HOW TO STAY WARM IN A TENT | 13 Top Tips

by | Gear Guides

Heading into the mountains or out into the backcountry for a night under the stars is one of the most fun trips you can take. But having spent countless nights camping we also know there’s nothing worse than lying in your tent freezing. That’s why we wanted to give our top tips to stay warm while camping and how to stay warm in a tent.

There are plenty of simple camping hacks to stay warm that we share below and it has made such a big difference for us in keeping warm in a tent on colder nights. From DIY hot water bottles to choosing the right gear, we’ve got lots of advice on how to keep warm in a tent.

Our list is comprised of all the tips we have discovered from years of camping in all 4 seasons of the year as well as some useful tips we’ve picked up from other outdoorsy friends. All of these tips and tricks on how to stay warm camping in a tent have made a huge difference as we very rarely feel cold overnight anymore which makes camping a much more enjoyable experience.

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Camping with sleeping bags, while drinking warm tea at Bedwell Lake, British Columbia

How to Keep Warm in a Tent: Useful Gear List

If you are wondering how to stay warm in cold weather camping here is a quick list of useful gear to take with you:

How to Stay Warm in a Tent

1. Choose the Right Tent

Camping tent at Mount Assiniboine

The first few tips on the best way to stay warm when camping are all related to the gear you will be using and the first thing to focus on is your tent. There are a couple of things to consider with staying warm in a tent but the first is the size of your tent. It can often be tempting to choose a huge tent with lots of space to move around in to take camping with you, especially if you are car camping.

But it is much harder to keep a large tent warm as there is much more air to heat from just a few bodies. You should either move into a smaller compartment in a larger tent or just take a smaller tent with you. This is a key part of how to keep a tent warm.

We personally take the MSR Elixir 2 camping as we feel it is the best tent to keep warm for most of the year. as it provides us with enough space to comfortably sleep, but it is small enough that it is very easy to heat up. You can also see our full list of the best tents for 2 people here.

The second important consideration for your tent is whether it is designed for the season or the conditions that you are camping in. Many tents out there are designed to be 3-season tents which means they should be used in the Summer, Spring, and Fall months of the year.

If you are camping in the winter months you will really want to invest in a 4-season warm winter tent that is specifically designed for colder temperatures. 4-season tents greatly reduce or completely eliminate mesh materials from the body of the tent as this easily allows heat to escape.

In addition to reducing mesh, 4-season tents will often have snow flaps around the perimeter to prevent snow and cold air from blowing inside. The best cold weather tent is the North Face Mountain 25 Tent.

Having a small tent, and if you are camping in the winter months, having the best winter camping tent will make a big difference in keeping you warm throughout the night.

Tent near Rohr Lake and walking with a Patagonia down sweater jacket

2. Get an Insulated Sleeping Pad

Losing heat to the cold ground is one of the biggest ways that you lose heat and feel cold while camping. Even if you are sleeping on an air mattress or a sleeping pad, it may not be the right option for cold weather camping. Using the right sleeping pad is key when thinking about how to stay warm winter camping or on cold nights in the alpine.

Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad

While air mattresses often provide you with the most comfort, they are not good in the cold weather as they tend to have little to no insulation so you end up sleeping above air that is the same temperature as your surroundings. When this is colder than your comfort level for sleeping you will have a cold night’s sleep.

Sleeping pads have different levels of insulation and these are defined by an R-value which ranges from 1 (minimal insulation) to 10 (extremely well insulated). Sleeping pads with an R-value under 3 are generally for warm weather use, R-values of 3-4 are best for 3-season use and if you are camping in the winter, you will want to look for something with an R-value of at least 4.5.

R-value guide

Getting a well-insulated sleeping pad is probably the one thing that had the biggest impact on us as we searched for ways to keep warm and is the best way to stay warm in a tent. It is often overlooked as people think all sleeping pads are similar but the R-value makes a huge difference and is a key piece of camping gear to stay warm.

Therm-a-Rest makes the best-insulated sleeping pads out there and the Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad is a great all-around choice, especially for backpackers looking to head into the backcountry. With an R-value of 4.4, this will keep you warm in most conditions and is one of the best investments you can make.

3. Use a Sleeping Bag Designed for Cold Temperatures

Warm Sleeping bags designed for the cold can help you stay warm in a tent by the glacier at Wedgemount Lake

Similar to using an insulated sleeping pad, you want to make sure that you have a sleeping bag that is meant to be used in colder weather. Each sleeping bag will have a temperature rating but this is something you should be wary of as they usually refer to the extreme temperature rating.

