Cold Weather Camping Tips – How to Stay Warm in a Tent

Cold weather camping and knowing how to stay warm in a tent is not just about comfort and enjoyment. But also, staying warm and dry is important for your health and well being. These cold weather camping tips will help keep you safe, warm and dry while you’re relaxing or sleeping on your winter camping trip.

How to Stay Warm in a Tent - Always On Liberty


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Cold Weather Camping Tips – How to Stay Warm in a Tent

What to look for in a cold weather camping tent

Tents come in all different shapes and sizes. They can accommodate 1 up to 10 persons depending on manufacturer and model.

But all tents are not created equal. Sometimes the less expensive tents may work, but really, quality should be something too strive for in an all weather tent.

However, 3 season tents can be sufficient enough provided you’re not subject to harsh winter weather. The difference is 3 seasons tents are generally lighter in weight and incorporate mesh for air flow.

All weather or 4 season tents are more durable, are typically double-walled and may or may not have windows. They are more sturdily manufactured with better insulation value and are waterproof as opposed to being water resistant.

Four season tents can also endure high winds, blowing snow as well as be able to handle the weight of snow that may collect on the top of the tent.

Double-wall tents have two layers; the tent body and the rainfly that covers the tent almost entirely. The rainfly protects your tent, you and everything inside from the wind and rain. Thus, providing another layer of protection from extreme cold.

But, what if your tent is not double-walled? Simple, you can create a 2nd barrier by using a separate tent fly (also called a rain fly or tent flap). It consists of a piece of canvas or waterproof tent material that can hover over your tent using separate tent stakes.

If it’s bigger than your tent, it offers rain or sun protection over the tent door so you can still sit out. By the way, these are also great for hammock camping too.

And lastly, who’d ever think the color of your tent has anything to do with maintaining heat or cold inside. While bright color tents are easy to spot in snow or any outdoor environment, they may not be what you need for your winter shelter.

For cold weather camping, try to stick to dark color tents such as navy, burgundy, dark green, brown, black and even dark purple. Darker colors tend to absorb heat from the sun instead of reflecting the light like lighter color tents. This will actually keep the inside of your tent warmer during the day.

However, realize that not all tent manufacturers have this concept in mind.

That said, there’s an array of 4 season tents on the market that do come in all different colors based on preference.

4 Season Tents

Kazoo Waterproof Backpacking Tent
Photo by Kazoo (Amazon)

One-person or solo lightweight compact motocamping tents (motorcycle) are also great for solo camping, hikers and bicyclists looking to overnight at a campground or off grid.

There are also other options that fit any of those outdoor activities.

Two person tents are great for couples. They’re also great for solo campers who want a little extra room to stretch out or bring in their backpack or other gear without it being on top of them.

For families or a group of campers who’d rather share one tent, there are some great camping shelter options. These larger tents also allow extra room for a couple and their gear.

By the way, it’s always a good idea to take a few extra good quality tent stakes to hold your tent down and a rain fly or tarp to keep you dry.

What are Insulated Tents

Crua Outdoors Culla Maxx Insulated Tent
Photo by Crua Outdoors

If you’re going to be camping in frigid temperatures, you may want to look into getting an insulated tent by Crua Outdoors.

These insulated tents can provide temperature regulation inside another tent which otherwise would not (with proper measuring).

However, you will need the Crua Pump that is specifically made for Crua’s Air Frame Beams. The Pump is designed for 7PSI Air Pressure which is the ideal Pressure for the Culla’s Air Beams. This Pump can also be used for various other purposes due to the multiple nozzles included.


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How to Stay Warm in a Tent - Man Camping in Winter Cold Weather

As one who’s grown up on frigid Lake Erie and a former New Englander, I know all too well that suffering in the cold can totally ruin your winter camping experience. But, know that you can enjoy camping in cold weather. You just need to know a bit about winter camping which will lead you into knowing how and what to use to stay warm in your tent. 

Don’t Wait Until You’re Cold

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not conducive to wait until you’re cold to warm up your tent for sleeping. Preparing your shelter before you actually need the warmth is as important as staying warm in your tent itself.

When you’re cold, you become sluggish. You have less energy to do the important stuff. And, you also may not be thinking as clearly. You may forget major things that are important to surviving the winter temperatures. So, don’t dilly dally when you get to your chosen campsite. Get your tent set up quickly before you get cold or before it gets even colder. And certainly before it gets dark outside.

