I must admit, I am definitely more of a fair weather camper, but I have also done my fair share of cold weather camping, and learnt a few tricks on how to stay warm in a tent along the way. Keeping warm in a tent requires a little extra thought and planning, which is very important, as it can mean the difference between a fun adventure and hating your life.
I have divided this list up into 3 categories covering 20 different tips on how best to keep warm in a tent on those cold winter nights:
- Clothing: What clothing you should wear, tips on changing/dressing.
- Gear/equipment: Your tent and sleeping equipment – There is more to it than just the sleeping bag and tent.
- Other: All the other little tips and tricks on how to keep warm in a tent
By following these tips on your next winter camping trip, you should be able to keep yourself nice and warm and toasty in your tent. They have worked for me, and I’m particularly prone to getting cold.
20 tips to help you keep warm when camping in a tent
Clothes to help you stay warm while camping in a tent: Tips 1-5
The clothing your wear is very important when it comes to keeping warm in a tent. How much clothing your wear will vary depending on the level of cold, and how much of a cold person you are.
I’m a cold person, so will often do the full works. My boyfriend on the other hand is the opposite, and will sleep almost naked.
If it’s a cold day, and you have hiked to your camping spot, you should have most of this stuff with you anyway. You can find out more about this in my guide on what to wear when winter hiking.
One overall tip I will give on how to stay warm while camping, is to sleep in your tent in the clothes you will be wearing the next day. That way you can keep your body heat in, and not have to subject your skin to the cold.
If you don’t want to sleep in them, then at least keep them in your sleeping bag with you, so they are nice and warm for the next morning.
1) Base layer
These are now your pyjamas. If the weather is cold, you might already be wearing them, if you have hiked to your camping spot. Regardless, I would still take a spare set with me. If you arrive at your camping spot sweaty, when you stop moving, you will get cold a lot quicker.
So make sure to change into your fresh ones as soon as possible, whilst you are still warm.
If you haven’t hiked far, and didn’t sweat, then you can keep the ones you have on, which will keep some of that precious body heat in, ready for sleeping in the tent.
If you are worried about being smelly, then you should get a good set of Marino Wool base layers (I recommended Icebreaker). They do a bit of odor management. This makes them ideal for wearing multiple times without washing.
2) Fleece mid layer
When cold weather camping, I will also be wearing a fleece layer, to help keep me warm. If you find you get too hot, you can always take it off. It will be easier to cool down when too hot, than to warm up when cold.
3) Insulated/puffy jacket
You should definitely be wearing this to keep warm when sitting around the tent/campsite. The key is, to put it on before you get cold. Otherwise it will be harder to warm up.
For some, this might be overkill to sleep in, if you are already wearing a base layer and fleece. You can test it out and see what works for you.
If it’s very cold, I will sleep in it, otherwise I will keep it inside my sleeping bag. That way, in the morning, it’s nice and warm and toasty to throw on when I get out of the tent.
For more information about the layering system, and jackets I recommend, you can find that in my guide on what to wear for hiking in cold weather
4) Warm socks
I will always have some thick thermal socks with me when tent camping, which help me feel nice and warm and cosy on those cold nights. These will be different from the socks I hiked in.
If your feet tend to get very cold, you could even wear liner socks under the main ones. I have these liner socks, and I actually find them to be quite warm when worn alone.
Heat Holders: Buy on Amazon
Thermal Merino Wool ski socks: Buy on Amazon
Bridgedale liner socks: Buy on Amazon
Your head is going to be exposed in the sleeping bag, or at least, partially exposed. Wearing a double layered or double layered or fleece lined hat will help keep some of that warmth in.
In the cold weather, I will get into my sleeping bag with a hat on, but if it gets too hot, it’s an easy thing to take off.
Check out the full colour range: Fleece lined hat with removable pom pom
Check out the full colour range: Double layer thermal hat
For more hat selections: What to wear for hiking in cold weather
6) Take clothes off
You want to be carful not to get too hot. This is for two reasons. Sweat and condensation.
