Camping in the winter brings many challenges, none more obvious than the low temperatures that you will have to endure. Having a properly heated tent can make the difference between choosing to camp in the fall and winter or avoiding it at all costs. Learning how to stay warm in a tent is one of the most important skills to have for anyone interested in camping in colder months or environments as described in our winter camping tips.
It took me a while to really understand what worked and what didn’t for trapping heat inside a tent. Over the years I have come across many obvious and some less known tips which I share below. If you are researching for your first trip then I strongly suggest you have a read through my beginner camping guide for first time camping which will answer all of your questions.
How To Stay Warm In A Tent, Even During Winter
1. Don’t wait until you feel the cold
Being prepared for the temperature to drop gives you the best chance of keeping warm. If I know I am going to experience cold temperatures then I will ensure I pack extra layers, a hot water bottle, and even some thermals. Many of us get caught up in the planning of a trip that we will forget to check what the night time temperatures are like for the campsite meaning you might have a problem on your hands.
Whenever I hear a friend is heading out on a trip during the winter months my advice is to always check the weather and nighttime lows for the region of the campsite. Better to be over-prepared than freezing in your sleeping bag.
2. Use a hot water bottle at night
Many of us use this at home when it’s a little chilly, and it works a treat when you’re trying to keep warm in a tent. Before you head to bed for the night you should boil some water on your stove or campfire, fill a water bottle (A Nalgene will work too) and place it inside your sleeping bag.
A little extra tip that I use: Place the water bottle in your bed 5 to 10 mins before actually getting into the sleeping bag for an instant warm-up when you get in.
Once you are in the sleeping bag you have a few options, like placing the bottom at your feet etc. The one that I feel works the best for maintaining warmth through the night is to place your hot water bottle against your belly or even crotch. This helps warm your core which from my experience makes me more comfortable.
A little trial and error might be needed to ensure you have the best results for your own comfort and preferences.
3. Get changed for bed
Let’s be honest, camp and hiking trips are exhausting. So you will tend to skip on a few tasks that you will otherwise have done back home. One of those may well be sleeping in the same clothes you wore that day. You know the clothes that have your sweat were rained on and you hiked in them all day.
Even a small amount of moisture can affect your overall comfort and the temperature inside your sleeping bag. You also run the risk of introducing moisture to your sleeping bag which will make it harder to stay warm. Drying a sleeping bag during a winter trip can be impossible depending on the environment and weather, so your always best to avoid this.
Having clothes to change into that are dry and comfortable will make a massive difference to your comfort and sleep.
4. Ensure your clothes are dry
Fairly obvious but your clothes don’t have to be dripping wet to cause you problems. Even clothes that are a little damp can reduce your temperature enough to give you a chill.
The best types of clothes for camping would be Woolen and Synthetics. Cotton takes longer and is harder to dry out, also it will draw heat away from your body.
5. Buying the right sleeping bag
Having a sleeping bag that you can rely on is the main tip on how to stay warm in a tent, especially during the winter. Overall the “temperature ratings” that you find on sleeping bags can be considered accurate but they’re next to useless.
What is warm for one person will be too cold for another.
One tip that I picked up from Backpacker.com was to pick a sleeping bag around 10°F below the nighttime low if you get cold during sleep. This tip worked a treat for my wife when we went camping.
I, on the other hand, tend to warm up while I sleep. I can comfortably use a sleeping bag rated for or around the nighttime low and have enough warmth to have a comfortable sleep.
6. Keeping your sleeping bad dry
Keeping your bag dry is one of the most important parts of keeping warm while you sleep in your tent. Your sleeping bag is the last line of defense from Jack Frost getting you. If there is moisture inside the bad then this will reduce the level of warmth that your bad will be able to retain.
A good tip I have learned over the years is to ensure you have the best sleeping bag to keep you warm. Not all sleeping bags are made equal, some are for winter and some are made for summer. Then you have some that are simply cheap which will likely not be any good for winter camping. You can almost guarantee that any sleeping bag with Down insulation will be great for staying warm in your tent.
7. Do not sleep naked
I seem to see this myth pop up on Facebook and Forums all over the place. Sleeping naked in a sleeping bag will not make you warmer! In order to retain heat, you require more layers, not less!
The theory for this myth is based on moisture. Some people seem to think that if they slept naked in a sleeping bag then moisture from sweat wouldn’t drop the temperature as you wouldn’t have clothes for the moisture to sit on. This, of course, makes very little sense but it is how many campers have described it to me over the years.
And yes, I tried it a few times. It doesn’t work! Trust me!
8. Stay hydrated
Keeping yourself hydrated is imperative to staying warm. You require water to allow your body to function properly and to a level that will regulate your temperature.
For an added hit of warmth, it might be worth drinking some warm liquids in the evening to keep yourself warm. My wife and I are coffee drinkers so if you are similar to us and need to know how to make coffee while camping in winter then we have you covered.
Try not to drink too much before bed. The worst thing for keeping warm is frequent pee breaks! I know many experienced camper and hikers who use a “Yellow” bottle to relieve themselves without leaving the sleeping bag, it also doubles up as a heated bottle. Yep, sounds disgusting but it works.
9. Don’t camp alone (or in a tent which is too big!)
Solo camping is a great experience but when it’s just you in the tent then the temperature inside the tent does take a hit. The more people you have in the tent then the higher the temperature will be, making everyone more comfortable.
This tip also has a little extra arm to it. If you own a 4 person tent and solo camp with it then you will have problems. Tents can warm up with both body heat but if the tent is too large for the number of people then the temperature will struggle to increase.
Keeping Warm Should Now Be easier
You should now be a professional at keeping warm in a tent. This is a lesson that many hikers and campers learn through a process of trial and error but you have skipped a lot of cold nights with my 9 tips above.
Staying warm in your tent isn’t as difficult as many people seem to think. With our How To Stay Warm In A Tent tips you will now be able to camp and hike in comfort. If you have any other tips that you have heard or use then leave a comment below and help out your fellow Wilderness Junkies.
Making sure your family and friends stay comfortable and warm during a trip will ensure everyone has a great time, and maybe you can teach them all a thing or two about staying cozy.