As a city boy, camping was an opportunity to disconnect from my repetitive everyday routines and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Most people think of dense forests and chirping birds when they talk about camping but for me, nothing beats the thrill of camping in winter, especially if you know how to insulate a tent!
Waking to whimsical winter scenery is a feeling unlike any other. But from personal experience, this sense of wonder can easily be shattered by the noise from chattering teeth from the cold. However, if you know exactly how to keep yourself warm while camping in winter, you don’t have to worry about that. To help you, let me share with you the top seven ways to insulate a tent for winter camping!
Not all winters are made for camping
Before we get into the fun stuff, let’s get one thing clear: Winter camping is not for everyone. It’s a fun, magical experience for sure but camping in winter also has its own unique challenges. If you don’t know how to properly insulate your tent, you won’t be in for a pleasant time.
What’s more, you need to realize that sometimes conditions are just too harsh to continue with your camping plans. Basically, if there’s a snowstorm or it feels like you’re one temperature drop away from meeting Elsa or Jack Frost, it’s time to pack up and head home.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the main topic of today!
What does insulating a tent entail?
First of all, what exactly do I mean when I say “insulate a tent”?
It’s not just a case of placing a source of heat to keep warm, there are also other elements of camping in winter to consider. Yes, creating a buffer between you and the chilly (sometimes freezing) temperatures is essential, but even more so than that is making sure you’re protected against the snow and bone-chilling winds.
To do that, you simply need to pay attention to two main areas: The tent walls (including the roof) and the floor. To perfectly insulate a tent for winter camping, you’ll want to use a combination of insulated tent fabric and other cold-resistant materials.
What are the best ways for insulating a tent?
When I first went camping in winter, snowy hills and all, I actually thought about simply placing a heater or stove inside the tent to keep warm. Unfortunately, I learned that it’s typically not the best way to insulate a tent.
Instead, I would recommend working together WITH the environment to keep yourself warm. This means making use of the space inside your tent and your surroundings. Believe it or not, your best ally against the cold is…the winter air!
Rather than focus on generating heat, focus on trapping as much heat as possible inside your tent.
What you want to do is find a way to reflect your own body heat back at you. This might sound like some superpower from the X-Men Universe but your body is actually capable of producing as much heat as a 100W light bulb in an enclosed space!
With that key idea in mind, here are a few things you can do to insulate a tent for winter camping, other than layering up and building a campfire.
1. Bring a smaller tent
Look, setting up a tent in the middle of winter isn’t the most fun experience. I would love to have had one of those spacious tents like in Harry Potter (that is the dream really), but one of the best things you can do to insulate a tent is to simply use a smaller tent!
After all, a smaller tent means less space to heat, which also means that it’s much easier to stay warm. Smaller tents are also more mobile and portable, which means you’ll be able to quickly pack up and move in case you need to.
2. Or use a 4-season insulated tent
Alternatively, you can buy tents that are specifically designed for winter camping, such as a four-season tent. Before you even start, no, a 4-season tent isn’t a luxurious, branded glamping experience offered by the Four Seasons Hotel.
Rather, it is an insulated winter tent that is made to withstand harsh conditions and minimize condensation on the outside of the tent. While not all 4-season tents are the same, generally they are made with an insulated tent fabric and tend to feature double-layered walls to retain heat inside the tent.
Compared to the usual 3-season tents (used on most camping trips), 4-season tents are slightly larger and feature a lower profile that offers better protection against heavy snowfall. Some 4-season tents even have an inner-built thermal insulation system.
However, these tend to be expensive and there are more budget-friendly ways to insulate a tent for winter camping.
3. Insulate the tent floor
From personal experience, one of the best ways to keep warm while camping in winter is simply to insulate the tent floor.
To create a barrier between your body and the tent floor, I recommend using a tent footprint (also known as a groundsheet). These are basically waterproof pieces of fabric that you lay on the ground to create an insulated tent floor.
The key is to cover every inch of your tent. Thankfully, most tent manufacturers provide their own tent footprints which are custom-cut for a perfect fit. You can also use a conventional camping tarp but I find that it’s sometimes not as effective in keeping moisture from seeping through.
After laying down a basic floor, you’ll want to double up with a ground mat or winter blanket. This will help in further insulating the tent floor and will help you sleep more comfortably during the night.
