Camping in a winter wonderland….it sounds so festive and cozy. But, it sounds like a possible nightmare to me, unless you are very prepared and have a plan. So, in this post, I will go over how to insulate a tent for winter camping.
It is not a winter wonderland when you are icy cold, wet, and tired from lack of sleep. However, keeping your tent warm and insulated can prevent this from happening.
Proper insulation will keep the cold air out and the warm air in, and with the proper knowledge, you can camp in comfort, even in the winter.
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Clear the ground
If you are camping in the snow, you must first clear the snow area for your tent. Not only is it colder to sleep on snow, but the snow will melt under your warm tent. So now your tent is on a bed of cold water.
Clear the snow as much away as possible from your tent. If the weather warms up, the melted snow may trickle down towards your tent. You can use some of the snow to build a wind barrier, which we will discuss more.
If you don’t have snow to deal with, you still want to clear the ground of any debris that will add moisture to your tent floor. Plus, nobody enjoys a nice pointy rock in their back while sleeping. I tend to be like the princess and the pea, don’t judge.
We like to pitch our tent somewhat close to a tree for two reasons. First, the trees will block some of the wind, and you also can tie up a tarp to the nearby trees as an added protection for your tent.
Buy a four-season tent
You have a few options here as to what to buy. Ideally, investing in an insulated four-season tent is best for snowy, cold winter camping. These tents are very well lined with insulation and are designed for winter camping only.
Insulated four-season tents resemble a sleeping bag on both the inside and outside. They also end up reducing noise and light. Unfortunately, these tents can cost around $500 to $1,000 and more if you get crazy.
That being said, a traditional four-season tent is much more affordable and can work nicely with a few easy additions. A four-season tent does have a much thicker lining on the walls than a three-season tent.
The top of the tent will also have this thicker tent lining, instead of mesh, like three-season tents. The floor will be more waterproof and thicker as well.
Four-season tents usually are heavier and have sturdier poles and stakes to help with extreme winter weather.
If a four-season tent is not in the budget for you, some creative modifications can be done to your three-season tent to help with winter camping. We will go into detail more about this later in the post.
Build a windbreak
Building a windbreak out of snow or a tarp is a great way to shield your tent from the cold wind. If camping in the snow, some of the snow you cleared from your tent site can be used to build a bank of snow by your tent.
This could be a bit labor-intensive, but most snow campers are hardcore and know that a little extra effort may be needed. At a minimum, build your snowbank on the side with the most wind.
Try to set up your tent near some trees; you can use them to tie off tarps. Not only can you hang a tarp over your tent, but you can hang a tarp vertically to block the wind.
Tie the top corners tightly to nearby trees and stake the bottom corners down. Stake as much of the bottom edge as possible to prevent wind from whipping through.
Setting your tent up by bushes or shrubs can also act as a natural windbreak.
Use a rug or foam pad on the floor
Insulating the inside of your tent floor is a great way to keep the cold from creeping in. Lightweight, thin foam pads are perfect for this. They are easy to pack and just have to be rolled out on the floor.
If you can get some reflective foam, this is even better. When using reflective material, you want it to be reflective on both sides. This is because your body heat will reflect back to you, and the cold air will reflect back to the ground.
If you cannot find reflective foam, try using a thermal blanket (space blanket) over the top of regular foam.
You also can opt for an old area rug for ground insulation. It won’t work as well as reflective foam but is a decent option. An area rug also adds a touch of home to your tent.
Another option, but not my favorite, is using a regular blanket or towels on the floor. Unfortunately, blankets and towels aren’t great insulators and are also a trip hazard. But if that is all you had, it would be better than nothing.
Line the walls
Lining the walls with an insulated or reflective material is a good option for keeping out the cold. There are a few different ways you can tackle this. For example, reflective foam (if it will hang flat) can be hung on the walls, or you can hang a space blanket on the inside walls.
Choose a lightweight material to insulate the ceiling of your tent. Gravity might not be your friend at 2 am. That would stink to get hit in the face with a foam sheet in the middle of the night.
Bring plenty of duct tape; you will need it to hang up your insulation and reflective sheets. To be honest, duct tape is always needed, on every trip, anywhere you go.
