Last Updated on 12/10/2021
In this article, you will learn whether it is actually warmer inside a tent (if the wind isn’t a factor) and answer the question, “do tents keep you warm?”.
For the committed campers venturing into the wilderness through the cooler months, a warm, water-tight tent is one of your most important pieces of gear. A good tent will keep you warmer than being outside, but is that enough? The alternative is an insulated tent but these are heavy and bulky.
We explore whether there is anything you can do to make your tent warmer and discover whether your tent is enough to keep you warm when the temperature drops.
Do Tents Keep You Warm?
A tent alone will not keep you warm even if it is designed for 4 season use or a geodesic dome tent. They aren’t exactly well insulated with just 1 or 2 thin layers of material. Tents will however protect you from wind and rain which is just as good if you have a sleeping bag to keep you warm.
Just because summer is over doesn’t mean you can’t still go camping. Autumn and winter are some of the best times of year to embrace the beauty of the great outdoors. You just need to pack a different type of camping gear to suit the change in season.
Keep reading and we’ll share with you some ways you can extend your season of adventure while staying warm in the comfort of your tent.
Is it Warmer Inside a Tent?
It may be no surprise that the thin material that makes up a tent wall does not retain a significant amount of heat, but it does move the needle some by sheltering you and your belongings from the elements.
It is estimated that you can increase the internal temperature of your tent by around 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the cooler months and by more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months, dependent on several factors.
These factors include everything from how you pitch your tent, where you place your tent, the kind of tent, what you bring camping or who you bring inside of the tent with you, and several other factors we’ll touch on below.
How to Stay Warm in a Tent
Regardless of your equipment, there are some general actions you can take to make your cool weather camping experiences more enjoyable.
Location is extremely important. Finding a spot that gets your tent sun exposure during the daylight hours can allow your tent to trap all of that energy and give you a little more warmth throughout the day. Pitching your tent to receive the morning light will make the cold nights feel shorter because the sun begins to warm your tent as soon as it begins to rise.
If conditions are windy, placing the opening of your tent away from the wind will allow you to avoid cool air pushing its way in through seems and zipper gaps or any time you have to open the tent. This will also help when cooking in your porch area.
Location and direction are very important, but ensuring you have a dry area to place the tent can be even more important, especially if you’re pitching your tent on frozen earth. Bringing a lightweight tarp is an easy way to create a barrier between your tent and the ground.
For this reason, a sleeping mat is also critical as it prevents you from losing heat into the cold ground.
Keeping your clothes dry or keeping dry clothes handy in your tent to change into is extremely important because wet clothing and socks will not allow your body heat to overcome the cooling of the moisture in your clothing, even while wrapped up in a sleeping bag. Having a couple of dry thermal layers in the tent and drying the clothes you wore for the day by the fire will help make your long winter nights far more comfortable.
The same goes for your sleeping bag. As you sleep through the night, even in a well-ventilated tent, moisture vapor in your tent from breathing, sleeping, and from the temperature difference will accumulate causing your sleeping bag to become slightly damp. It is important to keep your sleeping bag as dry as possible and dry it out at every opportunity.
How to Make a Tent Warmer
If an extra 5 degrees and some tent placement tricks still aren’t enough to get you into the wild this time of year, that’s okay, because there are still some other clever ways to keep things toasty!
Tarp Over the Top
If you have space in your pack for a lightweight tarp, throwing it over your tent just before the sun sets can help reduce heat loss by adding an extra layer of insulation for warm air to get trapped between. It will also protect you from the frigid wind blowing over the thin outer material of your tent walls as you sleep through the night.
Although they can be on the pricier side and take up quite a bit of space in your pack, a wool blanket will certainly help contain some of the precious body heat you produce when getting cozy in your tent for the night. If this is a little bulky or too expensive for you, a survival blanket can provide a very lightweight and versatile option all while making you feel like an astronaut.
Probably one of the most important aspects of cold weather camping is choosing the right sleeping bag. When purchasing a sleeping bag for your cold season travels, it’s important to identify the temperature rating designated by the manufacturer and choose the appropriate rating for the forecasted temperatures. There are several different options available, but down mummy bags are the most effective and usually temperature rated for very cold nights.
Another fun option to keep warm is to bring loved ones. If you are camping with a friend, significant other, or even a four-legged friend you can produce a larger amount of heat inside of your tent. Besides, nothing beats sharing your adventures with people you care about.
How to Keep a Tent Warm
Keeping your tent warm, especially when conditions are leaning toward the extreme, can sometimes be very challenging. An obvious way to keep the heat inside your tent is to keep the door shut and only open it if you really need to go outside.
Since the human body can only produce a limited amount of heat and the cool air is constantly replacing the heat your body produces in your tent, the easiest step to keeping your tent warm is to use a smaller tent. Less space around you means less air to keep warm.
