ESSENTIAL SKILLS

Tips on Sleeping in a Cold Tent: Stay Warm and Cozy All Night

Cold winter camping
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

It is sometime after midnight when you suddenly wake up trembling from the biting cold. It is when it hits you that you did not carry the right ‘tools’ to fight the cold at night. To aid you in ensuring that you have the most satisfying sleep in your next outing, we at this moment provide you with some tips on sleeping in a cold tent.

The fundamental function of most of the tent is not to keep you warm but to ensure you are safe from elements of nature such as rain and extreme winds. Keeping yourself warm is solely a responsibility that only you can shoulder.

What is it with tents and being just damn cold at times? Sometimes the temperatures inside a tent can really drop to extreme lows during the night. There is absolutely no way you will get any sleep in such conditions.

Man looking at his tent

If you are in a tent, you are probably out camping, or you have been stranded out in the middle of nowhere, and all you have is your tiny tent. Or who sleeps in a tent in their own homes? That would be plain damn stupid.

It is always important to note that in a cold tent the body loses heat more readily as compared to gaining it. It is, therefore, essential to take precautionary measures than reactive measures. Preventing a bad sleeping time is technically easier than correcting it once it occurs. The grumpiness that follows during the next day is not worth the hustle.

Right clothes for cold camping

All of us love our sleep and would do anything for that extra cosiness as we sleep no matter in or where you sleep, tents no exemption. To set you out the next time you find yourself in a cold tent; we have readied a list of eight tips from around the web to keep you warm for the nights.

Wear the right clothing

Clothing! Clothing! This is basically the most obvious tip, and also the one most people take for granted. You will not have any sleep in a cold tent if you go to bed while naked. That is unless you are one of the few extraordinary individuals. We bet there are not many of them out there.

Winter warm clothing

The basic principle is always to stay warm, dry and not wear tight fitting clothes on you. Under this category, we have broken it further to enable you to grasp even the finer details to avoid inconveniences.

The type of cloth and the material is made from matter the most in your attempts to keep warm in a cold tent. Always ensure you put ondry clothes before going to bed. There is absolutely no way one stays cozy in wet clothes during sleep.

Layers of clothing have better-insulating properties than a single thick garment. The layers trap air within them, giving you better insulation from the cold weather outside.

Layers of sleeping bag

You get cold because of losing heat to the environment, but since air is a poor conductor of heat, these heat losses will be prevented, keeping you warm in the process. Stack up extra clothes, and you will never have regrets about it.

The type of fibers used to make the clothes do play a role in keeping you warm. Woolen clothes become warmer when it becomes moist. It, therefore, comes in handy when the cold begins to really bite.

It is never a very good idea to put on cotton clothes. They tend to stay warm for the first few hours but lose heat rather quickly after that. Cotton has high moisture absorbency and retention capacity.

Winter clothing

This means that you are likely to get cold very fast and stay uncomfortable for a long time. You would not want to be in such a scenario, wouldn’t you?

Avoid tight fitting clothes at night The closer your cloth is to your body, the more valuable heat you lose as there is more surface area in contact with the cloth. Try as much as possible to wear clothes that do not fit closely to you such as pajamas.

Warm hats too are ideal for nice comfortable sleep. When you sleep, your body loses a huge proportion of its heat from your head. Better results are realized when the neck and ears are covered. Some people might feel somehow uncomfortable sleeping in hats, but it is better than feeling the pinch of the cold, right?

Warm hat

Putting on some pair of socks over the feet and hand do minimize loss of heat, keeping you warmed up as you sleep. Scarfs too can come in handy in keeping you warmed up. They reduce the amount of heat you would lose via the neck region of your body.

Bottle of warm/hot water

How exactly does a bottle of warm water aid you to sleep better in a cold tent? Oh yes, it does. It is simplistic in nature but helps a great deal during the inconvenience of a cold tent. A bottle of warm water placed in your sleeping bag can retain its warmth for a couple of hours, keeping you warm and cozy.

Water bottle while camping

The plastic should be sufficiently thick to improve heat retention efficiency. For the best results, position the bottle near your body, particularly around the feet as they get cold rather quickly. This improves heat radiation and conduction to you.

Sometimes the bottle might be very hot; we recommend that you cover it with a layer of insulation. The heat lasts longer and ensures you stay comfortable as you sleep.

Water bottle insulation

The arteries that run along the femur are connected to most of the body organs. They, in turn, transfer the heat from the bottle to the rest of the body in a short time. Always make sure the bottles are tightly closed. You do not want that hot water spilling on you during your sleep. The situation worsens when it spills after it has cooled down.

Insulate yourself from the ground

Science has it that during the night, the ground tends to lose more heat at a faster rate than the surrounding air and water bodies. The essence of this is that the ground will drain the much-needed heat in you. You should ensure that there is no direct contact between you and the ground at all times.

Avoid sleeping, squatting, kneeling, sitting or any activity that involves your body being in direct contact with the bare ground. You tend to lose heat pretty fast.

