How to stay warm when camping: 7 hacks & the gear you need

Ever woken up under canvas chilled to the bone and curled up in the foetal position? You probably wondered how anyone survives a winter camping trip. Here’s how to stay toasty when sleeping al-fresco, no matter the conditions. 

How to stay warm camping

Done well, there’s no better night spent than one outdoors. A private viewing of thousands of stars or of sunrise over a cloud inversion, the magic of waking up to the sound of birdsong rather than the shrill sound of your alarm. 

One thing that can quickly turn an idyllic camping trip into a nightmare is spending the night freezing cold. Even on the balmiest of summer days, a night spent ill-equipped under canvas can leave you unable to sleep, and lethargic, cranky and achy the next day. 

Many of us think of camping as a strictly seasonal activity, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these seven steps to stay snugger than a bug in several (camping) rugs, no matter the season. 

Editor’s notes

There are so many things you can do and equipment you can buy to make those chilly nights without wifi just that little bit more comfortable. Check out Anna’s top tips and the gear you need for a camping trip in the cold.

1. Pitch your tent wisely

Find a sheltered spot. If you pitch your tent in a wind tunnel, that chill will penetrate every inch of your canvas home, and you’re going to get chilly (not to mention be kept up all night by the fear that your tent is going to take flight!).

Putting your tent between boulders, trees, or even just in a hollow in the ground will protect you from the elements. The higher you are, the more exposed you’re likely to be, and the colder the temperatures. Plan to camp on lower ground, not at the highest part of your hike if you can avoid it.

Tent pitched at a good location

Think about where the sun will rise, and where sunlight is going to hit first. As soon as the sunlight reaches your tent, it will warm up much more quickly. This will also dry off any dew that’s accumulated during the night, and a dry tent is lighter and more pleasant to carry.

Conversely, if you’re camping somewhere where the sun rises in the small hours (e.g. Patagonia in the summer), and you’re a light sleeper, you might want to pitch your tent in the shade to avoid being woken at an unsociable hour.

2. Remember that there’s no ‘one gear fits all seasons’

You wouldn’t wear the same clothes all year round, so why would you expect the same camping gear to hold up in the tundra and on a tropical beach? Camping gear can be expensive, so when you invest, think about the weather you’ll mostly be camping in.

A tent for beach camping and summer festivals is very different to a tent designed for camping on glaciers. It’s generally listed which seasons a tent is suitable for.

Your gear can be adapted, within reason. For example, a lightweight summer sleeping bag can be paired with a fleece liner to make it more suitable for spring camping. And don’t underestimate the power of a sleeping mat – if you want to know how much insulation your sleeping mat will give you, check its R-value. The higher the R-value, the higher the insulation.

Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm NXT

Our pickThermarest NeoAir Xtherm NXT

The Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm NXT offers the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any sleeping pad ever made. With an R-value of 7.3 at just 439g (in size Regular), it’s impossible to find a better sleeping pad.

A good camping pillow can also help to keep you toasty – we particularly like the Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow, and it only weighs 70g. Pushed for weight but need the warmth? Consider investing in a sleeping quilt to layer with your sleeping bag. These have less fabric than a sleeping bag, which means they not only weigh less but they’re often cheaper too.

The Snugpak Jungle Blanket is great for temperatures as low as 7 degrees Celsius. Bear in mind that if you’re embarking on seriously cold winter expeditions, a sleeping bag is the better choice. But if you’ve got the space, why not pack both?

3. Sleep in dry clothes

Opting to camp lightweight often means we scrimp on clothes, which can be tricky when your clothes get wet. However lightweight you’re travelling, make sure to have two sets of clothes – this means you will always have something dry to sleep in. 

Sleeping in a tent with dry clothes

Don’t be tempted to wear your one set of dry clothes during the day. Putting on wet clothes can be unpleasant, but they dry much faster when you’re wearing them due to your body heat. Keep your spare, dry set in a waterproof liner. The exception is the final day of your trip, when you can wear your sleep clothes — clean, dry and sweet-smelling!

