Wondering how to stay warm in your tent when camping? It’s a common question. A camping trip is an excellent way to bust out of your 9-5 grind and experience nature firsthand. Day trips into the outdoors are great, but there’s nothing quite like spending a night camped out, whether in your local state park, a far-flung locale, or simply out in your backyard. That said, freezing all night long in your tent can totally ruin the experience, and may leave you too tired the next day to enjoy any other excursions you had planned.
As a professional outdoor journalist, I’ve spent years in the backcountry and hundreds of nights sleeping in tents (and plenty of those nights freezing my butt off). With that in mind, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned throughout my career to help you stay warm in a tent.
Buy a Warm Sleeping Bag
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If you look around online you’ll find many folks claiming outlandish workarounds to keep you warm in a tent, from electric radiators to heated stones to building your tent on top of a campfire. Take it from someone who has camped everywhere from New Zealand to the Balkans to the Andes in the dead of winter and stayed warm while doing it. These ideas are all loony.
You can be warm camping in almost any environment, within reason, if you simply have the correct sleeping bag. Any good sleeping bag will have a temperature rating, telling you exactly how cold of temps the bag is meant to handle. Take the temperatures you expect to encounter and then go even lower, and buy a sleeping bag that is rated for those temps.1
For winter camping, even if you expect warmer temperatures, go for a bag rated in the 15° to 10° (F) range, perhaps lower if you often get cold. If you’ll only be camping in summer, look for a bag that’s rated 30° and higher, but worst case scenario you can always simply unzip your bag and use it as a blanket or sleep on top of it if it’s too warm. There are a lot of pieces of camping gear that you can cut corners on, but if you want to be warm, sleeping bags aren’t one of those. Splurge a bit and secure a decent bag.
Bring Camping Blankets
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Bringing camping blankets with you is another stellar way to stay warm. Well-made camping blankets aren’t only incredibly warm, they’re also quite versatile. The best camping blankets can serve as a ground covering for picnics, and can also be used to keep you warm and protected from the wind when you’re hanging out around the fire at night. When brought inside the tent, they allow you an extra layer of warmth over your sleeping bag and can be shared amongst two or three people, too.
In years past, camping blankets were unfeasible if you were going backpacking (i.e. moving camp each night and packing all your gear with you), but the best modern camping blankets are incredibly packable, and even larger, more old-school blankets typically strap down well to the outside of a top-loading backpack if you do plan to take them on the move.
Use a Proper Ground Mat
What many people don’t realize is that the primary way you lose heat when camping is from the ground. You can have the warmest sleeping bag in the world and cover yourself with blankets, but if you’re lying on the tent floor with no insulation layer between you and the cold earth, you’re going to lose heat fast.
Be sure you’re using a camping mattress, whether you opt to go with a foam pad or an inflatable mattress. Both options have their pros and cons, but for the general purposes of staying warm, all that really matters is that you have some form of a mattress to keep you up off the ground.
Know When It’s Too Cold
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Whenever people ask me, “How Cold is Too Cold for Tent Camping?” my initial answer is that it’s almost never too cold to go camping, with a caveat. It’s never too cold to go camping if you have the right gear and experience. Know the limits of your gear and your experience.2
If you’re expecting sub 10° temps but only have a 30° sleeping bag, hold off on that trip and go when there will be warmer weather or when you have a warmer sleeping bag. If you’re expecting heavy snow but have never camped or hiked in heavy snow before, maybe postpone until you can do a few day hikes in the snowy terrain.
In reality, with the proper gear and experience, no weather is too cold for tent camping. If you want to remain comfortable, however, camping blankets, a warm sleeping bag, and some form of mattress will go a long way. Start out with short overnight trips and then graduate to longer camping trips once you’ve learned how you respond to the cold.
Now get out there and enjoy!
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- Lanza M. Winter Hiking and Camping: Managing Cold for Comfort and Safety. The Mountaineer Books. Published 2003. Accessed 9 Nov 2021.
- Pugh LG. Accidental hypothermia in walkers, climbers, and campers: report to the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention. Br Med J. 1966;1(5480):123-129. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.5480.123