How Much Warmer Is It Inside A Tent

Your tent is your primary shelter from nature and the elements while camping, but you’re probably wondering how much it actually does on its own to keep you warm and what you can do to maximize the temperature inside.

Tents are an average of five degrees warmer than the outside temperature, depending on their specifications, and there are several things that you can do to help.

Winter Tent Under Stars

Not all tents are created equal, and there are certain characteristics of your tent that will keep it warmer inside. I’ll show you what to look for in a tent that will keep you that much warmer on your next camping trip.

Heat Retention In a Tent

Tents are a camping staple, and have been around in their modern forms since 1856. They are a great shelter when you’re out in the wilderness, but how good are they at insulation?

It turns out they’re not so great. Most tents are made of polyester or nylon, and those materials do very little to keep heat from escaping the tent. Using heavier materials can help, but the 4-5 degrees of heat that a tent captures compared to the outside environment is not due to any amazing insulative properties. 

Instead, most heat is retained in tents by reducing wind chill and airflow, which keeps the air from sapping your heat. Wind chill alone can take 5-10 degrees off the “feels like” temperature, and while your tent can’t completely remove the effects of wind it can and does certainly help.

Choosing a location that is less exposed for your camp will also go a long way toward preventing heat loss from the wind, like being tucked back in the trees instead of out on a rocky ledge. 

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What Factors Affect Tent Warmth

There are several different things that can impact how well your tent traps heat, and you have the ability to optimize almost all of them.

Tent Size 

It does matter, and a small tent is going to be your best friend when it comes to staying warm. As the air in your tent interacts with the walls, heat exchange occurs with the air outside and the heat is lost. 

Your body heat is the main source of warmth in your tent, so a bigger tent means more air for it to spread out and diffuse to initially, then more air to continuously warm as it exchanges with the air outside. You’re much more likely to beat the heat loss of the tent if you have less air that you have to warm up at any given time.

A tent that is divided into multiple “rooms” will also lose more heat, because the tent sides will have a larger surface area for heat exchange to occur at. Having a small tent with only one living area will be the most optimized for staying warm.

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Ventilation and Breathability

As ironic as this is going to sound, a tent with some breathability is going to keep you warmer. But wouldn’t that speed up the heat exchange? Yes, but it will also lower the humidity of the tent. 

The water vapor you breathe out will build up in a tent with no ventilation, eventually causing condensation and dampness. Picture the scene from Titanic when Jack and Rose are inside the car and the windows fog up – it’s the same process in your tent. 

A damp tent will make you cold even if it was the most well-insulated material out there, so having a breathable material for your tent will help reduce the humidity without having to rely on vents that allow more cold air in.

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Construction Material

Keeping that in mind, Nylon gets a thumbs down for both breathability and its insulative properties, but it’s one of the most popular choices of material for backpacking because it’s so lightweight. There is much to be said about shedding ounces when you’re backpacking so you may want to weigh your priorities – literally. 

A great option for both insulation and breathability is canvas – but it comes at a heavy price in ounces. If you’re just going for a quick trip out or one where your vehicle will do the heavy lifting, canvas will be your best bet on cold nights.

Water vapor and other moisture can diffuse straight through the walls of a canvas tent, making sure the inside maintains a low humidity without the need for extra ventilation. Cotton is the main component of quality canvas and it is a poor conductor of heat, which will also make it a better insulator than nylon.

Tent Design

If you’re backpacking, you can still maximize your tent’s warmth by getting a double-walled tent as opposed to a single-walled one. A double-walled tent will keep moisture out without requiring ventilation, and that will keep the tent (and you) warmer.

3 season tents are built to be as lightweight as possible – still providing adequate protection from the elements but lacking the hardiness needed for more extreme weather conditions – and would be another option that backpackers can consider

4 season tents, on the other hand, are built for anything and everything and would be a viable option for the more casual camper that doesn’t want to deal with the preparation and maintenance of canvas.

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Full Length Fly

Air can be a great insulator, and using a rain fly with your tent will create a layer of air between the outer and inner tent flaps that will help you stay toasty inside. This layer of air will break up the interface between the outside and inside of the tent, forcing the heat to be exchanged twice before it is lost. This will slow the process and allow your tent to build up more heat.

A full fly will also help cut down on wind around the tent and cold airflow, both of which exacerbate the amount of heat lost. There’s a reason you blow on your food to cool it down, and putting an extra layer between your tent and the wind will help slow the loss of heat.

All in all a fly will act similarly to a double-walled tent and is a good option for those campers who don’t have to sweat the extra weight, but you shouldn’t just stop at protecting the sides of your tent. 

Ground Insulation

Even though heat rises, the cold ground under your tent is also going to work at leeching your warmth. You can put a pad under your sleeping bag to keep you personally warmer, but the ground will still have access to the rest of your tent. 

Putting a tarp under your tent or even gathering up a layer of leaves, pine needles, vegetation, etc. is going to help keep the heat inside where it belongs.

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Reducing Mesh

Ventilation is good – it keeps your humidity and condensation low. When you have too much ventilation, however, it can suck out your warm air and leave you colder.

You don’t want to have large amounts of mesh or screen on your tent even if you have a less breathable material, and if you go with a material like canvas that already does a good job with ventilation then you don’t want any mesh or screens at all. 

Many tents will come with large screens built into the top of them – and this is horrible for your warm air because it will rise to the top and be drawn off. A rain fly will help keep some of that air from escaping, but ultimately you will be better off with just a small patch of mesh for ventilation in a nylon or polyester tent.

For more great information and recommendations on how to keep toasty on your next camping trip check out our complete guide on How To Stay Warm In A Tent

Number of People Inside

Like I said, you are the main source of heat for your tent (unless you bring an outside heater, but that’s a different story). The more people you can put in a space, the more body heat will be generated that will warm the air around. 

You may be tempted to get a larger tent to accommodate more people, but if you add more air to the tent then you will lose some of the benefit of the extra bodies. In order to maximize warmth, you should choose as small of a tent as possible that you can fit the most people into.

With a larger crowd you will likely build up condensation and humidity faster since there will be more people breathing water vapor, but having a tent with the right ventilation will make sure you don’t go from shivering to sweating. 

Final Thoughts

No one likes to be cold while they’re camping, and having a good shelter like a tent will go a long way toward keeping you warm for multiple reasons. Getting out of the wind will automatically conserve heat, as will choosing the right material, size, and design of your tent. You don’t have to have a fancy space heater or mess with hot rocks to stay toasty on your next camping trip.


Beau is an electrical engineer with a knack for DIY repair and construction. When he's not tinkering with his projects he's on the road travelling and enjoying an exciting lifestyle with his young family.

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