If you have always wanted to try winter camping, but you don’t love the idea of spending money on gear that you might only use a few times, there are ways to make the tent that you already have work for you. If your tent is not rated for use in all four seasons, there are a few tricks you can try to make it comfortable and safe for winter camping.
Remember, the goal whenever you are outdoors in very cold weather is to stay warm and dry, since hypothermia can set in quickly. Being able to control the temperature inside your tent will make keeping yourself warm and safe that much easier! Here’s how:
1. Use a Small Tent
A tent with a small footprint is not only light and easy to carry, but also a good choice for warmth when using it in cold weather. A smaller area inside the tent means a lower volume of air to keep warm, so it will require less energy to heat it. A smaller tent footprint will also make building windbreaks, adding covers, and clearing spaces for the tent easier. You might want to consider creating a lean-to or vestibule with a tarp to help with gear storage, since winter gear takes up a lot of space in a small tent.
Bonus: If you are camping with a friend, your shared body heat will also be more effective if you stay closer to one another.
2. Clear the Ground of Snow
It might be tempting to try to set up your tent on top of the snow, since it seems like sleeping on snow would be soft and comfortable. However, your body heat will melt the snow, which can lead to a very wet (and heat-leaching) experience, and can re-freeze into icy lumps beneath you. This can make your sleeping uncomfortable, and it can also damage your tent floor.
As the old saying goes: The best part of clearing snow and then pitching your tent that it warms you twice – once while you are exerting yourself shoveling away the snow, and again when you are enjoying the warm space inside, free from a cold, soggy tent floor!
3. Insulate the Floor
Just like camping in warmer weather, the best way to stay comfortable at night is to insulate the ground to keep the cold, frozen ground from leeching your body heat as your sleep. Any additional layer between the floor of your tent and the ground will make it easier to stay warm inside the tent.
A waterproof tarp cut to the shape of your tent is a good start, as it will help to keep the bottom of your tent clean and dry, but make sure that it fits the footprint of your tent exactly so that snow does not get trapped between the tarp and the floor of your tent. Placing foam squares, carpet squares, or waterproof tent flooring inside your tent will provide insulation and keep you warmer, too.
4. Warm Your Bed
When you are winter camping, you will want to use a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 4, in addition to using a sleeping bag that is rated for at least ten degrees colder than the lowest temperature you expect at night. Remember that wind chill can drive temperatures even lower, so an air temperature is just the starting point for what the air can feel like!
You will want several rechargeable heat packs to place inside your sleeping bag before you climb in for the night. They are also great to tuck inside your boots before dressing in the morning and to keep inside your coat as you make breakfast and pack up camp.
5. Heat the Air
Tent heaters are small, portable heating devices that work with propane or butane canisters or batteries. The best tent heaters include low oxygen sensors and will turn themselves off if oxygen levels drop. If you decide to use a portable heater, make sure that you are very aware of the safety requirements that the portable heater has.
Consider the kind of materials you have near the heater, and ensure that you never leave anything flammable near the heater. It is very important you never use the heater when you are sleeping.
6. Block the Wind
If you can set up your tent in a location with a natural wind block, such as a stand of tree or rocky outcropping, you will be able to keep the exterior temperature of your tent higher.
If there is no natural windbreak, you use the snow that you dug out from the footprint for your tent and pile it into a mound to block the wind. Even just a few feet of height in a windbreak will make a difference in keeping your tent warmer.
You can also use some straps to hang a tarp between two trees to help block the wind, but if you do this, make sure that the trees you choose are not widowmakers!
7. Cover the Top and Sides
If your tent does not already have a rainfly that covers it completely, you will want to cover your tent with a large tarp to help block the wind and trap heat inside.
Draping a heavy-duty tarp over the top of your tent will do much of the same work to block the wind that an expensive four-season tent does. Make sure that the tarp is secured so that the wind will not rip it from your tent, but make sure that you secure the tarp in a way that will damage your tent poles.
Remember, too, that some ventilation is helpful to keep condensation from forming inside your tent, so venting it slightly can help keep the inside dry.
8. Reflect Heat Inside
Another simple heat-retaining strategy is to help reflect heat back inside the tent by lining the inside of the tent with reflective mylar blankets. This is an inexpensive way to make a two or three-season tent into a four-season tent. The mylar blankets will trap and reflect your body heat toward you.
Since duct tape sometimes loses its adhesive qualities when it is very cold and does not adhere to damp surfaces, a good method for securing the mylar blankets are small clips, utilizing only the gear pockets and hooks inside the tent.
Do not clip mylar blankets to the tent fabric itself, since you could accidentally damage it.
Winter Camping Can Work For You
Winter camping does not necessarily require all-new, expensive gear to be enjoyable. If you are trying a new experience before committing to a hobby with expensive equipment, insulating the tent you already have is a great choice. With a few simple modifications, you can make your tent into a safe and cozy haven for winter camping.
Do not be afraid to give it a try – you just might discover your new favorite thing!
Would you rather be too cold or too hot when you are trying to sleep? Would you like to try sleeping in an igloo? Let us know!