How to Stay Warm in a Tent | Prevent the Cold from Ruining Your Camping

Camping outdoors may not be an option for some people who get easily cold, or those who live in places with colder climates. If you fall in any of these two groups, make sure to learn how to stay warm in a tent first before you really quit trying to camp. 

From using tent heaters or installing insulation, check out these useful tips in keeping yourself and your family warm inside the tent. 

How to Stay Warm in a Tent - Don’t Let the Cold Ruin Your Camping

In camping, there are things you can't control, and those you can. The fog, rain, and other elements are examples of things you cannot control. 

However, you can layer your clothes, bring disposable heat packs, and actively do things that can help in bringing warmth inside your tent. It boils down to what you personally prefer and what your body needs. 

When you learn what techniques work for you and you make sure that you get your checklist completed before embarking on the trip, the cold shouldn't ruin your camping ever again. 

1. Don’t wait until you feel cold to layer up

There's a scientific reason why you shouldn't wait until you're cold to wear a jacket. As soon as the sun goes down and temperature begins to drop, go wear something to keep you warm. 

If you wait before it becomes colder, and only then will you begin layering up, it would be too late. 

This is because the body exposed to cold goes into hibernation mode, which means it automatically redirects your warm blood to vital organs like your heart. This is why your toes, fingers, ears and nose often suffer from frostbite first even if you covered them up. 

Having foresight and wearing layers before it gets cold reduces the risk of this happening while you're in the tent. 

2. Thermals are big and clever

Thermal clothing has been around for quite some time, but its importance has remained until today. This is especially true when camping in early spring, autumn or winter.  

If you're wearing thermals as undershirts, it will function as a second skin and create an insulating layer between the fabric and your body. It will also regulate your body temperature, keeping you warm as long as you wear it. 

Note that thermal underwear and undershirts come in different types. If your goal is to prevent getting cold while camping, make sure you get a "heavyweight" thermal. This is because the fabric weight determines the warmth level the thermal wear is designed to provide.  

3. Always pack a hot water bottle

If you have very limited supplies with you, but you have cooking equipment (stove and kettle), you'll be able to use these to warm up your sleeping bag for girls or a family tent. 

You'll also need a hard plastic bottle, which you'll fill up with hot water. You then place this bottle on one side of your tent since it could keep your space warm for about 4 hours as you sleep.

For people who get really cold feet, they could use a hot water bottle, wrap a sock around it, and place the bottle between their legs. Since there are two femoral arteries down there, placing direct heat on them helps in warming up the rest of your body.

Plastic hot water bottle

4. Don’t go to bed cold

If you snuggled into your sleeping bag already feeling cold, there's a good chance you'd stay cold even if you do other things to bring warmth as you sleep.

However, as you probably know by now, you shouldn't wait for the cold to arrive before wearing your layers. Other things you can do to before bed include:

  • Drinking warm milk, tea or any other drink of your choice except sweet drinks
  • Eat some light snacks to get your metabolism going
  • Do quick jumping-jacks, go on a brisk walk, or run around your campsite to help bring your core temperature up. Your body is the most reliable heat source inside your tent - use it properly.  
  • Peeing before you sleep lets the body expend energy on keeping your body warm, instead of focusing on keeping your pee warm. 

5. Sleeping bag liners can help

Sleeping bag liners are placed inside your sleeping bag for added warmth, comfort and preventing dirt or insects to reach your skin. If your bag doesn’t have a sleeping bag liner yet, these can be bought separately. 

Choose a sleeping bag liner made from durable fabric like fleece. Those with thin materials like silk liner may be super-comfortable, but do not offer enough warmth to combat the cold. 

Adding a sleeping bag liner works similar to putting an extra blanket on your bed. It gives a layer of insulation to help your body stay within comfortable temperatures during colder nights.

Plus, sleeping bag liners extend the life of your sleeping bag. 

6. Invest in down insulation

Those who live in places with long winters know how to stay warm in a tent. In most cases, this is because they've been using down insulation to keep their bodies and homes warm.  

Down insulation is made from duck or goose plumage (or the fluffy and lofty stuff just below their feathers). This natural mid-layer or undercoating is perfect for insulation, since it creates high-loft clusters (with air-trapping air pockets) that confine body heat effectively.  

Used as insulation for jackets, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, and so on, you can choose which one you'd like to use for your camping trip. Note that its effectiveness in trapping heat depends on the amount of down used in a product. Down is also quite breathable and lightweight when used as winter garments.  

The downside to down insulation is that it can be expensive, but it is highly recommended if you're planning to go camping more often as it is a very long-lasting product. 

7. Insulate your tent with a tent carpet or rugs

Another way to warm your tent is to use some kind of tent groundsheets, rugs, or carpets. It will serve as an insulating layer from the ground and reduce the gravity of cold reaching you through the floor.  

This doesn't have to be a fitted tent carpet, since those do not come cheap. You can DIY any rag or carpet and secure them in place.  