Drink only warm liquids

To help keep your body’s core warm, it’s best not to eat snow, frozen icicles or ice or drink cold water. If you do, you’re lowering your body core’s temperature. So, bring out your camp stove and heat up some water to make coffee or tea. While you’re at it, make enough to store extra in a camp thermos for later.

Just remember two things while camping even in cold weather. First, stay hydrated by drinking warm drinks; preferably warm water or clear tea. And second, know how caffeine affects you. You certainly don’t want to be so super alert at night that you can’t gently fall asleep. However, a nice hot cup of sleepy tea may help relax you for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Keep Your Sleeping Gear Dry

If your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad or anything else in your tent got wet, it’s important to find a way to dry them. If you’re on a multi-day winter camping trip, drive into town and find a laundromat to tumble dry some things (make certain they can be). Or hang them out on a clothesline early in the day to give them ample time to dry in the warm sun.

Zip Two Sleeping Bags Together

This may sound a bit weird for two heterosexuals of the same gender camping together but hey, it’s a known fact that you can stay warmer, generate and conserve more body heat when you sleep with a friend! And I only say ‘sleep’, so don’t get too excited over this tip.

Just zip two sleeping bags together. The two of you in there will produce enough heat to keep each other warm and toasty (and that’s all).

Of course, if you’re married or sleeping with your partner, have a good time. Just don’t get sweated up in there. For one, it’s gross and you’ll only end up getting cold from perspiration.

Also, be aware, some sleeping bags, like mummy bags, are not meant to zip together.

Layer Your Bedding

When your cold weather camping, setting up your bed properly is going to either make you or break you when it comes to getting a restful sleep.

The ground is cold, if not frozen. So, by properly layering from the ground up will help keep you warm on cold nights in your tent.

First, lay a tent footprint (ground tarp) directly on the ground surface. That tent mat will keep the ground moisture away from the bottom of your tent. Make sure your tent footprint is the same size or even larger than your tent floor.

Then, set up your tent on top of the tent footprint. Once you’ve set up your tent, then put down a good quality insulated sleeping mat. Every sleeping mat (or pad) has an R-value. This measures how much insulation it has to block the cold between the ground and you. 

How do you know which R-value is best for camping in the winter? R-values range from less than 2 which is minimally insulated to over 5 for very well insulated. So, in other words, you definitely want an R-value of at least 5 for cold weather.

Have a Good Quality Sleeping Bag

How to Stay Warm in a Tent - woman in sleeping bag in tent

Besides your tent and your sleeping mat that protects you from the cold ground, your sleeping bag is the most important piece of camping gear you’ll need. Especially for camping in near to freezing temperatures, you need a sleeping bag with a low temperature rating.

Now, besides a sleeping bag’s temperature rating, do know that if you’re sleeping bag is too big, you will feel colder because cold air gets trapped.

However, that doesn’t mean you should get a much smaller bag. You want your sleeping bag to cover you enough to be able to move but not too big to be able to wrestle a bear.

Also, the material your sleeping bag is made of will make a difference. Look for lofty goose down as it tends to be warmer and retain heat longer.

Cold Weather Sleeping Bags

An important suggestion for cold weather camping. Though your sleeping bag alone may be good enough for cool nights, in freezing temperatures and below, you’ll want to add a tad more warming comfort.

We highly recommend a sleeping bag liner for two reasons. For one, it adds a couple extra degrees of warmth, especially for the mummy-with-hood shape sleeping bags. But also, a sleeping bag liner is like a thin sleep sack inside your slumber bag. It’s great hygienic travel sheet.

So, when it comes time to wash all your camping gear, you’re only going to need wash the bag liner instead of the whole sleeping bag.

Do know that repeated washing of your sleeping bag can degrade the materials after multiple washings.

So, look at it as a way to preserve the inside of your sleeping bag.

Add Extra Warmth

Now that your sleeping bag is all set up ready for you to crawl into and sleep the night away, there’s still a couple other things you can do to stay warm in your sleeping bag on super frigid nights.

In subzero temperatures, you may want to do one or two extra things to conserve heat. You can add another layer on top of your sleeping bag. If you have room to pack another blanket,

A good old fashion military wool blanket makes an excellent top layer. But keep in mind, you don’t want to get wool wet as it’s heavy and takes forever to dry.

