How to Stay Warm in a Tent While Cold-weather Camping: 21 Game-changing Tips

Whether your winter camping or experiencing a cold snap on your camping trip, knowing how to stay warm in a tent can be the difference between a miserable and a peaceful night's sleep. Check out our top tips to keep you warm.

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How to Keep a Tent Warm in Cold Weather

Looking for Tips on How to Keep a Tent Warm When Winter Camping?

You’re in the right place! In this guide, we will be covering the following:

    • What to bring to stay warm in your tent
    • How to generate more body heat before bed
    • Tips on prepping for a good night’s sleep

Choosing to spend nights camping in the wild deprives us of easy access to many of our favorite home comforts. One of the most notable of these is the ability to turn up the heat with the flick of a switch.

With the right gear and a little bit of know-how, however, staying warm in a tent is a piece of cake. In this article, we’ve included 20 great tips on how to stay warm in a tent, read on for all you need to know!

How to Stay Warm in a Tent: 20 Tips for Camping in Cold Temperatures

1. Bring the Right Camping Gear

Getting your kit right is crucial to staying warm while camping. And by ‘right’, we mean appropriate to the conditions in which you will be doing your camping.

To unpack that phrase with a few examples, this means you should have: 

  • A tent rated to the season you are camping in – if it’s cold then this most likely means a 4-season model
  • Good sleeping bag with a comfort temperature rating at least five degrees below the lowest temps you expect to encounter on your camping trip 
  • Sleeping pad with an adequate R-value to provide a layer of insulation between your body and the cold floor 
  • Groundsheet to limit the cold air rising through the tent floor 
Man sleeping in down sleeping bag beside snow
Make sure you have camping gear rated for winter conditions

ProTip: Your body is your tent’s primary source of heat. It is easier to keep your tent warm with a small shelter rather than a larger one since there’s less space for your body to heat up.

2. Dress to (not Get) Kill(ed) Around Camp

On a cold night, before hitting the sack (or sleeping bag), it’s imperative to keep your body’s core temperature up. Remaining warm is far easier than raising your body temperature again once you’ve let it drop, and going to bed cold is sure to result in you staying that way for the rest of the night.

When you arrive at your campsite in the afternoon or evening change out of your hiking clothes asap. This will help you avoid losing body heat through the moisture (sweat) in the fabric, which will begin to cool as soon as you stop moving. 

After removing any sweaty baselayers, throw on an extra layer up top and be sure to change into a pair of dry, warm socks. 

3. Dress to (not Get) Kill(ed) at Bedtime

Thermal long johns won’t win you any kudos with your camping buddies, but neither will spending a night tossing and turning or fumbling around for a fleece at 3 a.m. because you thought you’d be warm enough sleeping in the nude.

4. Pitch Your Tent Wisely

When pitching your shelter, there are a few steps you can take to maximize your chances of beating the brrr come nighttime. These include:

  • Positioning your tent door downwind to avoid drafts
  • Pitching on a spot sheltered by natural features like trees, boulders, bushes, hillocks, or ridges
  • Pitching where the tent will be exposed to both the evening and morning sun
Lit up tent pitched up in the snow
The location and orientation of your tent pitch will contribute to the warmth you can achieve inside

5. Eat Late

Put your evening meal off as late as possible to benefit from diet-induced thermogenesis, a process in which your body heats up during digestion. Having a hot drink before hitting the hay can also make your belly a small boiler room for the rest of your body and have you falling asleep in no time.

6. Raise Your Core Body Temperature with a Pre-sleep Warm-up

As the old saying wisely advises: prevention is better than cure.

You can prevent your core temperature from dropping before hitting the hay by doing a short pre-sleep exercise session to get the blood flowing.

Any mildly aerobic exercises will do the trick, but in our experience star jumps, push-ups, squats, and jogging on the spot work particularly well. Doing these in front of a roaring campfire is sure to help too!

Man in snowy lakeside scene warming hands by campfire
Raising your core temperature before hitting the hay will help keep you warmer when sleeping

7. Prep for the Next Morning

Getting out of your warm sleeping bag in the morning is one of life’s greatest annoyances (up there with chafing, mosquitoes, and your tentmate’s snoring/flatulence/Taylor Swift habit).

