When you’re out in the lonely wilderness, with nothing but your equipment and your wits- how do you stave off that biting, deep-into-the-bone chill?
There are some pretty straightforward answers, actually.
Pick a suitable camping spot, keep your tent closed, lay down a ground mat, layer up, ensure you have adequate food and water- and if you can, find somebody or something to snuggle up to.
If that’s not quite enough detail for you, we’d like to welcome you to our Handy Guide on How to Stay Warm in a Tent.
We’ll cover each point above step-by-step (as well as a few more as a bonus) and make sure that you embark on your next camping trip well-prepared.
Before we do that, let’s answer a few basic questions first.
Will a Tent Itself Keep me Warm?
A tent will certainly keep you warmer than if you were without one- but just how warm is that, really?
A half-decent tent will block out rain, snow, hail, sleet, and wind, which certainly helps to keep the shivers at bay.
However, in colder environments, tents are unlikely to provide sufficient insulation on their own.
Different tents retain more or less heat depending on the materials they are made from, as well as their size, shape, and current weather conditions.
Tents act like wetsuits, creating a warm pocket of insulating air around your body. Smaller tents will fit more snugly, and will therefore warm up faster. However, it’s unlikely to be enough.
How Cold is Too Cold to Sleep in a Tent?
The answer to this really depends on the tent.
Tents are used everywhere from the Sahara to Antarctica, but different brands and designs are rated and designed for different environments and temperatures.
Always check ratings before making a purchase to gauge whether the tent in question is suitable for your plans.
Lean towards lower temperature ratings when in doubt, and keep in mind that ratings will assume the rest of your gear (i.e. clothing and sleeping bags) are up to the same standard.
If you’re unsure of your tent’s rating, try not to camp out if temperatures are likely to slip below freezing.
What is Hypothermia? What are the Symptoms?
Hypothermia refers to the point at which your body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it- which can then endanger your life.
This condition progresses in stages.
Mild hypothermia starts with shivering and cognitive impairments. This affects your judgment, increasing the odds you will make bad decisions that will put your life at further risk.
For this reason, you want to avoid getting to the first stage, to begin with.
By the time you’ve hit Moderate hypothermia, the shivering stops, and your mental abilities decline further. Movement becomes sluggish, and speech can become slurred.
Severe hypothermia can cause hallucinations, frostbite, and a paradoxical feeling of being warm, leading to a suicidal urge to undress.
Left untreated, severe hypothermia will cause your body to shut down.
With that cheerful thought in mind, here’s some helpful advice to avoid hypothermia as you prepare for your next camping adventure:
10 Tips On Keeping Warm While Tenting
Pick a Good Location
Choosing the right location to set up your tent is more than half the battle.
Try to find a sheltered, dry area to set up camp, ideally not too far from freshwater.
Avoid camping on the track, near cliffs, in bodies of water, or on icebergs (you’d be surprised) if possible.
Be sure to check your campsite’s drainage. You don’t want the surrounding area sloping towards your tent. Should there be precipitation in the middle of the night, you’ll end up waking with your tent and sleeping bag flooded.
Keep your Tent Closed
It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people forget to zip up their tent after leaving it.
If you leave the zips open on the tent, you allow cold air to come in, and the hard-won insulating layer of hot air to escape.
Think about igloos. They’re literally made of ice, and yet they are the shelter of choice for Arctic peoples. The lack of windows isn’t a design flaw- it’s a feature.
Keeping the tent closed will help stave off hypothermia, as well as biting insects. Learn how to set-up your tent properly, before trying it out in the field.
Get a Ground Mat, Or Two
For a person lying in a tent, most body heat is usually lost via conduction with the cold ground.
To stay warm, you want to put as much insulation in between yourself and the ground as possible.
This will slow down the rate of heat loss for your body, in much the same way atmospheric CO2 slows down the rate of heat loss for the planet.
Ground mats should be standard for all camping expeditions.
Inflatable ground mats are generally more comfortable and provide better insulation, but, like any inflatable device, are prone to irreparable damage.
It can be best to stick to simple foam mats. If you’re really concerned about how cold it may get, pack two sleeping pads instead.
A sleeping pad’s warmth is measured by its R-value. You’ll be thankful to know that you can add up the R-values of both your sleeping pads to receive the combined insulating power of both.
Clothes, animal skins, blankets, rugs… cloaks, even, if you’re channeling your inner Jon Snow.
Again, this helps to reduce heat loss, with the added benefit of padding out your body for a solid 8 hours of beauty sleep.
