Ever felt the chilly bite of an autumn or spring night while camping, nestled within your tent, wishing you had a way to stave off the cold? While not all of us are daring enough to camp out in the frosty heart of winter, even milder seasons can throw chilly nights our way.
Fear not, fellow campers! This guide is designed to equip you with clever ways to heat your tent without electricity. I’ve also flagged a few commonly recommended tips to heat tents that are NOT safe.
Wondering how to heat a tent without electricity? The best ways to heat a tent without electricity are:
- Use a winter rated sleeping pad.
- Use a winter rated sleeping bag.
- Wear plenty of layers.
- Use a wood or tent stove.
- Choose the right tent.
- Heat your tent with hot water bottles.
- Choose the right camping location.
- Bring candle lanterns.
- Bring heating packs.
- Insulate your tent.
- Use hot stones (not recommended).
- Use non-electric heaters (not recommended).
- Build a campfire (not recommended).
- Use leftover coals (not recommended).
- Make a DIY candle heater (not recommended).
1. Choose a winter-rated sleeping mat
The first line of defence against cold is your sleeping mat. It’s not just about making you comfortable but also shielding you from the cold ground.
Look for sleeping mats with a high ‘r value’, indicating better insulation. However, remember that higher insulation often comes with added weight.
2. Snuggle up in a winter-rated sleeping bag
The next most essential item is a quality sleeping bag. Look for bags with an ‘ISO’ or ‘EN’ temperature rating, indicating that the sleeping bag can withstand the temperature it claims.
A sleeping bag with a temperature rating of -10 Celsius or lower will work well in temperatures down to about -5 Celsius and pairs well with many of the better quality 3-season sleeping mats.
3. Dress in layers
Base layers are your best friend when staying warm in the tent. Materials like merino wool and brands like Patagonia Capilene are popular among seasoned campers.
4. Consider a wood stove or tent stove
Wood-burning tent stoves can be a boon on colder nights, provided your tent is designed to accommodate a tent stove safely.
These “hot tents” typically come with fire retardant materials and a port to put the stove’s exhaust pipe through. Using a tent stove in a standard tent is a massive fire risk and will likely kill you due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
5. Select the right tent
Your tent is your sanctuary against the elements. 3-season and 4-season tents are popular choices, and it’s not a case of a tent with more seasons being better.
Four-season tents are often made of thicker, more durable materials. But they’re also heavier because of this.
Perhaps more importantly, they have removed most of the ventilation to avoid cold winds forcing their way into your tent. Lack of ventilation makes four-season tents terrible in hot weather. No ventilation leads to condensation hell.
If you’re just planning to go camping on a reasonably mild night, a three-season tent provides a much better balance and will help your wallet too.
6. Heat your tent with a hot water bottle
Hot water bottles are one of the best ways to heat you. While they won’t maintain warmth all night, hot water bottles can quickly fix a cold bed.
Remember that you’ll need some way of heating water and safely decanting it into the hot water bottle. A camping stove is much less likely to risk scalding than heating water on a campfire.
7. Choose the right camping location
Sheltered locations, such as areas surrounded by trees, can provide natural windbreaks and stop cold gusts of air from entering your tent. Avoid open fields or hillsides where wind chill can significantly lower temperatures.
In my experience of hiking in Scotland, we don’t always have the luxury of picking a spot with plenty of trees. In these situations, find other natural forms of defence from the wind, such as rocky outcrops.
8. Light up candle lanterns
Candle lanterns offer an easy way to heat and light your tent. Remember, though, to ensure sufficient ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
Generally, many candle lanterns are designed to be used in tents, and most modern candle lanterns are collapsible, which makes storage much more manageable.
9. Utilise hot packs
Although they may not raise the overall temperature significantly, hot packs can offer localised warmth, making your sleeping area more comfortable. Remember the guiding principle – heat yourself rather than the space.
Many hot packs are reusable and simply require heating them.
10. Insulate your tent
Properly insulating your tent can work wonders.
The cheapest ways to insulate your tent are to hang blankets inside or line the inside with an insulation liner.
If you own a single-skin tent (i.e. only one tent wall and no outer rainfly), this risks harming your tent’s waterproofing. Single-skin tents have a habit of leaking water inside the tent when you touch the wall. The leaking is because you’re breaking the surface pressure that is helping to repel the rain.