The extreme rating is the minimum temperature an adult woman can remain for six hours without the risk of death from hypothermia. Instead, you really want to find a sleeping bag that has a comfort rating that matches the sorts of temperatures that you expect to camp in. A comfort rating is the temperature an adult woman can expect to sleep comfortably in a relaxed position.

We recommend getting a sleeping bag that is actually rated for a few degrees lower than you expect to sleep in as it isn’t a great idea to be right on the edge of the comfort rating. You should also consider getting a genuine down sleeping bag instead of a synthetic bag as these tend to be much warmer and are usually more lightweight as well.

Top tip: Shake your sleeping bag out when you unpack it to move the insulation around and let it expand which will help keep you warm.

One of the best cold weather sleeping bags you can get is the NEMO Disco 15 Sleeping Bag. It is a down sleeping bag that has a comfort rating of 17°F / -4°C which will keep you warm on most nights when you are out camping.

4. Use a Sleeping Bag Liner

You may have heard it before, but a great way to stay warm is to add layers. This goes for your sleeping bag as well. If you want to add some extra warmth to your sleeping bag, or if your bag is rated for slightly warmer conditions, then use a sleeping bag fleece liner.

Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner

We picked up a couple of fleece liners when we were going to camp at Mt Assiniboine and it made such a big difference. They add an extra few degrees of warmth and they are generally fairly light and easy to store. You can usually leave it inside your sleeping bag and still manage to stuff it into the storage sack to make it easy to carry.

An added bonus of using a fleece liner is that it will keep your sleeping bag cleaner and liners are much easier to wash. The Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner is our top choice as it increases warmth by up to 25°F/15°C.

5. Use a DIY Hot Water Bottle

How to stay warm tent camping with a hot water bottle

This is our personal favourite tip for how to stay warm camping in the winter and might be the best way to stay warm in a sleeping bag. If you are car camping then you can just use a regular hot water bottle as you don’t need to worry about saving space or weight. However, if you are hiking and camping in the backcountry then you can use your Nalgene water bottle as a makeshift hot water bottle.

These bottles are designed to be able to hold boiling water so there is no need to worry about it melting or damaging your water bottle. We’ve done this many times and never had any issue. Just boil up some water on your camp stove and pour it straight into your water bottle.

Whether you use a proper hot water bottle or a Nalgene bottle, this will keep you incredibly warm throughout the night. They will also stay warm for hours in your sleeping bag so it isn’t just a quick fix as soon as you get into your bag. While it will be tempting to put it down by your toes, it is actually more effective to place it closer to your core which will in turn heat your extremities.

After a few camping trips spent wondering how to stay warm in a sleeping bag, we discovered this awesome trick and it has been a staple solution of ways to stay warm when camping on our trips during colder nights.

6. Don’t Go to Bed Cold

Climbing into your sleeping bag when you are already cold makes it almost impossible for you to get warm even when you are cocooned in there. If your body is cold and you are getting into a cold sleeping bag there is no easy way that you can get warm.

Before climbing into bed make sure you warm your body up. This can be as simple as standing by the fire for a few minutes and getting straight into bed or if you don’t have that luxury you can do some jumping jacks or push-ups to get your body warmed up really quickly.

When you get into your sleeping bag with a warm body it will heat up your sleeping bag and tent very quickly and it is much easier to stay warm throughout the night when you do this. You may feel a little foolish jumping around before you go to bed but it is well worth it.

7. Eat a Hot Meal Before Bed

Best Mess Kits for Camping while camping at Lake O'hara and eating a warm meal to stay warm

Your body needs energy to generate heat throughout the night so we recommend eating as late as possible. If you can’t eat a full meal late at night, then at least have a snack before bed. Going to bed on an empty stomach will result in a colder night’s sleep.

It is also recommended to eat fatty foods before bed as fat metabolizes slowly so it will last longer through the night. Plus, we think it’s awesome that we have a valid excuse to eat delicious, fatty foods right before bed so it is a win-win situation.

8. Layer Your Clothes

Winter layers while hiking and camping such as a toque, gloves, mid layer and thermals.

People often think the best clothes to stay warm are fleeces or heavy jumpers but layering to stay warm is usually much more effective. Heat gets trapped more easily in multiple layers vs one heavy layer. Start with an insulated base layer (merino wool is a great choice as it is warm and moisture-wicking), wear a long-sleeved top, and then add a fleece or sweater as a final layer.

