Tent camping is one of the most common ways people camp outdoors. But when the weather starts to change, it doesn’t mean you have to pack up your gear. There are ways to safely heat a tent.
A few trips camping when the weather dips below your comfort level and you’ll quickly wonder why you do it at all. I’d like to say this only happened to me once, but it usually takes me a few times before I learn the lesson. The whole “MN Tough” keeps me at it. After a night of freezing on the Superior Hiking Trail, I got smart and started heating my tent.
There are a few different ways to safely heat a tent. The keyword is safe. That’s because there is a lot of advice out there on ways to potentially suffocate yourself with CO2 or light your entire tent in flames. While the flaming tent may keep you warm for a short while it’s just not advisable.
To heat the whole tent or just a small section. Ideally heating the smallest section is the most fuel efficient. But heating a whole tent will allow you to have more comfort while relaxing after a long day of hiking or other adventures.
14 Ways to Safely Heat a Tent
Reduce Tent Size
The first thing to stay warm is to reduce the size of the tent. The lower profile smaller tents are better on cold nights. A proper tent is destined to reduce wind flow, and provide some ventilation, all while keeping the occupant warm. If you have too much space, like a dome tent, it allows for more cold air to circulate. Your body creates warm air in a small space. Even better, look for 4-season tents.
Make sure you have a sleeping bag designed to go as cold as you plan on sleeping. To be safe, I recommend having a rating an extra 10 degrees lower than forecasted. In the sleeping bag world, you’ll find down and synthetic filling. Down does an amazing job of keeping you warm and compact but doesn’t hold up to rain. For that reason, I recommend a synthetic sleeping bag in cold weather.
Will your Sleeping Bag Keep You Warm? If not check out these options:
Coleman 0°F Mummy Sleeping Bag with Synthetic Filling
Hyke & Byke Katahdin 0 F Hiking & Backpacking Sleeping Bag with Down Filling
Once you’ve figured out your sleeping bag, have an insulated sleeping pad. The sleeping pad is less about comfort and more about warmth. it’s an effective way to keep you off the cold ground, especially with winter camping. A Sub Zero sleeping pad is essential.
Make sure you have the correct layers on. A set of Warm clothes make all the difference in the world. Even while sleeping layers are essential. Just make sure they are tight-fitting. A base layer of moisture-wicking material works great. Follow it up with a lighter layer on top. If it gets really cold, consider keeping on a wool hat and gloves too. Dry wool socks or even down slippers! It is by are the safest way to stay warm while camping.
Have a buddy that can fit in your tent with you? Let them join! Seriously most people don’t occupy their entire tent. But when the temperature starts dropping, it’s double the body heat to fill the space.
Hot Water bottle
Now that we got past the more obvious ones, here are a few others. First is the Hot Water Bottle trick. This works great with non-insulated bottles, like Nalgene. This is the easiest way to safely heat a tent.
Before you go to bed, boil the entire contents of the water bottle in your pot and bring it to a boil. Refill your water bottle and take it to bed with you. This will give you plenty of extra warmth through the night, lasting a long time, plus you’ve got purified water waiting for you in the morning.
Add a compact travel blanket. A travel blanket can work wonders as warming the ground below you, blocking wind from a drafty tent, or just adding another layer on top of you.
I love the Tripper Gear outdoor blanket because of its visibility. It’s got clips to keep it secured around you outdoors. Anchors to secure it in place on the ground, or hang it. Plus the synthetic filling creates a layer of water-resistant protection that will keep you warm even if it gets wet.
Similar to the water bottle concept but lasts even longer. While your fire is going, add in a few smooth rocks around the outside of the pit, about 5-10 inches. When they are just too hot to touch, they are heated all the way to the center. It usually takes about an hour to reach this stage. Using a pair of socks, grab the hot stones with the sock and turn the sock inside out over the rock and wrap them up. Then you can place them around the tent or sleeping bag. Just make sure they aren’t too hot to melt your synthetic socks.
Sleeping Bag Liner
Just like a sheet will help keep you warmer in your bed at home, adding a sleeping bag liner can add an extra layer of warmth to your bag. These liners usually fit your sleeping bag’s shape and are made out of a variety of materials. They can add an extra 5° to 15°F of extra warmth to your sleeping bag. Silk is the lightest version and most compact. Cotton is durable and absorbent. Just not the lightest and Fleece is the warmest version plus moisture-wicking.
If you are camping site has electric hookups, an electric heater is a safe option. They are easy to carry and control the heat output so you don’t get too much heat. They are easy to use making them a great beginner option. These portable heaters use a standard electric plug. There are also battery-powered ones. This is a good idea for beginners.
I recommend starting off with the Honeywell HHF360V 360-Degree Tent Heater. It has digital controls to keep a consistent temperature all night long.
Propane Heaters are a great way to go when electricity isn’t an option. Using gas heaters to heat the tent, can warm up large areas, giving heat to all of the occupants. This is a good option if you don’t want to be confined to a sleeping bag and still have a warm tent. The biggest risk with this is carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mr. Heater 4K/9K BTU Portable Radiant Tent Heater For Camping is a great choice because of its built-in safety features. If it falls over, or if oxygen quality dips, the heater automatically shuts down.
A good smaller option is the Campy Gear Chubby 2 in 1 Portable Propane Tent Heater. It doubles as a cooking burner!
Candle Lanterns are another option. Companies like UCO sell Candle Lanterns that are decided to safely contain fires that are ultra-lightweight in the ten. From my experience, they only raise the internal temperature of the tent around 5-10 degrees. it’s not going to make a hot tent. While this may not be much, candle heaters could be just what you need. Any time you deal with an open flame, you run the risk of melting your tent. To me, the risk isn’t worth the reward.
Have access to power, or not. Bring an electric blanket with you. This is one of the easiest way to safely heat a tent. What I love about electric blankets is their ability to warm up your bed before you get in. There are a couple of different options to choose from. Battery-powered blankets or plug-ins.
I cannot stress enough how amazing an emergency blanket can be. Mylar blankets are designed to reflect your own body heat back at you. Whenever you are testing out a new tent heating option in cold weather, always bring one with you. I’ve used them when my sleeping pad hammock system failed me and it made a world of difference. That said, it will not breathe. So you may end up sweating inside.
Is it safe to use a heater in a tent?
Depending on the power source, there will always be an inherent risk. Batteries have been known to combust, and gas-powered units can increase CO2 levels. That said, if you buy a unit that has built-in safety features, you’ll be able to sleep confidently and still have a heated tent.
Even when it comes to more conventional ways, like heating up a water bottle, there are risks of burning yourself or melting your gear. As long as you take proper precautions, you’ll be just fine. If you are looking for the safest ways, layers are the best.
What is the best way to safely heat a tent?
There are different methods to heat a then, but I love the hot water bottle technique. It’s got a good balance of radiant heat without the extra weight.
When I’m car camping I always bring a Tripper Gear blanket with me. They are perfect around the fire and give an extra layer of warmth to the tent with me!