Winter camping trips come with many challenges, one of the main being how you keep your tent warm during those cold nights. You will be met with everything from cold temperatures, high winds, rain, and possibly even snow and ice conditions. These winter conditions can make a winter trip incredibly difficult even for a seasoned camper.
Are you planning a winter camping trip and searching for ways to insulate your tent and stay warm? Awesome! You have come to the right place.
How to Insulate a Tent for Winter Camping
I have put together my top tips for how to insulate a tent which has come from experience, research as well as my own trial and error. We share many camping tips so if you are planning a trip for this winter then be sure to check out our winter camping guide.
Use a Smaller Tent
This is my top tip for insulating a tent for winter camping. If you bring a smaller tent then it will be easier to keep it warm through the night. I see far too many people taking a 4 person tent when there are only two people, or worse on a solo camping trip!
I actually have two different tents. One that I use in the warmer months and it’s a big 4-person tent that I can stand up in easily. The one I use in colder months though is a small 2-person tent that is just big enough for 2 people to lay down and sleep.
The main issue you will run into with a larger tent is having to heat up more space within the tent. The smaller the tent the better as your body heat will be able to warm a smaller tent faster and easier. So if you use any of the other tips you will have to accommodate more of everything.
A general winter rule I and my camping buddies use is bringing more tents but smaller tents. I personally think a 2 person tent is the perfect size for winter camping that way the shared body heat will keep the tent warm – unless you are solo, then get a 1 person tent!
Ensure you use a 4 season tent
Speaking of tents, when it comes to picking the correct type of tent you should absolutely be looking at a 4 season tent. Tents that are designed for spring, summer, and fall are lightweight and designed to be breathable to allow a little more airflow. That is great when it’s 90f outside and you need a cool place to sleep.
A good quality 4 season tent should have a thicker lining, have more pegs for those windy days, and should without a doubt be waterproof.
In my experience going camping in winter with a small 4-season tent will instantly be more comfortable. Once you implement some of the other steps to insulating your tent below then you will have a tent that keeps you warm all night long.
Clear the ground
The campsite and ground that you pick to pitch your tent is very important, more so when thinking about keeping your tent warm. Ideally, you will want to select flat ground, which isn’t too close to a stream, river, or lake. Also, you should make note of the wind direction as the wind can very easily make your tent very cold.
During the winter months, you will also need to clear any snow using a portable snow shovel. You might be inclined to skip this step thinking that the snow will melt. Although snow will melt once your tent is warmer, it will freeze and cause lumps of ice to form below the tent. Not only making your tent colder but also making the tent floor lumpy and uncomfortable.
A key step to insulating a tent is to ensure the floor is also warm and dry, otherwise called ground insulation. This is where a tent footprint comes in as a key item within your winter camping gear.
A tent footprint is essentially just a larger waterproof material that you will pitch your tent on top of. It will create another layer of thermal protection between your tent and the ground, but most importantly will keep your tent waterproof from wet ground. You can learn more about what tent footprints are here.
Many tent manufacturers and models have dedicated tent footprints made specifically for that specific model. You should take that in mind if you are still looking to buy a winter tent. If you already own a tent then you can buy one of the many great universal tent footprints, or camping tarp.
When you buy a tent footprint I recommend setting it up in your house, garage, or even garden, then getting it wet to make sure it’s 100% waterproof. It wouldn’t be unknown for me to take a new tent footprint on a trip for it to leak rainwater straight away. Just make sure it’s completely dry before you pack it away.
Tarp for rain
With winter camping you start to expect cold temperatures, wind, and also higher amounts of rainfall. Having a wet tent will hamper your efforts at keeping your tent warm.
Using a tarp over your tent or rainfly will ensure the roof of your tent remains dry and will not have water that may well freeze on it.
Something I have learned over the years is to face your tent door away from the wind and have a rainfly angle into the wind. This will makes sure the wind doesn’t come straight into your tent when you enter and exit but the rainfly will actively divert a lot of the wind away from your tent.
The worst-case scenario would be for your tent to become wet and then have lots of cold wind as that will make insulating your tent difficult.
Blankets for the Tent Walls
Depending on the tent that you have bought you may be able to hang some blankets on the inside of your tent walls. You can use a standard thermal rescue blanket or a lightweight fabric if you don’t want to buy something specific.
Using a thermal rescue blanket is the best option as it will use its natural properties to keep your body heat inside the tent. It will also serve you well if you have a winter camping emergency and require something to heat you up fast.
With a tent footprint and rainfly, you have now protected the exterior of the tent. Now let’s get into actually insulating the tent and making it actually warmer.
Bringing a rug with you might sound a little weird, but it works to both soften your tent floor a little as well as make you warmer while you sleep. It will also take some of the cold chill away from the ground. I personally use an old rug from the house that is thick enough to provide some warmth but also light enough that carrying it to the campsite isn’t a problem. You will already be carrying a lot more when winter camping so this certainly helps.
If you don’t have a rug handy then I would suggest getting 1 or 2 thick blankets to lay down inside your tent on the floor. This will have the same effect. The only reason I don’t use that is that I already carry a couple of blankets for actually wrapping myself up with – I don’t want to be carrying 4 or 5 blankets when a rolled-up rug can do the trick.
Foam Sleeping Pads
Taking foam sleeping pads is an optional gear item for most trips but if you are expecting hard, frozen or snow conditions then I strongly suggest some foam sleeping pads.
Using a foam pad will insulate you even further away from the hard cold conditions that your tent is pitched on top. Think of it as the foam tiles you would use on a DIY insulation project for your home. It works in a very similar fashion by creating a barrier between you and the outside while also keeping any heat inside the tent.
I would strongly suggest investing in the best foam sleeping pad you can get, they make the ground both warmer and more comfortable so it’s a win-win. That being said, if you are struggling to find one then you wouldn’t be the first person I have seen using a yoga mat… Yep, I’ve seen it all.
By seeing it all I clearly mean it was me on my first winter camping trip, many years ago… Seriously, I took a yoga mat I bought when I was getting into DDP Yoga. It worked better than I was expecting.
If the weather forecast is showing your campsite to have a lot of wind then it would be a great idea to bring a camping windbreaker. As a minimum, I would recommend using the same tarp I recommend for rain, just angle it so the prevailing wind can easily sweep past and over your tent.
Alternatively, you can pitch your tent within in a small dip in the land or next to a natural windbreaker. For example, I pitched close to walls and solid fences when it was safe to do so.
If it is snowing and you aren’t afraid of a little hard work then you can create a windbreak using snow. Just make sure it is stacked tightly enough so it won’t just fall over and pitch your tent close enough to protect you from the wind. Just don’t pitch too close, you don’t want a snowfall falling on you through the night!
The last recommendation on my list is to buy a good reliable portable tent heater. It is actually my main tip for staying warm in a tent.