Tents can be cold, lonely places. You might remember one time you’ve spent out in the mountains or woods in a wet sleeping bag or without enough layers. Knowing how to stay warm in a tent is an important skill to have.
Not knowing how to trap that heat or get dry can make for a cold, uncomfortable trip. On of our big goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to help you have the best experience outdoors possible. In this article, we’ll go over some tips to help you sleep warmer in your tent all year round.
DRY CLOTHES AND GEAR
Moisture on your skin like sweat will pull heat from your body. Avoid this as much as possible by keeping your essentials dry.
TIP 1. KEEP YOUR SLEEPING CLOTHES DRY
When heading to sleep in your tent, have a dry set of clothes to change into. You’ll want a warm pair of socks, a comfortable set of base layers that don’t cut off blood circulation and a warm hat. Skip the cotton here, synthetics and wool wick and insulate best. Cotton pulls heat away from your body.
One of the most pervasive myths around staying warm in a tent is that sleeping naked is best. For most people adding layers of clothing will make you warmer under most conditions. Research by Liz McCullough at the University of Kansas tested dummies with a base layer and without in their sleeping bags. Those wearing a base layer were warmer.
TIP 2. KEEP YOUR SLEEPING BAG DRY
Keeping your sleeping bag dry is important. It’s your biggest defense against the cold at night. Moisture will pull heat from your body if you’re touching it. Down sleeping bags lose loft when they’re wet, reducing the warmth. Synthetic bags will retain more of their warmth when wet. Store it in something waterproof like a stuff sack and dry it out each morning.
PACK WARM GEAR
At it’s core, staying warm is essentially about trapping heat. Your jackets and sleeping bags keep the heat your body generates in a closed space, making you warmer. Better gear will keep that heat around you longer.
TIP 3. WELL-RATED SLEEPING BAG
A warm sleeping bag is the cornerstone of staying toasty in your tent. Sleeping bag temperature ratings are getting more accurate but how that feels still varies from person to person. Jason Stevenson, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Backpacking and Hiking recommends getting one that’s rated for 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the nightly low, 20 degrees cooler if you get cold sleeping.
If you’re looking for a new sleeping bag for colder weather see How to Choose a Sleeping Bag.
TIP 4. HIGH R-VALUE SLEEPING MAT
Sleeping on the ground with a good sleeping bag just won’t be as warm as on a well-insulated sleeping mat. There are a variety of sleeping mats to choose from these days. They aren’t limited to stiff closed cell foam and thin therm-a-rests any more.
Every sleeping mat has an R-value which is it’s ability to retain heat. The higher the R-value the less heat you’ll lose laying on top. Like we recommended in our How to Choose a Sleeping Pad article, you can stack two mats and add the two R-values together for a warmer sleep. Look for a pad or combo that has an R-value of 5 or more for the cold nights.
Just because a mat is inflatable doesn’t mean it will be cold to sleep on, or warm for that matter. It all depends on how much insulation is inside. An Exped Airmat Lite 5 has an R-value of 1.7 which will be lightweight, great for the summer, but cold for the winter. The Exped DownMat, with its R- value of 8, will be nice for winter camping.
TIP 5. MORE LAYERS UNDERNEATH
Sleeping on 2 mats will keep you warmer at night but it doesn’t have to be sleeping mats. Wool blankets, foil emergency blankets or spare clothes work as well. The more layers between you and that heat-sucking ground the warmer you’ll be.
PREP FOR BED
Now that you’ve got your gear, a little bit of preparation before you start counting sheep can help you sleep warm and cozy through the night.
TIP 6. HOT WATER BOTTLE
One of the easiest ways to generate a little extra heat is to make a hot water bottle. Pour some almost boiling water into a BPA-free Lexan water bottle and take it to bed with you. Make sure the lid is on tight. Philip Werner from SectionHiker.com recommends placing it at cold spots or where arteries are close the skin. You’ll also have a bottle of clean water to drink if you wake up thirsty.
TIP 7. EXERCISE BEFORE BED
A few jumping jacks or push-ups will get your blood flowing just before you zip in. Don’t do too much or else you’ll start sweating and cool down. You can also just try to change your clothes in your sleeping bag. It’s a workout in and of itself.
TIP 8. HIGH-FAT DINNER OR SNACK
To keep your metabolic furnace burning as long as you can, eat a good dinner or snack before bed.
Charlotte Austin, a Seattle-based writer and mountain guide, recommends something high in protein and fat. The slower digestion process will create some heat for you and keep you asleep longer.
TIP 9. STAY HYDRATED BUT NOT TOO MUCH
To keep everything running smoothly like digestion you need to stay hydrated. It’s harder to notice thirst in the cold weather. Draining bottles of water before bed will lead to bathroom breaks in the night though. Experiment to see how much you can drink within an hour of bed without having to get up again.
WHILE YOU’RE SLEEPING
You’re all zipped into your sleeping bag and getting out now would let all that heat escape. Here are a few tips to keep the you, and the heat, in.
TIP 10. HIDE FROM THE COLD IN YOUR SLEEPING BAG
Mummy bags will have drawstrings to pull the hood tight around your face. Some have a strip of fabric around the back of your neck called a draft tube that prevents heat escaping from around your shoulders.
Always breathing into your sleeping bag might be warmer but eventually that moist air builds up and can make things damp. Keep your nose and mouth out of your sleeping bag to breathe. It’s nicer breathing cool fresh air anyways.
TIP 11. EVEN IF YOU HAD TOO MUCH WATER
Unless you really need to get up, stay in your cozy cocoon as long as you can. If you do need to hit the bathroom in the night you might be able to use a “yellow” bottle. Holding it does take more energy to keep it warm. Make sure you can easily tell the difference between your yellow bottle and your drinking water!
TIP 12. SIT-UPS IF YOU NEED TO
If you need to get your blood moving in the middle of the night, sit-ups get your blood flowing without having to leave your sleeping bag. You’ll wake up with great abs too.