Cold weather sleeping bag

To provide proper insulation, stuff any extra cardboard, newspapers, mats and mattresses on the ground first. If you have a way in which you can elevate the bed above the ground, the better. Always remember that more insulation is required below you than above your sleeping base.

Heated rock

Does your campsite permit campfire? Are there any sizable dry rocks around? If yes then you are in for a long warm sleep. Rocks have very good heat retention capacities. They then radiate this heat inside your tent, ensuring proper comfort.

You do not have to endure a cold sleep yet you have natural heat radiators that you can as well find all over around your campsite. You only have the task of identifying the right one and knowing how to handle it once it becomes hot.

campfire-in-winter

Do these properly, and you are good to go. Making them more than one is an added advantage provided you find the space in your tent to accommodate them without hindering your movements.

Before you roll into your sleeping bag or shelter, place the rock into the campfire and let it soak in as much heat as possible. The key here is to use a dry rock. A moist or dump rock would just break apart under the heat (explosion might also occur).

Winter hiking campfire

The toughest part is getting the hot rock into your tent. Extreme care should be taken to avoid severe burns as the rock rapidly transfers the heat to your hands, causing burns. If this is done with extreme care, it produces very good results.

You also have to take care so that the rock(s) does not come into contact with the tent for a prolonged period of time. Synthetic tents would simply melt under such temperatures, rendering the whole process futile. You might end up spending the night in the cold which you did not imagine.

Sleeping habits

While sleeping in a cold tent, you are advised not to sleep with your head in the blanket or sleeping bag. Apparently, when we breathe out, some traces of moisture from our body tissues combine with the air being exhaled.

The posture determines how much heat you lose while asleep. Less heat is lost when you sleep when you sleep tightly to yourself. When there are many of you in a tent, it is productive to sleep close to one another. This concentrates the heat in one place while warming each other.

Sleeping with the bag closed and our heads (nose and mouth particularly) inside, we risk accumulating this moisture inside the bag or blanket as there is no escape route. You then start feeling cold as the gag keeps on getting wet with time.

Trying to sleep in cold

The moisture also has a tendency to lower the property of the sleeping bag to provide insulation. You can cover yourself but leave out the nose and mouth parts. By this way, the moisture laden breath can circulate in the tent but not in your sleeping bag.

Doing small exercises inside the sleeping bag speeds up its warming rate. However, the exercises should not too strenuous such that you start sweating. Sweating cools your body and you begin feeling cold after some time as the sweat evaporates. Sit-ups are a great way to achieve this tip.

Activities in sleeping bag

Credit: alp.com.au

For those of you who only have four sided sleep bags, consider packing extra sets of blankets at the corners around where your shoulders tend to be colder than the rest. The blankets would be used to provide additional insulation reinforcement at these corners, giving that extra warm unlike in a normal sleeping bag.

When you have to pee at night, you better respond to that nagging call of nature. Holding on to it does not do you any good. The body uses a lot of heat to keep this urine warm in the body. In a cold tent, you cannot afford to lose any of that heat. So you have to man up and go out there and relieve yourself. The mere thought of peeing always distracts us from having a good sleep as the urge is always too much.

Ensure you drink nonalcoholic drinks and have a good protein based meal. During the synthesis of proteins, heat energy is always given out as a byproduct. This heat builds up, ensuring you are warm throughout the night.

Have fun on cold

You might have gone upcountry to enjoy yourself in peace without any disturbances. Think twice before downing that bottle of whisky. You might feel some warmth initially but things shift rapidly for the worse. The alcohol starts dehydrating you, causing a cold feeling.

Taking too many drinks too will not do you any favors. Everyone hates getting up in the wee hours of the night to pee. Imagine braving the cold temperatures outside. Drink less so that you do not have to get up. Gently shake your sleeping bag before going out to sleep. This allows air to get into the spaces, providing extra insulation capacities.

Man shaking his blanket

Putting the next day’s clothing in your sleeping bag helps in warming them up for the next day. This helps you escape the inconvenience of putting on cold clothes on your skin the next morning. The clothes also provide a layer of insulation during the night.

Have a partner? Someone, you trust and feel comfortable around? Bring her/him along the next time you are out camping. When you are two people, cuddling together improves heat retention and generation thus keeping the two of you warmer.

Having a friend to cuddle

Purpose to get into the sleeping bag while warm. It is futile to get in the cold and expect to be warmed by the bag. It might perform this task but it would take more time to attain the right temperature as compared to when you go to sleep while still warm.

Choice of the site

The selection of the location for pitching your tent accounts a lot in the manner in which your nights are going to unfold. Make the wrong location choice, and you will be in for the shock of a lifetime.

Strive to avoid the floors of the valleys and near water points. Locate your tent in a warm place, and you will not have to bother about the disadvantages of a cold tent. Hot air is lighter than cold air and thus rises above. The cold air then settles at the lower altitudes, making the valley floors extremely cold at times. The effort of keeping yourself warm then increase by a magnitude.

