How to Heat Up a Tent and Stay Warm Without Electricity

If you plan on camping in the winter then you need to prepare for the cold. And without electricity, your options for heating your tent are going to be limited.

But don’t fear! 

There are many ways to heat up a tent without electricity. But heating up a tent is only half the battle. You also need to know how to prevent the heat from leaving your tent, as well as what you can do to keep yourself warm throughout the night. 

After all, being able to stay warm while camping in the cold may just be the difference between having a good time and being completely miserable. 

So let’s avoid the misery and learn how to stay warm in a tent without electricity. 

How to Heat Up a Tent Without Electricity

While it’s not easy, it is possible to heat up a tent without electricity

The easiest way to heat up a tent without electricity is by using a propane heater, but if you’re worried about safety then you could just heat up some stones or water bottles and scatter those around your tent. Hand warmers are another good alternative for warming up your tent, just make sure to buy the long-lasting version (18+ hours) so the heat doesn’t run out in the middle of the night.

1. Use a Propane Heater

The quickest and most efficient way to heat up a tent without electricity is to use a propane heater. Unfortunately, using a propane heater does come with a few negative side effects that are worth mentioning.

The main downside of using a propane heater is that it can actually kill you if you don’t allow for enough ventilation. This is due to the fact that propane heaters slowly release carbon monoxide into the air, which over time can accumulate together and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Now you can get a carbon monoxide detector to help you feel safer, but as long as you only turn on your propane heater when you have plenty of ventilation then you should be good to go.

Another side effect of using a propane heater is that it does tend to cause a lot of condensation, but again as long as you allow for enough ventilation this shouldn’t be a worry. The only other downside of using a propane heater is that it’s far too heavy and clunky to be used for backpacking.

2. Use Hot Objects to Keep You Warm

An old-fashioned way to warm yourself up at night is to heat up some stones near a campfire (for around an hour or so) and then place them around your tent right before you go to sleep. Just make sure to wrap the hot stones in a cloth that’s thick enough to prevent them from burning your skin if they touch you. 

If hot stones aren’t your style, you could always boil some water and pour it into a wide-mouth water bottle and use that for warmth instead. The best part about warming your sleeping bag with hot water bottles is that you wake up with water that’s ready to drink and not frozen.

Another option you can use to warm yourself up at night when camping in the winter cold is hand warmers. Long-lasting hand warmers are the best for cold weather camping since they have a longevity of up to 18+ hours. Both hot water bottles and hand warmers should be placed in your sleeping bag for maximum warmth.

3. Add Extra Layers of Insulation

An easy way to heat up the inside of your tent without electricity is to add extra layers of insulation between you and the great outdoors.

Starting from the bottom up, you want to make sure there is plenty of insulation between you and the cold wet ground. For starters, you need to add a groundsheet (such as a tarp) underneath the bottom floor of the tent to provide insulation between your body and the cold ground floor. Just make sure the groundsheet is smaller than the footprint of your tent so you won’t have to worry about water or snow falling onto the tarp and pooling together under your tent floor. 

The next layer of insulation between you and the cold wet ground is the insulation on the bottom of your tent. I personally recommend using double-sided reflective foam so that hot air will be reflected back towards you and cold air will be reflected back towards the ground. Other options you can use for insulation on the floor of your tent include anything from a throw rug, to comforter blankets, to the actual carpet from inside your home. And in addition to using a sleeping pad (or two) and a sleeping bag, you should be good to go!

The next layer of insulation is typically used to cover the outside of your tent, but you can also get creative and attach insulation on the inside wall of your tent as well. As far as the inside of your tent goes, a great option is to attach mylar blankets to the inside wall of your tent using something such as duct tape. Fortunately, covering the outside of your tent is much easier. All you need is something simple such as a tarp and some paracord and you can easily build a rainfly for another layer of insulation.

Of course, you only need the extra layers of insulation if your tent by itself isn’t enough to keep you warm throughout the night. Now if you own a 4 season tent, then you might be able to skip most of these steps and just use a groundsheet and maybe a mylar blanket inside of your tent. 

Just remember that each cold-weather camping experience is going to be different, so always use your head and adjust your camping gear to match whatever weather situation you have at hand. 

How to Keep a Tent Warm Without Electricity

Now that you know how to heat up a tent without electricity, let’s discuss everything else you need to know so you can continue to keep warm throughout the night. 

Just follow these 8 simple steps below and you’ll be the warmest camper around!

1. Use a Four-Season Tent

Investing in a quality tent is the best way to keep yourself warm when camping in cold weather. 

And there’s no better tent for camping in cold weather than a four-season tent. 