Ensure also to avoid covering up any ventilation ports or condensation may become an issue.
If you want a more robust solution, check out the Crua Culla tent. The Crua Culla is an insulated inner tent that you pop inside your existing tent and provides both temperature regulation and blocks light from coming in.
Using your tent’s groundsheet or a tarp under the tent is also good practice to provide a little more protection from the cold ground.
Finally, remember that it’s best practice to rely on your sleeping bag, sleeping mat and baselayers to provide warmth. Tents are only designed to keep out the rain and wind rather than to keep you warm.
11. Experiment with hot stones (not recommended)
Heating stones over a campfire and placing them in your tent can provide a temporary heat source. The hot stones cool rapidly, though, so I wouldn’t rate this as a particularly effective method.
Be careful you don’t burn your hands or equipment. This is certainly a risk here which is why I don’t recommend this method.
How to use hot stones to heat your tent:
- Gather the rocks. Gather the rocks from your campsite or the ones you brought. If you are collecting them near your camp, ensure they are all similar in size to disperse the heat evenly.
- Place the rocks over the fire. Place the rocks in a metal container and then place them on the campfire. Heat the rocks for around 30 minutes.
- Remove the rocks from the fire. Once the rocks have heated up, remove them from the fire safely. Make sure they get warm but not boiling.
- Place the rocks in your tent. Before placing the rocks in your tent, make sure there is something to protect the bottom of your tent. The protection could be something like an old blanket. You can leave the stones as they are, although placing your sleeping bag on the rocks to heat up can ensure you stay warm.
12. Use non-electric heaters (not recommended)
Non-electric heaters are available and can provide warmth inside your tent. However, I do not recommend these heaters due to the high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
A brand called Mr Heater produces several ‘indoor-safe’ heaters, such as their Little Buddy heaters. Some people do have success using these heaters inside their tents. Keep a carbon monoxide monitor handy if you’re considering a non-electric heater.
13. Build a campfire close to the tent (not recommended)
Some people recommend using a well-managed campfire to radiate warmth towards your tent. I find this practice to risk damaging your tent at best and be a dangerous fire risk at worst.
Remember that fires spit sparks, and the wind can blow these all over the place. Your tent’s material is made of meltable and flammable materials, which won’t combine well with these sparks.
If I haven’t already convinced you with the fire safety angle, consider that it is also a brilliant way to end up with loads of small holes across your expensive tent.
14. Use leftover coals (not recommended)
Heating your tent with leftover coals from a fire can provide heat. This method requires a burned-out campfire which you then cover with sand. When the temperature is safe, place your tent on the sand and use the heat from the burned-out campfire.
This method is another common recommendation to heat a tent without electricity, which I view as a considerable safety risk, so I do NOT recommend it.
15. Try a DIY candle heater (not recommended)
Crafting a candle heater using heat-resistant flower pots and candles can offer a compact heating solution.
You can make a candle heater with a heat-resistant flow pot, candles and a metal tray. Simply place the candles on the metal tray and put the flowerpot over them. Position the flowerpot just over the side of the tray to allow the hot air to escape through both the gap and the holes in the flower pot.
Yet again, I see this method as a fire risk. It would be easy to knock the DIY candle heater over at night accidentally. Consider picking up a candle lantern instead if you’re sure you want to use candles.
Best way to heat a tent without electricity
I’ve laid out fifteen options above, but I’ve certainly got my favourites.
In my experience, picking up a well-insulated sleeping mat and sleeping bag is the best place to start. Bring plenty of warm clothes to wear both day and night. I recommend bringing an extra pair of thick socks for sleeping in if your feet often get cold.
Next, I would be picky about my camping spot. Find an area with plenty of coverage from gusts of wind.
Those basic four steps are all you should need to keep yourself warm. I wouldn’t be opposed to also using a hot water bottle but only to have a toasty sleeping bag to get into rather than something I relied upon.
Do you have any personal favourites for keeping yourself warm? Let me know by posting them in the comments below!
No electricity, no problem!
There you have it! These 15 strategies, from the essential to the creative, can help you create a warm and cosy camping experience, even in chilly weather.
Remember, safety should always be your top priority. Use all methods involving open flames or combustion with extreme caution.
But with proper preparation and the right gear, there’s no reason you can’t comfortably camp in cooler seasons. Stay warm and happy camping!