How to safely heat a tent
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How To Heat a Tent Safely and Effectively

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Winter camping is one of life’s special joys. It might seem daunting for newcomers, but there are plenty of ways to keep cozy in the cold. It all comes down to preparation and heating a tent safely. 

Our family has always had the camping bug. It was such a disappointment to see the season end each year. It wasn’t long before we were researching ways to extend our outdoor activities well into the winter months

We began experimenting with tent heaters and insulation. Quickly we learned there’s a right and wrong way to stay warm while camping. Here, we’ll talk a bit about the different methods to create and retain warmth when trying to heat a tent.

Here is what to do after you’ve roasted your last smore and are headed into the tent for the night.

How to Heat a Tent

Goal time to set up: 30 minutes

How to Heat a Tent Safely

  1. Buy the right tent

    Start with a small tent. Heating a large tent is more difficult.

  2. Reflect the cold out.

    Put a reflective blanket down to keep the cold out.

  3. Insulate the tent floor with foam pads.

    Keeping a tent warm always starts from the bottom up. Foam blocks are the best at keeping heat in.

  4. Get the Right Sleeping Gear

    Invest in a good sleeping pad and sleeping bag. This is not the time to skimp or bargain hunt.

  5. Add Heat

    Use a heat source like a small heater, wood stove or hot packs. Once you’re insulated, a small amount of heat will go a long way.

Insulate the Tent Floor

One of the easiest and safest ways to retain heat in the winter is by insulating your tent. The coldest place in your tent is the floor. The cold ground, whether snow-packed or dry, will suck the heat right out of you. 

Foam puzzle blocks on the floor of a tent

Sleeping on a cot, hammock, or inflatable mattress keeps your body off the ground. You can also insulate the tent bottom with pads and tarps. 

Mylar Blanket or Reflective Tarp

Mylar blankets are used in emergencies to retain body heat. They’re sometimes called space blankets, weather blankets, or first aid blankets. Mylar blankets don’t look like much. They’re crafted of thin, lightweight heat-reflective plastic. 

Reflective tarps take this one step further. They include a reflective mylar blanket on one side and a thick waterproof polypropylene barrier on the other. 

These products go on the tent floor before adding floor pads. They create an additional level of thermal insulation to prevent heat loss through the floor of the tent. Here are a few products to keep in mind as you begin insulating.

Insulation Marketplace Smart Shield

The Smart Shield is a great combination of foam insulation and a reflective thermal exterior. It reflects 95% of radiant energy and is good for indoor and outdoor use. It’s also waterproof, repelling moisture caused by humidity and condensation in the tent. 

SmartSHIELD Reflective Insulation
$49.95 $32.75
Buy Now
03/12/2024 03:01 pm GMT

I like that these foam rolls come in 10 sizes, perfect for a custom fit to any tent. They’re non-toxic and easy to install. Although they’re only roughly 3mm thick, it adds a little cushion to the floor as well. This is nice if you do end up sleeping on a pad rather than a cot. 

Pros: Comes in multiple sizes. Moisture proof. Thin and lightweight. 

Cons: Needs to be cut to fit your tent. 

Material: Closed-cell polyethylene foam and engineered foil

Arcturus Heavy Duty Survival Blanket

The Arcturus blanket is an insulated reflective thermal tarp. It comes in 7 colors and includes a mylar side and two layers of polypropylene on the other. The tarp includes tie-down grommets at the corners, making it a useful emergency shelter option when hiking.

I like that the Arcturus tarp comes with a carry bag. It’s also large enough that most tents only require one blanket at 5ft by 7ft. On the other hand, if you’ve got a large family-sized tent, you might need two.

Pros: Waterproof. Large size. Includes a carry bag. 

Cons: Can’t be as easily customized to a tent shape as the thermal foam. 

Material: Closed-cell polyethylene foam and engineered foil

Size(s): 60in x 82in (5ft x 7ft)

Foam Floor Pads

Foam pads go on top of your thermal mylar layer to further insulate the tent. They also add a nice cushion feel to the floor. Foam pads come in all shapes and sizes. I prefer the interlocking pads to better fit different tent shapes. Here’s one of my favorite products. 

BalanceFrom Puzzle Exercise Mat

My son loves helping us put these tiles in the tent. It’s a fun activity and a great learning exercise on winter survival and heating a tent safely. The foam tiles are made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA).

BalanceFrom Puzzle Foam Tiles
$27.99
Buy Now
03/12/2024 03:31 pm GMT

Each tile measures 24in by 24in and is roughly half an inch thick. They also come with edge borders which can be added to the end tiles after assembly. I love how easy these pads are to clean. All you need is soap and water. 

Pros: Easy to assemble. Easy to clean. Can be customized to your tent’s shape.

Cons: Some people find the tiles slippery.

Material: Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)

Size(s): 24in x 24in x ½in

Insulate with Other Gear

There’s more than one way to insulate your tent. We like to think of cold weather camping like winter hiking. It’s best to go in light layers and take things off when they’re not needed. Insulate your tent in layers. After all, it’s better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it. 

