp in the snow. For a list of high-quality and waterproof tents, you may check our Best Tents for Heavy Rain article, made to protect you not just in the cold weather but also from heavy rainfall and high winds.
It is also important that it has extra compartments or vestibules. You need at least where you can store gear and other items at night.
Finally, you need to get a small tent. It should be only enough room for what you need. A big spacious tent may seem nice, but it will allow cold air to settle in and lead to issues with keeping the interior warm. The rule is the less space you have, the easier it will be to keep it warm.
2. Insulate the Tent
Once you have your tent set up, you should insulate it as much as possible. The best way to do that is to fill it up so there is very little open space. Open space allows cold air to settle in, and it takes warmth that could be going into your body.
You can fill up empty space with your camping gear, but make sure that you don’t have anything wet inside the tent. Moisture will cool the air and fight against your efforts to warm up the tent.
3. Ventilate Your Tent
While it may seem counterproductive, you should make sure your tent has proper ventilation. Most tents have built-in areas at the very top that allow for a free flow of air. Never block off ventilation holes.
Ventilation is important to allow fresh air in and moisture out. As you breathe, you breathe out moist air, so it must have some way to escape or it will gather in the tent and create problems.
4. Sleep with Someone Else
Body heat is one of the best methods for how to stay warm in a tent. It’s also a free option.
You should avoid camping alone if you can because having another person in your tent will help you to stay warm. You and your camping buddy or buddies should sleep close to each other, but not in the same sleeping bag. Sleeping together in a bag allows too much open space, which decreases the effectiveness of the body heat to keep you warm.
The more people you have in your tent, the warmer it will be as everyone’s contributing body heat to the space.
5. Create a Barrier
You should create barriers throughout your tent to keep cold out and warm in. One of the most useful tools to create a barrier is an emergency or Mylar blanket. This is a shiny blanket that not only serves as a barrier to keep cold out but also reflects heat back.
Hang the blanket on the ceiling, but make sure not to cover ventilation areas. Make sure the shiny side or silver side is facing you. You can also put these blankets on the tent floor to help serve as a barrier between the interior of the tent and the ground.
6. Don’t Sleep with a Full Bladder
It is a good idea to go to the bathroom and empty your bladder before going to bed. If you wake up at night having to use the restroom, do it instead of holding it. If ever you are planning to camp in a remote area with no restroom, you may want to take a look at our DIY Camping Toilet article.
The reason for this, according to REI, is if you hold urine in your body, the body must work to keep it warm. The energy your body uses to do that takes away from the energy it has to keep your temperature up and produce body heat.
7. Use a Sleeping Pad
A sleeping pad is not a good sleeping bag alternative because it does not allow you to properly create a cocoon in which to sleep, but it is a great tool to use in addition to a sleeping bag. This trick to how to stay warm in a tent works because it creates an extra barrier between you and the cold ground. Plus, it adds some comfort.
Make sure you choose the material carefully. A sleeping pad should never be cotton as it holds moisture and is poor at retaining heat. You can use an air mattress or foam mattress. Just be sure if you use an inflatable mattress that it comes with a pump or you bring a pump to blow it up. Using your breath to inflate will introduce moisture inside it.
8. Use a Hot Water Bottle
A hot water bottle can help you to add some additional warmth inside your sleeping bag. Make sure you choose a good one that will stay warm throughout the cold nights. You don’t want it to get cold quickly as that will only rob you of body heat.
You can buy a hot water bottle, or you can make one using a stainless steel camping thermos that you use for your camp coffee.
Either way, heat the water on your campfire. Then, wrap the bottle in a towel or scarf to help keep it insulated, and place it in your sleeping bag prior to getting in so it can warm it up.
9. Bring Warmers for Hands and Feet
You can also buy warmers that have chemicals you activate when needed. These little packets can warm your hands, feet, head, and other body parts. You can even use them to preheat your sleeping bag or put them inside of a pair of socks, your mittens, or under your hat for added warmth.
They are readily available on the market and commonly used for people who are outside for long periods of time, such as hunters or people with outdoor occupations. The warming packets are easy to use and disposable when you are done using them.
10. Choose Your Sleeping Bag Carefully
Your choice of sleeping bag will have a huge impact on keeping warm in a tent. If you know you will camp in the winter, you need a zero-degree bag. In our Best Winter Sleeping Bag article, you’ll find a list of reliable cold-weather sleeping bags that guarantee comfort and a good night’s sleep.
