How to Stay Warm Camping in a Tent: 6 Tips

Camping in the mountains or by the lakes in winter means dealing with temperatures that can sometimes drop below freezing. Many campers struggle to stay warm during these trips and may even be at risk of hypothermia. Plus, it's just plain uncomfortable when you're freezing. In this guide, we'll dive into some simple tips to help you stay warm outdoors. 

How to Stay Warm Camping in a Tent

If you're planning a camping trip where temperatures might drop low, here's a guide to help you stay warm:

1) Choose a Four Season Winter Camping Tent


man standing outside tent while it's snowing outside
Credit: Envato Elements/ ivankmit

Unlike regular tents, four-season tents are designed to withstand harsh conditions including heavy snow, strong winds, and low temperatures. They're made from thicker, more durable materials like nylon or polyester with a high denier count. This material insulates better and can resist tearing in windy conditions. The tent poles are usually made of sturdy materials like aluminum or composite. They also have a dome or geodesic shape to prevent snow accumulation on the top. They have fewer mesh panels and more solid fabric walls to keep out the cold air. When choosing a tent, go for a smaller size. A smaller tent will naturally warm up faster and hold heat better.

2) Pick a Good Campsite


tent set up outdoors while it's snowing
Credit: Envato Elements/ Shaiith

Your camping site should be sheltered from the wind, as the wind can make the temperature feel colder than it actually is. You can set up next to natural windbreaks like hills, dense trees, or rock formations. Avoid setting up in valleys or near lakes and rivers, as these spots tend to be colder. Lastly, choose a spot that is flat and free of snow if possible. Clear away any dead branches above that could fall due to wind or snow weight.

3) Dress in Layers


man and woman smiling at camera while it's snowing outdoors
Credit: Envato Elements/ Gerain0812

Having more layers will keep you warmer, so make sure to pack enough. Typically, you'll need a base layer, an insulating layer, and an outer layer. Your base layer should be made from a moisture-wicking material like merino wool or synthetic fibers. This layer is closest to your skin and its primary function is to maintain the body temperature by pulling sweat away. Over the base layer, add an insulating layer like fleece or down. For the outermost layer, choose something windproof and waterproof, like Gore-Tex, to shield you from the elements.

Lastly, don’t forget to cover your head, hands, and feet. A lot of body heat is lost through the head, so wearing a hat is essential. Gloves should be waterproof if you expect to encounter snow or rain. For your feet, wool socks are a must, and it's a good idea to carry an extra pair in case the ones you're wearing get wet.

4) Use a Warm Sleeping Bag


woman sleeping in sleeping bag
Credit: Envato Elements/ Sotnikov_Misha

A down sleeping bag is highly recommended for cold weather. However, the down may lose its insulating properties if it gets wet, so if you're in a damp climate, consider a synthetic fill, which insulates well even when damp and dries quickly.

Consider the shape of the sleeping bag as well. Mummy-shaped bags are tailored to fit closely to your body, minimizing air pockets and maximizing heat retention. These bags often include a hood that can be tightened around your head to keep you warmer by trapping heat that would otherwise escape.

Lastly, use an insulated sleeping pad underneath your sleeping bag so you have an additional barrier between you and the cold ground. Foam sleeping pads or inflatable mats with a high insulation value (R-value) work well for cold-weather camping.

5) Use a Tent Heater


man sitting outdoors with the tent heater on
Credit: Bob Villa

When choosing a tent heater, pick one that's safe and fits your tent's size. Electric heaters are a good option if you have access to electricity at your campsite. They don’t produce carbon monoxide and typically come with safety features like automatic shut-off if tipped over. However, they require a power source, which might not be available in more remote campsites.

Propane heaters are another option. They're more portable and don’t rely on electricity. When using one, make sure your tent is well-ventilated to avoid the build-up of carbon monoxide. Look for heaters designed specifically for indoor use or tents, as these often include safety features such as low-oxygen shut-off systems.

If using a tent heater isn't an option, there are other ways to stay warm like a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag or you can also use hand warmers or foot warmers.

6) Build a Camp Fire


tent set up next to campfire in winter
Credit: Envato Elements/ Shaiith

Choose a safe spot for your campfire. Use designated pits if available, or clear a space in a dirt area away from trees, bushes, and anything flammable. Make sure that the campfire is downwind from your tent to prevent smoke and sparks.

For your camp wood, gather three types of materials: tinder, kindling, and firewood. Tinder includes small, easily ignitable items like dry leaves, pine needles, or small twigs. Kindling consists of slightly larger sticks that can catch fire from the tinder and help build the flame. Firewood is the largest material and should be dry and dense for longer burning.

Place your tinder in the middle of your fire pit. Arrange kindling around it in a teepee or log cabin shape. Use a match or lighter to ignite the tinder and gently blow to feed the flames. As the kindling catches fire, add larger firewood gradually until the fire is stable. Before sleeping or leaving, fully extinguish the campfire by pouring water on it and stirring the ashes to ensure no embers remain.


How do I know if my sleeping bag is suitable for winter camping?

Check the temperature rating of your sleeping bag. It should be rated for at least 10 degrees lower than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. Look for bags labeled as "three-season" or "four-season".

What are the signs of hypothermia, and how can I prevent it?

Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. You can prevent hypothermia by staying warm, wearing appropriate clothing, and eating well.

Is it safe to sleep with a campfire or heater on?

Never sleep with a campfire or unattended heater running. Always extinguish all flames and turn off heaters before going to sleep to prevent the risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.


Camping in cold weather can be amazing with the right preparation. To stay warm, choose a proper four-season tent, dress in layers, use a warm sleeping bag, and use a tent heater.

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