How to Stay Warm in a Tent: Staying Warm Under the Stars

How to Stay Warm in a Tent: Staying Warm Under the Stars

Do you love camping but hate being cold? Camping can be a lot of fun, but it can also be chilly, especially at night and during the fall and winter. There are pros and cons that stem from cold weather camping, but one of the hardest parts is staying warm throughout the trip. There are some ways you can heat your tent and insulate your tent, but you can also do some things to keep yourself warmer.

Here are 19 of our favorites:

How to Stay Warm in a Tent

Start with a Quality Tent

For most camping adventures, a 3-season tent is going to be enough protection from the elements. That being said, if you regularly camp in snow, high winds, or true winter conditions, you may consider upgrading to a 4-season tent. These “4-season” tents are really intended for winter use only, and will typically have a very little mesh and a more robust rain fly that goes all the way to the ground. You should also note that the larger the tent, the harder it will be to heat. Don’t use a larger tent than necessary, especially in winter camping conditions.

Do Light Exercises

Do a round of jumping jacks or push-ups before bed to get your blood flowing and warm up. Just make sure it’s not strenuous enough that you begin to sweat.

Eat a High Calorie Meal

Eat a high calorie, hot meal before bed can help you sleep warmer and feel more full. You could compare this to drinking a hot coffee on a cold morning or a hot cup of tea in the afternoon – they leave you feeling more warm and cozy than before, and it feels nice to have that warmth in your tummy. Cooking something is a great idea, or for something fast, easy, and hot, you could do a dehydrated meal.

Heat Rocks

If you are near an area where you can collect rocks and have a campfire, this is a great way to stay warm. Collect large flat rocks that aren’t wet or mossy and place them near the fire for about 15 minutes so they warm up. Once hot, remove them from the fire and place them in your shelter. They will retain their heat for a long time! Make sure the rocks aren’t hot enough to melt anything, and that you use proper handling so you don’t burn yourself. This method is best for extremely cold temperatures, like winter camping in the snow.

Pre-heat your sleeping bag with a Hot Water Bottle

This trick is a personal favorite of Ashley’s, and involves boiling water then putting it into a thick water bottle like a Nalgene or Hydroflask. Put the heated water bottle near the bottom of your sleeping bag and it will provide a good amount of warmth for a couple hours. We typically make dinner, but leave our stove and kettle out until the last minute. Once you’re ready to start winding down and head into your tent, boil water and throw it in your Nalgene so it’s freshly hot. This is also a great way to keep your water bottle from freezing!

Leave your pajamas in your sleeping bag

This is an old trick that still works! Instead of changing into cold pajamas right before bed, put your pajamas in your sleeping bag with your warm Nalgene. This way your pajamas warm up while your sleeping bag is warming up too! As an added benefit, the extra layer of clothing is great at keeping you warm all night long.

Make a Fire

Campfires are an essential part of any camping adventure, and are perfect for keeping warm once the sun goes down. You should always check local fire restrictions/bans in your area before lighting a fire, and have a large amount of water nearby so you can thoroughly put it out. Not only are campfires part of the ambiance, but they also provide a serious amount of heat so you can go to bed warm.

Use a Moisture Absorber/Dehumidifier

These little gadgets can be a life saver when camping in cold weather. They work by sucking all of the moisture out of the air, which helps prevent your shelter from becoming damp and cold.

Use a Mylar Blanket 

A Mylar blanket is an emergency blanket made out of a reflective material that rebounds your body heat back towards you. It’s ideal to carry an emergency one during hiking or snowshoeing adventures, but it’s also great to have a reusable/packable one that can be used as a strong blanket.

Use an Insulated Sleeping Pad 

Sleeping pads, cots, and sleep systems should be rated with an R-value, which is an indication of how well it retains your body heat. For example, a cot with a lower R-value will give away more body heat and keep you colder, versus a foam sleeping pad with a higher R-value would retain and reflect body heat, therefore leaving you warmer. Ashley uses a HEST sleep system, which has a super high R-value of 11.8!

Use a Sleeping Bag Liner

In order to add several degrees of warmth to any sleeping bag, you can easily pair it with a sleeping bag liner. Liners are typically a softer material that you use within your sleeping bag and some of them can add up to 20 degrees of comfort rating to your sleeping bag.

Wear a Balaclava or Warm Hat

While it’s a myth that we lose half our body heat from our heads, it is true that you can lose body heat through there and not everyone thinks of covering it. So wear a warm hat or beanie at all times when in the cold weather, and even consider sleeping it with on. If your sleeping bag has a mummy style, make sure you use the head portion properly so you can retain your heat more effectively.

Cuddling

Purchasing a double sleeping pad, double sleeping pad, and/or air mattress fit for 2+ people will help keep you warm in the nighttime hours by sharing body heat with your companion. If you have the right gear, sharing a bed is one of the easiest ways to keep warm! This also goes for dogs, which can be great toe heaters if they like to sleep near you.