Right location of the tent

Avoid facing the tent directly to the wind. At night cold winds are the worst enemies of people trying to sleep in a tent. Look for points where trees or grass provide enough cover from the wind. However, avoid where there are overhanging branches.

The ideal tent location should be a flat region. In the event that such an area cannot be found, create one by trying to flatten out the peaks and valleys. You would not get satisfying sleep when the sleeping base is all bumpy and rough. The constant pressure on your body would keep you awake unnecessarily.

Camping on think snow

Have the tent door face downwards. As cold air is displacing warm air downhill, the cold air would be entering the tent freely if it were facing upwards.

Right size equals comfort

Do you like big things? Think twice if so the next time you are going to spend the night in a tent. Big is not always better, but your right size is. Tents play some role in trapping the warmth emanating from you. Therefore the more confined you are, the better.

Right size right tent

The sleeping bag should properly fit around your body if it is possible. Giving allowance for air circulation is essential as it improves insulation.

It takes more effort to warm a big tent than a relatively smaller one. The right size here is the key word. Do not choose an undersized tent or sleeping bag with the notion that it traps more heat inside. There should be some comfort and free movement about the tent.

In case you are small bodied, have the tent that matches your size, and this also goes for the large and medium bodied persons. A plus size person in a small size tent increases the discomfort of sleep. The reverse is also true as it would take a lot of time for the temperatures inside the tent and sleeping bag to get on par with the body temperature.

Right accessories

Accessories are meant to provide extra comfort, ensuring you operate smoothly within the tent. Some of these are affected by cold temperatures and should be stored with extra care.

tent Torches and flashlights

Torches and flashlights never miss in any camping activity especially if it happens overnight. Different batteries used in these devices behave differently under extreme temperatures. Some batteries require warming up when they stay cold for some time.

However, lithium based batteries tend to perform better under such conditions. They continue working for longer hours and are relatively lighter than alkaline based batteries. You are saved from the mishap of waking up in the middle of the night with no working flashlights.

Final thoughts

Sleeping in a cold tent can sometimes be very unpleasant when you are not prepared to deal with the unforgiving cold. When you find yourself in a cold environment, the first line of defence is keeping yourself dry.

Sitting inside a tent

The insulation characteristics of every material are hindered by how much moisture it holds. Therefore the most basic approach is to bear in mind the acronym COLD, which relates to:

  • C → Clean (ensure that you and your belongings stay clean at all times)
  • O → Overheating (do not allow your body to overheat. It produces sweat which cools the body)
  • L → Layering (put on layers of clothes which are not tight fitting)
  • D → Dryness (moisture and colds go hand in hand. The more you get wet, the colder you get)

The next line of defense is to ensure that there is enough insulation between your sleeping bag and the ground. You do not want the moisture from the ground reaching you. The first layer of insulation should be a synthetic plastic to prevent the penetration of moisture from the ground.

As you put more effort in ensuring there is proper insulation below you, don’t forget to provide cover for yourself too. Woolen blankets provide the best insulation properties. Cotton should be a no go. It absorbs moisture and retains it for some time.

The clothes you put on matter a lot too. Layering your clothing improves the insulation efficiency of your body. Just like lagging in steam pipes. Clothes perform the same functions as the asbestos: keeping heat loss to a minimum or eliminating it completely.

Looking outside the tent

We have provided the tips grouped into eight categories to simplify your next tent sleeping expedition. These include accessories (right), choosing the right campsite, right size for ultimate comfort, your sleeping habits, provision of heated rock ‘heat radiator’, insulation from the cold ground, incorporating bottle (s) of warm water inside your sleeping bag and wearing the right clothing for the night.

There are subcategories in each category that breaks down the tips on sleeping in a cold tent further into the smallest details which should always count when spending the night in a cold tent.

You are now ready and prepped up for any of your expeditions that would involve sleeping in a tent that could probably become cold at night. By following these simple steps, you can be sure that no low temperatures can hinder your need for a good sleep no matter where you are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • April Bevan

    I think one key to staying comfortable on a cold night is to have a tent that does a good job keeping moisture, rain and snow out. I have the Geertop 4-season, 2-person Waterproof Dome Backpacking Tent. It does a good job of that, it’s made well and it’s light to carry. Solid tent!

  • Nate Stone

    For me, a nice, warm woolen blanket is a must to stay warm on cold, winter camping trips. On a trip last February, my wife and I brought the Woolly Mammoth Woolen Company Farmhouse Collection Spiced Cider Wool Blanket with us. It’s so soft, and so much better than microfiber blankets I’ve used.

  • Bradley Page

    Aside from having an excellent tent, make sure you wear layered clothing and insulated mattings where you can put your sleeping bags on top of. Here’s a link to the best compact tent heater to warm you up some more:
    http://backpackingmastery.com/top-picks/best-tent-heater.html

  • Bradley Page

    Thanks for the tip Nate and glad you and your wife was snug as a bug in your warm blanket. Nothing feels like being toasty and cozy, right? 🙂

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