A four-season tent is a heavy-duty tent that’s built to withstand extremely cold weather and harsh winter conditions. And while a four-season tent can certainly be used during all four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter), a three-season tent would be much better suited for use during warmer seasons (spring, summer, and fall). 

So what is the difference between a 3-season tent and a 4-season tent?

A three-season tent is typically used for backpacking since it’s built out of lighter materials and is designed with mesh fabric for superior breathability and airflow. Because of this superior breathability and airflow, a three-season tent will sometimes come with a rainfly (a tarp that is placed over the tent) that you can use to prevent yourself from getting wet when it rains. This is known as a double-wall construction, which essentially means there are two walls between you and the great outdoors (tent + rainfly). 

A four-season tent (also known as a mountaineering tent) is made from heavy-duty materials that can withstand strong winds and heavy snow. Mountaineering tents are also great at retaining heat due to their use of thick fabric and lack of mesh panels.

The other advantage of using a four-season tent in extremely cold-weather conditions is its rounded dome design. This special design helps to eliminate the problem of snow building up on top of your tent. Unfortunately, using a four-season tent does come with its downsides as well. The main downside being the lack of ventilation, so don’t be surprised when you notice condensation forming inside of your tent.

Now if you don’t expect to experience heavy snow and fierce winds then you may be better off using a three-season tent with a rainfly that’s pointed towards the ground. This would allow for better ventilation so you don’t have to worry about the condensation problem that comes with using a four-season tent.

The last tip I want you to know before you choose a tent for winter camping is that smaller tents are easier to warm up than bigger tents. The less space inside of the tent, the less space you have to warm up.

2. Use a Sleeping Bag Designed For Cold Weather

The next most important piece of gear you need to keep yourself warm when camping in the winter cold is a sleeping bag. Not all sleeping bags are made alike though, so you need to make sure you do your research before you go ahead and make a purchase. 

Some of the important features you need to pay attention to when buying a sleeping bag are the temperature rating, insulation type, fill-power, and sleeping bag shape. All of these factors are extremely important when it comes to keeping you warm in the winter cold. 

To make things simple, the temperature rating is the lowest temperature that a sleeping bag will keep the average sleeper warm. I’d make sure to choose a temperature rating that is lower than what you expect the lowest temperature to be on your backpacking or camping trip. 

As far as insulation goes, you have two options: down and synthetic. 

Down insulation Is typically the better type of insulation for dealing with the winter cold because it’s lighter, more compressible, and more durable than synthetic insulation. Unfortunately, it’s also much more expensive. But if you plan on camping in extreme cold, then it’s definitely worth it.

Synthetic insulation does have its advantages as well though, the main one being that it continues to keep you warm even when it’s wet –  making synthetic insulation the better choice for a damp climate. Or you could just invest in a down bag that’s water-resistant and get the best of both worlds. 

Another factor you need to pay attention to when buying a sleeping bag is whether it’s designed for camping or backpacking. Sleeping bags that are designed for backpacking are typically lighter, easier to compress, and more efficient. And if you do plan on backpacking you should also pay attention to the fill power rating, as a higher rating equals more warmth for less weight. 

The shape of the sleeping bag is the last important factor you need to consider when buying a sleeping bag for the winter cold. The four different sleeping bag shapes include mummy, semi-rectangular, rectangular and double bag.

The best sleeping bag shape for sleeping in cold weather would have to be a mummy bag, as it’s perfectly contoured to your body to eliminate any empty space from being in the bag. This will help to prevent cold pockets of air from lowering the overall temperature of your sleeping bag.

3. Use a Sleeping Pad or Two

A sleeping bag alone won’t provide you enough warmth for the winter months, you’ll also need to invest in a good sleeping pad if you plan on staying warm throughout the night. 

The reason you need to invest in a good sleeping pad is so you can prevent the cold ground beneath you from stealing all of your precious body heat. A sleeping pad accomplishes this by providing insulation between you and the ground.

When buying a sleeping pad for winter camping you need to pay attention to the R-value of the sleeping pad. 

The R-value is the measurement of the sleeping pad’s ability to prevent the cold ground from stealing your body heat. The higher the R-value, the more likely the sleeping pad will be able to keep you warm throughout the night.

For winter backpacking and camping, you will typically want an R-value of around 5 or higher (depending on how cold it is) to keep yourself warm. However, you can also stack two sleeping pads on top of each other to combine their R-value and give yourself more insulation from the ground. 

For example, you can place a sleeping pad with an R-value of 3 (such as an air pad or self-inflating pad) on top of another sleeping pad (closed-cell foam pad) with an R-value of 2, and you now have a combined R-value of 5. A sleeping pad with an R-value of 5 will help you to remain comfortable when the temperature outside is reaching 20°F or lower.