Choose Your Sleeping Bag Carefully

Not all sleeping bags are created equal! All bags are advertised to have a T-Rating. What some people don’t know is that a 30* bag doesn’t mean you will be comfortable in 30 degrees, it means it will be enough to keep you from getting hypothermia! Also, women tend to need about 15* more of T-rating compared to men. This means that in 30* weather a man might use a 15* bag to stay warm, where a woman might use a 0* bag. What this means is that a good sleeping bag for one night, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the best choice for others. Choose your sleeping bag properly and you will be rewarded with staying warm all night long

Bring the Dog Along

If you have a furry friend, consider bringing them camping! They can make great cuddle buddies and provide some extra body heat when it gets chilly outside. Their fur also helps to insulate them from the cold air, making them much warmer than humans in similar conditions.

A Warm Pair of Socks is a Lifesaver

When the snow is falling and winter is fully set in, a warm pair of hiking socks is one of the best accessories for staying warm in a tent.

Heated Blanket

While many blankets do require a plug or 12v, there are several battery operated heated blankets on the market that are perfect for camping. They use a battery pack to heat a cozy blanket, and heating times vary greatly depending on the size of the included battery pack. They are great options for putting over your sleeping bag at night, or using before crawling into bed. They are especially great for shorter camping trips, since anything longer will require recharging that takes several hours.

Puffy Blanket

Puffy camp blankets are a must for any cool weather camping and are perfect for cuddling while sitting around the campsite then throwing over your sleeping bag for an extra layer overnight.

Use a Tent Heater

Whether it is a solar powered, battery powered, electric heater, or a candle heater, having a buddy heater in a tent is probably the easiest way to stay warm in your tent during winter and fall

Related Post: How to Heat a Tent

FAQ’s

How Do You Keep a Tent Warm Without Electricity?

Start with a Quality Tent
Do Light Exercises Before Bed
Eat a High Calorie Meal Before Bed
Heat Rocks
Pre-heat your sleeping bag with a Hot Water Bottle
Leave your pajamas in your sleeping bag
Make a Fire
Use a Moisture Absorber/Dehumidifier
Use a Mylar Blanket 
Use an Insulated Sleeping Pad 
Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
Wear a Balaclava or Warm Hat
Cuddling
Choose Your Sleeping Bag Carefully
Bring the Dog Along
A Warm Pair of Socks is a Lifesaver

How Do You Stay Warm in a Tent Overnight?

Use the smallest tent possible. A smaller space is easier to keep warm.
Choose the right sleeping bag. Make sure the sleeping bag you have is rated for the weather you will have during your camping trip
Wear layers at night. Dressing in layers like you would during the day will provide extra insulation and warmth while you are sleeping.
Insulating your tent is a huge part in keeping the warm in and the cold out!
Don’t forget a warm hat! Most of your body heat is radiated out of your head. Keep you head warm and you will be warm!
Use a tent-safe heater. This is easy if you have electricity, but if you don’t there are plenty of options for heaters for tents if you don’t have electricity. Read more below

How Cold is Too Cold for Tent Camping?

It all depends on the gear that you have. For example, if you have a good quality winter sleeping bag, then you could probably tolerate temperatures down to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you only have a summer sleeping bag, then camping in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit would be too cold.
Likewise, if you have a good quality winter tent, then you could probably camp in temperatures down to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you only have a summer tent, then camping in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit would be too cold.
Bottom line: the colder it gets outside, the more gear you need to stay comfortable while camping.

How Do You Stay Warm During Tenting?

There are a few things to keep in mind in order to stay warm while tenting. First and foremost, it’s important to have the proper gear. This includes a good quality tent, sleeping bag, and clothing. In addition, it’s important to dress in layers so that you can adjust your temperature as needed.
Another trick for staying warm is to use a tent safe heater. These heaters generate heat without sending harmful fumes into your tent. This is a great option if you’re camping in cold weather conditions.

How Do You Winterize a Tent?

The best way to insulate a tent is by adding blankets on the floor and walls. You can also use the smallest tent possible to retain heat. Make sure to keep the door and windows closed as much as possible. Finally, always make sure to have a warm sleeping bag and plenty of layers of clothing.

How Can I Make My Sleeping Bag Warmer?

There are a few things you can do to make your sleeping bag warmer. One is to use a sleeping bag liner, which will add insulation and help keep your body heat inside the sleeping bag. Another is to heat a water bottle and put it inside the sleeping bag with you; the warmth from the bottle will help keep you warm. And finally, try wearing layers to bed; this will also help trap body heat close to your skin.

Conclusion

Following these steps and combining your favorites can turn a winter night camping into an enjoyable experience. We know it’s easy to get cold, but hopefully you won’t have to worry about that. Either way, knowing these extra steps you can take is a great piece of knowledge to have in your back pocket for those unexpectedly cold nights. These tips were especially handy while backpacking the Four Pass Loop, when nighttime temperatures got close to and below freezing. 

Also see these other posts on Camping 101 such as the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent and camping for beginners

About the Author

Derek Vitiello

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers. Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me. When I’m not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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