How to Stay Warm in a Tent: 20 Best Tips for Camping in the Cold

how to stay warm in a tent

Have you heard about the silent cold-blooded killer of the outdoors?

Yes, I am talking about hypothermia.

Technically, it happens when the core temperature of the body falls below 95°F. In case you don’t know how to stay warm in a tent, you can literally freeze to death due to hypothermia.

In some environments, like high altitudes and deserts, the weather conditions can shift rapidly. So a warm day can easily transform into a freezing night. 

Moreover, in case of a bug out, you may need to spend days in a tent before you’re able to reach your final bug out location.

The good news is, staying warm in a tent isn’t that difficult. With the right level of preparation and the proper gear, you can beat the cold.

So here we discuss the 20 most effective tips about how to stay warm in a tent.

Let’s check them out.

What Happens During Hypothermia

Before starting, let’s take a quick look at how hypothermia from cold weather camping can affect the body. 

When you’re hypothermic, heat is escaping the body more rapidly than it’s being generated. Heat loss can happen through convection, conduction, radiation, respiration, and evaporation. 

Hypothermia can be classified into three stages.

Mild hypothermia – In this stage, the body temperature ranges between 89.6 – 95°F.  The typical response is shivering which helps to maintain body temperature.

Moderate hypothermia – In this condition, the body temperature ranges between 86 – 89.6°F. Now, slowing down of metabolism and other bodily processes occur. Apart from violent shivering, the symptoms include slight confusion, uncoordinated action, and tiredness. 

Severe hypothermia – This is caused when the body temperature drops below 86°F and all shivering stops. There’s complete mental disorientation, irrational thoughts, and extreme lethargy. The victim can slip into a coma if urgent steps are not taken.

Once the critical organs like the brain and heart stop functioning normally, there is reduced blood flow to the other organs. This can cause the failure of the other vital organs like the liver and the kidney.

Keep in mind that babies, children, and the elderly are at greater risk from hypothermia.

How to Stay Warm in a Tent?

Keep in mind, even if you are camping in summer, the risks of hypothermia are still there. So here are the top tips for a good night’s rest inside the tent.

1. Preparation

One of the main aspects of staying warm while camping in the cold is doing the right amount of preparation. The right amount of research is a must if you want a safe trip. It’s best to stay prepared for camping in cold weather and not wait till you start feeling cold.

Make sure to check the weather forecasts and the terrain of the area you will be visiting. This will help you to judge the temperatures that you will be tackling. You can check with the nearest ranger station for the latest updates on the trail. 

2. Pick the Right Camping Spots

It’s also important to plan the spots where you will be setting up camp in advance. You don’t want to camp on a low valley floor where the cold air will settle down. 

While camping on snow, choose a flat area and compress the snow around the tent by walking over it. Packed snow is a better insulator than loose snow.

Also, avoid windy places that can result in a high wind-chill factor. Trees, rock faces, and walls can be good spots for camping as they provide protection from the wind. 

Lastly, being able to sleep through the night is important when you’re trying to conserve body heat. If you’re forced to sleep on rough terrain you may end up tossing and turning and waking up more frequently. Having a high-quality survival shovel will allow you to break apart roots and create a soft and loamy ground for you to rest the tent. 

3. Warm Clothing

Gloves, jackets, woolen socks, and flannels will take up a lot of space in your backpack. But when the night temperatures drop sharply, they are one of the most effective ways of keeping warm in a tent.

The key is wearing clothes in layers to help you stay warm and dry. This includes a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating mid-layer, and a breathable outer layer. It’s best to avoid tight clothing as that will obstruct blood circulation. 

Covering the head and neck area is important as a lot of heat loss through radiation takes place from there. Lastly, silk and cellulose fibers like cotton aren’t the best choices for staying warm.

4. Pick the Right Sleeping Bag

Basically, a sleeping bag traps dead air around your body and prevents heat loss through conduction. Choose a sleeping bag that offers a good warmth-to-weight ratio. Check the temperature rating of the bag and compare it with the temperatures that you expect on the trip.

Insulation in a sleeping bag can be either down or synthetic. Both have their pros and cons while camping in the cold. So check out the details before picking. Other factors that you need to check are cushioning levels, size, and the ease of inflation.

