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:
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. 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, 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.
3. 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. You could also use one of these heated sleeping bags too!
4. Leave your pajamas in your sleeping bag beforehand
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.
5. 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 cold weather, 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 when it is cold.
6. Insulate Your Tent Properly
If you end up going with a 3 season vs a 4 season tent, consider checking out our guide on how to insulate a tent. Something as simple are reflective insulation on the floors and walls of a tent can do wonders for keeping the heat in and the cold out.
7. Use a Tent Heater
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.
Tent heaters come in all different sizes 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, check out this article.
8. 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°F 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°F more of T-rating 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
9. 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.
10. 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!
11. Heated Camping Gear Actually Exists!
That’s right, battery heated camping gear is a real thing and it works! Heated sleeping bags, sleeping pads, 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.
12. 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.
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 ambiance, but they also provide a serious amount of heat so you can go to bed warm.
14. 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.
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.
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 retain your heat more effectively.
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.
18. 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.
19. Consider Getting into Hot Tenting
Another option that’s growing in popularity is hot tenting, which is using a wood burning stove in a tent. If you constantly camp in cold weather or winter conditions and struggle to stay warm, perhaps consider looking into some hot tent essentials.
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.
About the Author
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.