How to Stay Warm in a Tent: Usable and Thoughtful Advice

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

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Learn how to stay warm in a tent so you can enjoy chilly nights under the stars in a wide variety of temperatures year-round.
how to stay warm in a tent without electricity

The chill of the night’s cold air can transform even the most scenic camping trip into a less-than-pleasant experience if you’re not adequately prepared. Trust me, I’ve spent countless nights under the stars, from the damp forests of the Pacific Northwest to the icy altitudes of the Rockies, and I’ve seen firsthand how the temperature can plummet once the sun sets.

Staying warm in a tent isn’t just about comfort—it’s also about safety. Hypothermia can set in when you least expect it, so it’s critical to understand the techniques and gear that can keep you cozy. Whether you’re a novice camper looking to venture into the wilderness for the first time or an experienced backpacker aiming to refine your cold-weather camping setup, this article will guide you through practical and effective ways for how to stay warm in a tent. Let’s get into it.

19 Ways to Stay Warm in a Tent

Here are 19 of our favorite ways to stay warm in a tent:

  1. Take care of yourself during the day
  2. Eat a hot, high calorie meal before bed
  3. Preheat your sleeping bag with a hot water bottle
  4. Leave your pajamas in your sleeping bag beforehand
  5. Buy a quality tent
  6. Insulate your tent properly
  7. Use a tent heater
  8. Choose your sleeping bag carefully
  9. Use a sleeping bag liner
  10. Use an insulated sleeping pad
  11. Buy heated camping gear
  12. Heat rocks
  13. Make a fire
  14. Use a moisture absorber/dehumidifier
  15. Use a Mylar blanket
  16. Wear a balaclava or warm hat
  17. Cuddle
  18. Warm socks
  19. Consider getting a hot tent setup

1. Take Care of Yourself During the Day

Staying warm at night actually starts way before dinner time. I find when I don’t stay hydrated and eat well throughout my day of hiking or other adventures, it is that much harder to have a warm restful night’s sleep.

Since your body is your primary heat generator, make sure you fuel it so it’s in peak condition to stay warm through the night. Even something as simply as dehydrated can make it harder for your body to maintain your core body temperature, and it can be hard to remember to drink enough water when it’s cold outside.

For more information on good hiking snacks to keep you energized check out out post on the Best Hiking Snacks to Bring Hiking and Camping.

2. Eat a High-Calorie Meal

Eat a high-calorie, warm meal before bed can help you sleep warmer and feel more full. Digestion in an internal process that generates heat, which means a well-timed meal can serve as internal fuel to keep you warm for several hours.

You could compare this to drinking a hot coffee on a cold morning – it leaves you feeling more warm and cozy than before, and it feels nice to have that warmth in your tummy. Cooking something (like chili) is a great idea, or for something fast, easy, and hot, you could do a dehydrated meal.

3. Pre-Heat your Sleeping Bag with a Hot Water Bottle

This trick is a personal favorite of ours, and it 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 (between your sleeping bag and sleeping pad) 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. You could also use one of these heated sleeping bags too!

Pro tip: While you’re boiling water, make yourself a hot drink before bed. Drinking hot liquids can warm you from the inside out.

4. Leave Your Pajamas in your Sleeping Bag Beforehand

Another effective pre-warming strategy involves placing your sleeping clothes inside your sleeping bag with the hot bottle of water from above. This way your pajamas warm up while your sleeping bag is warming up too, and you don’t have to change into cold clothes right before bed. As an added benefit, the extra layer of warm clothing is great at keeping warm all night long.

5. Start with a Quality Tent

warm tents are key to winter camping trips

For most tent 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 cold weather, you may consider upgrading to a four season tent. These four 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 when it is cold.

When it comes to tents in general, you get what you pay for. I’m not saying to go find the most expensive tent you could buy, but don’t purchase the cheapest one either. Pick something that’s the best value for your money and spend a little more than you think you should. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to cold conditions where your life could rely on having the proper gear.

6. Insulate Your Tent Properly

A quality tent is a good start, but proper insulation will amplify its effectiveness. Using a ground tarp or footprint beneath your tent not only protects the tent floor but also adds an extra layer of insulation between you and the cold ground. From my time camping in cold places, I’ve found that ground insulation is often underestimated but can make a huge difference.

