A lot of people stick to camping in the summertime, but let’s face it, in the UK, the nights can still be chilly. But if you are brave enough to head out into the wilds during the winter time, then it is likely that you are going to want to remain as cosy as possible in your tent. You could be forgiven for thinking that a tent won’t offer much warmth, and on its own, it probably won’t.
What Is Tent Insulation And Why Is It Important?
Insulating your tent is a matter of keeping heat inside, and if you have ever camped out during winter, you will appreciate how difficult this can be. However, that is certainly not to say that it is impossible.
While there is enough scientific evidence to suggest that humans need to be cool while they sleep, being freezing is another matter entirely. In fact, if you are shivering while sleeping, the chances are that you won’t be getting such a good night’s rest and will likely be lacking in energy in the morning. Nobody wants that when they have a day of camping activities planned.
So, how does tent insulation work? Simple. A barrier must be created that will stop heat transferring from one material to another, essentially, your tent will need to trap heat inside. There are many great ways of heating your tent, in fact, we have written an entire heating a tent guide on this which is an excellent place to get started. We even wrote an article asking Can A Candle Warm a Tent?
But once you have warmed your tent and are ready to settle down for the night, you will find that, in the coldest climates, that heat will quickly escape and you will wake to find yourself uncomfortable cold.
With this in mind, it is imperative to find the correct materials for heating your tent. Using just anything might not have the desired results. While it may seem counterintuitive when you first think about it, dense materials won’t provide you with the best insulation. You could think that these would stop heat escaping but they prevent one important factor that insulation cannot work without - ventilation.
If you want to insulate your tent, it is critical that there is a decent level of airflow. You could be forgiven for thinking that this will simply move the hot air out of the tent but it won’t. As air moves around the tent, it will get trapped in the small recesses of less dense material meaning that it won’t escape as easily.
Furthermore, you should think about the fact that the warm air needs to bounce back to you and less dense materials are much more easily able to achieve this. It is for this reason that you will see a lot of foam insulation products. These are normally covered with a silver, foil-like material which is incredibly reflective. As heat hits this surface, it will be much more easily able to bounce back to you. One of the most underrated ways of heating a tent is to use body heat and this can be especially effective in smaller tents. In these instances, using this type of insulation can provide excellent results.
5 Best Ways To Insulate A Tent In Cold Weather
So, it is obvious that insulation requires a little more thought than simply throwing a blanket over the top of the tent. Although, with that being said, this is a perfectly viable solution if you find yourself in an emergency situation. But if you are as keen as we are about planning each camping trip carefully, then you may be able to insulate your tent much more effectively.
1. Insulate From The Ground Up
At school we are often taught that hot air rises and so your initial thought may be to insulate the tent from above. Now, while it is true that hot air does indeed rise, you will find that a lot of your tent’s heat is also lost through the ground. Unfortunately this isn’t something that a lot of people think about and then they are left scratching their head as to why their tent is so flipping cold!
Lining the tent floor is essential and this applies to large family tents as well as a small one-person bivy. In fact, in smaller tents where you may be sleeping directly on the ground without a camping bed or mattress, this tip is even more important.
As you lie on the ground, any residual cold will seep directly up to you and no matter how well you have heated your tent, you’ll still feel incredibly chilly. But insulating the floor using things like carpets and rugs can make a very big difference. If you don’t have these materials, even using something as simple as a towel can give you an additional layer of protection against the cold.
That being said, there is also the notion that sleeping on the ground is better for keeping warm than sleeping on a camping bed. This might sound crazy but hear us out...when you sleep on a camping bed, there is a lot of space underneath. This merely serves as another place for cold air to gather and so it might be far less luxurious than you first thought.
If you prefer to have something that is made for the moment then there are a huge number of sleeping mats out there specifically designed for camping. These are thin yet incredibly adept at insulating and are ideal for those on the go as they simply roll away and are easy to carry.
Another essential consideration when lining your tent floor is to look for any gaps that are present around the base of the tent. It isn’t enough to simply line the ground inside the tent when warm air can escape and cold air can still get in at the point where the tent walls meet the ground. For this reason, we would always advise bringing your insulation a good five or six inches up the tent wall and securing it with some tape.
2. Make Sure You Have Waterproofed Your Insulation Covers
One of the biggest mistakes made by rookie campers is not waterproofing their tent. But did you know that this also applies to any insulation covers you might be using such as a large piece of tarp or a rain fly?
Before you set off on your winter adventure, it is important to test the waterproof abilities of both the tent and the fly or tarp. You can do this by simply directing your garden hose at it and checking how well it holds up. If you notice any leaks, you will need to give it another coating of waterproof spray which can be brought at any outdoor supply store. We often get asked do you need to waterproof a new tent?
Many people believe that the waterproof cover serves only one purpose but you will find that if this is in good working order, it will be multipurpose. These covers will keep out rain and snow but will also serve as an additional layer to retain heat.
