How To Stay Warm Winter Camping In A Tent: 11 Tips For Cold Weather Camping

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Learn how to stay warm winter camping in a tent to rest comfortably and sleep sound soundly.

picture of a woman who knows how to stay warm winter camping in a tent

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No matter how scenic a camping area is, the great outdoors will quickly stop feeling quite so great if you are shivering inside a tent.

Fortunately, there is no need to ditch your camping obsession during winter, and with some planning and smart camping hacks, it is easy to stay warm camping inside a tent. In fact, you may even start looking forward to creating your snug winter cocoon!

In this post, we’ll explore why it’s essential to stay warm, tips for staying warm while camping, and then we’ll go over a few frequently asked questions about keeping warm when it’s freezing outside and you’re sleeping in a tent.

Warm Winter Camping Equals Safe Winter Camping

With the right equipment and some basic know-how, cold-weather camping offers serenity, clear air, and majestic scenery. But before you make plans to set out to a freezing area in midwinter, a note of warning – never underestimate the raw power of nature. Cold can be a killer and must always be taken seriously.

Whether camping in a tent or doing any other type of outdoor winter activity, the most basic rule is to do everything you can to avoid getting cold. Although it is occasionally unavoidable, and most regular campers know the anxiety of trying to throw up a tent or tarp at record speed to keep everything dry if the weather suddenly turns, don’t wait until you feel cold to make staying warm a priority.

It is much harder to get warm from a chilled state than to stay warm and cozy throughout. However, staying warm when camping in a tent during winter requires the right equipment, planning, and some emergency survival strategies in case things don’t go to plan.

11 Ways To Stay Warm Winter Camping In A Tent

1.    Get Plenty Of Food & Water

Eating and drinking water frequently is a key element of staying warm while camping in the winter. If necessary, I recommend scheduling food and water breaks into your day if you are the type of person who forgets to eat when you get caught up in activities.

Being outdoors with plenty of new activities and exhilarating views can be quite distracting. Combine that with strenuous activities like setting up your tent, and you may suddenly find yourself suddenly feeling unexpectedly ravenous and a bit chilly. Plan to consume more calories and more water than you would on a typical day at home.

Since topping up isn’t as easy as quickly popping something into the microwave, be prepared and have plenty of high-energy snacks available to fill the gap between feeling hungry and preparing a hot meal. By the time you start shivering, you will be burning around 100 calories every 15 minutes to produce body heat, so it is definitely a situation to be avoided.

2.    Choose Your Camp Site Carefully For Cold Weather Camping

Avoiding the lowest point of valleys and marshy spots can go a long way to making your camping trip a lot cozier. Determine the wind direction and position the tent, so wind or rain hits the back. Try to set up so that the sun streams into the tent in the morning.

Selecting a suitable site to pitch a tent in cold conditions or snow is quite different from setting up during summer. Here are some winter site-choosing tips to keep in mind:

  • Windbreaks – If there is snow on the ground, you can build a low windbreak a few feet from your tent.
  • Protect your tent from windchill by pitching it close to natural windbreaks like a fallen tree or thickets.
  • Clear the ground of debris and snow before pitching the tent. In deep snow, compact it before putting up the tent on top.
  • Position the tent where it can get as much daytime sunlight as possible.
  • In snowy areas, always assess the risk of avalanches and never camp under tree branches that could snap under the weight of heavy snow.

3.    Use The Proper Tent

Smaller tents are easier to keep warm than bigger tents and 4-season tents are better designed to withstand heavy winds, snowfall, and rain. So, with those facts in mind I suggest using a tent just big enough to fit you and your gear. Avoid large cavernous tents if possible because the larger the tent the more air you have to heat up to stay warm. I also recommend using a 4-season tent if you will be in extremely cold temperatures. However, if your camping plans call for temperatures that are north of 32 degrees, a 3-season is more than sufficient.

So, you may be wondering why everyone doesn’t just immediately opt for a four-season tent since they are designed to withstand the harshest winter conditions. The answer is that they are heavier, harder to set up, and can be tough to keep ventilated in warmer summer months.

Please note, that just because a tent is rated four-season doesn’t mean it will save you from hypothermia if you are a novice camper and don’t take all the other cold weather camping precautions.

4.    Ground Insulation Is Essential When Camping In Winter

Padding from the ground up greatly affects how warm you will be inside your tent in winter. If necessary, use two pads, or lay a tarp under the tent before setting it up. Ensure tarp edges do not extend beyond the floor space of the tent, or it may work like a funnel for rain and snow.

People often ask me if they can use a regular air mattress when winter camping, and my answer is absolutely not. While staying high off the cold ground may seem like a good idea, lying with a layer of icy air trapped below you on a flimsy blow-up mattress is not ideal if warmth is a priority.

Stick to specifically designed sleeping pads for camping in cold conditions. Some of them, like Big Agnes Q-Core Delux, are air pads, but these are different from your standard household-variety air mattresses. They also offer plenty of much-needed insulation from below.

