It’s usually around this time of year, February/March time, that I start to get tent cravings. It’s been packed up for too long. There is, however, one massive problem with camping in the cold weather: how do I stay warm when the nights are REALLY cold?
The best way to stay warm when camping is to wear layers of clothes. A wicking base layer, cotton or fleece middle layer, and a breathable waterproof top layer. If it’s raining, add a fully waterproof and windproof shell on top.
There are many factors that determine how warm you’ll stay, but staying warm is about getting warm in the first place, and we have lots of tips and tricks to share on doing just that.
Check out our recommended clothing page for our top picks of camping layers to keep you warm.
The Four Most Important Factors in Staying Warm When Camping
- Wear layers
As we discussed above, layering up your clothes is absolutely vital. Don’t be afraid to layer up in bed too, a onesie is a great camping invention!
- Wear fresh dry clothes in bed
Always go to bed with fresh clothes on. Don’t sleep in the clothes you’ve been wearing all day, because they will be damp.
- Wear good, dry, wool socks
It’s worth picking up a really good pair of wool socks (they are expensive, but they are REALLY worth it!), these must stay dry though, change your socks if they get wet and wear fresh dry socks in bed.
- Eat a carb-heavy meal before bed
Aside from clothes, staying warm is about starting warm. Eat some warm food, have a warm drink, take a hot water bottle to bed.
All of these are simple tips but they do really work. Number one piece of advice: Layers! Layers, layers, layers and more layers!
What gear do I need to stay warm?
Between February and April the average UK temperature is between 2C and 13C. Meaning that, at night time, you’re going to be in a tent in close to zero temperatures. We’ve done that before. We’ve camped at New Year’s when it’s been well below zero and snowing (incidentally, snow isn’t too bad!).
Our fondest memory of camping when it was really cold was right at the end of April 2016, we were camping in Castle Hedingham and it suddenly dropped to -1C overnight with a chilly wind making it feel more like -4. It was, honestly, horrible, because no one had really planned for it.
Now, we’re better prepared and always check the forecast and pack a few extras just in case. When planning for how to stay warm you have to think about the whole body, from head to toe.
For cold camping nights we pack:
- A hat to sleep in (simple beanie or aviator style) – It’s true that if you keep your head and feet warm, your body will feel warmer.
- A fleece to sleep in – I love a simple thin fleece to sleep in. The ones without zips are a bit better, and I’ve always used synthetic fleeces just fine.
- Cotton pyjamas – cotton pyjamas are breathable and usually loose enough to trap warm air in, keeping you extra warm!
- Wicking Baselayers – ‘wicking’ is a term used to describe clothing that moves the sweat away from the body, keeping you warm and dry in the process.
- Sacred Socks – Sacred Socks are socks that live in your tent, and never venture outside. They are always dry and warm. I swear by my Smart Wool socks. I never recommend an expensive brand unless I love them -I do love these a LOT! Any warm fluffy socks will be good, as long as they are dry.
- Thin gloves – some people don’t like wearing gloves in bed, and I only wear them on really cold nights.
- Nose warmer – I’m not even kidding with this one! Fee knitted me one after endless complaints about a cold nose! I look really silly wearing it, but my nose is toasty warm!
- Sleeping bag liner – a thin cotton (or silk) liner can add another level of warmth without adding too much weight to your pack.
- A good sleeping bag – If you’re going camping when you know it will be cold, go for a decent 4 season sleeping bag. Personally, I prefer fishing sleeping bags, but they are really heavy, big, and bulky!
- A few hot water bottles or drinking water bottles – if you haven’t got room in your pack for a small hot water bottle, make sure the water bottle you have with you for drinking can take warm water, and wrap it in a sock or two, pop in your sleeping bag to act as a mini radiator!
- A woollen blanket – really cold nights call for drastic action, wool traps the heat in, and more layers are always good.
- A good foam mattress (NOT an airbed) – air is cold. A full airbed will be really cold. You’d be better on a good foam mat on the ground. If you’re on a camp bed, try to fill up the space underneath to stop cold air from collecting.
How can I get warm after a cold day hiking or walking?
Getting warm when camping can be really tough. If you’ve been out all day walking or exploring and it’s been cold, wet, and miserable, you may genuinely think there’s not much more you can do. There are, though, ways to help yourself.
The most vital thing is to get dry. Dry clothes, dry socks, take your cold and damp clothes off and swap them with dry ones. It may seem counterproductive to take clothes off and get even colder for a few minutes, but I promise it’s worth it.
Starting warm is vital
Keeping warm means starting warm.
Put on dry clothes and layers and eat some warm food. If you’re not hungry go for a warm drink like tea or hot chocolate. It will do you the world of good!
Keep enough water aside to fill up your hot water bottle or drinking water bottle with warm water when you go to bed, either keep this close to your core or between your legs near the femoral artery. Both of these things will warm your core up and hopefully, the rest of your body will catch up.
Bonus tip: If there’s a shower at your campsite try going for a shower (but keep your hair dry). The heat from the water will warm your core up.
How do you heat a tent?
There are a number of portable tent heaters on the market, these range from propane gas heaters to small braziers.
We’ve been in a large canvas bell tent with a small brazier and a big yurt with a wood-burning stove. Both of these options were safe because canvas tents and yurts are naturally good at ventilation, but modern nylon tents are not.
Do NOT, under any circumstances what so ever, put a portable barbecue into your tent sleeping area. If you have a large tent with a porch, this may be ok, but it is not safe in your sleeping area.
Sadly, every year there is a news story about campers dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from portable barbecues. The small foil barbecues are perfectly safe to cook on outside and use outside, and in well-ventilated areas but deadly inside tents.
The Ventilation Problem
The ventilation problem is real! You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place with most modern tents, as they have got to the point where they are now well-sealed against draughts, but that means more condensation and in the morning they are like an OVEN!
There are a few tents from Decathlon that have somewhat solved this problem, with zips on the inner tent to let some airflow. The one I have is not amazing, but it does make a bit of a difference. On really cold mornings though, this won’t be a problem!
Double skinned means double warm
As a side note to this one, I’d suggest always going for a double skin tent. These have a waterproof (hopefully!) outer-layer and an inner layer.
Usually, the inner tent isn’t waterproof but it is breathable. Traditionally most “good” tents have been double skin tents and most “cheap” tents haven’t, but we’re seeing a massive change in this now, especially with Decathlon’s offering of double skin pop up tents. They really are fantastic (I have two!) and really do work.
Single skin tents will be cold, and they will leak. They will say that they won’t leak…. But they will leak. Please, take it from me. They will leak.
What temperature is too cold for camping?
There are some hard-core people who will camp whatever the weather and however cold it is. If you’re one of those people, good on you! I have a lot of respect for you. Let’s face it though, camping can be hard work as it is and adding freezing cold temperatures to that just doesn’t float my boat.
I don’t mind camping when it’s cold if it’s going to be warmer during the day. Early spring and late autumn are good examples of this.
Usually, Halloween is my cut-off time to put the tent away. Spring Equinox (around the 20th March) is my startup time, but, as we found out in 2016, temperatures can really fluctuate right up until the end of April, so it’s worth packing to be prepared for anything.
Did you find this useful? Don’t forget to pin it to help others out. Wondering where you can get your hands on a nose-warmer? Drop Fee an email!