I recommend combining an air pad or a self-inflating pad with a closed-cell foam pad underneath it for optimal performance. The bottom sleeping pad will help to absorb the blunt force of the coldness from the ground as well as help protect your main sleeping pad from getting punctured or damaged by anything lying underneath your tent.

4. Try to Avoid Leaving Your Tent

Do whatever you can to avoid leaving your tent in the middle of the night.

Every time you leave your tent, or even open the entranceway, you’re letting out precious heat that can be hard to get back. And every second you’re away from your tent, your sleeping gear gets colder and colder. 

For this reason, I always make sure to go to the bathroom before getting into my tent for the night. And since I wear different clothes to sleep than I do when I’m hiking during the day, this also helps to prevent me from having to change my clothes back and forth in the middle of the night. 

In addition, if you keep going in and out of your tent then you’re just going to keep dragging more water back inside. And more water means more condensation. 

So if you don’t want to sleep wet, stay inside.

5. Set Up In a Good Location

If you plan on camping in freezing cold weather then you need to do your best to set up in a location that’s sheltered from the wind. 

However, if it has been snowing heavily, or you expect a lot of heavy wind throughout the night, then you need to pay attention to your surroundings when setting up camp. After all, you don’t want to wake up and have your tent covered in snow or be crushed by a heavy tree limb. 

Here are some helpful tips to follow when setting up camp in the winter snow.

  • Avoid avalanche zones (stay away from slopes that are 40° or higher)
  • Avoid setting up camp under snow-covered branches
  • Avoid setting up camp at the bottom of a valley or canyon (cold air flows downhill and pools together)
  • Flatten the snow underneath the area you plan on setting up your tent to create a firm platform
  • Make sure the entranceway of your tent is facing east so you can feel the heat of the morning sun
  • Try to set up your tent behind a natural windbreak or build your own with snow blocks

By following these six simple tips listed above you should have no problem choosing the right location to set up camp for the night. 

6. Dress Warm (Layer Up)

Knowing how to properly dress is the easiest way to keep yourself warm when you’re camping in the winter cold. Notice that I said “properly dress”, and not “throw on multiple layers of anything you can find and hope for the best”.

If you want to stay warm and avoid getting wet then you need to wear the right kind of clothing. But what is the right kind of clothing for winter camping?

For winter camping you want to dress in multiple layers, with each layer having a different purpose. An inner layer for wicking, a middle layer for warmth, and an outer layer for warmth and water resistance. You also want to wear socks made from Merino wool, warm gloves with good dexterity (convertible mitten gloves are my favorite), and winter headwear such as a ski mask, beanie, or a Yukon hat.

The inner layer of clothing should be lightweight, tight-fitting, and made from fabric that has good wicking properties (Merino wool thermal underwear is a good example). 

The middle layer of clothing should be made from a thicker fabric that will help keep you warm and provide insulation. It doesn’t matter whether you wear a pullover, sweater, hoodie, jacket, or even a vest, as long as it’s made from either fleece, wool, or a synthetic fabric that provides lots of insulation. 

The outer layer of clothing has the main purpose of acting as a barrier to keep your other layers from getting wet. A good winter jacket that is both wind-resistant and water-resistant is the perfect choice to be used as an outer layer. As far as insulation goes, down is considered the best for extremely cold conditions, but fleece and synthetic fabrics work well too.

Just make sure to avoid wearing cotton at all costs. It’s the worst type of fabric to wear in cold weather because it easily soaks up sweat and water while simultaneously losing its ability to provide insulation. 

7. Make Sure Your Clothes are Dry

When you’re ready to get into your tent for the night, the first thing you need to do is take all of your wet clothes off and change into something dry. After you’re done changing just throw your wet clothes in a plastic bag and then seal it up.

Related Article: How to Keep Your Tent Dry While Camping In the Rain

This will help prevent condensation from forming in your tent and getting all of your clothes and sleeping gear wet. Not only does wet fabric provide less insulation, but sleeping in damp clothes in cold weather is no fun at all.

8. Eat Before Going to Sleep

An easy way to keep yourself warm at night is to simply eat a nice and hearty meal right before you fall asleep. 

Eating something warm consisting of fat and carbohydrates will be your best option since they are both great calorie sources for providing energy. And burning energy = warmth. 

I would recommend eating something fatty if you can since fat metabolizes slower than carbohydrates. Beef stew in a can is one of my personal favorites since it has a good amount of carbohydrates and a high-fat content.

If you wake up cold in the middle of the night then eat yourself a candy bar so you can get your metabolism going again.