Here are some hacks for increasing your insulation level.

Insulated Sleeping Pads

Sleep pads are a revelation. Seriously, whoever thought them up should be in the camper hall of fame (Sidenote: There is a real camper hall of fame in Elkhart, Indiana, but it’s really more of an RV museum). 

Insulated sleeping pads add yet another layer of warmth, and safety, between you and the floor. They’re also very comfy. Here’s our favorite pad.

Exped Deep Sleep Mat

We have this sleeping pad, and it’s amazing! The entire thing weighs about 5.5 lbs and is made of open-cell foam. It has one brushed 75 D fabric side, which I like because it’s less slippery than other pads.

Exped DeepSleep Mat

This double mattress is a MUST for all campers. At 3" thick it will keep you comfortable and warm all night long!

Amazon ExPed.com

The Exped mat is durable, environmentally friendly, and easy to set up. It comes with an oversized stuff sack with a hook and loop closure. It also has an extra-large valve for quick deflation. 

We have the double wide sleeping mat and when we share a sleeping pad, we share body heat. This mat makes an excellent place to snuggle and tell stories at the end of the night.

Pros: Extremely comfy. Insulates against cold. Easy to assemble and deflate.

Cons: A little on the pricier side (but well worth it).

Material: Micro-brushed polyester, film laminate, and PU foam

Size(s): 77.6in x 30.3in x 3in (This measurement is for the long and wide size)

Insulated Tent Within Your Normal Tent

Some tents aren’t made for cold weather camping, but that doesn’t mean you need to ditch them. You can insulate your standard tent with a secondary internal tent. This is an ingenious idea that traps heat and keeps you cozy in all weather. Here’s one to try.

Crua Outdoors Cocoon

The Crua insulating tent is a 5-person temperature regulating tent that fits inside your own. This thing even looks warm. The sides are lightly padded with breathable polyester. Not only is it thermal, but a blackout and noise-canceling tent. In other words, this thing will give you a good night’s rest.

Crua Outdoors Inner Cocoon
$879.95 $759.95
Buy Now
03/12/2024 03:41 pm GMT

We’re a big fan of the Crua brand and this tent in particular. The Outdoor Cocoon has airframe beams, rather than standard tent poles. It inflates to support the tent structure. This is great because there are no poles to damage the interior of the second tent. It only takes about 60 seconds to set up.

Pros: Inflatable airframe beams. Fits inside any 6-man or bigger tent.

Cons: Not great as a standalone tent because it lacks support against the wind.

Material: Micro-brushed polyester, film laminate, and PU foam

Size(s): 5-person (114in x 83in x 63in)

Electric Heaters

If you have an electricity source at your camp, an electric tent heater can be your best friend. These small portable devices are great for warming up small spaces on cold nights. 

Here are a couple we recommend for tenting.

Vornado Baby Space Heater

The Vornado Baby electric heater is my top choice for safe winter camping. We have this exact unit in our son’s room at home and trust it for overnight use. It’s designed specifically for baby’s rooms, using gentle heat which circulates on two settings. 

Vornadobaby Sensa Space Heater
$193.47
Buy Now
03/12/2024 09:57 am GMT

I like that this unit has a timer, and you can choose anywhere from 2 to 12 hours. There’s also a fan-only option to circulate air in the room.

This space heater has great safety features for camping with kids. The narrow slats on the fan are “pinch friendly” meaning no little fingers can get inside. If it tips over, it shuts off immediately.

Pros: Topple-resistant base. Timer setting. Cool-touch exterior.

Cons: Some users find it a bit bright at night.

Heat type: Electric

Size: 10.1in  x 7.3in  x 10.8in

Honeywell Cubicle Heater

Another trusted brand for heating is Honeywell. This cubicle heater is a great tent choice because it’s designed to warm small spaces.

It has a plastic exterior that remains cool to the touch. It also has tip-over protection, in case it gets knocked at night.

I like this model because it’s slightly angled, blowing heat upward away from the tent floor. I’m always concerned space heaters might melt the tent. This one keeps warm air directed at you, not the tent.

Pros: Low-watt heat setting. Safety shut-off. Cool-touch exterior.

Cons: The vent isn’t adjustable. Some reviewers found it didn’t heat spaces sufficiently.

Heat type: Electric

Size: 5in x 4in x 7.7in

Propane Heater

Propane is a popular camp heater choice because it requires no plugs, outlets, and no generators. All you need is propane. 

Like any propane device, it’s critical you DO NOT leave the heater running while sleeping. Instead, use it to warm up the tent after pitching it and again before bed.

Also, be sure to check that your heater is labeled “indoor safe” before using it. Not all propane heaters are meant to be inside homes or tents. 

Carbon monoxide is a danger with a propane heater. All propane heaters produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct and carbon monoxide poisoning is nothing to mess with.

If you’re going to use a propane heater or other gas heaters, we strongly suggest getting a carbon monoxide detector.

Also keep in mind that burning propane adds moisture into the air. This is another reason why you shouldn’t leave the heater on all night, you’ll wake up soaked.