For even more warmth (especially those who are chronically cold), you can place a heating pack under your floor mats. If you have access to electricity, electric blankets would work wonders too.
Pro tip: Before even getting started on insulating the tent floor, make sure to clear out any snow at your campsite. Only one thing happens to snow when you lay on it: They melt, and then re-freeze. This leads to uncomfortable bumps and ridges. Trust me, you do NOT want to sleep on those!
4. Cover the roof and walls with insulating fabric
Now that we’ve got the floor covered (ba-dum-tss), let’s move on to insulating the roof and the walls.
The best way to do that is simply to line the roof of your tent with insulating fabric. This is where the earlier point of using a smaller point will be extremely helpful.
The most common way of insulating your tent walls and roof is to use a thermal blanket (also known as an emergency blanket). The blanket’s reflective properties will use your own body heat to keep you warm.
You could also get extra pieces of insulating fabric but those tend to be quite bulky and perhaps are better suited for camping in a caravan. If you want to make a tent warmer, cutting up a thermal blanket and duct taping them to the inner lining of the tent is still the way to go, in my opinion.
Of course, all that work will count for nothing if you don’t zip your tent at night! If you don’t close up all your mesh windows/doors, tents in winter can become icy air bubbles that trap the freezing cold air from the outside. Even with your insulated tent floor and walls, leaving your tent open is a big no-no.
5. Cover the outside of your tent
As mentioned earlier, freezing temperatures aren’t the only thing to worry about when trying to keep a tent warm while camping in winter. You’ll also need to account for the (possible) snowfall and condensation from the cold air.
So, it’s time to winter-proof your tent from the outside! There are several ways to do this. The first is simply to drape your camp in an insulating material like a thermal blanket or even a tent footprint. The key thing here is to waterproof your tent and provide protection from the elements. It’s not gonna look pretty, but it certainly gets the job done.
However, if you’re a real McGuyver, what you can do is get a waterproofing spray and waterproof a large rain fly or tarp and then use those to cover your tent. Either way, once you’ve done this, you not only stop your tent from taking in water and moisture, but you also help lock more heat in the tent, almost like a tent inside a tent!
6. Build a wall
Well, technically anyway. Tents in winter are usually good insulators on their own. With the added measures above to insulate your tent, you might think you’re pretty much covered but there’s one last thing to consider.
A pleasant winter breeze is supposed to be therapeutic. However, there are times, especially at night, where they can really be detrimental to a good winter camping experience. While your winter tent does offer SOME protection, strong winter winds can seep through, even with a fully sealed tent.
There are two ways to insulate your tent and protect yourself from icy cold winds. The first way is to, once again, use your trusty rainfly or tarp. Simply pitch these up in the general direction of the wind to block it off.
A more fun way is to build a natural windbreak. You can do this by either setting up camp near some shrubs or large rocks that block the wind or, as mentioned, building a wall! If your camping ground experiences plenty of snowfall, you can actually construct a snow wall around your tent to cut off the wind!
7. Get a tent heater
Finally, if all else fails, and if carrying extra gear isn’t an issue, get a small electric tent heater. Electric tent heaters are a quick and easy way to make your tent warmer. Simply place it inside your tent and turn it on. If you don’t have a power source, the alternative is a propane tent heater.
However, do keep in mind that safety is an issue with propane tent heaters which can potentially leak carbon monoxide. Many propane tent heaters come with built-in safety measures to circumvent that, but you do need to keep your guards up. If you choose a propane tent heater, follow the recommended safety tips such as not leaving it on overnight.
Alternatively, consider a dehumidifier to get rid of excess moisture in the tent.
Bonus: Moka pot!
Okay, while this is not exactly a way to insulate your tent, it is a nice way to keep warm while camping in winter. For the uninitiated, a Moka pot is basically a portable, manual espresso maker that uses pressure from boiling water to produce rich coffee.
I’m sure you’ve seen some videos on TikTok. Simply heat the pot (filled with coffee grounds and water) over an open fire (outside your tent of course), and enjoy the fresh cuppa in the morning. Not only does it warm you up, but it’s also a great way to start the morning!
And there you have it: Seven ways to insulate a tent for camping in winter. Like I said, camping in winter is one of the most memorable experiences any avid camper can have. If you can properly insulate your winter tent, you’ll be in for a jolly good time! Hopefully, this will help you in making your first winter camping trip a reality!