How to Stay Warm when Sleeping in a Tent
When you’re sleeping in a tent on a chilly night, it’s easy to get cold and tough to warm up again. If you want to stay comfy all night long, you need to plan ahead and bring the proper supplies. The keys to staying warm in a tent include applying breathable layers, reducing cold air penetration, and using warm objects to your advantage.
Layering Clothes and Covers
Put on completely dry sleeping clothes.Change all of your clothes (including undergarments and socks) before going to bed. You are constantly excreting small amounts of sweat into your clothes, and this trapped liquid conducts cold air more efficiently, making you colder when the temperature drops at night.
- Keep dry sleeping clothes in a waterproof bag during the day, and air them out to thoroughly dry in the morning.
Choose breathable fabrics.No matter how chilly it gets at night, you’ll still excrete some liquid from your skin into your dry sleeping clothes. Fabrics that hold in liquids rather than let them pass through will make you colder. Think of it this way — imagine hanging your washed laundry out to dry, and pick the clothes (and fabrics) that dry the fastest.
- Wear wool and avoid cotton. Generally speaking, these are the best and worst materials for keeping you warm despite being wet.
Layer on thin, comfortable sleeping garments.Wool is great for moisture-wicking, but that bulky, itchy sweater Grandma got you for Christmas may not make the best camping pajamas. Prioritize breathable comfort, and use layers that are easy to peel off if necessary — for instance, if you get too warm during the night, or need to get up to use the bathroom.
- You might layer up, for instance, a vest and underwear, baggy T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, normal socks, night socks, and a large jumper. Or try the one piece "onesie" pajamas that are warm, versatile, and easy to pack. Just try to keep cotton layers from making direct contact with your skin.
Don’t sleep in the nude or nearly nude.Some campers argue that sleeping “in the buff” with lots of layers surrounding you keeps you warmest. However, combining thin layers of breathable clothing with layers of blankets and covers is likely your best bet for staying toasty. It also makes it less chilly (and more discreet) if you need to get up during the night!
- That said, it’s better to sleep naked with lots of blankets if all of your clothes are wet.
Use an appropriately-rated sleeping bag.Nearly all sleeping bags now have ratings listed on the tag, indicating either a seasonal rating (three season, excluding winter, for instance) or a nighttime temperature range in which they can keep you warm. Don’t take chances in cold weather; do your homework, talk to experts, and pick a bag that can handle the nighttime temperatures you’ll be facing.
- Before departing on your camping trip, make sure your sleeping bag is in good condition — check for tears or holes, broken zippers or cinches, etc.
Add layers inside and outside your sleeping bag.The colder it is, the more layers you’ll want to add. Place blankets, towels, rugs, mats, or even extra clothing on top of your bag. You can also buy zip-up fleece liners to place inside your bag, or even double-up with a thinner bag inside a thicker one.
Reducing Cold Infiltration
Insulate between your body and the cold ground.Even a high-quality sleeping bag placed directly on the cold earth will not prevent you from feeling the chill. You can buy insulated sleeping mats (which have an R-value like home insulation panels) to place beneath you, or use rugs, mats, blankets, etc.
- If you’re using an air mattress, insulate beneath it as well.
- If you’re using a camping bed, place bags, clothing, supplies, etc. beneath it to limit the flow of chilly air underneath you.
Cinch your sleeping bag around your neck.But keep your head outside the bag. You might think that breathing warm air into the bag would be a good idea, but you’ll end up adding cold-conducting moisture and reducing your fresh air intake. Use the flaps or cinches on your bag to make a secure (but comfortable) seal around your neck.
- Wear a knit hat that covers your ears to keep your head warm.
Select the right type and size of tent.Make sure you use a sturdy, well-maintained tent that is secure in the ground and free of holes or tears. If the tent fails in the middle of a cold night, you could be in serious trouble. The tent should limit cold drafts, yet allow some small amount of ventilation to prevent moisture buildup and provide fresh air.
- Choose the smallest tent that will (relatively) comfortably fit the number of people sleeping inside. This will hold in your body warmth better.
Set up your tent in a somewhat warmer location.If you expose your tent to cold breezes by placing it, for instance, on an exposed hilltop, everything inside it (including you) will end up colder. At the same time, though, cold air descends to low ground, so avoid sheltered valleys as well.
- Consider placing your tent under the canopy of a sturdy tree. The tree will shield your tent from some of the wind, and will retain some radiant heat from the daylight hours well into the evening. Choose a spot where you won’t be shielded from the rising (and warming) sun in the morning, though.
Adding Sources of Warmth
Eat a hearty meal before bedtime.While we associate it with food, a calorie is a unit of heat-producing energy.So, if you eat a calorie-laden meal before going to sleep, you’ll help stoke your inner furnace. Instead of loading up on donuts or other empty carbs, though, choose a meal that’s high in protein. This will keep your metabolism running at a higher rate for longer, which also results in increased body heat.
Enjoy a few sips of a hot beverage.Drink a bit of something that’s hot, but not filled with caffeine, shortly before going to sleep. Doing so can provide a warm feeling in your chest and stomach, which in turn makes you feel warmer. In addition to decaf coffee or teas, good options include hot milk, apple cider, or even powdered lemonade in hot water.
- Too much caffeine will keep you awake, and it also acts as a diuretic, which means you’ll be more likely to have to get up and go to the bathroom.
- Try to drink just enough of beverages of any type (including plain water) to keep you hydrated but not make you need to urinate during the night. Finding the right amount for your body will take some practice.
Try not to urinate, but don’t hold it in.Getting up to go to the bathroom during the night will expose you to the cold, reduce your body temperature, and require you to repeat the process of layering up just right. However, holding in a full bladder expends energy (and thus body heat), making you colder regardless.
- Guys may be able to keep a designated “yellow bottle” in their sleeping bag to urinate in. The warm bottled urine may even provide a bit of extra heat! Human anatomy dictates that ladies are probably better off just getting up to go pee, however.
Add warm packs or bottles to your sleeping bag.Heat up some drinking water and fill one or more plastic drinking bottles with it. Stash them inside your sleeping bag, near your feet. They’ll help keep you warm and provide you with something to drink in the morning.
- Warm packs that you “snap” to start a warming chemical reaction will also work, but without the refreshing morning beverage.
- If you’re using both warm water bottles and a “yellow bottle” for nighttime urination, be sure not to confuse them in the morning!
Heat up some rocks.Stones warmed near a fire will retain heat for a surprisingly long time. Wrap up larger stones in a towel or extra clothing, and place them strategically around the tent interior. You can do the same with smaller stones and place them right inside your sleeping bag.
- Make sure the rocks aren’t too hot to handle!
Use a portable tent heater.You can use fuel-fed heaters that are made specifically for tent use, or, if you have access to electricity, plug-in models. Make sure that you use a heater rated for in-tent use and follow the instructions to the letter, however. For greater safety, you may want to run the heater only at bedtime and wake-up.
- Improperly situated, operated, or ventilated tent heaters can easily cause deadly fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hang a reflective blanket above your sleeping area.In case of emergency, you should always pack one of those shiny silver blankets that reflect light and heat. While they might trap in too much moisture if used as an in-tent blanket, their reflective properties can be quite useful. Simply hang the blanket from the tent ceiling, over top of where you’re sleeping. The blanket will help reflect your escaping body heat back down toward you during the night.
Video: How I Stay Warm in Sleeping in My Van
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