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It’s winter, your tent is cold, and all you want is to get warmed up. This can be easier said than done at times, but there are several different methods you can try to bring some extra warmth to your tent.
You can add extra heat to your tent using a stove, heater or other methods mentioned in this article. You should also add extra layers of insulation to your sleeping setup or body to stay warm while camping.
Short of bringing your campfire into your tent (and I do not recommend that), it can seem impossible to fight off the winter chill. The good news is it’s not impossible, it just takes a little extra planning and the right materials.
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Ways To Keep Your Body Warm
No one likes being too cold, and there are many things you can try to get your body warm while camping.
Using An Insulated Pad/Mattress To Sleep On
The ground is going to want to suck the warmth right out of you while you’re sleeping, so one of the best ways to keep yourself warm overnight is to put an insulator between you and the floor of your tent.
Some people use yoga pads or other foam pads under their sleeping bags, while others will go for a mattress that has built-in insulation. Another option is to simply find a bunch of leaves or pine needles to put under your tent. Anything you can put between the ground and yourself to act as an insulator is going to keep you warmer.
You may be considering bringing some luxuries from home on your trip like an air mattress. These are very poor insulators, and if you don’t use anything else with them you’ll be sleeping on cold air. If you really want to use an air mattress you can, just make sure you also have a pad or a Mylar blanket that you can use with it.
As the warmth of your breath and body heat come in contact with the side walls of your tent they will condense because the outside air is much cooler. The condensation can build up and eventually run down the wall and pool on the floor. For this reason it’s important to use a closed cell foam or water resistant bottom layer to help you stay dry and warm.
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A temperature-rated sleeping bag is probably going to be the single best investment for when you’re camping in the cold. The ones that are rated for zero degrees or below will provide the most warmth, and you can also find fleece liners that will boost the insulation even more.
You also want to make sure your sleeping bag is not damp when you are going to use it. Any condensation or moisture is going to make you cold, and making sure your sleeping bag is dry as well as venting your tent slightly will help keep moisture away.
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Cover Sensitive Areas
Some of the easiest ways to keep warm are by covering key body parts. You can use socks and mittens for your hands and feet, and you can even put hand and foot warmers in with them if you want. You can use a scarf made of breathable material to go around your neck and face, and a beanie for your head.
These are not only going to be some of the areas most prone to frostbite, but also the body parts that make you feel warm all around when they are kept toasty. You can also use a thick blanket or a Mylar style blanket to help keep these sensitive parts bundled up.
It’s worth mentioning that there is an old saying to keep in mind: sweat kills. If you find yourself starting to sweat under all of your layers, take some off! The water droplets on your skin will absorb the cold and trap it close to your body, lowering your core temperature quickly. You can always put clothes back on if you need to, but you definitely want to avoid sweating.
Having the right equipment and knowledge to stay warm while camping in cold weather can’t be over stated. To make sure you’re fully prepared to tackle your next camping adventure check out or complete guide to What To Bring Camping In A Tent.
How To Add Warmth To A Tent
When adding layers and insulation fails, there are several ways to bring some warmth right to your tent.
Choose The Right Spot
When you know it’s going to be cold and you’re looking for somewhere to pitch your tent, the place you choose can actually make a big difference in how warm your tent stays overnight.
If you’re camping in the mountains, you want to be off any valley floor if possible; ideally around 50 feet or more above it. This will keep you above the cool air that likes to settle in valleys at night, but don’t be so quick to set up camp on an exposed cliff top or ledge overlooking the valley either – you’ll also want to be protected from the wind.
Wind chill can drive temperatures down more than 15 degrees, and even though you’ll be in your tent you will still feel its effects. If you can find somewhere that’s more protected like under an overhang or among the trees, your tent is automatically going to feel warmer being out of the wind.
If you’re camping in the snow, building a snow wall a few feet from your tent will also help cut down on wind chill. You’ll want your snow wall to be at least 3 feet high, with 5-6 feet giving you the best protection.
Your campfire is the main thing keeping you warm outside, and it can be the main source of heat for your tent as well. You’ll want to find hand-sized rocks and let them heat up in your fire, making sure they are dry before you put them in. Wet rocks have the potential to expand and shatter in a fire, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
You can use the rocks in one of two ways once they’ve heated up: first, dig a trench under the place you’re going to be sleeping/where you’re pitching your tent. You’ll want to make the trench about six inches deep – deep enough that you can cover the rocks with a couple inches of dirt, but shallow enough that the heat comes through.
You don’t need to let the rocks cool down when you get them from the fire, instead you can probably scoot or kick them into the trench as they are. Cover them with the dirt and try to get the area as flat as possible, and you now have heat from below to warm your tent.
The other option is that you can drag them out of the fire and allow them to cool to the point that they aren’t too hot to handle. Then you can put them at the foot of your sleeping bag, or even just pile them in the center of your tent.
You can also use this method of warming your tent with hot water. Simply boil a pot of water in the fire then carefully pour it into a container that won’t melt. You can tuck your bottle in your sleeping bag, or set up multiple containers around the tent. As an added bonus, by the time morning comes and the water has cooled you’ll already have a safe supply to drink.
There are several stove options you can consider to keep your tent warm, and one of them is a good old-fashioned wood stove. Now you may be thinking how in the world are you going to lug a wood stove with you, especially if you’re backpacking?
It may surprise you to learn that there are actually wood stoves designed for tent camping, and portable ones built specifically for backpacking! You’ll want to use these with a tent that has a stove jacket built in and you’ll need to gather wood once you’ve set up camp, but this can be a potential way to keep your tent nice and toasty.
If bringing a wood fire inside your tent just sounds like it’s asking for trouble, you’re probably right, and you can also use a propane camp stove to generate some extra warmth. The biggest risk with using a propane stove isn’t the fire hazard (though that’s still a big risk), it’s the carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and tasteless gas that can be deadly if inhaled in large enough quantities, and having your tent ventilated is a must if you are going to use a camp stove inside.
The main downside of using a stove to heat your tent is that you can’t sleep while it’s on because of the fire risk. This would work in a pinch or in the evening hours when you’re awake, but if you have the ability then I would personally consider other options first.
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One other potential heat source is a buddy heater, or a small, portable radiant heater that runs on propane. The main difference between a buddy heater and a camp stove is that the buddy heater has built-in safety mechanisms that make it much safer to use in your tent.
The buddy heater uses a thermocouple for heat control and will automatically turn off if it gets knocked over or if the oxygen level around it gets too low. This means that you can sleep with it running if you choose without having to worry as much about a fire. These heaters are also clean-burning, meaning they don’t put out carbon monoxide while they are running.
A single buddy heater will work great for a small tent, but if you have a family tent you may need to have a little more fire power. They are also prone to shutting off at elevations greater than 7,000 feet due to the lower oxygen levels at that altitude.
The heaters can run off a standard 1lb propane bottle found at most hardware stores or it can be connected to a larger 20lb tank similar to the style used for a bbq, grill or outdoor fireplace.
In addition to the full-size heaters you can also find smaller ones that won’t defrost your tent but will still work to bring you a little warmth, but overall these are a great choice for a quick camping trip. You can learn more about using a buddy heater in a tent in my article here.
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Mylar blankets aren’t just good for keeping you warm, you can use them to help warm your whole tent. Heat rises, and you can take a Mylar blanket and attach it to the ceiling of your tent where it will reflect both your lost body heat and the heat from whatever other source you decide to use back down on you.
Camping in the winter can be freezing, but whether you put on an extra layer or turn on your tent heater you can be sure that your next trip will be a warm one.