If you don’t have a smaller tent option, however, you might opt for other ways to warm your tent. One strategy is to warm some dry rocks in your campfire and place them in a safe spot in your tent to keep you warm as they cool through the night. Or boil some water to use like a hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag.
If you are looking for a safer alternative that requires less effort, then packing a portable tent heater is your best option.
Tent Warmers and Heaters
If you’ve got the space to spare in your vehicle or your hiking pack, a tent heater can certainly help get you through the night without getting too cold, but it’s important to choose the appropriate heater for the size and type of tent that you own. Some portable heaters can weigh as little as 1 pound to up to 15 pounds and typically burn fuel or use some kind of electrical power source.
Electric heaters are an effective way to keep the inside of your tent warm through most of the night, usually putting out anywhere between 750 to 1,500 Watts. Most come with an automatic shut-off feature to avoid any accidents or burns while sleeping, but typically require an outlet as battery-powered heaters have an extremely short run-time and are only useful as a short-term personal heating device.
Propane and butane heaters are very effective heating tools, available in a range of outputs from 2,500 to 5,000 BTU’s which is fine for most tents. Something to consider when using fuel as a heat source, however, is that they produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct of fuel combustion. Fortunately, most models come with built-in safety features that automatically turn the heater off if it becomes too hot, if it tips over, if the pilot light goes out, and some even have a carbon monoxide detector built in that will automatically shut off if it detects unsafe levels of the gas.
It is extremely important to be proactive about carbon monoxide levels in your immediate environment, so bringing along a small carbon monoxide detector might provide you peace of mind for when you’re sleeping through the night.
Are Tents Insulated?
Tents offer very limited insulation, as the tent material is very thin and only designed to protect you from exposure to nature’s sometimes harsh elements, but different tent types offer varying levels of insulation and protection from the conditions.
3-season tents are ideal for warmer weather in the spring, summer, and early fall months. They can come in both single wall and double wall, but the inside layer is usually made of a mixture of nylon/polyester and mesh, providing plenty of ventilation but very little insulation. The double-wall options usually come with a rain guard to protect you from poor weather conditions and usually work quite well under normal circumstances.
4-season tents are ideal for your colder conditions, primarily because the seams and zippers are reinforced, limiting the amount of cool air that can push its way into the inner wall of the tent. Although there is usually a means of ventilation, these are always double-walled and use significantly less mesh material, allowing for more dead air between the two layers to provide some insulation.
If you are a winter camper in the snowy north, 4-season tents usually have a flap that folds underneath allowing for the construction of a snow wall to protect against the incoming wind and provide another measure of insulation to your tent.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a tent enough to keep you warm?
A tent alone cannot keep you warm on those bitterly cold nights. However, a tent can provide sufficient and vital shelter from the elements, but it’s important to bring appropriate gear to ensure you stay comfortable and warm through the night.
The most important items to consider when planning a cold-weather adventure are the temperature rating of your sleeping bag, your sleeping pad, the type of tent, and if it’s really cold, what kind of heater you should bring to make things more comfortable for you while you sleep.
Is it warmer to sleep in a car or a tent?
Under truly extreme conditions, the security of your car may be a safer alternative. Because it is made of very durable, thick materials externally and usually cloth material covering the interior your car should retain some heat, but it is unlikely it will retain more heat than your tent.
An advantage to car camping, similar to when you fire up your tent heater when you wake up chilly, is that you can always run the heater for 10 or so minutes to make things a little more comfortable in the middle of the night.
Is it safe to use heaters in a tent?
The heaters advertised for camping are designed primarily for use within your tent or other camping enclosures. That stated, most heaters that you will find for your tents will have a mechanism that prevents them from functioning should they tip over, lose their pilot flame, or if an unsafe level of carbon monoxide builds up in the space.
It is still really important to stay on the safe side and consider bringing a portable carbon monoxide detector if you’re using propane or butane, but if you are using an electric heater this is not a concern.
Do tents keep you warm in winter?
As outlined in this article, a 4-season tent is your most robust option to keep warm in a tent in the dead of winter. It is important to get a sleeping bag that’s rated for the temperatures forecasted, a thick sleeping mat to create space between you and the frozen ground, and even a snow wall to protect your tents from gusts and drifts can make a noticeable difference in how warm you stay throughout the night.
Staying dry and keeping a dry change of clothes to sleep in is critically important as damp clothes and sleeping bags stay cold and keep you from ever reaching a reasonable temperature.
Remember, finding ways to create insulation between your body and the cold is the most effective way to stay warm inside of your tent, but having the appropriate tent, pragmatic tent placement, and the right gear to assist with the temperatures are equally as important. I wish you the very best on your next great outdoor adventure and hope this article helps you prepare your tent for those chilly nights in the wild! answered the question, “do tents keep you warm?”.