If you end up going with a three season tent, consider checking out our guide on how to insulate a tent. Something as simple as reflective insulation on the floors and walls of a tent can do wonders for keeping warm by regulating the temperature – it keeps the heat in and the cold out.

If you don’t want to insulate your tent, consider getting a tent that has less mesh than a regular summer warm camping tent. This will help hold in the heat better. Keep in mind that a closed off winter tent will be subject to condensation, so you do need some kind of air flow, even if it’s just a little bit of a breeze.

7. Use a Tent Heater

While traditionalists might scoff at the idea of using a heater in a tent, modern tent heaters are both safe and effective when used correctly. Tent heaters come in all different sizes and types to fit the proper application. There are even electric tent heaters that can be used if you are at an established campground with an electric outlet. Granted, most of the outdoor heaters use propane, but with the proper heater and safety precautions a propane heater is perfectly safe to use in a tent. For more info of using a propane heater inside of a tent safely, read more about using a Mr. Buddy Heater in a tent.

Even though this isn’t as much of an option if you are camping in the backcountry, this is a great way to stay warm if you are car camping.

8. Choose Your Sleeping Bag Carefully

Your sleeping bag is your main line of defense against the cold, and the range of options is vast. Bags are rated for different temperature ranges, and it’s essential to choose one that’s suited for the conditions you’ll be facing. Mummy-style bags with hoods provide excellent insulation and are what I personally use on my more frigid adventures. Opt for a down-filled bag if you need something lightweight and highly compressible.

But buyer beware: not all sleeping bags are created equal. All bags are advertised to have a Temperature Rating. What some people don’t know is that a 30°F bag doesn’t mean you will be comfortable in 30 degrees, it means it will be enough to keep you from getting hypothermia at that temperature! A comfort temperature rating is very different from a survival rating, so double check which rating your sleeping bags advertise.

Also, women tend to need about 15°F more compared to men. This means that in 30°F weather a man might use a 15°F bag to stay warm, where a woman might use a 0°F bag. Choose the proper sleeping bag and you will be rewarded with staying warm all night long.

Photo Credit- Thermarest.com

9. Use a Sleeping Bag Liner

For extra warmth, consider using a bag liner. These liners can add a significant amount of heat retention, up to 15 degrees in some cases. They are available in various materials like fleece, silk, or thermal fabrics, each with its own set of benefits. I always pack a liner when I’m headed to any chilly destination, and even use one in the Colorado mountains during the summer months. They’re also great for keeping your sleeping bag cleaner for longer, reducing the frequency you’ll need to wash the bag itself.

We also love using a wool camping blanket on top of our warm sleeping bag. It’s just so comfortable and we love how it adds an extra layer of warmth on cold nights.

10. Use an Insulated Sleeping Pad

hest sleeping pad

Don’t underestimate the power of a good sleeping pad. A lot of people think a pad is just for cushioning, but its insulating properties are equally important. The cold ground can draw away a lot of body heat, and an insulated pad can act as a barrier.

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 pad with a higher R-value would retain and reflect body heat, therefore leaving you warmer. We uses a HEST sleep system, which has a super high R-value of 11.8!

11. Buy Heated Camping Gear

That’s right, battery powered heated camping gear is a real thing and it works! Heated sleeping bags, sleeping pads, heated camp chairs, and battery powered heated blankets are a great idea for the cold natured human, or even for the little extra level of warmth to stay cozy at camp.

That being said, it’s worth noting that these heated items are for comfort, not survival. Heated sleeping bags can’t replace a high quality down sleeping bag, just like how a heater doesn’t replace a good tent. You should still purchase high quality cold weather camping gear, then you can use these accessories to enhance your experience.

12. Heat Rocks

Most of the methods above revolve around heating the camper, but this method is a great method for heating your space to keep your tent warm for long periods of time. Heating rocks is an old-school technique that can be surprisingly effective if done safely. Collect a few large, dry stones and place them near your campfire. Once they’re heated, carefully move them into your tent, placing them in heat-resistant containers like metal pots. The heat will radiate from the stones and provide a low-level, long-lasting source of warmth. I’ve used this technique a camping trip where carrying additional gear wasn’t an option.