3. Don’t Camp Out In The Open
When we go camping, the idea is to experience nature and all it has to offer. This can often result in people camping where they have the best view. On top of a cliff, in an open field or on the beach. While these are potentially some of the best spots for an excellent view in the morning, they are probably best saved for your summer outings.
This is because these locations are prone to being battered by the elements, especially if there are high winds. In the winter, the wind can have a very nasty bite to it and your tent likely won’t hold up very against these. For this reason, it is highly advisable to pitch your tent somewhere that the wind won’t be able to give it a beating.
One of the best things to do is to look for an area with a lot of natural cover, perhaps inside the woods rather than on the edge or behind some rocks if you want to camp on the beach. These things will create a barrier between you and the wind which will drastically reduce the amount of heat lost from the tent.
If you are unable to find a suitable area then using a windbreak on the side of the tent at which the wind is blowing is a viable alternative. You will need a suitable windbreak and this will need to be tightly secured into the ground to offer the best and most stable protection.
4. Internal Insulation
If you are heading out on a one night camping trip then this might not be the most suitable option for you since it can take a little more time to implement. However, for those who are braving taking their annual getaway in the depths of winter, this could be one of the best pieces of advice you will ever receive.
It would be easy to assume that insulating a tent from the outside would provide the best results as it would stop cold air coming in. While we would always advocate providing your tent with as much insulation as possible, if you’re going to start anywhere, start indoors.
Think about your house, you don’t have insulation plastered all over the exterior roof; it’s all contained within the interior walls and loft space. This provides the best results and when you insulate your tent it is important to go with the same mindset.
Thermal insulation which has a foil coating is incredibly effective and when it is used to line the inside of a tent, you will notice very impressive results. The reason that it is so effective is because it will trap heat and reflect it back to those inside the tent.
5. Exterior Thermal Protection
If you don’t have time to line the inside of your tent with thermal materials then throwing a thermal blanket over the top of the tent is the next best thing. While this won’t provide you with quite as much insulation, it’s a popular method for a reason. This is also a very effective technique if you suddenly find that the temperature inside the tent has dropped as it is quick and easy to implement.
For this method, a thermal blanket is always going to be the better option and if you have some of that thermal insulation left over from inside the tent, this will work well too. However, you should keep in mind that you will need to secure the blanket using some duct tape, (which any savvy camper should never leave home without), especially if the wind really picks up.
This method works in a similar way to lining the inside of the tent and will reflect body heat back inside. However, since the protection is on the outside, some heat may escape, hence why this should be treated as a quick solution rather than a planned one.
Ways To Ensure You Stay Warm When Camping In Winter
It’s all well and good to insulate your tent but there is always a chance that you may feel a nip in the air and finding innovative ways to stay as warm as possible is something else that requires important consideration before you leave for your camping trip.
Four Season Tents
If you are planning to camp in various seasons, then investing in a four-season tent is probably one of the wisest decisions you will ever make. These tents, while a little more expensive, offer protection in all kinds of weather.
However, it may still be tricky to insulate your tent if you don’t find the right type. While a lot of four-season tents offer built-in insulation, there are some that don’t. Before you buy, do make sure to check what the tent has to offer. When summer rolls around, you’ll also benefit from controlled humidity and excellent breathability. We've about what we think is our best tents, which we hope you find helpful.
Layer Your Clothing
One of the worst things you can do when trying to stay warm in a tent is to go to bed without layering up. Usually, when we are at home, we will strip down to get into bed, but the opposite is true when cold weather camping.
Between each layer of clothing, there will be a layer of air and this is naturally warmed by your body heat. By wearing several layers, you are keeping your body insulated so even if your tent’s insulation fails, you’ll have your own personal hotspot surrounding you.
To take things one step further, you should always make sure that you are wearing something on your head. Whether this is a hat or simply covering your head with a blanket, this added layer will further prevent a loss of body heat which will leave via the head and the extremities.
Turn To Nature
The beauty of an outdoor lifestyle is that nature has so much to offer in many ways. It can provide food, shelter and in this case, warmth. If you ever find yourself in an unexpected cold snap and don’t have the right insulation equipment with you, you may be able to find what you need around your campsite.
Leaves and foliage can be used to fill gaps around the bottom of your tent as well as being handy when placed on top of a smaller tent. However, you should always ensure that you use dry leaves as wet ones will only serve to add additional moisture to the tent which is not something you want.
For many people, camping is and always will be a summer activity. However, there are those more daring campers who want to experience outdoor life at the coldest time of year. If this sounds like something that gets your blood pumping then you have a lot of things to think about - insulating your tent being one of the most important.
While it may feel warm around the campfire, the moment you snuggle down into your sleeping bag, it won’t be long before the temperature changes and you’re feeling a chill. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to ensure that as little heat as possible is lost through your tent’s material. Whether you are in a rush and need a quick fix or have a little more time on your hands, these creative tips will help you to stay warm and comfortable even when the mercury begins to drop.