How To Stay Warm In A Tent While Cold Weather Camping

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.

Kieran James Cunningham
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How to Keep a Tent Warm in Cold Weather

Looking For Tips on How to Keep a Tent Warm?

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

    • What to bring to stay warm
    • Keeping warm with the right clothes
    • Tips on prepping for a cosy nights sleep

Choosing to spend our nights in the wild deprives of us easy access to a great many 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’ll show you how it’s done.

1. How to Stay Warm Camping: Bring The Right Gear

Getting your kit right is crucial to staying warm while tent 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: 

  • Tent rated to the season in which you’re camping – if it’s cold then this most likely means a 4-season tent
  • 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 ground 
  • Groundsheet to limit the cold air rising through the tent floor and 
  • And, if really necessary, heating a tent with a tent heater for particularly cold nights.

2. Dress To (Not Get) Kill(Ed) Around Camp

Before hitting the sack on cold nights, it’s imperative that you keep your body temperature up: keeping warm is far easier than raising your body temperature 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

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 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. Keep Warm by Eating 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. Keep Cold Weather at Bay with 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 Hot Water Bottles

They might not be the most badass backcountry accessory out there, but you’re unlikely to care one single iota when you go to bed and are all snuggled up enjoying the warmth of your hot water bottle on those cold 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 in the middle of the night. 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 cold 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 temps inside your tent by one degree or so, but in a pinch every little bit helps…

Kieran James Cunningham

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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