On the coldest nights, you may also want to wear an insulated puffer (we both have the Patagonia Down Sweater, see our full review here), thick socks, and gloves. It is rare that we sleep with all of these items of clothing on, but on the coldest nights, we will wear as much as possible.

Layering your clothes also gives you the benefit of regulating your temperature. As you get too warm you can remove layers and if you start to get cold you can add another layer. It’s important to avoid sweating wherever possible as sweat will cool you down as it evaporates from your skin.

9. Cover Your Head

We’ve all heard that you lose a huge amount of heat through your head so it makes sense to keep your head wrapped up when it’s chilly out. The easiest way to do this can be to wear a toque but these can come off while you sleep if you move around a lot.

You can also wear your hood if you have one and you should always use the hood of your sleeping bag too. Place it around your head and pull the drawstring tight to make the hole at the top as small as possible.

10. Insulate the Bottom of Your Tent

This works much better for car camping as you may not want to carry extra insulation into the backcountry with you if you have to pack everything in. Insulating the floor of your tent will help you from losing heat to the cold ground below you and is a top tip for how to make a tent warmer. If you are wondering how to insulate a tent, this can be done effectively through blankets and rugs placed inside on the floor of your tent.

It not only offers an extra layer of insulation between your body and the ground when sleeping, but it also makes it much more pleasant to walk on if you have to get up in the middle of the night or even when you get up in the morning. Placing your feet on cold hard ground isn’t much fun and this is a great way to negate that issue.

Insulating the floor of your tent is a great idea if you are car camping and wondering how to keep your tent warm.

11. Use Hand Warmers

When you just need that little bit of extra heat to stay warm, hand warmers can generate that extra bit of heat that you need. Traditional hand warmers come in small packets that you can easily pack into your backpack (we have on many occasions) and when you crack them they warm instantly and can last up to 10 hours.

They are so small that they can easily be slipped into your gloves or socks while you sleep to keep you warm through the night. You can order HotHands hand warmers here!

Another cool gadget we recently discovered is the OCOOPA rechargeable hand warmer. These hand warmers are bigger than the HotHands warmers but have the added bonus of being reusable. They heat up quickly and do a great job of keeping your hands warm. The battery lasts for 4-8 hours and what we really like about them is that they can be used as a portable power bank as well.

12. Ventilate Your Tent

This may seem like a counterintuitive move but a little bit of ventilation will actually help to keep you warm and is often overlooked when considering how to stay warm tent camping. That is because as you sleep you release moisture into the air as you breathe and this builds up on the walls of your tent.

In extremely cold conditions this moisture can freeze and turn your tent into a giant freezer which obviously makes it extremely cold to sleep in. This happened to us once and it really was a miserable experience. Even a little bit of ventilation will help the moisture escape and keep your tent warm and dry.

13. Use a Tent Heater

If you are camping on a site that has electricity or if you have a generator, a portable space heater can be a great addition to your camping setup. It is worth mentioning that these heaters should be used with extreme caution in a tent and you should never have them running while you sleep. They work best when you use them to heat the tent before you go to sleep and when you wake up in the morning.

As long as you are careful, space heaters are an excellent way to warm up your tent or even your RV. They plug in and generate a huge amount of heat in no time so you usually don’t need to run them for very long to heat up a small space. These are excellent tools when you are considering how to stay warm when camping in cold weather.

The big downside is that you need a source of power so this is only a useful tip if you have access to a power outlet or a generator. This feels like quite a luxury item to bring, but if you are car camping and have the space you definitely won’t regret taking it with you. A great option is the Lasko Ceramic space heater as it is small and lightweight but also generates plenty of heat.

Final Thoughts

The first year we started properly camping we spent so many nights lying awake, shivering through the night. Not a very pleasant experience. Over the years we have picked up different tips and tricks from our own experiences and from talking to other campers we have met along the way.

All of this means that we rarely have the issue of being cold in our tents overnight which encourages us to get out camping more often and at all times throughout the year. We wanted to put this guide on how to stay warm in a tent together as we know firsthand how miserable it can make your trip.

The awesome thing is that it really doesn’t have to be this way and if you follow the steps above you’ll enjoy a warm and cozy night’s sleep from now on!


Interested in picking up some new gear? Check out some of our other gear guides:

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1 Comment

  1. Hussain

    Thanks for sharing all these amazing tips, Fabulous post!

    Reply

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Hi, we’re Luke and Roxy, a couple of adventurers that are head over heels in love with British Columbia, Canada.

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