How to insulate a tent for winter camping

Written by: Karyn James

The best way to make a tent warmer in the winter is by insulating it with insulate-capable products that retain heat and stay warm through the night. Insulating your tent for the winter only takes a little bit of time and a few pieces of gear you probably already own. 

How To Insulate a Tent For Winter Camping

  1. Emergency blanket 
  2. Waterproof tarps for under the tent 
  3. Heavy-duty waterproof tarps to cover the tent 
  4. Rope
  5. Bubble wrap
  6. Cardboard 
  7. Ground mat
  8. Natural insulation
  9. Windbreaks

How to stay warm in a tent

There’s nothing quite like camping during the winter. It’s a magical feeling to wake up to see snow and feel the cold breeze on your cheeks while enjoying a warm cup of campfire coffee. 

Many people who love to camp in every other season miss out on the beauty of wintertime camping because they are worried about staying warm through the night. Even experienced campers may not know how easy it is to insulate your tent and set up a warm, comfortable escape in the middle of the snowy mountains. 

Insulating a tent for winter camping sounds complicated, but it’s actually an extremely easy thing to do. The process does not take long and only requires a few pieces of extra equipment.

Before venturing out to enjoy nature as a nomad, you should plan where you’ll camp and what you’ll need to stay safe and warm. Camping during the winter months does pose a slight challenge, but the obstacles can add some fun to your trip once you know how to handle them! 

Once you know how to insulate a tent for winter camping and experience what it feels like to be in a warm, insulated tent in the middle of the cold, you’ll wonder why it took you that long to get there. 

What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial

To fully complete this step-by-step tutorial for insulating your tent in cold weather, there’s some gear you’ll need to already have on hand. All of these things are available in outdoor activities stores or online from various sellers.

The only tools you’ll need to insulate your tent this winter are: 

  • Emergency blanket or thermal blanket
  • Two waterproof tarps for under the tent 
  • Two heavy-duty waterproof tarps to cover the tent 
  • Rope
  • Bubble wrap
  • Cardboard 
  • Ground mat

The materials of your gear will make all the difference at a cold camping site. You want your waterproof tarps and ground mat to be thick enough to withstand moisture and maybe even freezing temperatures.

These are the items that will make the most considerable difference for insulation — the sturdier and heavier these materials are, the easier it’ll be to warm up your tent and keep it warm through the night. 

The rope, bubble wrap, and cardboard may seem silly, but these items can make a massive difference for warmth while you’re out in the woods. Bubble wrap is a natural insulator, and cardboard can be used to absorb moisture from the ground.

It’s also worth noting that smaller tents are much more comfortable to insulate than larger ones. The less space and air in the tent, the less work you have to put in to insulate the entire area. 

Some retailers offer winter-specific tents that sometimes include insulation in the walls, ceiling, and floor to make staying warm that much easier. But luckily for you — there’s no need to splurge on a new tent because you’re about to learn the easy process of self-insulating whatever tent you want.

Be sure to take each step slowly the first time you are attempting the insulation process. It’s worth testing your tent insulation abilities before heading to a snow-covered campsite and freezing if something goes wrong!

tent heater for winter camping

How to Insulate Your Tent: Step-By-Step Instructions

Now that you have your gear ready to be put to work, you can learn how to insulate a tent for winter camping. 

The insulation process steps don’t take long, but they should happen in order for accessibility purposes. Your tent might not look pretty when you finish, but at least you will be warm inside! 

You should work from the outside to the inside of your tent by securing the airways in this order: 

  • Ground insulation (outside the tent)
  • Top insulation
  • Wall insulation
  • Ground insulation (inside the tent)
  • Windbreaks
  • Natural insulation

These insulation techniques are tried-and-true by some of the most confident campers around. With this tutorial, you’ll be able to find warmth in even the coldest of camping sites. 

1. Ground Insulation (Outside the Tent)

Claim your camping area by laying down your two waterproof tarps, ideally one on top of the other, to mark your tent’s space. 

These tarps will act as a shield between you and the cold, possibly wet ground. The tarps will repel the coldness and keep that air from coming through the floor. A thick, durable ground cover is an essential part of the insulation process because it’s where a large amount of coldness can seep in. 

The tarps can extend beyond your tent’s limits if the ground in the area is dry. The more surrounding land you cover with insulation, the warmer you are likely to be. If you’re in a pinch or want an extra layer of protection, you can also lay down a large piece of cardboard between the ground and the tent.

You can nail down the tarp in all four corners or place weights in your tent’s corners to keep the tarps from flying away or moving during the night. 

On top of your ground insulation, you’ll want to make sure you have a pad for your bedding and a warm, insulated sleeping bag. The more layers you have between you and the ground, the better off you’ll be. 

2. Top Insulation

Insulating the top of your tent requires using a thermal or emergency blanket. You’ll want to find ones like this, made of a polyethylene film and aluminum. Be sure to purchase more than one, so you always have a blanket available for emergencies. 

Duct tape or fasten the blanket all over the top of the inside of your tent with the aluminum of the blanket facing the inside. This way, the blanket will reflect your body heat instead of dissipating through the tent walls. 

Though the blanket seems thin, it gets used in emergencies because of its heat-saving properties. You’ll notice the difference immediately when you situate the blanket overhead for the first time.

