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For non-campers, choosing camping over luxury hotels, chic Airbnbs, and boutique hostels seem like a ridiculous idea. And they do have a point: tents aren’t exactly known as the comfiest sleeping spots.
But for us, campers, there are very real benefits to sleeping under the stars. We get to breathe fresh air, connect with nature, and unplug from the modern world. That said, frostbite (and worse, hypothermia) can ruin an otherwise fun trip.
To enjoy all the benefits of camping without freezing your butt off, you should know how to heat a tent without electricity. Stick around for natural and creative ways to have a comfy and toasty camping experience.
How to stay warm while camping without electricity
1. Dress in layers
This sounds like something so obvious but it has to be said nonetheless. First things first: dress warmly.
Dressing in multiple layers – base layers, mid-layers, and top layers – is more effective at keeping the heat in than wearing just one thick item of clothing. This allows you to remove something if it gets too warm.
The base layer should be fitted as to act like a second skin, but not too tight. Wear long sleeves made of either fleece or nylon, materials that are great at holding in warmth. Moisture-wicking fabrics like wool are also great.
For the second layer, it should be thick but not as close-fitting. The top layer should fit comfortably on top of the previous layers, something you can easily remove when it gets hot. Ideally, it should be made of waterproof material, so you’re also protected from rain and snow.
Don’t forget your feet and other parts of the body, too. You can layer socks to keep your feet warm. Wearing gloves, beanies, earmuffs, and scarves will save you from freezing, especially at nighttime.
2. Use propane tent heaters
One of the best ways to heat a tent without electricity is through propane tent heaters. This is a common choice for campers because it can heat large areas quicker than electric tent heaters. And because it doesn’t need to be plugged in, it’s more portable.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a valid concern. So, if you opt for a propane heater, make sure it’s tent-safe. Look for models that have safety features like oxygen depletion sensors with automatic shut-off, carbon monoxide monitor, tilt sensors, and overheating and leak sensors.
Just remember, keeping your tent well-ventilated is crucial when using a propane tent heater. And even with safety features in place, it’s still best to turn off the heater completely before dozing off.
3. Insulate and ventilate your tent
Insulating a tent means two things: first, creating a buffer between you and the chilly air outside, and second, trapping as much heat as possible inside your tent.
The easiest (but probably most expensive) way to make sure you have insulation in your tent is to use four-season tents, which are often (but not always) made of thick insulated materials and double-layered walls that can retain heat inside.
Covering your tent’s walls and roof with insulating fabrics also helps. This article about tent insulation explains this concept better and provides more tips on how to heat a tent without electricity so go ahead and check it out.
Consequently, having proper ventilation is also important in winter camping. When you breathe, you release vapors that can hit the cold tent fabric. These collect as condensation, which can make your tent wet, or freezing. Let the airflow in to ensure this doesn’t happen.
4. Heat rocks
Now, if you want to channel your inner Bear Grylls, grab some rocks and heat them close to your campfire (but not directly onto the fire). Depending on the size of your rocks and your fire’s magnitude, this should take anywhere from one to two hours.
Once the rocks are too hot to touch, grab a shirt or towel you won’t be using (some use socks for small stones), and use it to wrap the rocks. Spread the hot rocks inside your tent about thirty minutes before you plan to go to sleep.
Close your tent door and let the heat radiate inside your tent. Just make sure to place the rocks in spots where you won’t accidentally touch them.
Heated rocks can heat your tent quite fast. Depending on how many rocks you have inside, your tent can stay warm for a good three to four hours.
5. Use hot water bottles
This is a variation of the heated rocks technique that requires boiling water and large bottles (ideally non-plastic). The good news is, water can retain heat longer than rocks can.
Just heat water in a pan or kettle close to boiling point. Carefully pour the water into the bottles. Spread the bottles inside your tent. You can also keep one close to you inside your sleeping bag.
Just don’t keep it too close to your body for a long time as this can cause injury.
6. Keep cozy under battery-operated heated blankets
Camping doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all the comforts of home. Thanks to heated blankets, you can still enjoy the same warm and cozy sleep while camping.
A convenient way to heat a tent without electricity is through battery-powered heated blankets. This type of heated blanket is the most portable since it’s cordless. It’s powered by lightweight battery packs and doesn’t need to be plugged in while using.
7. Or USB-powered heated blankets
If you have a high-capacity power bank or a camping generator, another great option is to use USB-operated heated blankets. They work the same way as battery-operated blankets, except the battery is external.
Depending on your power bank’s capacity, a battery- or USB-powered heated blanket can run from an hour to six hours. The temperature varies per brand but on average, most blankets can reach up to 130 to 140°F.
8. Get snug with thermal blankets
Don’t dismiss these thin, shiny, foil sheets – they can be your best friend during winter camping.
Thermal blankets – also known as mylar blankets, space blankets (it was introduced by NASA), and emergency blankets – are great at regulating body temperature. In fact, thermal blankets work superbly well.
While they don’t generate or transfer heat, their reflective material functions by creating an “air pocket” that traps the heat between the blanket and your body.
To use a thermal blanket, simply wrap it around your body or your tent. Just turn the shiny side inwards to trap the heat.