5. Use a Sleeping Pad

Even the best sleeping bag won’t deliver the right level of warmth without matching it with a proper sleeping pad. 

Why so?

A sleeping pad prevents heat loss through conduction when you are sleeping on cold ground. Now, there are three types of sleeping pads- self-inflating, air, and closed-cell foam. The closed-cell foam pads are the best option. Still, you need to check the R-value.

In short, the higher the R-value the better insulation the pad will offer. A sleeping pad with an R-value between 3 to 5 is suitable for 3 season use. All in all, the combination of the sleeping bag and pad should make the perfect sleeping system for cold weather camping.

Beyond that, you can also add straw or dried leaves to the tent floor for insulation.

6. Choose the Right Tent

Before you ask how to keep a tent warm, you need to pick the right tent. The tent size depends on the group size and the amount of extra space that you’ll need. However, if a small team chooses a big tent, the extra area will take more time to heat up. 

Quite simply, using a 3-person tent for solo camping in the cold is inviting the killer cold.

The tent choice also depends on the weather conditions. An extended-season (3+ season) tent is good for insulating against moderate snow encountered during early spring and late fall. For the best levels of insulation, a 4 season tent can be chosen.

7. Prevent Condensation

Here’s the thing.

Excess moisture is a strict no-no when you’re planning on keeping warm in a tent. Condensation inside a tent will make the environment damp and uncomfortable. Even the moisture in your breath can result in condensation. Obviously, you can’t beat the cold with drops of water forming inside the tent.

So it’s necessary to keep the tent ventilated. For that, you can keep the windows open to allow the warm and moist air to rise up and escape and not condensate. A tent dehumidifier can also be used.

Also, don’t keep wet clothes and shoes inside the tent and let them dry outside.

8. Use a Hot Water Bottle

One of the best ways of staying warm while camping in cold weather is carrying a hot water bottle inside the sleeping bag. Make sure the bottle is leak-proof and resealable. Stainless steel bottles are a good choice.

For the best results, place the bottle near your core, near the neck, or near the inner thigh. The radiation from the bottle will help in keeping you warm. 

9. Use a Tent Heater

How to heat a tent in cold weather in the fastest possible way? 

The answer is- a tent heater. 

However, there are safety risks associated with each type of heater. At the end of the day, any heat source can be a fire hazard.

Electric heaters are safer as they don’t generate carbon monoxide. But they consume a lot of power. And not all campsites have an electrical outlet. A gas heater is portable but it can deplete the oxygen level in a tent and generate carbon monoxide.

If you use a heater, it’s best not to leave it running for the entire night. So shut it off before you shut your eyes.

10. Use Mylar Blankets

Imagine it’s an emergency and you don’t have gas or power. How to stay warm in a tent in that case?

One effective way is by using a Mylar blanket. Firstly, you can wrap it around to minimize heat loss. Besides, you can use it on the sleeping pad, or on the tent floor. You can also attach it to the tent ceiling by using duct tape. The material will reflect heat downwards towards your body. 

Keep in mind, Mylar traps moisture as well. So make sure you don’t start sweating when you wrap it around.

Actually, a Mylar blanket can be a great addition to your bug-out bag. The highly reflective material can be seen from a distance. So you can use it as a rescue signal.

11. Keeping Dry

Staying dry is the key to keeping warm in a tent in extremely cold conditions. Keep water out of all your gear and clothes. Use waterproof bags and synthetic fabrics that dry faster.

Above all, sweat is your number one enemy when you’re fighting against the cold. 

If you put on too many layers and start sweating, you will end up removing a few to cool down. As the sweat evaporates, it will take away the precious body heat and make you feel cold again.

The result is, the body won’t be able to maintain a steady temperature. So, prevent excessive sweating and change wet clothes and socks as soon as possible. 

For cold weather camping, ensure that all the clothes that you wear at night are bone dry. That’s why it’s necessary to carry a second pair of underwear and socks that are free from moisture. 

12. Stay Hydrated

When you are dehydrated the body’s ability to regulate heat flow reduces. This also increases the chances of frostbite. So when you are fighting against the cold, make sure that you stay hydrated. 

At the same time, stay hydrated during the day and avoid drinking too much water before bedtime. The point is, by getting up to urinate during the night, you will end up losing vital body heat. 