If you start to sweat, it will feel cold when it dries. Even with a great merino wool base layer, wicking the sweat away from you, it needs to go somewhere. Which will end up being in the form of condensation in your tent. So don’t be afraid to take layers off if needed.
Gear/equipment you will need to keep warm in a tent: Tips 7-12
Choosing the right tent to take camping is an important factor in helping you stay warm.
Tent size: Whilst those big tents may look like they would be more comfortable and homey, they aren’t conducive to keeping warm. All that extra air in the tent needs to be warmed up, so the smaller your tent, the better your body heat will warm it up.
You also don’t want to go so small that you are touching the side of your tent. If your tent has an inner and outer, and you are squished right into the side, these two layers will touch and create condensation in your tent.
Ventilation: If your tent isn’t well ventilated, condensation can build up, which will make you wet. If you have a down sleeping bag, this could be disastrous.
2 layers: Pick a tent that has the under layer, which is the main sleeping compartment, and an outer fly sheet. The outer fly will protect your sleeping compartment from the elements – wind and rain.
Here are good tent recommendations:
Budget: Vango Hydra 200
High End: Terra Nova Laser Compact 2 tent
Check the specs and latest price: Vango Hydra 200 tent
Check the specs and latest price: Terra Nova tent
8) Sleeping bag
Sleeping bags come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. When buying a sleeping bag, it will tell you what temperature and season it is good for.
If you haven’t got one yet, and are looking to buy one, pick either a three season or winter sleeping bag. This will give you a better chance of keeping warm in a tent. They might be more expensive, but a good nights sleep is priceless.
If you are camping with your partner, you could try out this double person sleeping bag. An excellent way to stay warm is to snuggle up together….and if you change your mind, you can just split it in two. I haven’t tried it myself, as between Ollie and I, we have about 6 sleeping bags, so I can’t really justify buying it.
I think about it a lot though.
Recommended sleeping bags:
Budget: Mountain Warehouse summit 250. Temperature rating: -1C (comfort level) -17C (extreme)
Mid Range: Marmot Iron Wood 20. Temperature rating: -5C (comfort level) -32C (extreme)
High End: Marmot Women’s Xenon Down sleeping bag. Temperature rating: -8C (comfort level) -37C (extreme)
Mountain Warehouse Summit 250: Check out the latest price here
Marmot Iron Wood 20: Check out the price here
Marmot Xenon sleeping bag: Check out the latest price here
9) Sleeping bag liner
You could always take a sleeping bag liner with you for that extra layer. They don’t take up much space, so are good to have as a back up. It’s basically a material sack, that goes inside your sleeping bag.
Budget: Trespass Slumber. This is a no frills, lightweight, get the job done sleeping bag liner.
High End: Sea to Summit reactor. On the pricier end, this sleeping bag liner is insulated to provide extra warmth. It is a little heavier, but that’s the trade off for being warmer.
10) Sleeping mat
Sleeping mats are an absolutely vital bit of kit for keeping warm while camping, as you can lose a lot of body heat to the ground below.
They are graded by R value, which is thermal resistance. Basically, it’s how well they keep your heat in. The higher the number, the better for keeping warm when winter camping.
Ideally you will want something above 4R for winter camping. There is a trade off here, as the higher the R-Value, the more expense and heavier it usually is. However, you can also factor in everything else you have done to keep warm in the tent, ie your sleeping bag, layers etc. So if you are on a budget, and want the cheapest mat possible, remember, having something is better than nothing.
You have a few types of mats to choose from, closed cell foam mat, inflatable mat, self inflating mat. Each have their own pros and cons:
Closed cell foam mat:
Closed cell foam mats are the cheapest and most durable. Have you ever seen a backpacker with a big rolled up thing stuck to the bottom of their backpack? That’s what this is. The downside is, they aren’t very comfortable to sleep on. But they do give good insulation for something so simple. For better comfort, you could double up a foam mat with an inflatable mat.