9. Bundle up with a winter sleeping bag
Like tents, there are also three- and four-season sleeping bags. It’s best to pack a sleeping bag rated at temperatures lower than the nighttime temperature you’re expecting. REI’s four-season sleeping bags, for instance, have temperature ratings of +15°F and lower.
Many winter sleeping bags are insulated with either down or synthetic filling. Some also come with hoods that can help you retain more warmth, and others have water-resistant treatments that protect it from damp conditions.
10. Don’t forget the floor
Remember how I said insulation is a great way to heat a tent without electricity? Many people forget that this includes the tent floor.
The basic tent floor is the groundsheet or tent footprint that most tents come with. While this is enough on normal, not-so-cold days, you’ll want to reinforce it with thicker material like a ground or foam mat that retains heat, a lightweight rug or carpet, a tarp, or a sleeping pad.
You can also lay down a heated blanket, just make sure that you don’t leave it on all night.
11. Do some light exercises before bed
One of the most natural ways to heat a tent without electricity is by exercising. It’s not exactly rocket science but it shows how powerful our bodies are in producing heat and helping us survive winters.
Contracting our muscles produces heat which spreads throughout our body as our blood flows. Our bodies release heat through our breath and our sweat. The heat from our skin can also warm the air inside a tent.
The more you move, the more heat you generate. But it’s also important to not overdo it. A few sit-ups or push-ups will do. You don’t want to exhaust yourself and sweat so much as this can lead to condensation and cool your tent even more.
12. Use heat packs
Heat packs, or hand warmers, are also genius ways to heat a tent without electricity.
These small pouches like the air-activated warmers by HotHands do a great job of proving safe, natural heat. You simply shake them to activate and they heat up in 15 to 30 minutes.
Some campers also suggest tossing them inside your sleeping bag to stay warm as you sleep.
13. Block the wind
Camping in the autumn and winter months can be challenging enough. It gets even colder when the winds pick up.
Many camping tents are equipped to handle winds but stronger winds can seep through and carry heat away from your bodies and your tent.
The first thing to consider is your tent’s location. Unless you want bone-chilling nights, don’t camp on ridges or slopes. Pick a sheltered campsite, one that has lots of trees, shrubs, or large rocks that can block the wind.
Using a windbreak, rainfly, or tarp can also protect you and your tent from cold winds.
14. Cuddle up!
Now, before you raise your eyebrows, this is backed by science.
Sharing a small tent with other people makes it warm enough (provided you’re dressed warmly, bundled up in blankets and sleeping bags). Our bodies generate heat and by staying close together, we can transfer body heat to each other.
If you’re camping with your partner or a family member or a friend who’s willing to be hugged, cuddle up and benefit from each other’s body heat. In addition, if you’re sharing the tent with a partner who doesn’t get cold easily, you can ask him or her (nicely) to sleep on the side that faces the wind.
15. Drink coffee… or tea!
A yummy way to warm up your body and consequently, your tent, is to drink coffee. Or tea, if that’s more your thing and if it’s nighttime.
There are a few reasons why this helps. For one, you’ll need a campfire or a stove to heat the water for coffee or tea, and this will also warm you up through thermal radiation.
For another, drinking a hot drink warms up your body and as I’ve explained above, the heat your body releases also warms up the tent. Plus, staying hydrated can help your body stay warm.
Important things to consider when heating your tent
Feeling more confident to go camping in cold weather? That’s great! But before you start packing your bags, here are a few things to remember:
Winter camping is not for the faint of heart
Snow-covered mountain caps, campfires, the pristine winter wonderland… No doubt about it, winter camping is a magical experience. But if you get cold too easily, or you’re new to camping, it’s much more challenging.
Cold weather camping requires more preparation than beach camping or summer camping. It also calls for more gear.
Conversely, if the weather is too harsh, don’t make the mistake of pushing on with your trip. No matter how experienced you are, extreme temperatures are not something you should underestimate. Know the weather before you go and be wise enough to know when to cancel plans.
Don’t get too hot
Staying warm is important but it’s just as hard to sleep in overly hot conditions. Plus, it can lead to excessive sweating which can cool the air in your tent.
To avoid this, make sure your tent allows for some ventilation so the cool air can also escape. Your clothes, although thick, should still be breathable. Again, wear layers so you can easily remove clothing when it gets too hot.
Keeping your sleeping bag not fully zipped up also helps hold enough heat while allowing humidity to escape.
Exercise caution when using fire
The jury’s still out on whether it’s safe to use candles in small areas like tents. Some use it but some deem it unsafe. While a candle generates heat, it can also easily burn your tent.
Applying the same caution as with tent-safe propane heaters, ensure that the tent is properly ventilated. Make sure you’re staying awake as it burns and that you won’t leave the tent.
Similarly, wood-burning stoves can provide heat for your tent but they should only be used in large, well-ventilated tents like an outfitter tent.
And there you have it! These 15 ways to heat a tent without electricity will help you stay toasty and comfortable so you can make the most out of a cold day or night. Try any of these on your next cold weather camping trip and let us know how it goes!