Tent top insulation

3. Wall Insulation

Continuing with the idea of using emergency blankets as a heat source, you’ll next cover the inside walls of your tent with more blankets, if necessary. 

However, no matter how many blankets you have pinned up around your tent, cold air will still try to push through and come inside your space. One way to insulate your tent walls from the outside is by wrapping bubble wrap around the entire tent. 

Though it might sound funny, bubble wrap has excellent insulation properties. Using it outside your tent creates a second layer of safety between you and the elements during the night.

You can top that off with a heavy-duty tarp covering the entire tent to create an extra layer of insulation. Cold air will still travel around among these layers, but the potential of keeping warm air within the tent becomes more and more possible with every layer applied. 

How to Insulate a Tent For Winter Camping

Image Credit: Instructables

4. Ground Insulation (Inside the Tent)

Insulating the ground will be the final use of the emergency blankets. On top of your tent floor, which should be resting on layers of tarps and cardboard outside, you should place an emergency blanket that reflects the inside.

Tent floor insulation

Since most emergency blankets have reflectors on either side, the blanket will help reflect warm air within the tent and reflect cold air to go back toward the ground. 

When you set up this blanket, tape the sides and corners to the tent’s walls instead of to the ground, since cold air travels near the bottom, the area around five-inches above the ground is especially susceptible to cold drafts. 

Pinning or taping the blanket above the ground will create a primarily enclosed space that should keep heat inside without letting in too much cold air.

5. Windbreaks

Because wind is such a significant part of heat loss in the winter, it’s essential to build a windbreak that will protect your entire tent.

Travel upwind from your tent and use the surrounding snow or other objects to build a wall that will stand tall in front of your tent. This wall will help decrease the amount of wind that can reach your tent, making a huge difference for warmth.

You can also opt to build multiple walls in several areas surrounding your tent. The walls won’t hurt your tent during the wintertime and should only help resist the amount of wind that will attempt to creep in through your tent walls. 

6. Natural Insulation

If you find yourself in a bind and do not have any synthetic materials to insulate your tent, there are still ways to fight the cold with the items you find in your surroundings. 

Dead leaves, for instance, can act as insulation layers between you and the ground. Make sure you only use dry leaves since wet leaves would make it colder and more uncomfortable.

Natural insulation tent insulation winter camping

You can pile up the leaves under your tent to act as a layer between the ground and you while you sleep. You should also put piles of leaves around the outside of the tent so the draft cannot seep through the tent walls quite as easily. 

Even if you have insulated your tent using all of the methods mentioned above, adding some dried leaves to surround your tent will never hurt it. In fact, it might make just enough of a difference that you’re able to sleep that much better through the night. 

How To Stay Warm Camping

Setting up your warm, insulated tent is just the first step to keep you warm in your tent through the night. Make sure to bring tools to build a campfire and maybe pack that portable tent heater too, just in case! 

Insulating yourself is the final, yet most crucial part of staying warm on a winter camping trip. Wearing multiple layers of clothes, holding onto heat packets, and keeping your head and hands covered are easy ways to maintain warmth within yourself. 

Layering up is one of the easiest and most recommended ways to stay warm in any environment. The multiple layers work together to keep you cozy without being too bulky or over-the-top. 

Some items you should bring every time you camp in cold weather include: 

Also see: Safest Space Heater for RV

Another easy way to avoid catching a chill is by keeping any wet gear outside of your tent. The moisture will create issues and bring down the temperature of your tent if left inside. 

Also, although it might feel uncomfortable, you should try to keep something covering your head and feet. Most of our bodies’ warmth tends to escape from the top of our heads, so be aware of your head covering while you are in the tent throughout the night. 

Portable electric or gas heaters are also a good way to heat a tent and a popular addition for many winter camping trips. If you opt to use a heater of any sort, make sure there is plenty of space surrounding the heater and an outlet of cold air for the heater to pull from.

If you prefer to avoid using a heater inside your tent, you could also bring a portable propane fire pit. These come in handy if you want to stay warm outside your tent and you are unable to start a real campfire.

If you plan on camping in extreme cold weather, another great option to stay warm inside a tent is to purchase a tent with a stove jack. These heavy-duty tents are made to use with a wood-burning stove inside and are surprisingly good at keeping you warm and toasty even on the coldest days.

Related Post: How to insulate a tent for winter camping

Wrapping up

Hiking during the winter sounds intimidating because no one wants to be cold overnight. However, there are so many ways to discover how to stay warm in a tent and feel comfortable, even in the middle of a snowy winter. 

As a hiker and camper myself, it’s important that others understand how to camp in all conditions safely. The lists above explain what gear you should bring, how you should use it, and how you can still stay warm if there is an emergency or an issue with the tent insulation. 

If you enjoyed this tutorial and have any further comments to add to the topic, please feel free to leave your thoughts in this article’s comments section. I would be happy to hear of other techniques campers have used to stay warm on their coldest camping trips! 

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Karyn James

Karyn often went camping and boating as a child with her family where she has learned a lot about wildlife and the environment. Now that she has two very active little kids, she knows that planning is key to a fun and stress-free journey. You can find out more about Karyn here.

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