How to Insulate a Tent for Winter Camping
Camping in the winter, although it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, can be a great deal of fun. That said, of course, it gets cold in the winter, and hypothermia and related conditions are very real threats when camping.
However, with the right tent that is well insulated, and with the right gear, you can prevent this from occurring. How to insulate your tent for winter camping, and how to stay warm in that tent, is what we will be discussing in this article.
How to Insulate a Tent for Winter Camping
We want to provide you with the 12 best tips on how to stay warm when winter camping. Combine all of these tips, and you can take some of the sting out of cold weather camping.
- It Starts with a Good Tent
It all starts with getting a good tent. If you plan on going winter camping, get a tent specifically designed for such conditions. There are winter camping tents that come with relatively thick walls and floors, as well as sealed seams to keep out moisture, wind, and the cold. Some tents already come insulated to a certain degree, something you should aim for.
Let’s do a quick summary of the features your tent should and should not have in order to protect you from the cold air and moisture as well as possible.
- Get a tent that has a thick floor, preferably made of completely waterproof nylon or plastic. You don’t want moisture getting in from the bottom
- Your tent should have welded seams (or another method of attaching the floor to the walls which allows for a proper seal). You don’t want cold air and moisture getting in at the seams
- There are tents out there which have either thick single or even double walls to add some extra insulation
The bottom line is that if you plan on staying warm when camping during the winter, it all starts with having a good tent. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for, and a really good winterized camping tent is not going to be cheap. That said, if you fail to get a good winter tent, you will pay for it once you get out there.
- The Size and Shape of the Tent Matters
Keep in mind that the size of the tent you get will make a big difference in terms of how warm you can keep it on the inside.
If you are going camping with one other person, even if you are tempted to get a 3-person tent for 2 people, so everybody has plenty of room, this is not a good idea.
The more space there is inside of the tent compared to how many people there are inside of it, the harder it will be to keep it warm. You want to aim for a relatively small tent. Simply put, your tent should be able to fit you and your gear if necessary, but no more.
Also, keep the shape of the tent in mind as well. Heat rises and cool air settles at the bottom, by the ground. Therefore, getting a tent with a low canopy is ideal for winter camping. Sure, you won’t be able to stand up in it, and maybe even barely sit up, but that’s not nearly as important as staying warm. The less height your tent has to it, the more of that warm air will stay closer to you.
- Floor Mats and Blankets
One of the biggest issues you will face in terms of keeping warm during winter camping is the ground. The ground is going to be frozen, cold, and wet. If you don’t have a good layer or two of insulation between you and the ground, you will get cold very fast, as will the tent in general.
It’s a good idea to line the floor with a thick blanket, and then put a camping mat on top of that blanket. Anything you can do to create an insulated layer between yourself and the ground should be done.
One thing that needs to be avoided is the air mattress. Yes, air mattresses are great for summer camping. In fact, they can actually help keep you cool, which is of course a problem during the winter.
It is going to be impossible for your body to heat up the air inside of an air mattress. If anything, that cool air inside of the mattress is going to sap your body heat right out of you. Whatever you do, if you are camping during the winter, do not use an air mattress. You will end up being cold all night long.
- Space Blankets
Space blankets always come in handy when it is cold. They look like very thin layers of flexible and durable tinfoil, and they do an amazing job at reflecting heat.
People often keep these in their cars in case they get stuck outdoors and stranded in their vehicles during the winter.
Therefore, you can use space blankets to line the interior of the tent to reflect heat inwards. You can even double up by lining not only the interior of the tent, but the exterior too. Just make sure to face the space blankets in the right direction.
If you want to go to the max, line the floor with a space blanket too, and if you are still chilly, pop one into your sleeping bag as well. Space blankets are not very expensive; they are lightweight; they barely take up room; and you can do a whole lot with them.
- Keeping Everything Zipped Up
Needless to say, if you want to keep heat in the tent, and keep the wind out, always keep doors and windows zipped up. Screen doors and windows are not ideal for winter camping.
That being said, something that is crucial to remember is that tents do need a little bit of airflow.
The fact of the matter is that although rarely, people have suffocated in their tents. Not leaving any vents open and layering up with various materials will cause a lack of airflow. If you are in your tent all night long, you may use up the majority of the oxygen in there, and that can definitely be problematic.
- A Good Windproof Rainfly
Something else that is going to come in very handy for keeping your tent insulated and warm is a good rain fly. Rainflies are designed to keep out wind, rain, snow, and moisture in general. This is a good start, but there is more to it than that.
A thick rainfly is just another layer that is going to help keep that warm air inside of the tent. For extreme conditions, some people may decide to double up on rainflies.
