1. Use the right kit (don’t bring a knife to a gunfight)
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 in which you’re camping; a sleeping bag with a comfort temperature rating at least five degrees below the lowest temps you expect to encounter on your camping trip; a sleeping pad with an adequate R-value; a groundsheet to limit the cool air rising through the tent floor and if really necessary, then maybe even a tent heater.
2. Dress to (not get) kill(ed) around camp
Before hitting the sack in the evening, it’s imperative that you keep your body temperature up: doing so is far easier than raising it again once you’ve let it drop.
As such, when you arrive at your campsite in the afternoon or evening, change out of your hiking clothes to avoid losing body heat through the cooling moisture (sweat) in your hiking duds and throw on a down or other insulated jacket as soon as you’ve pitched your tent.
3. Dress to (not get) kill(ed) at bedtime
Thermals 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 tent, there are a few steps you can take to maximize your chances of staying warm. These include positioning the tent door downwind so as to avoid drafts and pitching on a spot sheltered by natural features like trees, boulders, bushes, hillocks, or ridges and where the tent will be exposed to both the evening and morning sun.
5. Eat late
Put your evening meal off as late as possible to benefit from diet-induced thermogenesis, the process by which your body heats up during digestion. Drinking a cup of something hot before hitting the hay can also make your belly a small boiler room for the rest of you.
6. Do a pre-sleep warm-up
As that old saying so wisely advises: prevention is better than the cure.
You can prevent your body temperature dropping before hitting the hay by doing a short pre-sleep exercise session to get the blood flowing and raise your core temperature.
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.
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, to our mind, with chafing, mosquitoes, and your tent mate’s snoring/flatulence/Taylor Swift habit).
You can mitigate the hardship by doing a little bit of planning ahead the night before. The most important steps are stuffing your clothing for the next day in your sleeping bag so it’s toasy in the morning, keeping your boots inside the tent so they’re tolerably warm too, and sourcing water for your morning brew so as to avoid a cold, bleary-eyed wander in search of a stream circa 6 a.m.
8. Pack a hot water bottle
They might not be the most badass backcountry accessory out there, but you’re unlikely to care one single iota when you’re snuggled up enjoying the warmth of your rubberized bed partner on those cooler nights.
9. Use a sleeping bag liner
This very small, lightweight addition to you 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 save you have to purchase two sleeping bags (one for mild 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. Strong, secure lids are highly recommended…!
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 or pad to provide an added buffer against the cool ground.
12. Improve your tent’s thermal efficiency
Instead of stowing your 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 temps inside your tent by one degree or so, but in a pinch every little bit helps…