Do know that some carpets are not designed for proper insulation and a lot of heat can be lost, but it is still better than having nothing between you and the cold ground/floor. Just imagine the amount of discomfort you'd feel having to step on freezing-cold when you need to pee in the middle of the night.  

An extra layer of rug doesn't exclusively warm just your feet - it also heats up the entire tent and adds a comfy cushion for your sleeping bag.  

If you have extra money to spare, opt for thermal-backed rugs or carpets that have way better insulation properties. 

Opened tent with rags and sleeping bags inside

8. Invest in some disposable heat packs

Disposable heat packs do not heat up the entire tent, but if you are prone to having aches and pains, they can provide localized pain relief and warmth to certain parts of your body. And if you're out in the woods with a mountain or miles of hiking away from the next city, having disposable heat packs will solve this problem. 

If cold is your dilemma, place disposable heat packs under your sleeping bag, in the pocket of your sweater, or near your body part that gets cold easiest. 

These heat packs come in various sizes, shapes and styles. Toe packs are designed to be placed inside your sock or boot, while hand warmers are placed inside gloves. There are also body-warmer heat packs that can cater to bigger parts of the body. 

The good thing about disposable heat packs is that you don't need a huge investment to buy a couple at a time. They are inexpensive and disposable, so you can just refill your stash every time you plan on camping. 

9. Don’t use a massive tent

If you're just shopping around for camping equipment, don't go for massive tents if you cannot support insulation for its size. Understand that the bigger your tent is, the harder it is to heat it up.  

You'll need thicker carpets, extra sleeping bag liners, more disposable heat packs, additional down-made garments, and plenty more layers to keep yourself warm. And no matter the steps you make to prevent your body temperature (or the temp inside the tent) from going down, they will be futile because the tent size would require double or triple your efforts for them to work. 

A small tent heats up quicker and does a much better job at keeping the heat inside. 

If you have a big tent and are camping with a large group of people, then a big-sized tent may just be appropriate. However, a big tent containing only a few people will be harder to warm due to the larger vacant spaces. If this is the case, downsize your tent on your next camping trip. 

10. Portable heaters should be used with extreme caution!

Portable heaters, as their name suggests, are heaters that are portable. You can bring them anywhere and place them inside your tent, be it regular or SUV

A heater in the tent

Some portable heaters are powered by electricity, while others use butane or propane. As such, there are dangers associated with using portable heaters and you should take extra precautions if you decide to use them. 

If you really need to use portable heaters, it is better to go with electric models. They may heat up a lot slower than their gas counterparts, but electric portable heaters are much safer. You can even leave them running the entire time you sleep without worrying about fire. 

For those camping for over 2 days or during winter, a gas heater may be the only solution for your situation. If this is the case, follow manufacturer's safety advice and never leave the gas-powered heater unattended and inside an unventilated tent. 

11. Use the right kind of sleeping bag

One big mistake many beginner campers make is going on the trip with the wrong sleeping bag. 

If you don't know it yet, sleeping bags come in different shapes, sizes and special features. They are even rated by season: you can find sleeping bags designed only for summer, or a 3-season sleeping bag. 

The first thing you'd have to consider when buying your sleeping bag is the shape. You can find sleeping bags in rectangular-shaped, semi-rectangular, mummy shape or double bags (for couples). 

If you buy one and it is too roomy for your size, cold might creep into your sleeping bag easily. The mummy-shaped sleeping bag is designed to fit snugly, which means it can provide the most insulation out of all shapes. 

The type of insulation used will also contribute to how warm or cold you'll be inside a sleeping bag. Most brands use either down fill or synthetic fill. The real down insulation performs better in cold and dry weather, retaining warmth even after several years. 

12. Take extra blankets

Camping may all be about roughing it out in the great outdoors, but it doesn't mean you can't get yourself warm and comfy when it's time to hit the sack. Always pack extra blankets, even if you're not camping during cold months. 

If you're shopping for a new blanket for camping, the material will vary significantly based on personal preference. Do you prefer something 80% made of wool or down? How about fleece? Do you prefer something more water resistant like nylon? Once you decide on the main material, find features such as: 

  • Double stitching
  • Insulated air pockets
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Durable construction
  • Comfortable and long-lasting fabric
  • Antimicrobial properties
  • Comes with own sack/bag  
  • Red and blue blanket

    Bringing blankets with you at camping means it is prone to get dirty or muddy.  As such, it is best if the blanket is fully machine-washable as well.

    13. Ditch the double height air bed

    If you're finding techniques on how to stay warm camping in a universal tent or for 3-4 seasons like the models we reviewed here, it is highly likely that you get cold easily or that you're planning to go on a trip during colder months. If so, it is best that you skip the use of double-height air beds simply because they are too cold to sleep in. 

    Even if you use a blanket or sleeping bag liner on top of the air bed, the cold will still reach your skin. The material used on these air beds simply remains cold, especially when the area where you are camping is cold. 

    For those who decided to use a double-height air bed due to mobility issues, you can still recreate the height of an airbed. A camping cot may be a better alternative. You can layer blankets and your sleeping bag on top of it, while not suffering from the cold you’ll usually feel sleeping on an air bed. 

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