How To Insulate A Tent For Winter Camping

When camping in summer, you’ll always want your tent to be cool. Come winter camping, you’ll need to know that heating your tent and insulating it for the coldest times of the night or morning requires that you have the right tools on hand.

How to insulate a tent for winter camping:

  1. Choose The Right Tent
  2. Erect A Tarp Around The Tent
  3. Use Thermal Blankets For The Tent
  4. Lay Down Tarp For DIY Footprint Or Create A Insulated Footprint
  5. Use Winter Ready Sleeping Bags And Insulated Sleeping Pad
  6. Create Insulation Through Rugs And Blankets
  7. Heat Yourself While You Are Sleeping
  8. Use A Pavillion To Stop Wind And Rain
  9. Build A Windbreak Out Of Nearby Materials
  10. Get A Set Of Heaters For The Tent
  11. Stop Condensation From Building

These are some ways to ensure that your tent is warm enough and that you won’t freeze while trying to sleep. Many people mistakenly assume that their regular summer tent will work just as well below freezing as in any other weather.

1. Choose The Right Tent

The most common mistake anyone makes when they set to go winter camping is choosing the wrong set of tents. If the tent you are sleeping in cannot handle the cold and the snow that may fall on you, your chances of freezing increase significantly.

There are three tents that we would consider that you use when camping in the winter. A four-season tent, a winter season tent, and just generally small tents that are made for harsher and colder conditions, we are going to look at and recommend one of each.

4 Season Tent

In one of our previous articles, where we listed the best 4-season tents on the market, we recommended that you use the Mountain Hardwear Trango tent. This is still on the top of our recommendations list and will ensure that you are warm and safe when camping.

Cheaper tents are available, but we do not recommend risking your life for a few hundred bucks. Having a tent purposely built to handle the cold weather, whether in humid conditions or not, will ensure you do not have to start looking for ways to keep warm in the middle of the night.

Use a Hot Tent

If you are not going to be hiking or backpacking through some of the coldest parts of the world, we recommend getting the proper winter tent equipment. Check out our list of the top hot tents.

Not only does the tent material allow you to seal off the outside world entirely, but you can also use a wood-fired stove to heat the inside thoroughly. However, we would caution that you should ensure that enough fresh air is still entering the tent to allow everyone to breathe.

Smaller Tents

As much as we would like to deny it, the best tents for winter camping are always the most miniature tents. They are easy to insulate, set up, and require a very little adjustment to keep fresh air coming in and out of the tent as you are using it.

Very few tents on the market will handle snow coming in from snowstorms; instead, you will have to set up the tent in ways that prevent the snow from falling on them. For this reason, some unique solutions involve smaller tents set up inside larger tents.

2. Erect A Tarp Around The Tent

Something that is often missed by first-time campers is the most versatile piece of equipment in any campers’ bag. Tarps are one piece of equipment that can be used as a windbreak by suspending it between trees and vehicles or securing it between different tents.

We recommend having a small tarp in your bag like the Gold Armour Rainfly Tarp that doubles as a hammock in emergencies. You should be able also to suspend it above the tents to create a cover that will stop snow and rain, creating an overall insulation area over the tent that will help.

Further, a tarp used as an extra roof will prevent your tent from being weighed down by snow and rain as the night continues. Further, as a wind break, the tarp will ensure that you can sit outside the tent when the winds become too strong to do anything other than sleep in the tent.

3. Use Thermal Blankets For The Tent

Another thing that only veteran winter campers will be aware of is thermal blankets to ensure that your heat stays where you need it the most. Fortunately, it is also included in most basic emergency first aid bags, so you may be able to use it in severe weather-related emergencies.

We recommend buying packs of thermal blankets, such as these blankets, as they can easily tear and lose effectiveness when used repeatedly. Packing two or three in with your tent will ensure that you have at least one for your tent and some to help other campers.

Spread the thermal blanket over the top of your tent and secure it with guy lines, but be sure not to close the vents. Thermal blankets can seal your tent entirely, which will cause you to suffocate if all of the vents in your tent have been closed off entirely. 

4. Lay Down Tarp For DIY Footprint Or Create A Insulated Footprint

You can use tarps for more than windbreaks; tarps can solve your tent’s biggest thermal problem. The ground will easily and comfortably soak up almost every drop of heat in the tent from both you and the sleeping bag you are using.

We recommend getting the Mongrel EDT thermal reflective tarp as your ground sail, also known as the tent footprint. The reflective side should face towards the ground to stop the coldness in the ground from escaping into your tent as you are sleeping.

There are many types of ground footprints that you can find, with many footprints made for each season in which you will be using them. The thermal insulation properties of the ground sail will ensure that you can fall asleep without some part of your body getting cold.

5. Use Winter Ready Sleeping Bags And Insulated Sleeping Pad

This is usually the first thing people will buy when planning their winter camping trips, as sleeping bags are the most advertised. A winter sleeping bag will be thicker than ordinary sleeping bags and have weather ratings far below freezing.