Inflatable mats can pack up super small, and take up barely any space in your backpack. Once inflated, the air inside is what keeps you warm, whilst providing a barrier from the cold ground. Something to consider though, is that not all inflatable mats give the same level of warmth, and this will be reflected in the price. So if you are on a budget, you may want to double up with a foam mat.
Shop inflatable mat:
Budget: This Hikenture sleeping mat is ultra light (1.5 pounds) and inflates in just 10-15 breaths. I have owned one of these before, and it is surprisingly comfortable. I did also double it up with a closed cell foam mat. The downside is, it didn’t last that long before it started leaking air. Saying that, Ollie has one and it’s still going strong. R value is 1.3, so not that high, but you can double it up with a closed cell foam mat.
Mid Range: Only slightly more expensive than the budget mat, this Trekology sleeping mat is thicker and lighter. The R value is only a little higher at 1.6. However, you will have more space between you and the ground, you know, for side sleeping, and less weight to carry with it being only 1.2 pounds.
High End: This Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm Max sleeping mat is the warmest on the list with an R-value of 6.9. With that extra warmth you don’t have to sacrifice on much on weight, as it’s only 1.5 pounds. It is much pricier than the other mats mentioned, but you do get what you pay for. Oh, and for all my side sleepers out there, this mat will allow for that.
Hikenture sleeping mat: Find out more here
Trekology sleeping mat: Find out more here
Therm-a-rest NeoAir: Check the latest price here
I have both an expensive and cheap inflatable mat. The budget inflatable mat, which when put with a foam mat, does a very good job. The high end expensive inflatable mat, doesn’t need a foam mat below it. This means less faff and stuff to carry in my bag.
Although I love my expensive one, I have found that pairing the cheap one with the foam mat works just as well, to give a nice balance between comfort and warmth. However, if you are doing a multiday hike, or wild camping, then having less gear to carry might be worth the extra expense. Read more: Wild Camping tips and essentials
Self inflating mat:
Self inflating mats are made of open cell foam. They provide better insulation than some inflatable mats (certainly for the same price point), but are usually a bit heavier as a result. Although they self inflate, you often need to top it up with some air to get all the way.
Shop self inflating mat:
Budget: This self inflating mat with a built in pillow, comes with insulation and memory foam padding. With an R value of 4, it’s not bad at all for the budget option. It does weigh just under 3 pounds, so double that of the inflatable mats.
Mid Range: This Vango Comfort 5 sleeping mat comes with an R-vlaue of 5. However, weighing in at just over 4 pounds, it’s not the lightest mat out there.
High End: This Therm-a-rest BaseCamp self inflating mat tops the bunch with an R-value of 6, and boasts fast inflation and deflation. A big bonus is, it is the lightest of the self inflating mats on the list, at just 2.5 pounds.
Budget mat: Buy here
Vango comfort sleeping mat: Check the latest price here
Therm-a-rest self inflating mat: Check out the latest price here
11) Bivvy bag – Less for keeping warm in a tent, but more for emergencies
In simple terms, these are like big bin bags you sleep in. They are good to have around in emergency situations, if you are out hiking or camping in the wild. Some people even use them instead of a tent. I was forced to do this once for DofE at school. Never again.
You will want to be in your sleeping bag, inside your bivvy bag. It acts to keep the elements out, and your heat in.
Now, these are more designed to be used in those emergency cold situations, and less so in a tent. You know, if your tent blew away or something.
Read more: Wild Camping tips and essentials
12) Cooking stove
Having a cooker will allow you to have hot food and drink, to warm you up from the inside. They don’t take up much space, and all you need is a small gas stove, and a gas can. Then stick them together and away you go. I wouldn’t light it up inside the tent though, all that gas floating around, and an open flame mixed with a flammable tent.
While your’e at it, you should get a cooking set. There are a lot out there designed with camping in mind, as they are light and pack up small.