However, when you need to relieve yourself it’s best to empty your bladder. Or else, your body will use extra calories in keeping the urine warm.

Also, avoid consuming alcohol and beverages with caffeine in them. They will dehydrate the body. One thing that is critically important is knowing how to purify water when you’re stranded. Drinking contaminated water can cause diarrhea which would spell disaster for you. 

13. Eat the Right Diet

Eating the right food will help to keep your body warm in the tent on a cold night. Foods like complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats need more energy to break down. So at the end of the meal, they will raise the metabolism levels and can keep you warm inside out.

This process involves ingesting, digesting, and processing food and is called dietary thermogenesis.

Vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beetroot can work in the same manner. Some herbs and spices like ginger, cumin, dill, fenugreek, and black pepper can also deliver similar results. A calorie-dense energy bar as a midnight snack can also help in staying warm.

14. Use Hot Rocks

One effective way of keeping warm in a tent is by using heated rocks. Here’s how you use them.

Pick some medium-sized stones and heat them in the campfire. Once they are cold enough for handling, wrap them in a towel and place them inside the tent or at the foot of your sleeping bag. They will radiate heat and keep the tent warm.

You can also dig a trench below the tent and place the hot rocks in it. Cover then up with a few inches of soil and place your sleeping pad over it for a toasty sleep.

15. Watch Your Breath

If you’re breathing into your sleeping bag, you’re reducing the level of warmth it delivers. The moisture in the breath will condense inside the bag over the night and make it chilly and clammy. This is especially true for down sleeping bags.

So don’t tuck your head inside the bag and make sure your nose remains open to exhale out. Then the moisture can escape through the tent ventilation.

16. Keep Your Toes Warm

When your toes are cold you’ll stay uncomfortable all night long. Wear dry woolen socks or keep a hot water bottle near your feet. Try wearing a pair of wicking socks below the woolen socks. This will trap a layer of warm air between the layers and keep the feet warm.

However, make sure not to use socks that are wet. While using a hot water bottle, place it inside the bag 15 to 20 minutes before you hit the sack. That way your feet will have a warm spot waiting for them inside the bag.

Other than that, you can also use hand warmers to keep your fingers from getting numb.

17. Take Care of Yourself

When you ask how to stay warm in a tent, note, it isn’t just about keeping the tent warm. How cozy and warm you feel at night is directly related to how you treat yourself on the trail during the daytime. 

For that, you need to stay energized and hydrated and not overstress yourself. It’s also necessary to prevent any sunburns while on the trail. If there’s too much wear and tear in the body you’ll end up feeling cold and uncomfortable even if the tent is sufficiently warm.

18. Fluff the Sleeping Bag

Keeping the sleeping bag flattened in your backpack all through the day isn’t good for the insulation. When the insulation gets flattened, even a -25 degree rated bag won’t deliver the right level of warmth.

Before going to bed, fluff the bag and shake up the inner insulating material. Ideally, the insulation should be evenly distributed. Even better, take some time to dry out the sleeping bag under the sun each morning.

19. Reduce Ambient Space

While solo camping in cold weather can be adventurous, buddying up is one of the best ways to keep the inside of the tent warm. With less ambient space inside the tent, the body heat can warm up the tent more quickly.

You can also place your sacks and additional gear around the tent perimeter. This will help in insulating against the outer cold temperatures.

20. Warm-up Before Sleeping

Warming up before getting inside the sleeping bag is a good idea as it will raise the body heat. The trick is, doing just enough to warm up the body. You don’t want to start sweating after entering the sleeping bag. A brisk walk, a few jumping jacks, sit-ups, or burpees can be a good idea.

Making sure you have ample wood for a fire is also critical. Having the best survival saw will ensure you have a multi-purpose tool that you can use for firewood as well as a variety of other things. 

Conclusion

There you have it. Understanding how to stay warm in a tent will make a huge difference when all hell breaks loose.

The fact is, no one is immune to cold. But once you know how to use these tips in the right way, cold weather camping isn’t so difficult at all.

Remember, cold-related deaths are rare, but they happen every year. So be prepared to stay warm.

Above all, don’t let the fear of the freezing night let you miss the beauty of the warm sunny days.

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