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How to Stay Warm in a Tent: Cold Camping Masterclass

You have spring, summer and fall camping down pat. You have the gear and skills to make tent camping a blast during these three seasons. Now it’s time to take your tent camping game to the next level. You will need to learn how to stay warm in a tent. The following tent camping tips can help you take your cold-weather camping game to the next level.
large tent setup

Keeping the Tent Warm

Pitch your tent in a place that’s out of the wind, preferably not in a low-lying area where snow will build up. If you’re camping in the rain, pick an area where water will not run under the tent. Also, avoid hilltops, as they will expose you to the wind. If you must pitch your tent in the snow, pack it down as much as you can. The packed snow will melt slower and serve as an insulator.

A Mr. Heater propane heater is a must in the cold weather. The oxygen sensor will turn the heater off if oxygen levels get too low. It is also designed to turn off in the event the heater is tipped over. 

You need to keep the vents open to keep fresh air coming in. You should also keep a tent fan on and attached to the roof. The fan will keep the warm air circulating and prevent condensation and ice from forming. 

Clearly mark a pee bottle and keep it in the tent. When you have to pee in the middle of the night, you can use the bottle and avoid opening the tent up to the cold night air. Remember, you should pee the moment you feel the urge. Your body uses a lot of energy to keep the urine in your bladder warm. If you’re void of urine, your body uses less energy to keep you warm.
Mr. Heater propane heater

Build Your Sleep System

Let’s start with your sleeping bag. You should have a sleeping bag rated 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the coldest temperature you will camp in. If you are camping in 32 degrees, your sleeping bag should be rated to keep you warm in 12-to-22-degree temperatures.

It pays to have an oversized sleeping bag. You can keep the next day’s clothes, a hot water bottle and your electronics in the bottom to keep them from freezing. You can put on the warm clothes the next morning, you will have water that’s not frozen for coffee and you’ll have working electronics to start off the day. 

It is also best to bring water filters in at night. Keep them at the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep them from freezing. If the filter freezes, it will destroy the filter’s membrane. After that, it’s useless. If it’s really cold, throw a couple of hand warmers in the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep the filter warm.

If you’re on an extended camping trip, sweat and moisture from your body will eventually freeze in your sleeping bag. A vapor-barrier-liner is not a joy to use, but it will keep your sleeping bag warm and dry on lengthy camping trips.

A memory foam pillow can freeze in extreme weather. It’s best to use a Therma-a-Rest pillow. You can slip a couple of hand-warmers in the pillowcase for an extra-warm pillow.

It is best not to sleep in the clothes you wear during the day. Even the warmest hunting clothes won't keep you warm in a sleeping bag if they are wet. Instead, sleep in lightweight dry clothes.

Do not use an air mattress. The moist air in the mattress has no insulation value. A summer sleeping pad will not give you the insulation you need. They are built for comfort and not to insulate from the cold ground. If you must use a summer sleeping pad, use two of them stacked together. A winter-rated sleeping pad is preferred and well worth the money when the temperature dips into the single digits.
cold camping by fire

Hacks to Keep Camp Warm

It goes without saying, but keep a fire burning. If all else fails, you can warm up next to the fire. It’s also a good idea to let the fire keep your favorite beverage at a simmer. Warm liquids and soups can warm a chilled body quickly.

Keep a mat outside the door of your tent. You can use it to wipe your feet before you enter the tent. This will keep mud, snow and water outside the tent.

Turn water jugs over at night. It doesn’t have to be subzero to freeze the water in your water jug. If you flip the jug over at night, ice will form at the top. When you flip it back over in the morning, the ice is at the bottom and you have water available to the spout. 

Make sure your electronics have lithium batteries. They are more expensive than alkaline batteries but will last much longer in the cold. Charge up your devices before leaving and keep a portable battery charger for your cell phone and tablet. You never know when you will need your phone for an emergency, to check the weather or to use the GPS.

Class Is Over

Winter camping can be an extreme sport. With these tips, tricks and hacks, you can take your extreme winter camping game to the next level. Winter camping is challenging, but there are rewards to winter camping that fair-weather campers will never get. There is the peaceful satisfaction you get when you’re sipping on a hot cup of coffee next to a roaring fire on a snowy December morning. At the moment, all is right with the world.

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