Mr. Buddy Indoor Heater

This is a great choice for small units, like tents (anything up to 95 square feet). It heats continuously and includes an automotive low oxygen shut-off, which is important. It uses a 1lb disposable propane tank, which lasts about 5.6 hours if running continuously.

I like that this heater has an accidental tip-over function that shuts it off if it falls. It’s small, portable, and perfect for winter camping.

I recommend setting it on a small table or another surface in the tent. Keep the tent vented during use.

Never leave the heater unattended in the tent.

Pros: Auto shut off for low oxygen and tip-over. Small and portable. 

Cons: Some reviewers had trouble finding the propane cylinders, they’re available at any outdoor store like Cabela’s, and regular stores like Target and Walmart.

Heat type: Gas-powered (propane)

Size: 11in x 11in x 11in

Electric Blankets

Electric blankets are great at camp or at home. They’re especially nice to have along when camping with kids. Young campers have more trouble regulating body temperatures, especially at night. Use them under your sleeping bags for the best results. Here’s our top pick.

Sunbeam Heated Blanket

We have this electric blanket at home, and we use it in and out of the house. It’s perfect when temperatures drop in autumn but I’m not ready to turn the heat on yet.

Sunbeam Heated Throw
$44.99 $39.87
Buy Now
03/12/2024 03:56 pm GMT

My husband packed it when he was camping during a hunting trip, he put it under the his sleeping bag and voila, instantly cozy. 

The Sunbeam electric blanket comes in four colors and measures about 4ft by 5 ft. The polyester material is ultra-soft, machine washable, and safe in the dryer.

I love the 4-hour auto shut-off. It makes it a safer choice to fall asleep with. It also has 4 heat settings and a remote control to set your optimal temperature. 

Pros: Auto shut off. Ultra-soft material. Machine washable.

Cons: Some reviewers complain the wires are a bit stiff and the blanket could be bigger.

Material: Polyester

Size(s): 50in x 60in

Heating a Tent Without Electricity

There’s more to heating your tent than electricity alone. If you’re a naturalist, you can warm your tent without plugging anything in. Here are a few of my favorite tricks for heating a tent without power. 

Wood Burning Stove

In order to use a wood burning stove inside a tent, you need to get a specialized tent that can contain the heater.

Using a tent stove to heat your tent is usually called hot tent camping. Canvas tents are the only way to go when using a wood burning stove.

MC Canvas Tent with Stove Jack
$399.00 $319.00
Buy Now
03/12/2024 04:06 pm GMT

Be sure the canvas tent you’re getting has a stove jack, not all canvas tents have the capability to become hot tents. Choose a good stove with a stove pipe that will fit into your tent’s stove jack.

Fitinhot Camp Wood Stove
$139.00
Buy Now
03/12/2024 04:18 pm GMT

Hot Water Bottles

Hot water bottles are extremely versatile. They’re a great tent-warming tool. In fact, we like to slide them into our sleeping bags about 5 to 10 minutes before bedtime. This makes your sleeping space extra cozy and ensures you don’t lose heat the minute you slide in.

Never fill a hot water bottle with boiling water. Use hot, nearly boiling water instead. These things are super durable, but that doesn’t mean accidents can’t happen. If the lid isn’t tight enough, boiling water will leak out and burn you.

Hot Rocks

Hot rocks are a little trickier to navigate than hot water bottles. They need to be heated very slowly and carefully so they don’t explode. That said, they’re a cost-effective and all-natural way to warm up your tent, or sleeping bag for the night. 

Here are some tips for hot stones. 

  1. Use rocks around the same size so they heat evenly
  2. Set them about 5 to 10 inches from the campfire
  3. Rotate the rocks every few minutes so the center receives heat from all sides
  4. Once hot to the touch remove them from the fireside

I recommend putting the hot rocks into an old towel or even on a cookie sheet. Rocks get really hot, and they could melt anything plastic when they first come out of the firelight. 

FAQ:

Q: Can I cover my entire tent with a tarp?

A: I wouldn’t recommend it. Be careful of blocking ALL airflow. There are usually vents located near the top of your tent. Be sure to open these up (especially if you’re lining your tent with an insulated tent). As long as these vents aren’t blocked, your tarps should be fine to line the floor. 

Q: Can we use candles?

A: Technically, yes, but it’s a fire hazard. Candles also don’t give off much light or heat. To safely heat a tent I’d avoid any open flames. Hot water bottles and instant heat packs go a long way to warm you up in a pinch. 
Some people swear by a candle lantern, but they really don’t heat a tent up much.

Q: Can we use a bed of coals under a layer of dirt?

A: No, do not dig up your entire campsite to try this nonsense. Camping over a burned out fire is a great plan if you’re spending an unexpected night in the wilderness, but this is not a great idea to keep your tent warm.

You’ll spend all your time and energy building a coal pit and miss the fun of camping.

Not to mention, the campground owners will be super pissed that you dug up their site and there’s always a risk of melting your tent if the coals are too close to the exterior.

Hopefully, this blog has shed some light on staying warm this winter. As always, have fun out there and stay safe!

Happy Camping!

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