Camping in the off-season can be such a great way to explore the outdoors with fewer crowds and lower costs, but it does take some planning to ensure you’ll be able to stay warm. Having the right outdoor gear is important for any camping trip, but especially a cold-weather trip. If you’re camping with kids, having clothing and gear that keeps them warm is essential to keeping everyone happy. We’ll share with you our best tips for staying warm while tent camping in any season.
Tent tips for cold weather camping
For cold weather camping, we recommend not using a tent bigger than you need. By reducing the ambient space in your tent it will limit extra space for cold air to fill. Filling the bottom and sides with sleeping gear will insulate and trap the warm air in your tent. Body heat will increase the temperature inside the tent and keep it warm. Although, if you are camping in the winter consider that a vestibule area of your tent or extra space may be needed as winter gear takes up more space. Add a rain guard or wind cover to your tent to help keep the wind or snow from getting in and lessen how much heat escapes.
Mylar blankets are a great way to keep your tent warm. Not just for emergencies, they are usually inexpensive and very lightweight and pack easily. They can be used to line the floor of the tent or duck taped to the top for reflecting heat and/or used as a layer for warmth.
If you’re camping in winter a typical 3-season tent can work depending on the conditions, if you’re camping below the tree line and not expecting winter storms. For high winds or winter storms, a 4-season tent is recommended as they have sturdier poles, grooved wind-resistant tent stakes, and heavier fabrics to withstand the harsh conditions. Also, for winter camping another option is to bury stuff sacks filled with snow if you don’t have stakes designed for use in snow.
Clothing to stay warm while camping
Dressing in layers helps to protect your body from the cold.
- Thin base layer of thermal long underwear that can wick sweat away.
- Thin mid-layer—either wool, polyester, or a blend of the two to insulate.
- Either a fleece jacket or puffy, down zippered jacket with a hood depending on the season.
- A waterproof shell or jacket made with taped seams. Size it big enough so it fits over everything else in case of rain or snow.
If you’re doing activities throughout the day you’ll work up body heat. As you do, be aware of sweating because as it dries, sweat cools and can make you cold. Managing your body heat by adding or removing layers helps prevent sweating as much as possible which is a key component of staying warm during cold weather camping or adventures.
Wearing gloves and a hat (as needed) helps to keep warm and trap the heat in.
Sleeping gear for cold weather camping
Having the right temperature-rated sleeping bag for the night temps you’re expecting is so important to stay warm. Most sleeping bag temperature ratings are based on the temperature at which the bag will keep you functioning, but not necessarily comfortable. If you have a sleeping bag that does not meet the night temperature that you’ll need you can always add a liner to the sleeping bag to give it extra warmth. This makes your gear more versatile for use in the summer or cold months.
If you’ll be camping during winter look for sleeping bags that have draft tubes behind the zippers, collars above the shoulders, and hoods to help keep the heat in the sleeping bag.
Kids’ Sleeping Bags
If you do a lot of cold-weather camping you’ll want to get child-specific sleeping bag that fits your child. As we’ve said throughout the recommendations here, extra space can equal cold air. When camping with infants and toddlers, the down bags with the arms work best to keep them warm even if they move around a lot. For kids all the way up to tweens, our favorite is the Big Agnes Little Red sleeping bags that come in varying sizes, have a sleeve that attaches the bag to a sleeping pad, and are great for cold weather camping.
Tip: the Big Agnes Duster version uses a height-adjustable design that can grow with them and you won’t need to buy a new sleeping bag as they grow. If you don’t want to buy a child-specific bag you can also use an adult sleeping bag. But for cold weather camping, you’ll need to fold it or pack extra clothing in any open space to limit the ambient space the body needs to warm.
For staying warm in cold weather two sleeping pads are recommended.