Fortunately, with this one, you can mitigate this particular hardship by doing a little bit of planning ahead the night before. 

Important steps include stuffing tomorrow’s clothes inside your sleeping bag so they’re toasty in the morning, keeping your boots inside the tent so they’re tolerably warm too, and sourcing water for your morning brew to avoid a cold, bleary-eyed wander in search of a stream at 6 a.m.

Water being poured into camping stove pot as the sun rises
Transition into your day more easily by prepping clothes and your morning brew the night before

8. Pack a Hot Water Bottle 

That’s right, we said “hot water bottle”!

We get it, a hot water bottle might not be the most badass backcountry accessory out there. However, you’re unlikely to care one single iota when you are all snuggled up in your sleeping bag, enjoying the warmth of your hot water bottle on bitterly cold nights. 

Hot water bottles are also, of course, far cheaper than buying an insulated tent or a “hot tent” (aka stove jack tent) with a wood-burning stove. 

9. Use Sleeping Bag Liners

This very small, lightweight addition to your camping kit can provide between 5° to 15°F of extra warmth to your sleeping bag and is also far easier to launder. Purchasing a sleeping bag liner could also save you having to purchase two sleeping bags (one sleeping bag for warmer weather and one for colder weather).

10. Bring a Pee Bottle

Bringing along a wide-mouthed bottle for peeing purposes lets you answer nature’s calls in the warmth of your tent instead of venturing out into the cold in the middle of the night. Strong, secure lids are highly recommended – we know we said “drink warm fluids” before bed, but…

11. Make Use of Unused Clothes

Instead of leaving your spare clothes inside your backpack at night, put them to work by laying them under your sleeping bag and sleeping pad to provide an added buffer against the cold ground.

Pile of folded up warm looking clothes
Put clothes in your backpack to use at night by adopting them as insulation between you and the ground

12. Improve Your Tent’s Thermal Efficiency

Instead of stowing your bag and gear outside your tent or in the vestibule, bring as much of it as you can inside to reduce the cubic footage your body heat has to warm up. This might only boost the temperature inside your tent by one degree or so but, in a pinch, every little helps…

13. Buy a Tent Heater

If you don’t have a warm enough sleeping bag or temps are particularly frigid, an easy way of heating a tent to a tolerable temperature is a tent heater. A portable electric heater can be worth its weight in gold when conditions are gnarly and won’t set you back an arm and a leg. Just remember to turn it off before you fall asleep!

14. Keep Your Tent Ventilated

When camping in low temperatures, many campers assume the best way to stay warm at night is to close all the doors and vents to trap warm air inside the tent. 

Poorly ventilated tents, however, are sure to develop condensation. 

Condensation forms when the temperature inside your tent is much higher than the outside temperature, which is often the case when camping in winter. This disparity causes water molecules (from your breath, body, and wet clothes) to change from vapor to liquid form, and the next thing you know your shelter’s as wet as an otter’s pocket.

Sleeping bag in tent looking out on lake
Good tent ventilation is essential when camping in cooler weather to avoid condensation buildup

While dry tents aren’t necessarily warm tents, a wet tent is almost always a cold tent. What’s more, damp conditions will seriously hamper your sleeping bag’s ability to insulate, especially if it uses down insulation, a notoriously poor performer in wet conditions. 

15. Snuggle up to Take Advantage of Your Tentmate’s Body Heat!

How does a body lose heat? In two ways: by conductive heat loss (the transfer of body heat to something it’s touching, i.e. the ground) and by convective heat loss (the transfer of heat to ambient air).

The flipside of this is that these are also how your body can gain heat. Concerning convective heat, see the tips above and below. For conductive heat, there’s nothing better than heat radiation from another human (or canine) to raise your core temperature, so be sure to bring one (or a few) along for the ride when camping in cooler weather.

16. Use Hand & Foot Warmers

Which part of the body loses heat quickest? If you’ve spent any time camping in winter or early spring, you’ll know that your extremities are apt to feel cold before the rest of you does. While it’s always wise to wear a good pair of gloves and socks to bed, reusable or disposable heat packs can make a world of difference. 