4. Use the onion method

Layers are your friend. Layering your clothes will provide more warmth than just wearing one thick jacket, because warm air traps between the different items of clothing and insulates you.

Icebreaker Base Layer

Our pickIcebreaker Everyday Merino Wool Baselayer

Made from 100% Merino wool, the Everyday base layer from Icebreaker is our top pick for starting off the onion layer. There’s a range of colours with both men’s and women’s sizes available.

An insulated base layer, such as a Merino wool base layer from Icebreaker (available in both men’s and women’s sizes) will help to trap heat in your body. Pair it with a mid-layer and a fleece, and don’t forget a good pair of walking socks and a beanie. Snugly fitting, thermal leggings are great for sleeping outside – we find that most campers tend to prefer them for warmth over pyjamas.

5. Build a den

Empty space leaves room for cold air. If you’re on a solo trip, take a one-person tent, and create a cocoon with your backpack and belongings. Rolling around a three-person tent will not only significantly increase the weight of your backpack, but the dead air space is harder for your body to warm up. The same applies to your sleeping bag. If it’s too long, the empty space at your feet will make you feel colder. 

Inside of a tent

Don’t forget to ventilate your tent! This sounds strange, but having a little airflow will actually keep you warmer. If moisture (from your breath and sweat) can’t escape it will cause condensation and will make the inside of your tent damp.

6. Have a hot meal

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to stay outside and cook when it’s blowing a gale or chucking it down with rain, but a hot meal and/or drink warms you up enormously.

I’m not saying wriggle out of your tent into the rain if you’re already warm and dry, but if you’ve got wet during the day anyway, take the time to stay out and cook. We’d recommend packing a lightweight personal stove, such as the Jetboil Zip, and your favourite rehydration meals to take the stress out of cooking in the cold weather. 

Jetboil Zip Product Image

Our pickJetboil Zip Cooking System

The back-to-basics Jetboil Zip is a fantastic addition to any cold-weather camp. It’s the perfect tool to heat up meals or brew a warm drink, vital for a chilly night under the stars.

If you’ve got the leeway on weight, there’s nothing better than a hot water bottle at the end of your sleeping bag. Packing light? Fill your Thermos or water bottle with boiling water and use it as a hot water bottle, but make sure it’s tightly sealed. 

If you’ve got the space, nothing will warm your cockles like a fire pit. We usually think of firepits being heavy and cumbersome, but the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe folds down almost flat and weighs little over a kilo. 

7. Layer up before you get cold

So you’ve just pelted uphill with the weight of a small child on your back, the temperatures are sub-zero but you’re sweating? You won’t be once you’ve stopped moving for a while. Put on your layers before you get cold. It’s much easier to stay warm once you’re warm already rather than to try to heat up. 

The same applies to when you go to sleep. It’s better to be well wrapped up when you wriggle into your sleeping bag rather than sleeping wearing few clothes, only to wake up a few hours later to ferret in your hiking pack for extra layers.

Conclusion: How to stay warm when camping

Using a combination of our tips above will help you to stay warm whether you’re lightweight backpacking or heading on a family camping trip. If you have any questions regarding our top tips or would like further details on the best spots for camping this year, head over to our Instagram page – @adventurepending

FAQ: How to stay warm when camping

Have a question about staying warm when camping that you’ve still not found the answer to? Check out our FAQ below and we’ll (hopefully) be able to shine some light on your issue.

One of the most effective ways to stay warm when camping is to use the onion method – layer up!

Wearing a good quality base layer, fleece, and socks is a good place to start. It’s also crucial to keep your head warm – if you’re feeling chilly, put a woolly hat on and you’ll feel the difference almost immediately.

If you are camping with an electric hook-up, using a camping heater is a great way to stay warm – but only before bed and when it’s within reaching distance. Make sure to always turn off your heater before going to sleep and never leave it unattended.

If you have any other questions about staying warm when camping, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can contact us via our social links or via our email for tailored advice suited directly to you!

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