5.    Invest In A Tent Heater To Add Warmth

Tent heaters offer campers a quick way to warm up the inside of their tent. It is a valuable accessory that can make roughing it much more comfortable. A tent heater cannot be used while sleeping and always requires proper ventilation.

While a tent heater cannot replace a quality tent or sleeping bag, it is a welcome addition for anyone having second thoughts about overnighting in a tent in winter! Just be sure to choose a design with a carbon monoxide sensor that will shut it off automatically if there is a dangerous gas buildup.

6.    Get The Right Sleeping Bag To Stay Warm In A Tent

Choose a sleeping bag that is rated at least 10 degrees lower than the temperature you are expecting. If you get too hot, you can vent a cold-weather sleeping bag, so it is better to err on the side of caution. Include a bag liner if you are still trying to figure out how cold it may get.

Related: How To Stay Warm In A Sleeping Bag

7.    Protect Your Extremities While Winter Camping

Warm jackets and pants are essential, but special care needs to be given to body extremities: hands, feet, ears, and face. This means choosing quality socks, gloves that keep your fingers warm and dry, and wearing suitable headgear.

When I was a youngster just starting out in Scouts, one patrol leader always reminded us to think like penguins while camping in icy weather. He would tell us to protect our ‘flippers and feet’! This didn’t make too much sense until I discovered that Emperor penguins are pros at staying warm and even tip onto their heels to avoid unnecessary contact with the ice and prevent heat loss.

While you think about winter camping, one of your first priorities may be choosing warm clothing for the trip. However, like our penguin friends, some areas of our bodies are more likely to feel cold first. Keep your extremities in mind, and don’t skimp when it comes to choosing gear that will prevent heat loss.

8.    Tent Ventilation Is Important To Stay Warm

Ensuring sufficient ventilation can keep the tent feeling warm and airy inside. The air inside a tent is highly likely to be more humid than outside, but there needs to be a through-flow of air to ensure that moisture buildup and potentially dangerous gasses can escape.

If you have ever turned up the car heater on a cold day, you may have noticed how quickly the warm air condenses on the inside of the windows. You want to avoid that situation inside a tent because everything can quickly get uncomfortably damp.

9.    Dress In Layers And Wear Moisture Wicking Clothing

There is a fine line between staying warm and sweating when winter camping. In an ideal situation, you should be able to easily peel off or add layers of clothing. Moisture-wicking clothing is essential whether you are camping in hot or cold weather conditions.

Another tip when camping in a tent is to pack some extra clothes in dry bags available in case you unexpectedly get wet during your trip. Dressing in layers lets you stay in tune with the weather and dress appropriately based on the actual conditions on the ground.

10.    Use An Electric Camping Blanket To Stay Warm

Electric camping blankets come in various sizes and are powered by different methods, including batteries, connecting to a car charger, or chargeable battery packs.

Suggested: The 5 Best Electric Heated Blankets For Camping In Comfort

They are typically lightweight and are useful accessories to fend off cold when camping in a tent. The days of keeping a couple of hot boiled potatoes in your pockets to stay warm were fun and made great memories, but flicking the switch on an electric camping blanket is much more convenient!

11.    Use A Space Blanket To Insulate The Tent

A space blanket is a versatile, potentially life-saving, essential piece of camping equipment. It can be used as emergency insulation for the inside of a tent during cold snaps by taping it to the sides or roof of the tent – just be sure not to seal the vents, or you may start sweating.

No camping trip should be undertaken without an emergency blanket – I recommended getting an XL one, so it can easily double up as a ground tarp, gear cover, or suspended inside the tent to create a baked potato effect.

The overhead space blanket method inside a tent should be a sort of last-resort emergency measure if conditions become unexpectedly extreme. A trusty space blanket may be considered dead weight for many campers, but ideally, that is what it should always be! When you need it, you will be extremely grateful that you have it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Tent Heaters Safe For Tent Camping?

Tent heaters are safe if they are used responsibly. This includes ensuring that they are set up in a spot where they won’t get knocked over, never sleeping with the tent heater running, and always ensuring that there is sufficient ventilation.
Many campers are hesitant about investing in a tent heater because it sounds like a recipe for disaster. While I would never recommend sleeping with a tent heater running, if you have the space for a genuine camping heater like a Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater, it will make tenting in icy conditions a lot more comfortable.

Can You Get Frostbite Camping In A Tent?

You can frostbite when camping even when the temperatures are above freezing, so when camping in cold weather, it is essential to know the signs of frostbite and take every precaution to avoid this painful condition that can cause permanent damage or even death.

How Do You Keep Your Hands Warm While Camping

I have two tricks for keeping hands warm while camping in the winter. First, use a pair of thin weatherproof gloves that keep your hands protected from wind, moisture, and cold. Second, keep hand warmers in your pockets.

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Thomas Coleman

Thomas is a lifelong camping, fishing, and outdoor enthusiast! He is proud to be an Eagle Scout and treasures every moment he gets to spend with mother nature. He has been camping in 14 states, 3 countries, and 2 continents. When not blogging about camping and the outdoors, he enjoys photography, playing guitar, and traveling with his wife.