Tents are a great way to get out and experience nature. You can hear all of the sounds of the forest as darkness falls, the call of an owl and the chirp of a tree frog. However, something else occurs when the sun goes down…it gets cold.
Sleeping in a tent means that the only thing between you and the great outdoors is thin fabric paneling. This does little in the way of keeping you warm or providing insulation. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to stay warm in a tent. Including:
- Selecting a tent with the correct season rating
- Using insulating items
- Wearing layers and appropriate clothing
- Using heaters and other devices
We will discuss how you can brave even the chilliest temperatures in your tent.
Selecting a Tent with an Appropriate Season Rating
All types of available tents come in with different season ratings. These season ratings are designed to inform the buyer about how warm and protective the tent will be in various conditions.
There are one to two season rated tents, three-season rated, four-season rated, and five-season rated tents. One to two being suited to the most favorable and warmest conditions and five being optimal for arctic expeditions.
The type of tent required to stay warm will depend on where you are going camping, the weather forecast, and the time of year.
One to two season rated tents are meant for the warmer months with moderate temperatures. Usually, you can get away with these tents in the late spring, summer, and early fall.
Another consideration is their inability to withstand heavy rainfall and extreme precipitation. One to two season rated tents do not have a great deal of insulation or waterproofing but are suitable for the average seasonal camper.
Three-season are constructed to withstand a bit more precipitation and slightly cooler temps. Three season tents are a popular choice for those who go camping in the summer but also frequently camp in the fall and spring.
Three-season tents tend to be built with both a good amount of ventilation to keep you cool in the summer and insulation to keep you warm in the fall and spring. Due to their durability and longer seasons of use, they can be more costly.
Four-season and five-season tents are constructed to be extremely durable and hardy. They are easily the most expensive out of the season rated tents discussed so far. Often, a five season rated tents are referred to as an expedition tent.
They provide a significant amount of protection against extreme elements. Many times they are specifically manufactured for polar climates and shear wind conditions.
Choosing the correct tent season rating for your trip will set you up for warmth from the start. If your tent is rated to handle colder temperatures than it should result in you having to do less layering and having to use fewer other heating methods.
Those that camp in very cold and snowy conditions obviously typically select four and five season rated tents. However, they have some unique tricks for staying warm.
Usually, they will choose a relatively small tent. The smaller the tent the less empty space inside, and even though you may feel like a sardine the smaller the tent the better it will trap heat indoors.
They also choose their tent location strategically, choosing natural wind barriers. Snow mounds, trees, or bushes can all be used as natural windbreaks.
Finally, some recommend using duct tape to secure a thermal blanket to the interior ceiling of your tent at night. The thought behind this is that it will trap rising heat and help to reflect warmth back to you.
Heating Your Tent
Regardless of the tent type, if it is downright cold outside you may have to use heat sources to warm your tent.
Some tents, typically larger canvas style tents, can accommodate a wood-burning stove. These tents must have an access port for a flue or chimney. They are built to be safe for stove use; not just any tent can be used with a wood-burning stove for safety reasons.
If you are using a wood-burning stove the interior of your tent will likely be quite warm. However, you should exercise caution and follow safety procedures. Safety measures include placing the stove on a flame-resistant mat within your tent to catch any embers, using a spark arrester at the top of the flu, and keeping a fire extinguisher close by.
Any combustible items, children and pets should be kept away from hot surfaces. Finally, it is better to not use your stove when everyone is sleeping for safety reasons, including carbon monoxide issues (though rare with the use of a flue). Finally, ensure proper ventilation so smoke or CO2 doesn’t get trapped inside.
A propane heater or an electric heater are other sources of warmth for your tent. Both types have their pros and cons.
Electric heaters are thought to be safer than propane heaters because they do not produce carbon dioxide. However, to use them you need an electrical outlet to provide power. if your campsite has a hook-up this is a non-issue. Electric heaters can quickly heat a space and are light and portable. Use caution with these heat sources as well, such as keeping combustibles and children a safe distance away and turning it off while you sleep.
If you don’t have access to an electrical outlet consider a propane heater, but know they do emit CO2. Because of this, ventilation is vital, including opening windows, vents, and possibly even leaving the door panel open. It is best to purchase a heater that is made specifically for tents use, such as a Coleman propane heater.
Candle lanterns can provide a minimal amount of heat as well. They won’t be the greatest source of heat but they can help to warm you up a little bit. As they use a flame, exercise care.
You should not use an open flame candle that isn’t housed in a protective container in your tent as they pose a fire risk.
Finally, if you find yourself in a pinch, one of the most resourceful ways to heat your tent involves rocks. This method may or may not be ideal for you depending on your tent type.
To begin, find a few decently smooth and heavy rocks, between five and fifteen pounds. To heat your rocks, place them near the fire, even at the base of the fire, for a few hours. Once hot, remove them with tongs or flame retardant gloves and set them aside to cool.
When cooled, enough so that you can touch them, you can bring them inside your tent either wrapped in a thermal blanket or set on a mat. Depending on the size of your tent, the rocks should warm up the space inside.
Buried rocks with your tent placed overtop can work as well. Heat the rocks on the fire like mentioned above. While they are heating locate a sandy area and dig a hole about a foot deep.
Once the rocks have warmed put them into the hole using a shovel, tongs, or gloves. Put dirt or sand overtop to bury the rocks and then move your tent directly over the hole. The rocks will warm the sand and in turn, your tent, just be sure they are deep enough to not burn a hole in your tent floor.
Blankets, Layers, and Insulation
Choosing the correct tent and bringing along a heater or heat source are the most obvious ways to stay warm in your tent. However, there are a few small things you can try that may make a big difference.
The ground can work against you to allow heat to seep out of your tent and away from your body. Therefore, you might want to consider placing some form of insulation between you and the ground. One method is by using an elevated flooring system, such as pallets.
Additionally, area rugs make a great insulative barrier between you and the ground. Interlocking foam pieces or mats can work just as well.
Most individuals find themselves getting chilly when they sleep. If you sleep on an elevated surface you will have a thick barrier between you and the ground to prevent heat loss. For this reason, air mattresses can be very useful when trying to stay warm in a tent as can sleeping pads.
When you are lounging around, try to use a camp chair, bean bag, or hammock to keep you up off of the ground. Some blankets and pillows and you will be warm and cozy in no time.
Other portable heat sources include hot water bottles and commercial heat packs. A hot water bottle can be warmed by the fire just before bed and placed at your feet to keep you toasty while you sleep.
Chemical heat packs, such as the kind that you break or shake can help to keep you warm. They can be used in your bed, on your body, or placed inside pockets and hats. Keep in mind however that they are usually only single use.
Finally, dressing in layers will help you to keep warm. Choose thermal base layers that wick away perspiration but trap in heat and work as insulators. Wool is a very common choice for staying toasty in cold temperatures.
If you require an instant dose of warmth eat a hearty meal and wash it down with warm liquids. Sipping on hot tea or coffee can help to warm you up, don’t overdo it on the caffeine though, warm water is just as helpful.
Preparation is Key
The trick to staying warm in a tent is preparation. First, you must choose the correct season rated tent. You should also be wise about your sleeping bag choice as they are rated for different temperatures too.
Next, pack anything necessary to provide you with heat. Bring heaters, heat packs, hot water bottles, and plenty of warm clothing. Don’t forget accessories like hats, gloves, scarves, and blankets.
It is better to have the resources to stay warm at your disposal, even if you don’t use them, then having to spend the night freezing in your tent.