Nothing can ruin a camping trip faster than not being able to keep warm in a tent. Trust me, I’ve been there! Our family loves camping and we much prefer to do it in cooler weather, especially in late summer or fall. We’ve camped at temperatures as low as just below freezing. Once we even woke up to a blanket of snow when camping in Yellowstone over Labour Day long weekend.
So how to keep warm in a tent when camping in cold weather?
Here are our tips and tricks for keeping warm in a tent:
1 – Waterproof your tent.
This might be one of the most important points I will make here. There is no way you can stay warm if there is rain water seeping through your tent and onto you while you’re sleeping. Sometimes you can’t help it, but you can try and prevent it.
When you buy a new tent or haven’t used your old one in a long time, set it up outside ahead of your camping trip. If you live in an apartment and therefore lack outdoor space, do it at a park. Here is what we normally do when we waterproof out tent:
Once our tent is set up, we test it for leaks. We normally do so by spraying it with water or pouring water on the roof. We then get inside and watch if there are any leaks. Then we mark any spots that will require extra attention. Once the tent is dry, we proceed to seal any trouble areas. However, it is a good idea to reseal your entire tent once every so often.
So how do we waterproof our tent?
At the very least, we spray a durable water repellent on our tent roof and on our rainfly. It’s also a good idea to seal the seams of a tent. Most leaks on new tents occur through the seams. When buying your seam sealer, make sure you know the material your tent is made of. Different fabrics require different sealers.
And if your tent is older, you might want to refresh the urethane coating on your tent floor and on your rainfly. You can buy all these sealing products at any outdoor sporting goods stores.
Waterproofing your tent is key if you want to keep warm in a tent when camping in cold weather.
Tips: Make sure you wear goggles, a face mask and gloves when applying sealing products. And hopefully you are doing this outdoors. Follow all instructions included on the products. Do your tent sealing a few days before your planned trip. Once the products have dried, test for leaks again. Repeat the process on any areas that might still require attention.
2 – Get the right sleeping bag.
When buying your sleeping bag, make sure you look at the lowest temperature threshold on the label. If your sleeping bag’s lowest recommended temp is +8 Celsius, don’t take it into high altitude camping where temperatures can dip to below freezing at night.
Next, invest in a better brand. If you go with the cheapest option, I guarantee you, the zipper won’t last. There’s nothing worse than a busted zipper in the middle of a cold night.
3 – Get off the ground.
Sleeping in a tent is almost like sleeping on the ground. And if you’re camping in cold weather, guess what? The ground will be cold too. So make sure you have something under you when lying down to sleep in a tent. Keeping off the ground will let you keep warm in a tent. If you’re trekking and carrying all your stuff on your back, then a camping pad is the most lightweight option for you. But if you are driving, then do bring something that will keep you even higher off the ground. We like to use an inflatable king size air mattress for our family of three. But there are also camping beds on legs. These are better for people with back or mobility issues, or for enjoying more home-like comfort when camping.
4 – Dress warm & do it before it gets really cold.
When we’re camping in cold weather, we like to dress in layers. Comfortable, thermal clothing is best in order to keep warm in a tent. A fleece hoodie is your best friend on cool camping trips. Put your extra layers on before the sun sets. This way you will keep your body temperature up.
If you only start dressing when you feel the cold, you have already lost valuable body heat. And perhaps the most important tip of all is this: Make sure your clothing is dry! If you get wet in the rain, you better have a change of dry clothing to get into before you turn in for the might. Wet clothes will make you cold and worse – you might catch a cold.
Tip: Keep an umbrella in your tent in case it’s raining and you need to step out when nature calls.
5 – Keep your feet warm & your head covered.
Your mom was onto something when she nagged you to cover your head during winter. We lose most of our body heat through our heads. So don your favourite beanie or toque as we like to call it in Canada.
And just as fast as we lose heat through our heads, we also lose heat through our feet. We always bring several thick woolly socks to wear just at night. Keeping your body’s north and south poles covered will let you keep warm in a tent.
6 – Bring extra blankets & insulate.
It’s a good idea to not just layer your clothing, but also your blankets in order to keep warm in a tent. As I mentioned before, nothing sucks more warmth from you than a cold ground. So even when we sleep on our inflatable mattress which keeps us about 10 cm off the ground, we like to lay down a blanket on top of it. This helps insulate us against the cold even more.
Another great way to use a blanket is to put it inside your sleeping bag. If your sleeping bag is made out of nylon or similar material, it will be cold to the touch at first. You can line your sleeping bag with a fleece blanket which will feel warmer to the touch.
7 – Warm by a campfire.
No camping trip feels complete without a campfire. Before you start one, make sure it is safe to do so. Some areas we’ve camped at have had temporary bans on campfires due to dry weather and therefore an increased risk of forest fires. So listen to the rules and play it safe. But if you are able to have one, do so before heading to your tent for the night. This will warm you up and help you keep your body temperature up as you turn in for the night. Don’t forget to completely put your fire out before you go to sleep.
8 – Have something warm to drink.
Another great way to keep warm is to have something warm to drink before bed. We don’t recommend anything caffeinated as it will keep you up at night. Warm milk is said to be great for causing drowsiness. However, our son prefers to drink hot water with lemon juice. My husband and I like to prepare a camp version of mulled wine: red wine with orange juice and honey. Whatever you drink though, don’t have too much of it before bed. You don’t want to lose body heat by having to get up to pee in the middle of the night.
9 – Pee before bed.
You’ve had your warm drink. Now go brush your teeth and use the loo. You want to avoid having to get up at night to pee. Every time you unzip your sleeping bag and get out of your tent, you lose body heat. So watch your liquid intake before bed.
10 – Hot stone hack.
Sure, you can bring your hot water bottle from home, but we have a great hack we like to use when camping. It really makes the experience more outdoorsy. We like to find flat river stones and place them next to the fire. We leave them there for about an hour. If you are camping in a place that doesn’t allow fires, you can place them on your camping stove or a grill to heat them up. If you are using this option, the stones will be hot enough in a few minutes.
Once the stones are hot enough, we place them inside socks or wrap them in a towel. You place this little package inside your sleeping bag and voilà! You have radiating heat for a good part of the night. To keep it going all night, once the rock has cooled off a bit, place it between your legs just above the knee. The heat exchange between your body and the rock will keep you both warm till the morning.
Ultimately, to keep warm in a tent when camping in cold weather, we follow the ten points we described above. However, it hasn’t always been that way. Some of these we learned the hard way. It is best to be over-prepared than to be shivering in the middle of the night. What tips do you have for keeping warm in a tent?
P.S. To find out how we kept warm in Iceland, check out this post.