How to Heat a Tent Safely – Winter Camping in 2023

how to heat a tent

Part of the magic of cool weather camping is the crisp breeze once the sun goes down, and waking up to a brisk morning where you can see your breath. You open your tent and get to see the bright fall colors, or perhaps some snow on the ground. Either way, it can be more enjoyable that sweating your butt off in the heat of summer. But it does bring its own set of challenges, and staying warm in a tent can be a chore. Heating a tent can be quite difficult since the thin walls don’t insulate much, but knowing how to heat a tent properly can make a huge difference in your comfort levels.

If you frequently camp in places with electric hookups, your needs will be completely different than those who don’t have hookups or camp dispersed. Do you carry propane, and if so, is it a 1 lb. canister or 20 lbs.? Are you looking to only heat your tent, or would you consider keeping yourself warm outside and then crawling into a warm sleeping bag. No matter your situation, we’re going to break down the various options available to keep you warm, and have separated them into two categories – how to heat a tent with propane, how to heat a tent without electricity, and how to heat a tent with electricity.

How to Heat a Tent with Propane

One of the best ways to heat a tent is to use a propane tent heater that’s labeled as “indoor safe.” There’s several propane heaters that are perfect for camping, but one of the most popular ones is the Mr. Buddy Heater or the Little Buddy heater. They run using a traditional 1 lb. propane canister that can be found at pretty much any outdoor or sports store. There’s also a couple of products that double as a cooking stove and run using a connector hose to a 20 pound propane canister. You’ll need to decide for yourself which is the better option for your situation.

Photo credit: Mr. Heater Buddy

While there are lots of safety concerns related to propane heaters, they are relatively safe if used properly. The ones rated as indoor safe come with multiple safety features that are supposed to protect the user, such as an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) and tip-over sensor. The unit will automatically shut off if the breathing air becomes compromised or if the unit gets knocked over.

They also have a strict set of rules to follow during use, all of which are meant to keep the user safe in case the safety features do fail. The main one is that the unit shouldn’t be used in an enclosed space and should always have some kind of ventilation. The second (and equally important) rule is to never leave the unit running unattended, which includes not running the heater while you’re sleeping. If you keep the tent’s vents and doors partially open, and only run the heater while you’re watching it, then it could possibly be a very safe and effective method of heating a tent.

How to Heat a Tent Without Electricity

Candle

We’ve written a whole article on heating a tent using a candle heater, and it’s really quite interesting information. While the BTUs output for a candle is quite low, some consider it to be a safer option that a propane heater since it doesn’t emit carbon monoxide. It takes time and patience, but it does work!

Photo credit: UCO Candle Lantern

Heat Rocks

A classic but effective way to heat up a tent involves pulling rocks from the fire pit and placing them inside your tent. The rocks should be very close to the fire, but not in the fire or they will get too hot to safely handle. They retain their heat for a long time, but it’s essential that they are within a safe temperature range – not too hot to melt anything, but warm enough to provide some benefit. You will need some type of glove to handle the hot rocks!

There’s a few things you can do with hot rocks. You could sleep on a raised cot, and place the rocks under you on the ground. They will radiate their heat upwards and warm you. You could also wrap the rocks in some clothing or small blanket (granted that the rocks aren’t too hot) and place these bundles around the tent. They will radiate their heat and warm the tent as a whole. As seen in the video below, a third option for using rocks to warm a tent is by placing hot rocks in a metal bucket and placing that bucket in your tent. It will work like a little heater that warms the whole space.

If you rocks are super hot, then the most straightforward method is using the metal bucket. Just make sure you’re using a heavy duty heat-proof glove so you can handle the rocks safely. The bucket will handle the heat much better than any fabric would. If you’re able to let the rocks cool slightly to a safer temperature range, then you could utilize one of the other methods.

Solar Powered Tent Heater

We’ve seen some articles claiming that there are solar powered tent heaters out there, but that’s not really true, especially if you think about the fundamentals of it. Most people are going to want to warm a tent during the nighttime, when there wouldn’t be any sunlight to power a solar charger.

