Discover 9 Ways How to Keep Warm in Your Tent During Those Cold Nights.

Knowing how to keep warm in your tent at night will make for an enjoyable camping trip.  

Three key factors to help keep you warm in your tent at night is an appropriately rated sleeping bag, a sleeping pad with a higher R-value and some quality layered clothing.

If you wake up in the early morning hours freezing…..don’t blame your tent. Your tent is primarily there to provide shelter, protect you from the weather elements and wind.

Overnight snow while camping

Here are some tips and tricks on how to keep warm in your tent when you're camping.

So, let’s get started:

1. Let’s talk about your tent. First, you’ll notice that there are air vent’s inside your tent. As much as you’d like to close these - it’s important that you keep the vents open.

While sleeping your breath creates moisture forming condensation on the tent walls. If there’s enough moisture, water droplets will begin running down onto your sleeping bag and pad. If these items get wet, you’ll get colder.

2. Some sleeping pads insulate better than others. A closed cell pad insulates much better than an air mattress. I use various sleeping pads depending on the season. When the weather gets colder I pick the pad with the higher R-value.

It's amazing how much body heat can be lost down into the sleeping pad. During colder temperatures I often lay a wool blanket (horse blanket) on top of the sleeping pad. This helps a lot! Not only that, I don’t slide around as much at night if my tent happens to be on uneven ground!

If you prefer more comfort and camping in warmer weather you can check out this air-mattress review.

3. To help you keep warm in your tent at night, get a good sleeping bag. I have two different types of sleeping bags. In the summer months I use a couple of less expensive sleeping bags that I zipper together to make one large one when my partner and I go camping.

I purchased those at Costco for a total of about $60 USD. As colder weather approaches I’ll take my Sierra Designs “Synthetic” Sleeping Bag which is rated to 0°F.

A note about sleeping bag ratings: Be aware that sleeping bag temperature ratings are about as optimistic as tent sizes. Example: If you want to keep warm, purchase a bag rated 20°F colder than the temperature at which you plan to camp. (If you want adequate room in a tent for 2 people…purchase a 3 person tent.)

4. Getting a sleeping bag liner is a worthwhile inexpensive investment. I use a cloth liner primarily to protect my bag. After-all it’s much easier to wash a liner than to dry clean/wash an entire sleeping bag. There are also thermal bag liners available which can help you keep warm if your bag doesn’t do the job.

Another how to keep warm trick. Using an extra blanket over the top of your sleeping bag at night makes a big difference. 

5. In order to stay warm you need to stay dry! It's best to layer your clothing. Use a good base layer, (the layer on your skin such as long underwear and long sleeve t-shirts) with materials such as wool, silk, or synthetic materials.

These types of materials help pull the moisture away from your skin to keep you dry.

I use a polypropylene base layer with a fleece outer layer since I find wool feels itchy if I get too warm.

Most importantly, avoid cotton clothing. Cotton clothing provides no insulation value. If anything, cotton works better as a conductor and will pull the heat away from you and make you cold. Worse yet, once cotton becomes wet, it feels ice cold and takes a long time to dry.

6. Don’t forget to take a hat, gloves and extra socks to sleep in. Depending which sleeping bag you have you may not have a hood. By not covering your head you may lose a lot of heat that way.

Also, keep your feet warm at night by using some fresh wool socks. Not the ones you wore during the day’s activities. Chances are they will still moist from perspiration and they won’t insulate as well.

Keeping warm on a cold morning

Don’t you just love those starry skies on clear nights while camping? Unfortunately it’s usually those nights when you wake up between 2-3 a.m. and realize you are freezing in your tent!

Don't be left out in the cold while camping. It's all about knowing how to keep warm.

7. Don't overdress. A common mistake many campers make is putting on too many clothes before they hop into the sleeping bag. It may seem cold at first but you’ll quickly warm up in your bag. You don’t want to overheat and start sweating in your bag at night!

8. If I expect a cold night, sometimes I’ll make some hot decaffeinated ginger tea to drink before I crawl in the tent. Ginger root has the incredible quality to be able to increase your metabolism and thus increase your body’s core temperature.

Eating a warm meal in the evening before bed helps as well.

9. Here are a couple more, how to keep warm in your tent, ideas.

During an organized camping/trekking trip to Bhutan we were given hot water bottles to put into our sleeping bags at night. That was the first time I used this method…it worked great for a few hours!

(Just a word of caution though: Don’t use the water from those bottles to make tea the next day because it tastes awful!)

Some friends of mine use chemical hand and toe warmers at night to stay warm. I use them on those cold winter days when I ski but they work great for camping as well since they’ll produce heat almost all night.

These may not be available in all parts of the country and it is a seasonal item. They are available online. (Note: It's best not to purchase too many in advance as these items do have an expiration date.)

One more important thing: Do NOT use external heaters in your tent as they are extremely unsafe. It's important to know how to keep warm and alive!

Hope you’ll find these 9 tips on how to keep warm in your tent beneficial. Always check the weather before you head out. If you don't, you may be left out in the cold!

For additional resources on how to keep warm while camping check out this camping in the winter blog by Anna Griffiths.

The Needles of the San Juans

Click here to go back to the main how to camp page from the how to keep warm page.

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