You could opt for the old standby woobie. We prefer SnugPak’s TravelPak Blanket. The great thing about SnugPaks is it’s multipurpose.

You can spread it out over your entire sleeping area in your tent for extra warmth, wrap around yourself at the campfire, or as a throw during that afternoon nap in your camp chair or hammock.

They dry quickly and are super easy to launder.

If you’re backpacking or motocamping and really tight on packing space, you could opt using a mylar space blanket just the same.

Here’s the thing though, don’t over-compensate your bedding thinking the more you pile on top, the warmer you’ll be.

In actuality, you may be making yourself too hot and then you’ll sweat. the last thing you want to do is perspire. And, when you perspire, you’ll actually get colder.

Dress in Layers

If you don’t know by now, it’s better to layer your clothes instead of put on one heavy article of clothing. Start with moisture wicking long johns (long sleeve and long pants underwear).

Since these types of garments are personally sized, do your diligence to find a good quality pair that will keep you dry and warm at the same time.

Then, add thin layers to obtain a manageable body heat and movement.

My opinion, when winter camping, stay away from thick cotton clothing because cotton fabric is difficult to dry in short periods of time. Plus, they are bulky which makes them difficult to layer.

But also, thicker layers don’t compact well in backpacks or an adventure bike panniers or tail bag.

Get Wet or Sweaty Clothes OFF

It’s important to not be wet anytime you’re camping in cold weather; including while you’re sleeping. Water through perspiration is proven to draw heat from your body. Thus, you’ll lose body heat faster in cold water than in cold air.

So, if your clothes are even slightly damp from perspiration or wetness, get them off and put on completely dry clothing.

Maintaining Body Warmth in Your Tent

For personal body heat, one of my personal favorites are HotHands. They’re fairly inexpensive and can last all night while you sleep or throughout the day.

In fact, we used these during all-day snow skiing and winter hikes in New England. We also used them for cold weather riding on our motorcycles. They’re just the right tool for taking your mind off the cold by keeping your hands warm and toes from freezing or frostbite. 

You can use the hand warmers in your gloves or mittens and foot warmers or toe warmers inside your socks.

There’s also body warmers that you can stick onto your t-shirt or between your shirts. You can also stuff one of those body warmers down in the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm.

The HotHands variety pack is great for a weekend camping adventure for each person.

That said, I really don’t recommend applying them directly on skin. They could cause minor burns or skin irritation to fragile skin people.

If all else fails, or if you left the Hot hands at home, you could always wear a beanie or watch cap, gloves and socks to bed to keep your extremities warm.


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Keep Your Tent Warm Inside

Nobody wants to bundle up like a 3 year old in a huge snowsuit inside their tent. It’s uncomfortable and really doesn’t give off a relaxing vibe.

So, if you have room in your vehicle or will be parking your vehicle close to your winter campsite, you may want to bring a heating device of some kind to keep your tent warm inside.

Personally, we prefer Mr. Heater propane heaters because they’re safe, efficient and proven winners. The Little Buddy.is perfect for small tents. And, the larger Buddy is better suited for larger tent or two-room tents.

Now, if you want a 2-in-1 heater that doubles as a cook stove, look into the Flex Cooker that connects to the Buddy Flex Heater.

However, when using propane or butane heaters inside your tent, you’ll need to keep one of your window fly’s open for ventilation to the outside. This helps to prevent carbon monoxide buildup inside your tent. Equally important, never go to sleep with your heater on…EVER!

Vent your Tent

Speaking of venting your tent, even if you’re not using a propane heater inside your tent, you still should vent your tent while sleeping. 

By keeping one of your tent window’s open just a little will help prevent moisture (from breathing or cooking) from building inside your tent.

Should you disregard this tip, your tent will act like a terrarium. Condensation will build inside causing a rain effect. On cold nights while you’re sleeping, that presence of moisture will actually make you colder.


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Final thoughts on cold weather camping and how to stay warm in a tent in the winter

Two women winter camping in tent

Some of the best tent camping experiences are in the winter. But as we all know, knowing how to camp in cold weather will make all the difference between enjoyment and packing up to go home early because you couldn’t hack it.

By following these cold weather camping tips and getting good quality camping gear, you’ll be on your way to enjoying the outdoors in the winter!


✰ PRO TIP   Check these great recommendations for Outdoor Camping Gear for Car Campers, Camper Fans and Truck Campers


How to Stay Warm in a Tent - Always On Liberty


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