However, even the best sleeping bag becomes pointless when sleeping on the tent’s ground without insulation. You should preferably get an excellent insulated sleeping pad to ensure that you will be insulated from the coldness that travels up from the ground.

While air sleeping pads and stretchers can help stop this, they have limits, with most air sleeping pads working perfectly but in danger of deflating. An insulated sleeping pad will ensure that you always have something to sleep on that keeps your body heat inside your sleeping bag.

6. Create Insulation Through Rugs And Blankets

If camping for longer at one spot, you should consider using blankets over the tent and carpets on the floor. You may find that even a thin blanket can drastically increase the heat inside the tent without requiring you to use thermal blankets.

A small carpet in the middle of the tent can also cause a world of difference as the most significant part of the tent is now insulated. You won’t need to have a carpet covering the entire area of the tent, just the parts where there is no bed, no clothes, or piles of bags that are not being used.

Further, many tents offer built-in insulation, with a single-layer system created to prevent condensation from forming. If you plan on winter camping, a good four seasons tent will ensure that you don’t have to add too much insulation to stay safe during the cold.

7. Heat Yourself While You Are Sleeping

When camping and sleeping, the most heat you will lose will happen when you try to sleep, which is when most people suffer from hypothermia. You must ensure that you are insulated from the cold air that will build up while you sleep.

We recommend you use three things to keep yourself as warm as possible throughout the night. Many people mistakenly think they need to remove all layers when getting into bed during winter camping, which is almost entirely the opposite of what you should do.

  • Heat Packs: The best possible heat packs are reusable ones linked to keeping you warm when the temperatures start dropping. We recommend keeping these at your toes, between your thighs, and on the small of your back where major blood vessels are.
  • Beanies, Gloves & Scarves: Some of the most overlooked things for winter campers are the three basic things to keep your hands and face warm. It may be uncomfortable, but sleeping with a beanie, scarf, and gloves will ensure you stay warm throughout the night.
  • Thermal Underwear: Thermal underwear might be tempting to remove as you get comfortable but will ensure you stay warm throughout the night. Many people want to get out of them when sleeping, only to regret it the following day when they need to get dressed.

8. Use A Pavillion To Stop Wind And Rain

Another trick that veteran campers will be more aware of is using a set of pavilions to help control the wind, snow, and rains that would cause problems. The more layers you have over and around your tent, the more likely it will be that you can sleep snuggly and warmly.

The ABCanopy Stable Pop Up gazebo is perfect for use with your winter camping setups, even with its much larger size. When camping with friends, you can use the gazebos to link tarps, creating fully interlinked windbreaks around the camping area, with many capable of handling several pounds of water or snow.

We recommend that you only use a gazebo setup when camping with a car at specific campgrounds, securing them with pegs to prevent the wind from being a problem. They are usually quite heavy and require extra setup time, but they prevent the worst rains, winds, and snow from surrounding your tent.

9. Build A Windbreak Out Of Nearby Materials

When backpacking and hiking, you should be aware of the surroundings of your camp area, using these to the best possible advantage. Many hiking or climbing mountains use snow to build windbreaks around the camp and tent areas.

Traveling in the woods or the bush becomes much more challenging, as you will have to look for scrap wood or larger rocks. Using these to create at least a small amount of windbreak is why many people set up camp close to trees instead of just out in the open.

If you camp entirely out in the open, you must ensure that you are camping in a hollow or dip. Any flat area or small hill will be where the wind, rain, and snow are the worst, causing you to be constantly pelted with the worst the elements offer.

10. Get A Set Of Heaters For The Tent

This is often the solution that people overlook entirely because they may be used to camping while hiking or backpacking. The solution anyone camping at campgrounds, in the yard, or anywhere close to civilization will have is simply adding a heater to the tent to keep it warm.

We recommend getting the Little Buddy heater, not because it looks stylish but because it has everything essential to have when heating a tent. The size makes it perfect to fit in even the most miniature tents on the market, while the legs ensure it is not as easy to cover.

It is essential to get a tent that will not simply blow straight out and probably against you or the side of the tent, as it can damage the side. A good tent heater will have a timer, overheat protection, and automatically shut down when the heater is knocked over during the night. 

11. Stop Condensation From Building

A danger of insulating your tent with too many materials will be condensation, which at first builds around the edges of the tent. However, as the condensation increases, you will find the condensation building on you, your equipment, and your sleeping bags.

Condensation is controlled in most four-season tents simply by having fewer overall layers, with most only having one layer. Further, they are vented to ensure that the moist cold air does not stay inside the tent but is vented out and allows your tent to stay dry and warm.

While creating insulation for your tent, it is important to leave your vents open, allowing you to breathe easy and your tent to clear the interior air. We recommend testing this extensively to ensure the tent stays open where it needs to throughout the night.

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Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.