No more freezing! How to stay warm camping in a tent

If you’ve ever gone camping during a month that isn’t the hottest in your climate, you know that it can get a bit chilly at night. Even during the summer, evenings tend to feel a lot cooler when the sun goes down.

But if you are looking to be a little adventurous, it is definitely doable to stay warm camping in a tent, you just have to be prepared for the cold overnight temperatures. While I’m not normally one to suggest you spend a lot of money on gear, there are some times when it is necessary to do so, if you can. Trying out camping in the cold definitely qualifies as one of these times.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions as well as a few suggestions to keep warm and keep a tent warm in cold weather!

Oh, and don’t miss the top three experienced camper tips at the bottom of the post!

an orange tent set up in a snowy forest

Quick FAQs: how to stay warm camping in a tent?

How Cold is Too Cold for Camping?

This is a hard question to give one single answer on!

I tend to judge this as if the night time temperatures are too cold to sleep outside on my porch with a regular blanket then I am going to need warmer gear.

For the inexperienced camper with regular, box-store gear, camping in nighttime temperatures colder than 72 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) is probably where I’d start considering my warmth options.

However, with the right gear and experience, you can sleep in almost any temperature, although if it gets under 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius) you’re going to want to make sure you are prepared for full on winter camping.

How Much Warmer Can A Tent Really Be?

It might sound crazy, but a tent can keep you 5-10 degrees warmer at night (depending on the tent quality and size). This may not seem like much, but when it’s chilly outside, those added degrees will be welcomed!

How Can I Safely Heat My Tent?

While electric heaters, propane heaters, and candle heaters are available, they all come with precautions and will often require you to spend a pretty penny to use them safely. A few other safer and simpler options below might be enough to offer the warmth you need.

One thing I have considered but haven’t tried yet is bringing my little camper’s electric space heater when we’re car camping with our giant family tent (at a spot with electricity). Our family car camping tent is huge and I have often thought being able to turn the space heater on when we are getting into the tent and ready for bed and when we are waking and dressing in the morning would be nice. I don’t think I’d want to sleep with it running, just for safety reasons.

My husband and I have also used emergency candles as a way to add a bit of heat when we’ve found ourselves unexpectedly cold when car camping. But, again, we don’t sleep with these going.

What’s the warmest tent you can get?

Again, this is a hard question to answer! It really depends on so many things… your location, your camping situation, your climate, your finances, your comfort levels, etc.

Some might tell you to buy an outfitter tent that is set up for a mini wood stove. Some might suggest an insulated ice fishing hut, some might suggest a three or four-season backpacking tent, and some might tell you not to worry much and just use what you’ve already got!

But, the perfect tent for you does exist, you’ll just have to do a bit of research and thinking to figure that out for yourself.

A tent set up in a snow-covered forest
cold weather tents made for winter camping

Tents for camping in the cold

If you aren’t looking to purchase a new tent such as a hot tent (which comes fitted with a stove jack to put a chimney through for a wood burning stove) or a 4-season tent appropriate for winter camping, check out these other considerations below.

Your tent size

A three season tent will help keep you warm if you’re camping in the cold. Obviously, four season tents would be best for sub freezing temperatures, but they are rather expensive.

When considering your tent, keep in mind that the larger the tent, the more area you will have to heat. Try using the smallest tent possible and keep your gear in your vestibule or vehicle.

I do prefer a tent that has a full rain fly that goes all the way to the ground (rather than just covering the top) to help keep the warmer air inside the tent.

Proper tent ventilation

Be sure to be aware of your ventilation, though. The moisture from your breathing inside the tent may make you and all your belongings feel damp in the morning.  Make sure there is ample air circulation by keeping the little vent open (if your tent has one of these) or try keeping the window unzipped a bit at the top as long as it’s protected from the rain.

Read more about how to keep condensation down inside your tent (and why you should care) here.

And, here’s a bit more about tents and tent features to help you decide which tent would be best for your camping needs.

Tent positioning

Tent warmth isn’t just about the tent itself. Placement makes a huge difference, so don’t set up just anywhere! Be aware of wind and if you can shelter your tent from the wind you’ll have a warmer sleep.

Thick undergrowth and bushes make good wind shields. So do vehicles if you are car camping.

Lastly, the most important gear for staying warm in a tent:

  1. A high insulating sleep pad
  2. The proper sleeping bag
  3. Appropriate sleep clothing

Your sleeping pad:

You’ll know a sleeping pad is highly rated by its R-value. This R-value is the ability for a sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground. The scale runs from 1-6. The higher the R-value number, the toastier you will remain. A good friend of mine (and super duper expert when it comes to all things hiking) has this post all about sleeping pads if you want to read more.

The proper sleeping bag

You want to make sure your sleeping bag fits you properly and isn’t too big… a bigger sleeping bag than you need means more space to loose your body heat. You also want to consider the insulation quality and placement in a sleeping bag.

If you can buddy zip two sleeping bags together, using another person’s body heat will always help everyone stay warm. Buying identical sleeping bags (or a left zip as well as a right zip bag) will likely achieve this, but you may be surprised to find your bags zip together, even if they aren’t the same.

Here’s a good read full of tips for staying warm in your sleeping bag.

Wear the right camping clothes

To stay warm while sleeping, you can wear a toque and mitts, put on some good quality wool socks, and wear some wicking pajamas (like a base layer for skiing).  Merino wool, thin fleece, or synthetic fabrics are handy to have for this purpose.

Don’t overdress in your sleeping bag. You don’t want to sweat in your sleeping bag.

a toque, gloves, and down sleeping bag that help keep you stay warm when camping in a tent
The toque and gloves I wear while camping in a tent

The top 3 tips for staying warm camping in a tent

Hot Water Bottles

A little trick for warming yourself up at bedtime is to take a Nalgene water bottle, fill it with hot water, and put it in the bottom of your sleeping bag. Warm toes will usually mean a warm body.

I have never had one leak, but I do sometimes worry about that. If you don’t fully trust your water bottle, you can use Hot Hands to warm your toes without the fear of waking up in a puddle. Or, even hot water bottles that your grandma gave you when you had a tummy ache years ago.

Bellies and Bladders

Make sure your tummy is full and your bladder is empty! Food is fuel, but don’t eat right before bed, just make sure your last meal is a good hearty one. And, maybe keep the water intake down later in the evening. Laying awake needing to pee, unable to sleep, and dreading heading outside is just a horrible way to spend the night!

And blankets. Lots of blankets.

Here’s the last tip. If you are car camping and can bring lots of bedding to the campsite, do that! Put down a warm wool blanket (or foam floor cushions) or old woven rugs onto the tent bottom first. Put your sleep pads on top of these. Then, on top of your sleeping bag throw a big warm duvet and you should be toasty and warm camping in a tent all night long!

In short, cool weather camping is definitely possible. For the adventurous types, I highly recommend investing in the best gear you can afford. Most of the gear you will purchase can be used in any season, so really, if you love camping, you can’t go wrong with being prepared with more gear. These tips will help you learn how to stay warm camping in a tent. Any tips you’d like to add?

Other camping tips you’ll want to read:

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