If it happens to be needed during the daytime, there’s probably not going to be enough sunlight available to truly power anything (assuming you’re camping during colder times of the year when there is less daylight and less direct sun). So if you want to use a solar powered product to heat your tent, the best thing to do is to purchase a large enough battery bank to store the amount of amps you need, then run the solar charger during the day. At night, you can connect things to the battery pack and pull power that way.

Wood Burning Stove

A less popular but quite effective way to heat a cold tent is using a wood burning stove. This is called a hot tent, or hot tenting, and is the most efficient way to get your tent super warm even on the coldest winter days. First, it involves getting a tent with a stove jack, which is a heat-resistant hole that’s in the side of the tent so the chimney pipe can go outside. Then, pair that with a wood burning stove for camping that is the appropriate size for your tent.

Using hard wood, you can have a fire in your tent stove, and treat it like a fireplace or a stove at a home. Add wood consistently to keep it burning hot, and you can even use the top as a cooking surface. There’s lots of options on the market for all the gear and accessories you need.

This method of heating a tent is going to ultimately be the most efficient, but it also requires special gear that you would have to have beforehand. You could easily take a tent from below freezing to over 70°F fairly quickly. While the initial cost could be a more expensive winter camping setup, it’s well worth it if you consistently camp in weather weather and temperatures.

Photo Credit: OneTigris

Hot Water Bottles

Ashley’s favorite trick for sleeping warm is boiling hot water then storing it in a thick plastic water bottle like a Nalgene. We boil water right before bed, then put it in the water bottle and stash it at the foot of her sleeping bag. Not only will this warm the sleeping bag for that initial getting into bed, but it will continue to radiate heat for several hours.

You can expand this trick using several Nalgenes, and place them all over the tent about 30 minutes before bed. The several water bottles radiating heat will slowly warm the tent. You’re not going to wake up to a hot tent, but it will make a difference on those chilly fall or spring nights, especially if you put the warm bottles near your body.

Not only is this our go-to method for car camping, but it is also very effective for backpacking. Assuming you’re already carrying a water container and a stove to heat water, you can easily do this before bed in all kinds of conditions.

Photo credit: REI & Nalgene

How to Heat a Tent with Electricity

When you have the ability to use an electric hook-up, generator, or large battery bank, your options greatly expand when it comes to heating your tent. Most anything electric can be used, such as an electric space heater and/or heated blanket. Electric space heaters, like the ones you use in your home, can be used with electrical hookups. The main thing to consider is watts, as sometimes these heaters can drain power quickly. You’ll need to make sure your hookup has enough power to handle that and multiple other things at the same time.

Heated camping gear tends to use a minimal amount of electricity, so they’re great as a personal warming device. While it won’t heat the space you’re in, they do a great job of warming your body. Plus, they’re super comfortable and cozy. Our Editor’s Pick for best heated blanket gives you the option of using an electric outlet, or running off a battery pack that you can pre-charge at home. With that flexibility, you can use it while camping whether you have electricity or not.

How to Insulate a Tent

If you’re camping in winter weather conditions and need to break out all the tricks for keeping a tent warm, then one of the best options is to insulate the thin material on your tent. The thin material of a tent hardly prevents the transferring of heat across the barrier, leaving the inside of your tent almost as cold as the outside – unless you take matters into your own hands.

This involves purchasing heat reflective pads for the ground and Mylar heat reflective blankets for the sides. Simply line the ground of the tent with the heat reflective pads, then cover the outside of your tent with the heat reflective Mylar blankets. For a complete breakdown of the steps, read the article linked earlier in this section on how to insulate the thin material on your tent.

For a more in-depth guide read our post: How to Insulate a Tent – 7 Steps for a Warm Night

Have you ever forgotten something
when you were camping?

NEVER again with our
Camping Essentials Cheat Sheet

About the Author

Ashley Vitiello

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

Safe Travels,

Derek and Ashley

Know Nothing Nomads