You should always check the temperature rating of any bag before buying. Make sure it will suit the environment in which you will camp and your personal needs. People range from those who sleep hot naturally to those who are always cold. You want to be sure the bag you choose matches your sleep style.
Any sleeping bag you buy should be water-repellant. It also should be of a warm material. You should be careful to choose the right size as well. If you are a woman, buy a bag made for females. The proper sizing will help you to get a snug bag that won’t allow a lot of empty, cold space.
11. Use Your Sleeping Bag Properly
It is essential that you use your sleeping bag properly. Many people will want to burrow down in a bag, covering their whole head, but this is a mistake. You should never cover your mouth and nose with the bag, even if you have a mummy-style bag.
Letting your mouth and nose stick out will ensure you do not breathe moist air into your bag. That will cool you down instead of keeping you warm.
12. Wear Layers
You should always dress in layers when camping in cooler weather. It allows you to remove or add clothing as needed to adjust your body temperature and stay warm.
Make sure you choose layers of materials that retain heat. Avoid cotton, and go for something like wool. Don’t go too tight with any layers. Tight clothing can restrict circulation and leave your hands and feet cold. Also, too tight layers defeat the purpose of trapping body heat. Loose layers allow for air space between that will fill body heat.
Finally, make sure you have warm coverings on your hands, feet, and head, which is where most heat loss occurs from the body. You can consider heated socks or heated insoles for your feet. If you are unsure what they are, check our Heated Insoles vs Heated Socks article. Both are excellent additions to any outdoor clothing layering system for cold-weather adventures.
13. Use a Tent Heater
Probably the first thought you have when it comes to how to keep a tent warm is to use a heater of some type. You can use an electric heater if you have access to electricity, but to heat a tent without electricity, you have to rely on gas.
Be incredibly careful about heating with a gas unit. It omits carbon monoxide, which is deadly. You will need to have a CO2 detector in your tent. Do not rely on the ventilation to keep CO2 levels safe. It is a deadly gas that you cannot smell or taste. You won’t know there is a build-up until it is too late.
A good heater option is a catalytic heater. It uses internal chemical reactions to create the heat. It will give off some CO2, but nearly as much as gas heaters. If you do use a gas heater, it is best to find one that comes with a low oxygen shut-off, which will automatically shut it off if CO2 builds up too much.
Also, make sure that you buy a portable heater. These are made specifically for your needs and the best option for safe tent heaters for camping.
14. Set Up Your Tent for Maximum Efficiency
When putting up your tent, there are a few things you can do to help ensure you have a hot tent. The first suggestion from My Open Country is to put your door away from the wind. Figure out which direction it is blowing or will be later at night and put your door in the opposite direction.
You should also put your tent in an area where there are natural wind barriers, such as trees, bushes, or hills. In addition, set up in an area where your tent will have maximum sun exposure. The sun is one of the best free ways to get warm tents.
Here is a video that offers some additional advice on using leaves to work as insulation.
15. Eat Late
Since body heat is so effective at keeping you warm, you want to maximize it. One way to do that is to eat your last meal of the day as late as possible or have a snack before bed. Make sure the food is high in fat and carbohydrates. Your body will use energy over a longer period to digest these things, which naturally creates heat.
16. Exercise Lightly Before Bed
Another way to build body heat is to do a short workout before you turn in. Do not do too much, though. You do not want to break a sweat. Keep it light and just enough to start feeling warm. Try a few squats, push-ups, sit-ups, or jog in place lightly. It will warm up your body by getting your blood flowing.
17. Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
You can add another layer to your bedding by using a sleeping bag liner. A liner can add up to 15 degrees of heat. It is nice to use in a sleeping bag that isn’t quite warm enough on its own. Plus, it will be a thin layer that doesn’t make you feel too constricted but that will insulate nicely because it creates yet another barrier between you and the ground.
18. Insulate with Clothing
A crafty idea for how to heat a tent is to use your clothing. Take the clothes you will wear the next day and stuff them in your sleeping bag. This not only adds more insulation but also helps you to keep your clothes warm so you won’t get chilled when dressing in the morning.
You can also pack clothing in open space throughout your tent. Dirty clothes can act as space fillers or you can lay them under your sleeping bag as a barrier.
19. Get Rid of Moisture
A huge tip for how to stay warm in a tent is to remove all moisture from the inside. You don’t want any moisture in the tent at all. If you are sweaty, make sure any sweaty clothing or shoes are not in the tent space where you will sleep. Put them in the vestibule instead.