Other ways to stay warm when camping in a tent: Tips 13-20
13) Hot water bottle
You can fill a flask with boiling water, then have it in your sleeping bag with you in the tent, to stay warm. It acts as a hot water bottle. Note: This will not work if you have a good quality flask, because they are so good at keeping the heat in. It’s one of those situations where cheap is better.
If you are being really bouji, you could even take a travel sized hot water bottle with you.
14) Gel heating pads/hand warmers
There are a few different types of warming devices you can get. Ranging from cheap to expensive.
Gel heating pads: These gel pads can be quite handy for cold weather camping. How they work, is you snap the metal disc, and they warm up, then you can keep them in your tent with you. They don’t last that long though, so it’s a temporary thing, but they can be nice to give you a little boost. Once they have run out, you need to reset them by boiling, then cooling, which is a bit of a faff.
Rechargeable hand warmer: These rechargeable hand warmers cost a little more, but the advantage is, they should last you all night. Although they are ‘hand’ warmers, you could can stick them anywhere…I know what you are thinking. That’s not what I meant.
Hand warmers aren’t exclusive to camping. You can use them any time really, and they might come in handy if you are simply out hiking in the cold.
Read more: Tips on keeping warm when hiking in winter
15) Pick your pitch wisely
In the cold weather, you will want to avoid very exposed areas ie on a ridge or on top of a hill, where you will be at the mercy of the elements.
However, you also want to avoid being at the bottom of a valley which is where cold air settles, and is prone to flooding if it rains.
16) Share a tent – My favourite way for keeping warm in a tent
The more of you there are in the same tent, the warmer it will be, as everyones body heat will be trapped in, keeping you all warm. I notice a significant difference if go camping by myself, compared to with my boyfriend. He is like my own personal radiator.
17) Jump around
Before you get into your tent to sleep, you can do some activity to generate some body heat, then quickly get into your sleeping bag, and this will keep that warmth you created in. This could be anything from a brisk walk, to star jumps.
18) Go to the toilet before you sleep
If you haven’t been to the toilet before it’s time to sleep, then hang on a bit until you need to go. There is nothing worse than waking up in the night whilst camping, desperate for the loo, knowing you have to get out of your warm cocoon to do your business.
19) Avoid alcohol
Hear me out with this one. Although having a good drink when camping will make you feel warm and fuzzy, there is a higher probability you will wake up during the night needing a wee. Then you will have to get out of your tent to face the cold.
Alcohol also dilates your blood vessels, which will make you lose more heat.
Now I do like to have a drink in the evening while camping, but I reserve it for camping trips during the warmer months, when it’s not so cold, and I don’t mind having to get up in the night for the loo. Actually, I always mind, but at least it’s not as painful.
20) Have a good hot hearty meal
If you can get a good meal inside you, you will generate more body heat. Think of it this way, the more calories, the more warmth. Something carb heavy will do nicely.
You can buy freeze dried/dehydrated food and meal pouches, if you want to keep your bag weight down, plus they are quick to cook.
There are so many different meal options to choose from ranging from breakfast to dessert. You can really have fun with this, trying out different dishes.
Explore: Meal pouches
Explore: Freeze dried meal options
Ollie and I sometimes take lentil or chickpea pasta as it cooks quicker than regular pasta. Plus it’s your carbs and protein in one. Throw in some pasta sauce, and cheese. Yes, we take cheese and a mini grater. It’s cold enough outside that it acts as a fridge for the cheese.
You can get these multitool pen knives with a grater function. This is the one we have.
More camping tips
Have you ever wild camped? It’s the act of setting up camp, out in nature, away from any official campsite. Ollie an I love to wild camp, in fact, that’s exclusively what we do.
There are a few things you need to be aware of though, which I go through in my guide on wild camping tips and essentials.
One of those things you need to know, is that in England, Wild Camping is only legal without prior permission, in Dartmoor National Park. It is a wonderful place to wild camp though. There are still some rules you need to follow there, which I go through in my guide on wild camping in Dartmoor.