In addition to duct tape, get yourself some lightweight plastic clamps from the hardware store. These babies will be a lifesaver when it comes to hanging up insulating blankets. On a side note, they are so handy for many camping situations, so go get some.
Use a tarp on the outside
Suspending a tarp over the outside of your tent will keep any rain and snow from touching the top of your tent. Be sure to slope the tarp a small amount, so the rain and snow don’t pool in the middle.
Make sure the slope will drop the excess moisture away from the tent, downhill. Condensation could be an issue if you placed the tarp directly on the top of the tent.
The tarp will also be helpful with wind, so be sure to suspend it tightly. Bring plenty of extra rope, clamps, and duct tape. You will use them more than you realize.
Use a smaller tent
When investing in a four-season tent, get the smallest one possible. You want your body heat to be contained in a smaller space. It is much more challenging to keep a large space warm.
Think of your tent as an extensive part of your sleeping bag. The smaller the sleeping bag, the more warm and snuggly it stays.
A smaller tent will be more lightweight and will take less to set up. It also won’t involve super large tarps and insulating blankets.
Buy the right sleeping bag
All of these tips on keeping a tent warm in winter are great, but you also need the right sleeping bag. Purchase a sleeping bag that is rated for weather below 30 degrees.
Mummy-style sleeping bags are the best for frigid weather. They are lightweight, pack down small, and are excellent at working with your body heat. They usually come with a hood to help keep your head nice and toasty.
A good winter sleeping bag may cost a bit, but it is well worth it if you plan to camp in extreme cold. Nothing is quite as miserable as shivering all night long.
A quality sleeping bag can last for many years if taken care of. Once you get home from your adventure, take your sleeping bag out of its cocoon. Find an area indoors to hang your sleeping bag vertically.
Bring a tarp or a footprint
Even if you have a four-season tent, I would bring a tarp or groundsheet to lay under your tent. This will be an added layer of moisture protection.
Be sure the groundsheet is larger than the floor of the tent. It is also nice to have it extend all the way under your vestibule or tent entry area. This way, you don’t step immediately out of your tent onto the cold ground.
A groundsheet can be anything waterproof; even waterproof canvas would work great. Large tarps are easy to purchase at any hardware store.
Be sure to bring stakes and a hammer (or mallet) to secure the groundsheet. We always use a tarp when camping; it simply is nice to keep the dirt off the bottom of the tent. Makes cleaning up a little easier at the end of your trip.
Use a tent heater
Don’t be too proud to use a tent heater. Just be sure to follow the safety guidelines. Gas tent heaters are designed specifically for just that, being in a tent. However, if you have access to power, an electric heater is a great option.
For an electric heater, you will need an extension cord rated for outdoor use. Be sure to place your heater in a safe spot where it won’t be knocked over. You also want to position it away from any fabric or material that could be flammable.
The electric heater should come with a tip-over protection system for safety. It also should have a shut-off sensor if the heater gets too hot.
A gas tent heater should come with a carbon monoxide emergency shut-off system. They also should be designed to shut off if tipped over.
Our propane tent heater is so sensitive that it will shut off even if we simply move it a few inches. But this is what you want in a tent heater.
You will also want to place it in an area where it can be ventilated for safety. Be sure to place your tent heater on a flat surface, away from the sleeping bags or other material.
Depending on your tent heater, you may need to replace the gas tank in the middle of the night. Our heater lasts for about 5 hours, so we usually replace it once. Have an extra tank available in the tent.
Some gas tent heaters are designed to work with a 5-gallon tank. You could then place the heater in the tent and have the tubing go out of the tent attached to the 5-gallon tank.
A portable tent heater is a sure way to keep you quite warm on cold winter nights. Just be sure to follow all the safety guidelines of your heater.
Winter is coming.
Be prepared the best you can if you plan on camping in extremely cold weather. I genuinely feel the best option is to invest in a four-season tent if you plan on several winter camping trips.
If you have a three-season tent, we listed several things you can do to make winter camping more comfortable. Many of these tips are a good idea regardless of the tent you have.
Either way, camping does take some effort, but hopefully, it is all worth it. So my final advice; have a hotty toddy to warm your belly.
Go get out there campers! Breathe in the fresh air, and as always- camp s’more, worry less.