The art of keeping warm in a tent
What are the secrets to keeping warm in a tent, I hear you ask.
I’m sure when you imagine the concept winter camping, thoughts like cold air, heat loss and shivering come across your mind. Am I right?
I’m here to say: worry not, cold weather camper!
In this article I’m going to teach you the art to keeping warm in a tent.
I think it’s worth mentioning that when it comes to cold weather camping, I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
And by t-shirt I mean I’ve been on the edge of hypothermia, or perhaps I was hypothermic, I don’t really remember. Whatever the case, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and now I’m here to insure you don’t make any of mine.
Keeping warm in a tent is actually an art form. The body loses heat extremely quickly.
Oli Martin from BBC demonstrates just how quickly your body loses warmth in cold conditions.
Notice how Martins hands are red hot while his body is largely covered with warm layers.
Within minutes after removing his warm clothing, Martins hands start to turn blue and his body quickly follows suit. If you are interested, you can watch the full video here.
According to the National Weather Service, If you’re standing outside, with no warm clothes on, in zero-degree weather with a wind speed averaging around 15 mph (24 kph), you’ve got a measly half hour before you’re in danger of frostbite!
All this may sound a bit extreme and depending on your trip it may very well be. My main aim is to prepare and inform you with the right knowledge so that you are better equipped at keeping warm in a tent.
15 Tips to keeping warm in a tent
Layer up before you get cold.
As soon as you notice the temperature starting to drop, get into your tent and find some extra clothes to put on. You need to layer up. The reason wearing multiple thin layers keeps you warmer than a single thicker layer is because warm air is essentially trapped between the layers, acting as an insulator.
Bring a hot water bottle with you.
I’m sure at some point in your life (probably when you were a kid), you’ve experienced the heat bearing joys a hot water bottle can bring. Just because you are going camping doesn’t mean you should leave the old dusty hot water bottle at home. Bring it with you! Make sure you also bring a pot to boil water in.
Sleeping bag liners are a must.
Look into investing in some silk sleeping bag liners, they are said to be even warmer than the traditional fleece ones. However, some say that silk liners can be somewhat less durable than fleece. I personally own a fleece liner, and it works perfectly fine for me.
Don’t use a massive tent.
If you plan on keeping warm in a tent, then please for the mother of god do not use this thing. Unless you are a family of say, 10 people. If you are just a couple, small family or solo camper, consider downsizing your tent. If there is less open space, your tent will warm up faster.
Use the right sleeping bag.
I cannot stress this enough, choosing the right sleeping bag will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. It’ll literally mean the difference between freezing and staying warm in your tent. You are looking for a 3 season sleeping bag (unless you are camping in the North Pole). It may be tempting to buy a cheap sleeping bag at first and just put an extra duvet on top. Trust me, it won’t keep you warmer than technical sleeping bags designed for cold weather would.
|Bag Type||Temperature Rating (°F)|
|Summer Season||+30° and higher|
|3-Season||+15° to +30°|
|Winter||+15° and lower|
Avoid going to bed cold.
If you get into your sleeping bag cold, keeping warm in a tent naturally becomes more tedious. The body takes time to heat up once it’s cold. This is time you may spend losing sleep hours. Before slipping into your sleeping bag, drink something warm, do some star jumps, run to the bathroom or alternatively do some ridiculous zen jumps to get your core body temperature up.
Insulate from the ground up.
Use a tent carpet or some rugs to layer underneath your sleeping area. This will do two things, 1. it makes the ground that much softer 😉 and 2. it will stop cold from leaching through the ground into your tent.
Bring extra blankets.
If you can afford the extra weight and have the extra space then by all means bring along some extra blankets. There’s nothing cosier than stuffing your tent full of blankets and pillows, add in some fairy lights and badabing badaboom you’re a legit glamper.
Use a portable heater (with extreme caution).
Using a portable heater is of course one of the more effective ways to staying warm in a tent. I must say though that I do not recommend keeping these heaters on while you sleep, rather turn them off just to be safe. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to insure your safety while using these products. (Between you and me, the 14 other camping tips on this list will keep you warm enough in your tent – avoid camping heaters unless you really cannot do without synthetic heat.)
Keep your tent ventilated.
Most people don’t realize that you need to keep your tent ventilated. The heat from your body and breath can cause condensation to form inside your tent. Condensation = dampness = chilliness. By ventilating your tent properly you can avoid condensation from building up. Like I mentioned in the beginning of this article, keeping warm in a tent is an artform. 😉
Do not use an air mattress.
Many people enjoy bringing comforts of home on their camping trips, air mattresses are one of those comforts. If your goal however is to stay warm in your tent I really recommend avoiding these blow up constructs. Air mattresses hold on to whatever the current air temperature is, so if you are camping in zero degree weather, expect that air mattress to be damn cold. If you must bring one along, make sure to put layers underneath and on top of the air mattress.
Eat a high caloric dinner.
Calories are actually a unit of heat, your body produces heat while digesting food. Feel free to chow down an extra bowl of noodles before you hit the sack.
Heat some rocks.
I love this camping hack. Place a few hand-sized rocks into your campfire, let them heat up real good for an hour or so. Before heading to bed, take the rocks out and let them cool for abit, then wrap the hot rocks in a towel and place at the foot of your sleeping bag. They should stay warm throughout the night. (Caution, do not place wet rocks into the fire, they are likely to expand and burst,potentially causing injury to those around.)
Wear some warm headgear.
Beanies and scarfs have saved me during the coldest nights out camping. Wearing a beanie is better than putting your head under the sleeping bag, I’m sure you remember what your breath causes, hint: condensation. (P.S the myth that we lose 40 to 45 percent of the body’s heat through our head is false, you can read why here.)
Pick the right camping location.
For example, camping under this tree, I’m sure you’ll agree leaves you pretty f#!#!#! exposed! Avoid camping in open spaces. If the wind picks up or a blizzard pulls in, some protection from the elements will vastly increase your chances at keeping warm in a tent. Also, try to avoid camping at the bottom of a valley where cold air settles. Choosing a site 50 feet (15 meters) from the valley floor in theory should be warmer.
Keeping warm in a tent – The right gear to use.
At the time of publishing all the products mentioned below were the correct price and although we update this article regularly we do recommend you to double check the prices through the link we provide.
Post last updated: 22/07/20
What are the early stages of hypothermia?
Let’s pretend all my advice fails at keeping you warm in a tent (somewhat unlikely). Nevertheless, I feel it is still necessary that you are aware of the warning signs associated with hypothermia.
Normal body temperature is around 98.6 °F (37 °C). Hypothermia begins to occur as your body temperature falls below 95 °F (35 °C).
Below are some of the signs and symptoms associated with hypothermia:
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
The dangerous thing about hypothermia is that an individual who is hypothermic is usually unaware of their condition, as the symptoms begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking generally doesn’t help either.
I recommend reading this article by Mayo Clinic to see what to do in case you or someone you know becomes hypothermic.
I will leave you with a seriously cool infographic. Let me know how you keep warm in your tent in the comment section at the bottom of this article. Until then, stay warm guys!
Please note: Softback Travel does not endorse or recommend using any gas appliances inside your tent. All gas appliances should be used with great caution and manufacturers recommendations should always be followed. Even when using portable gas appliances in a well ventilated area, we strongly recommend you take additional safety measures including the use of a Carbon Monoxide alarm.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links throughout this article are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking the link.
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Kyle was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. In his spare time he kitesurfs with whales, gets attacked by jellyfish, SUP’s with great white sharks and rescues seals. He is not a best selling author like every other Tom, Dick and Harry out there but loves to write nevertheless. Especially about climate science and animals.