At any rate, you want to look for a rainfly that is 100% waterproof and windproof. If you rainfly lets a cold wind cut right through it, that wind is going to suck all of the warmth right out of the tent.
- The Right Sleeping Bag + A Liner
Although getting a good sleeping bag is not the same thing as insulating a tent, it is still very important. If it is super cold outside, no matter how well you have managed to insulate your tent, without a good winterized sleeping bag, you will still be cold.
Make sure to get a sleeping bag that is rated to handle temperatures colder than are forecast for your camping trip. The best winter sleeping bags are rated for double digit negative degrees, and this is what you want to look out for.
One part of this has to do with the insulation. One of the best materials for insulation known to man is goose down, which is why comforters are made with them. Goose down is fluffy, it takes up a lot of space, and is deceptively heavy, so while a big goose down sleeping bag will keep you warm, just be aware that it’s not the best option in terms of easy transportation.
No camping trip is complete without a good sleeping bag, but there is still more to it than that. For the deepest and coldest winter months, something else you may want to consider is getting a sleeping bag liner. These are special liners that go inside of the sleeping bag, usually made of very well insulating material. It’s almost like a sleeping bag for your sleeping bag.
- The Right Clothing
The next step in ensuring that you stay warm during your winter camping trip is to wear the right clothing. It’s not all about wearing the thickest clothing possible, especially not just a single layer. Keeping warm when it is cold is all about wearing layers. It’s important to layer up with at least 2 or even 3 layers.
You want a bottom layer that is tight against your skin, that can keep warmth in and wick moisture away from your skin. You want a warm middle layer, relatively thick clothes that can keep in a lot of heat. Finally, you need a well-insulated outer layer that is waterproof and windproof. You probably won’t sleep with all of these clothes on, but you never know.
- The Right Location for the Tent
One of the best things you can do when winter camping, to ensure that your tent stays fairly warm, is to place it in the right location. This means setting the tent up by a wind break.
You want to gauge the wind direction, where the wind usually comes from, and then find an area that has some cover from that direction. Set your tent up by trees or bushes that can block a lot of the incoming wind.
Even better is if you can set your tent up near a rock face, in the opposite direction from where the wind usually comes from, and even best is if you can find some sort of enclave, almost like a little cave that keeps the wind away.
However, a big safety concern is falling snow. You should never set your tent up under big trees with thick branches that can hold a lot of snow. If those branches get covered in wet and heavy snow, that snow may come crashing down on your tent.
The worst case scenario is that several hundred pounds of snow come raining down on you, which can cause serious injury or even death. At the very least, it may cause you to become trapped inside of the tent.
- Heaters and Heat Packs
Some tents allow for small heaters to be used on the inside. However, always follow all instructions, both for the tent and the heater, as you don’t want to set the tent on fire. Also, getting good heating packs for your shoes, clothing, and even for your sleeping bag won’t hurt either.
These heating packs are usually only designed for single use, but they can go a long way in keeping you warm for a few hours. You may also be able to find special heated blankets; these are not like the ones you would use at home and plug right into the wall.
Instead, they may use batteries or solar power to warm up. Of course, they don’t get all that warm and their power only lasts for a few hours, but when it comes down to it, they are temporarily better than not having anything at all.
- Use Snow to Your Advantage
The funny thing about snow is that although it is cold, it actually insulates very well. There is a reason why people who live in permanent cold, such as in the Canadian north, build snow igloos.
The practice of living in igloos may not be very popular or widespread anymore, but the fact of the matter remains the same; the interior of igloos can get toasty warm, to the point where people build chimneys into them and make fires inside of them. You might not believe that you can make a fire inside of a snow hut, but you can.
Now, we aren’t saying that you should build an igloo, not inside or outside of your tent. For those of you who don’t know, building an igloo is actually extremely difficult. However, you can use your trusty shovel to make a wall of snow around the tent that is a few feet high, even as high as the tent itself.
Of course, seeing as you are only making walls and not a roof, heat will still escape from the top. However, what you have just done is created a wind barrier using nothing more than the vast quantity of snow already at your disposal.
- Share Tents
Another trick you can use to keep warm inside of your tent is to share the tent with others. No, don’t invite strangers in, or animals either; however, if you are going camping with a friend or two, although people usually like having their own tents, if it is super cold out, having two bodies heating up a single tent is better than one. If things get real cold, you can always get comfortable and snuggle with each other.
If you keep the above 12 tips in mind and you follow them, keeping warm during winter camping should not be a problem. There are many different ways to insulate a tent for winter camping, and they can be done in combination. The colder it is going to be, the better insulated that tent has to be.