Most self-inflating sleeping pads only insulate down to about 30°F. Sleeping pads are rated by R-value, the measurement of insulation, ranging from 1.0 and 8.0. The higher the R-value, the better it insulates. Pads designed for all-season or winter use usually have an R-value of about 4.0 or higher. If you don’t want to invest in a different sleeping pad another option is layering. Try to get an insulator layer between the ground and your inflatable sleeping pad as this helps keep you warm while camping. The best insulator layer is a closed-cell foam (or CCF) pad and this one from Therm-a-Rest is a great option. If you don’t do a lot of cold weather camping you can make do with a yoga mat, a blanket, or even extra clothing.
Check out additional sleeping pads here. As a very ultralight, affordable option we’ve liked the Sleepingo Sleeping Pads. They inflate easily, pack down nicely and come with a lifetime warranty. They have an R-value of 2.1 so we add another insulator layer under it during spring or fall camping.
Build a Campfire
Don’t underestimate the warmth a campfire can bring before bed or in the morning when camping. Also, moving around to gather sticks and wood for a fire can help keep your body warm. A campfire can be used to warm drinks or water for a hot water bottle to keep warm at night.
Nice to have extras to stay warm while camping
- Hot water bottle – If you have a rubber hot water holder or a hard plastic water bottle fill it with hot water and then wrap a towel or shirt around it so it’s not too hot. Place the bottle between your legs so it hits the femoral artery (top of thigh) and this will help keep you warm all night.
- Hot drinks like tea, coffee and hot chocolate can really help warm you up.
- Hand and foot warmers – bring pocket/shoe size warmers just in case you need a warm-up.
Other tips to stay warm while camping
- Choose a protected campsite location – try to avoid low-lying areas where colder air may settle, stay below the tree line if camping in the mountains, and look for an area protected from the wind.
- Cozy up with a loved one in a double sleeping bag.
- Eat something. Keeping your metabolism up helps keep your body warm.
- Go pee! If your bladder is full your body is expending energy to keep that liquid warm.
If you’re hiking or doing an outdoor winter activity, open snack bars in advance and leave them in your pocket so you don’t need to remove your gloves to open them.
We hope these ideas for staying warm while camping will help you in any season. Always check weather conditions before you go so you can be the most prepared with the right gear.
Such a helpful post!
I love camping until it gets cold! I’m such a wimp! Will definitely use your recommendations next time!
Really really enjoyed this article. I’m new to camping having only got my tent last Christmas and having a done a handful of wild camps over the summer. I was contemplating whether to brave it during the winter months so I am so glad that I came across this article, some really great tips, Especially like the idea of the mylar blankets and the hot water bottle! Thanks for inspiring me to get out this winter!
Thank you for the tips! Love it.
These tips to stay warm while traveling come at a great time, as we’re going camping next week! Good reminders! I hadn’t ever thought about pre-opening snacks so you don’t have to take off your gloves. Brilliant! I also recommend putting a change of clothes in your sleeping bag overnight so when you get dressed in the morning, they’re toasty warm.
Those sleeping pads look warm, and relatively comfy! Layering is so important, I love your suggestions!
We just went camping with our 8 month old and were so paranoid he would be too cold. Of course he was fine, but we were sure to dress him in lots of layers. We also used a My Buddy Heater that kept the tent pretty warm.
While my family goes camping a lot, it is generally in a trailer and not in tents. That being said, I would love to do a camping trip in a tent one day. Maybe I’ll start out with a trip in the summer and then work my way up to a trip in the winter! These tips will definitely help me get there.
I’ve never been camping before so it’s great to know these tips before I head out on my first adventure camping! There are some things I wouldn’t have considered before reading your post.
Okay definitely pinning this one – I’m not the most experience camper but am looking forward to giving it more of a try, but would hate to freeze! Thanks for the good advice 🙂
Ah I need to try out some of these tips! I’m more of a ‘glamper’ than a camper! I’ve been camping twice, both times in (British) summer and I just could not get warm! I spent the whole trip shivering! Next time I’m trying your suggestions! Thanks for sharing!