Avoid wearing cotton if it’s wet. In fact, scratch that!
Don’t take cotton camping or outdoors at all if there’s the remotest possibility of it getting damp. The same applies to denim.
Cotton is extremely moisture absorbing. So much so that it can absorb as much as 2700% of its own weight in moisture. This is not what you need while trying to stay warm on a cold camping trip.
Synthetics are okay but stick to wool as much as possible for warmer layers.
It’s biodegradable, absorbs unpleasant odors, and frankly- if it’s good enough for sheep and alpacas on those freezing mountain ranges, it’s good enough for you as well.
When packing, try to take multiple thinner layers rather than a few thicker ones. This will help you to modulate your body temperature.
There’s nothing quite like sipping a massive cup of hot cocoa and holding it in both hands while wearing a sweater to warm your soul.
Having a hot drink is the single most effective way to dump thermal energy into your core.
Just try not to set the tent on fire if you’re using a gas cooker.
(If you are using gas-powered gear in a tent, it’s vital to ensure that the tent is ventilated; carbon monoxide poisoning is no joke.)
A lukewarm or cold drink might not help boost your core body temperature right away, but keep in mind that your metabolism only works effectively if you are hydrated.
You may not want to hear this, but it’s best to avoid alcohol. This is because it dilates your blood vessels and makes you lose heat more quickly.
A shot of whiskey might burn your throat, but it doesn’t actually put a fire in your belly.
Again, heated-up rations are best, but cold food is better than nothing.
If you’re worried about hypothermia, forget whatever nutritional advice you’ve heard and wolf down all the white bread, white rice and high fructose corn syrup you can.
The human body preferentially runs on carbohydrates, followed by fats (and then proteins) for energy.
Simple carbohydrates have a high glycaemic index, meaning your body can convert them more quickly into heat.
The complex carbs found in things like yams will take longer to upload to your bloodstream, but they can still help too.
Fat has twice the energy per weight of carbs or proteins, so don’t forget to pig out on cheese, cream, peanut butter, and even plain butter. Carbs will give you a jumpstart, but fats will keep you going.
Protein is the least useful macronutrient when it comes to fighting hypothermia, but it’s definitely better than nothing.
It’s also vital for muscle growth and repair; you should take enough on camping trips to eat at least 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
If that sounds excessive, you’re probably missing out on some serious gains.
Get a Snuggle Buddy
Certain Indigenous Australian tribes speak of “three dog nights”: Nights so cold, you need at least 3 dogs snuggled up to keep warm.
Having a snuggle buddy allows for a countercurrent exchange of heat.
Instead of your body heat escaping into the air or ground, it warms your buddy, who in turn warms you.
Any warm-blooded creature should do; iguanas, for example, don’t make the cut.
For best results with fellow humans, lie back-to-back together in a single large sleeping bag.
With dogs, encourage your canine friend to lie between your legs. Cats you can tuck snugly under your armpit.
Take a Hot Water Bottle
Hot water bottles can be used as surrogate snuggle buddies if none can be found or persuaded to snuggle.
The best place to position your hot water bottle is at your groin. From this core position, it will allow the hot water bottle to heat the blood that travels throughout your body.
You should physically notice a difference and you’ll wonder why you haven’t always used this technique.
Just be sure to ensure your hot water bottle is fully sealed before placing it at your groin.
Make a Fire
This only applies if you’re in a tipi tent, yurt, or similar structure where you’re not at great risk of burning yourself alive.
Fire safety is no joke, and you should only be making a fire within a tent with the right equipment and ventilation.
Things that you can burn to keep warm include:
- Dry dung
(Things that you shouldn’t burn to keep warm: propane bottles, alcohol, wet dung, rotten wood, cash money.)
Remember to always carry a lighter or fire-starting device when out in the wilderness.
Campfire smoke is annoying to get out of clothes, and the last thing you want is to be going to bed smelling head-to-toe of smoke.
Finally: Do Some Exercise!
Push-ups, dancing, or sock-wrestling… Anything that gets those muscles pumped.
Exercise will generate body heat, so it’s excellent as long as you don’t pull a muscle or push yourself to exhaustion.
Depending on how long you stay in the tent, you might not just stay warm; you might come out jacked.
And there you have it!
We’ve given you everything you need to know about how to stay warm in a tent- time to branch outdoors!
For extra tips on tent warmth, check out our handy guide on How to Heat a Tent Without Electricity.