You can use newspaper to stuff in your shoes to help absorb the wetness if needed. Or you can hang wet clothing on a line outside.
For more information on how to avoid too much moisture when camping, read our How to Stop condensation In A Tent article.
20. Use Your Campfire Wisely
Your campfire can help heat your tent, but do be cautious. You don’t want to build it too close to your tent because of fire risks. Build it close enough that the heat will radiate to the tent and provide ambient warmth.
The warmest fire will be one that is as wide as it is tall. Make sure you have adequate room on your campsite to build a good fire and allow space for safety around it. Always put out your fire at night before turning in.
If you need a guide on firewood for your campfire, check our How Much Firewood Do I Need For Camping article. You will find out the right amount to bring and how to make your campfire last longer.
Trying to keep warm in a tent when camping during cooler weather may seem impossible, but if you follow our tips, you should be successful. There are some additional things you may want to know, so we put together a few of the frequently asked questions people have about how to stay warm in a tent.
1. Is sleeping in a car warmer than a tent?
It may seem like a car will be much warmer than a tent in cold weather camping. First, the car has clear barriers between it and the ground. It also has a heater.
However, cars also have a lot of open space. They are not meant to protect you from the cold either. As long as the heater isn’t running, the loss of heat occurs rather quickly, and you can’t leave the heater on too long without running down the battery.
A tent is smaller and easier to keep warm. It has a design made to keep you warm and protect you from the outside air.
Furthermore, it has ventilation, which a car doesn’t. To vent a car, you will have to roll down a window, which will allow excessive heat loss.
Finally, the CO2 risk in a car is pretty high. Letting it run could allow a build-up in the interior, which is dangerous.
2. Can you heat a tent with a candle?
You can use a candle to heat a tent, but as with any open flame, you need to be careful to avoid a fire hazard. Always use proper fireproof containers in which to sit your candle.
Tealights are a great option because they are small, easy to carry, and don’t require a huge holder. Any candle will give off a nice amount of heat and ambient light. One candle can increase the tent’s interior temperature by about four degrees.
There are candle lanterns on the market that you might want to consider if this type of heating is something you want to try. These lanterns are safe and made for tent use specifically.
3. How much warmth does a tent add?
Some people like to sleep in the open when camping, but during winter, fall, or early spring, that is usually not the best idea. A tent can add as much as five degrees of warmth. That is huge when you consider a five-degree drop in your body temperature will bring on chills.
Furthermore, a tent blocks wind, which increases the amount of warmth it provides. You’ve probably noticed that standing in the wind causes your body to cool down much faster than if there is no wind or you have something blocking the wind.
The type of tent you use will ultimately impact how much warmth it adds. The best tents to provide warmth are those made for four seasons. However, a three-season tent will still be rather effective, especially if you avoid camping in the deep wintertime.
4. How does the body lose heat?
To really appreciate all the tips and advice for how to stay warm in a tent, you need to understand the mechanics of how the body loses heat. There are three general ways heat escapes the body.
The first is evaporation. This usually occurs when you sweat. The sweat forms a moist barrier on your skin. When the wind blows over the barrier, the moisture gathers the coldness and delivers it to your body, which helps lower its temperature.
Evaporation is why you need to keep moisture out of your tent and avoid getting sweaty when sleeping.
The second is radiation. Radiation is simply heat moving away from your body because you have not trapped it in. You want to prevent radiation from occurring.
You do this by wearing warm insulating clothing. It is also why when wearing layers, you want to keep them loose. The air pockets will fill with the warmth your body is radiating and trap it around you.
The last way your body loses heat is through conduction. This is where your body transfers heat to a colder surface. You should work to prevent conduction because you don’t want to give away your body heat.
Conduction is why we say to create barriers between you and the ground. The ground is cold and if you lay directly upon it, it will seep the warmth right out of your body. Having a barrier helps to prevent that from happening.
5. Is it ever too cold to camp?
People who absolutely love the outdoors and are willing to camp in many adverse conditions may say it is never too cold to camp. However, for your average person, there is a limit, and for safety, everyone should have a temperature at which they avoid sleeping in the outdoors.
Most people would say about 50 to 65 degrees is a comfortable low for camping, but if you have the right gear and use our tips for how to stay warm in a tent, you should be okay with temperatures going to the low 30s, around the freezing point.
Keep in mind that if it is too cold, you risk your health. Hypothermia and frostbite are no joke. You should never put yourself in harm’s way needlessly when you could easily find somewhere inside to stay during extremely cold weather.