Have you ever woken up at home shivering?
If you have, you probably grabbed a few blankets or cranked up the thermostat.
But what’s the solution if the same thing happens in the middle of the woods?
Check out our short guide on how to stay warm in a tent. Say goodbye to those unpleasant shivering camping nights and wake up refreshed…
4 Steps to Stay Warm Without A Heat Source
Step 1: Fuel Up
No, I’m not talking about lugging a generator to the campsite. I’m talking about ensuring that you are properly hydrated and nourished out in the wild.
Regulating a suitable temperature starts from within.
To stay safe from the ever-changing elements, learn your body’s demands for food and energy.
Health organizations recommend approximately 2 liters of water per day to maintain organ function, joint lubrication, and proper circulation.
Food intake levels are a little more widespread. So ensure that you ingest whatever is comfortable for you (I prefer to eat a high-carb snack like a CLIF BAR before heading into my tent for the night).
Step 2: Layer Up
After you’ve satisfied your hunger and thirst, the next way to stay warm in a tent is to layer up, starting with your clothes.
Bring plenty of warm, breathable clothes if you have any doubt that you will freeze overnight.
Some popular sleeping fabrics in the outdoors include synthetics, wool, down, and silk. Try to avoid cotton since it can accumulate moisture.
I would suggest wearing wool socks and a wool hat to bed when it comes to other clothing.
When blood circulates through your body, your feet and ears are some of the last body parts to receive warmth, so it’s essential to protect them.
I would even throw on some gloves or mittens if you are prone to poor circulation.
Step 3: Make Your Bed
The next layer of protection comes from the combination of your sleeping bag and sleeping pad.
The Earth’s surface is a significant source of heat loss. You should invest in an insulated sleeping pad if you are expecting freezing conditions.
When it comes to sleeping bags, each one has a temperature rating, but the number can sometimes be misleading.
For example, a 30 ℉ rated sleeping bag. This rating means that the average person will sleep comfortably down to 30 ℉. Assuming they are wearing long underwear and utilizing a sleeping pad.
It doesn’t account for factors like metabolism, humidity, sleeping pad thickness, etc.
Some companies use temperature rating systems like EN or ISO, which helps standardize the method for rating the warmth of a sleeping bag. In contrast, others use their in-house evaluations that can be less consistent.
There is no ruling authority for this system, so companies can claim whichever temperature rating they want.
Just be wary of the number alone when looking into purchasing a new cold weather sleeping bag.
You may also want to invest in a sleeping bag liner since it can play an important part in the insulation process.
Each company usually offers a liner that traps heat that your body radiates at night.
Step 4: Stay Dry
Lastly, the drier you are, the warmer you will be.
While it’s not always easy to control the amount of moisture in your tent, there are a few steps you can take to prevent losing body heat via evaporation.
- Pitch your tent on higher ground. If it rains, you will be thankful that you didn’t wake up in a puddle.
- Pitch below a tree or canopy of trees as the air tends to be warmer underneath a blanket of foliage.
- Ensure that the tent side with the most mesh is facing the wind. This allows a breeze and ventilation to replace the wet, trapped air in the tent, even if you lose a little heat through convection.
- Place any wet clothes or gear in the vestibule or leave them in the car. As these damp items dry, the moisture trapped in the fabric evaporates, then condenses onto the tent fly, which could drip on you at night.
Staying Warm With A Heat Source
If you don’t think the previously mentioned preventive measures will suffice, there are a few more options to keep your body warm via external heat sources.
The “hot packs” themselves won’t keep your entire body warm but can be used to help your extremities from freezing.
While there are many different hand warmers on the market, I carry a couple of HotHands in my pack at all times.
They are lightweight, single-use, and provide several hours of warmth.
There are also versions for your toes with an adhesive side that I like to stick to the underside of my wrists. I don’t know why I started doing this, but it always has worked.
Water Bottle Method
Utilized often by backpackers, the water bottle method of heating your body is preferable when you can’t pack a giant heater – we’ll get into that in a bit.
Boil water over the campfire or a gas stove, then pour it in a Nalgene or metal water bottle.
Tuck the bottle in your sleeping bag, and voila, a temporary heat source!
You must let the water cool for a few minutes to avoid melting the bottle or burning yourself.
Do not use a thin, clear plastic bottle. The hot temperature may degrade the plastic, leading others to believe that you had an embarrassing ‘accident’ in your tent.
Hot Rocks Method
I’m going to be honest, I’ve never tried this method and don’t intend to, but rumor has it that it works.
Instead of using a water bottle, some people have put large rocks in the campfire to warm them up. Then carefully place them in their tent as a makeshift heat source.
Be careful; rocks with trapped moisture may turn into a mini-bomb in the campfire… yes, it happens.
I’m still a little wary of this method since you can’t knowingly regulate the heat source, which can lead to one of two problems: you burn yourself or burn a hole in your tent.
On top of that, one false move and the jagged stone can put a tear in the floor.
I’d rather not even touch a gas-powered heater, but if you plan on sleeping in the blistering cold of winter, it may be your only option.
One of the more popular propane-powered camping heaters on the market is Mr. Heater Buddy. It outputs up to 9000 BTUs of heat.
Reasons For Heat Loss
Now that you know the tips and tricks of staying nice and toasty in your tent, it’s important to examine the causes of heat loss in the body.
Welcome to the quick high school science lesson: Camping Thermodynamics 101.
According to WebMD, the human body loses approximately 65% of its heat through radiation.
The process is like how the warmth of a campfire reaches your fingertips, but on a smaller scale. There’s a long scientific explanation about infrared waves, but I don’t want to put you to sleep.
This process occurs in ambient temperatures lower than 68 ℉.
When your body loses heat via physical contact with another solid object, it’s called conduction.
Think about it like touching a metal chair. The warmth flows from your hot skin to the chair, giving your mind the impression that the chair is indeed cold.
Note that temperature only flows from hot to cold, not from cold to hot.
For the outdoors, this occurs through contact with the Earth’s surface and your sleeping pad.
The process of losing heat from flowing air or water is known as convection.
Although the actual amount of temperature loss depends on the intensity of the supplied air or water – the stronger the wind, the colder it feels.
Lastly, water evaporating from your skin causes your body temperature to drop.
The water molecules get energy from the surrounding air and convert it into a gaseous state via an endothermic reaction, allowing your body to cool down.
This is why you produce sweat. Your internal temperature increases and you emit water molecules so that the process of evaporation will cool you down.
Isn’t the human body amazing?
Wrapping It Up…
Staying warm in your tent will keep your camping trips relaxing.
Ensure that you take the correct measures to maintain your body temperature with proper nutrition and layering.
If these don’t keep you warm, you can try to add a heat source like hand warmers or a hot Nalgene Bottle, leaving a gas-powered heater as your last resort.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be able to greet the chilly outdoors with a warm welcome. Don’t let the frigid temperatures freeze your planned adventure!