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.

13. 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 camping aesthetic/ambiance, but they also provide a serious amount of heat so you can go to bed warm.

Remember that a lot of modern tents are highly flammable, especially ones made of synthetic materials. This means your tent shouldn’t be close to your campfire so any potential sparks don’t hurt your tent or make it catch fire.

14. Use a Moisture Absorber/Dehumidifier

Humidity in a tent can make cold temperatures feel even colder. Using a moisture absorber or a small portable dehumidifier can help you control the tent’s internal atmosphere, making it easier to warm up. This is especially useful in wet or snowy conditions. I’ve employed this method in particularly damp settings, and it significantly improved the overall sense of warmth.

15. 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.

Mylar blankets, often referred to as space blankets, are lightweight and highly reflective, designed to trap heat. They can be used to line the inside of your tent or as an extra layer inside your sleeping bag. While they can be crinkly and noisy, their heat-retaining capabilities can be a lifesaver. I usually keep a couple of these in my pack; they’re lightweight and can be a real asset when temperatures drop unexpectedly. Always carry one on your winter hiking and snowshoeing adventures as well.

16. 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 keep your head warm and retain your heat more effectively.

17. 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 is also true for when you’re camping with dogs, who can be great personal heaters if they like to sleep near you.

18. A Warm Pair of Socks is a Lifesaver

Your feet are another significant source of heat loss, so keeping them warm is crucial. Thermal or Merino wool socks (like hiking socks) are the best choices for keeping your cold feet warm due to their moisture-wicking and heat-retaining properties. On particularly chilly nights, I sometimes wear two pairs of socks: a thin moisture-wicking layer underneath (like a liner sock) and a thicker, insulating layer on top.

socks prevent body lose heat

19. Consider Getting a Hot Tent & Wood Burning Stove

Hot tenting involves using a wood stove inside a specially designed tent with proper ventilation and fireproof materials. This setup allows you to maintain a warm interior temperature without relying on your body heat alone. Hot tenting is popular among winter campers and can create an incredibly cozy environment. If you’re considering this, make sure you follow all safety guidelines and use equipment specifically designed for hot tenting. I’ve had the chance to try this on a few winter expeditions, and the level of comfort it provides is unparalleled.

If you constantly camp in cold weather or winter conditions and struggle to stay warm, perhaps consider looking into some hot tent essentials.

Related Post: How to Heat a Tent

Conclusion

Following these steps and combining your favorites can turn your next camping trip into a more 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 for keeping warm is a great piece of knowledge to have in your back pocket for those unexpectedly chilly nights. These tips were especially handy while backpacking the Four Pass Loop, when nighttime temperatures got close to and below freezing. We wish you many good night’s sleep on all your future camping trips!

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

FAQ’s

Do bigger tents get colder?

Bigger tents can get colder, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Because warm air rises, a larger or taller tent may allow for more space for that warm air to rise and this will make the cold air near the ground feel cooler. However, a larger tent may have more space to accommodate a heater or similar heating methods, which can make a bigger tent warmer than its smaller counterparts.

How do you survive a cold night in a tent?

First, you should always avoid being in a situation where you have to “survive” a cold night in a tent. Proper planning can avoid this, but if you do get stuck in a situation that’s quite cold, there are some things you can do to make yourself more comfortable. Some examples include staying properly hydrated, dressing warm, using cold weather sleeping gear (like a down sleeping bag), and boiling water to make a hot water bag to store in your sleeping bag.

How do you survive a night in a tent?

To stay warm in a tent during cold nights, insulate the ground with a sleeping pad and use a high-quality sleeping bag rated for low temperatures. Dress in layers, wear warm socks, and consider using a heater or hot water bottle.

Do tents keep you warm?

Yes, tents can help keep you warm by providing insulation and shelter from the cold weather. However, the level of warmth may vary depending on the tent’s design, quality, and insulation. You can also increase a tent’s warmth by using a heater and following some of the steps above.

How cold is too cold to camp?

The ideal temperature for sleeping in a tent is around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it becomes too cold to camp when the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) or when it falls below your comfort level. In these instances, you should only camp if you have the proper equipment and gear.

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

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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