As any true mountaineer can tell, camping in winter is an unforgettable experience. An all-white landscape and the brilliance of snow shining under the sun will make you feel like you’re in Wonderland. But winter hiking comes with challenges, especially when the night falls.
Even if you have an all-season tent and camping gear, getting cold – or downright freezing – is common when the temperatures drop way below zero. Luckily, you can learn how to insulate a tent for winter camping so you can spend warm nights while living the adventure of your lifetime. Here are a few easy steps to cold-proof your shelter.
1. Prepare the Camping Spot
Tent insulation begins with the preparation of your camping spot. Because the ground will likely be frozen, it is essential to place something between it and your tent. Depending on where you are or how much gear you can carry, there are a few options to consider.
Vegetal material is perhaps your best bet if you’re hiking in the woods. Fallen leaves, moss, and even small sticks and branches can create a comfy cushion to place your tent on. Gather as much material as you can and spread it on the entire area where you plan to install your shelter.
If you’re camping in an open field or if sourcing vegetal material is not feasible, take a foam mat with you. The kind of mat used at the gym is perfect for the purpose and is also quite comfy to place your tent onto.
A cheaper but more cumbersome solution is placing your tent on cardboard. However, cardboard is a hassle to carry on your trips.
Once you prepared the base, pop-up your tent on top of it and seal the edges either with snow or with dead leaves. The seal will prevent the cold air from getting under the tent and will enhance insulation.
2. Insulate the Exterior
The golden rule to insulation is that the more air you have between the cold exterior and your tent, the warmer it will stay. In short, there are two words to remember: bubble wrap.
This material consists of multiple air bubbles that do an excellent job in preventing freezing air from reaching your tent. Bubble wrap is also inexpensive and lightweight, although it will take up some space in the luggage. Double air bubble reflective foil can also work, and it’s more compact.
Another essential thing to have is a waterproof tent cover that serves both to keep you dry if a sudden storm arrives – we know that’s a remote possibility in winter, but nature can always surprise – and to act as a windshield, especially if you’re camping in an open field.
First, place the bubble wrap or foil over the tent and secure it to the ground with rocks or other heavy objects. Then, mount the waterproof tent cover over your tent.
3. Insulate the Interior
Your tent should be quite insulated already, but a few more layers of air between you and the freezing temperatures can do no harm.
For the interior of your tent, you need sufficient double air bubble reflective foil to cover the walls and ceiling. Not only you’ll create another layer of insulation, but the reflective material will also trap the warm air inside.
As for the floor, cover it with a foam mat, then place an air mattress on top. There are many types of air mattresses for camping to choose from, and some models are extremely lightweight and easy to carry.
That’s how to insulate a tent for winter camping, but there are a few more things you should know before adventuring.
A Few Useful Tips & Tricks for Outdoor Sleeping in Winter
While insulating your tent gets you half-way through safe outdoor sleeping in winter, there are a few more things to keep in mind if you really want to stay warm.
Get the Right Sleeping Bag
An easy way to safe outdoor sleeping during winter is sleeping in a bag rated for the lowest temperature you can expect. There are many 4-season sleeping bags that can fit the bill, and some brands even manufacture some made exclusively for the winter and that can keep you warm even at -40°F.
Invest in Heat Packs
Heat packs are the smart alternative to hot water bottles. They are easy to carry and require no heat source to get warm. Just give them a good shake and throw them in your sleeping bag. The packs will work their magic. Most of these packs get warmer as they come in contact with your skin, and you won’t have to worry about unwanted leaks or warming up a water bottle.
Take a Thermal Blanket with You
Thermal blankets are compact, lightweight, and they can literally save your life in extreme conditions. You can use them to layer up your sleeping bag if it’s not rated for the lowest temperature in your camping area or to stay warm if things get awry and you need more heat.
There is a true myth that says that sleeping naked will keep you warmer in a sleeping bag. That’s only true if your clothes are fully soaked in sweat, snow, or rain, and you don’t have any dry ones to put on.
If you’re planning to go camping in winter though, we strongly suggest packing at least one extra set of thermal undergarments. Cleverly throw in your backpack a few extra pairs of socks too; when the night falls, change in dry clothes, then get into your sleeping bag.
All these layers and the heat packs mentioned above should be enough to keep you warm and cozy.
Cover Your Head
Don’t forget about your head. Take a hat with you and wear it while sleeping. A ski mask is perhaps the best choice, as it will keep both your nose and ears nice and warm. Alternatively, a knit wool hat is a great alternative.
Besides all the tips above, remember that safety must come first. Take your time to plan your winter trip and get informed on the weather before going. Get yourself familiar with the area and learn how to read a map if you don’t know already. It is also essential to learn how to use a compass, even if you plan to take a hiking GPS with you.
Also, tell your friends or family where you’re going, when, what is your planned route and for how long you plan to stay. Camping in winter can be tricky even for the most versed hikers, as snowy trails and the change of the landscape can always mislead you.
Now, there is no need to get frightened. We’re sure you’ll have the adventure of your lifetime. But now that you know how to insulate a tent for winter camping and the safety basics, it will be easier to wait for help if things don’t go exactly as expected.