17. Use Two Sleeping Pads

The thermal resistance or “warmth” of sleeping mats or pads is rated using the “R-Value” system, which measures how well a pad protects against heat loss (the higher the value, the better).

Man rolling up sleeping pad inside tent
Double your sleeping pad = double the R-value

The bad news: buying a pad or air mattress with a high R-value can cost an arm and a leg.

The good news: R-value ratings are cumulative. This means you can use two pads with an R-value of 3 (or 4) to get a total R-value of 6 (or 8). Now you just need to convince your friend/partner/camping cohort to lend you their pad for your trip…!

18. Bring a Blanket (or Two)

Heavy blankets might not be ideal for backcountry camping trips, but if you’re car camping, they’re an easy way to give your sleep system a heat boost. 

A blanket can be used in various ways: to bolster the insulation of your sleeping pad, to throw over your sleeping bag, or as a carpet to keep your feet warm when moving around inside your shelter.

Mylar blankets (aka space blankets) don’t do the same job as fabric blankets, but when you need as much heat as you can get, they’re better than nothing!

Woman wrapped in blanket in front of a campfire
If car camping then blankets are a versatile accessory to keep you warm in a number of ways

19. Pack a Pair of Tent Slippers

They ain’t sexy, granted, but they’re among the most practical camping accessories out there. 

Tent slippers do a few things that make enduring the ridicule of your camping cronies well worth it:

First, they keep your feet warm while walking around on the cold floor of your shelter. Second, they let you dash outside for your 3 a.m. pee without having to brave the elements in your bare feet or your cold hiking shoes. Finally, they let your feet breathe and recover from your hikes far better than boots, hiking shoes, or even a pair of socks.

20. Keep Your Head Covered

We’ve all heard the old saying that 50% of your body heat is lost through your head. This is, of course, a load of baloney. However, the real figure of circa 10% quoted by authorities such as the peeps at Live Science is still a lot of retained heat, so keeping warm with a good beanie is definitely the way to go. 

21. Bring Winter-Friendly Fuel

As mentioned above, a hot pre-bedtime drink or meal is a great way to turn your belly into a central heating system for the rest of your body. But making those drinks and eats isn’t going to be easy without winter-friendly fuel for your camping stove.

But which type of fuel is “winter-friendly”?

Man sitting outside tent using a camping stove to melt snow
Keep in mind the minimum temperature you expect to face when choosing the fuel type for your stove

The three most popular fuels for campsite cooking and drink brewing are butane, propane, and liquid fuel. 

Liquid fuel burns well in freezing temps but is a slow burner and generates less heat than the other two alternatives. Butane, on the other hand, is the most energy-efficient of the three but vaporization is slowed down at around 32°F and so is not a good option in extremely cold conditions. Propane is the quickest burner of the bunch but will freeze at around -40°F.

Stay Warm on Your Next Camping Trip!

When temps are low, getting a good night’s rest at camp takes a little more effort than during the warmer months. By following the above tips, however, you’ll be able to hit the sack snug as a bug and carry on camping even when temps are freezing cold! 

Did you like our article? If you have any questions or feel we missed anything, let us know in the comments box below! And if you want to share this post with any friends who you think could benefit from the above tips, share away!

Last update on 2022-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kieran James Cunningham is a climber, mountaineer, and author who divides his time between the Italian Alps, the US, and his native Scotland.

He has climbed a handful of 6000ers in the Himalayas, 4000ers in the Alps, 14ers in the US, and loves nothing more than a good long-distance wander in the wilderness. He climbs when he should be writing, writes when he should be sleeping, has fun always.

Kieran has taught mountaineering, ice climbing, and single-pitch and multi-pitch rock climbing in a variety of contexts over the years and has led trekking and mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, Rockies, and UK. He is currently working towards qualifying as a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and International Mountain Leader.

Kieran’s book Climbing the Walls—an exploration of the mental health benefits of climbing, mountaineering, and the great outdoors—is scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in April 2021.

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