There’s no escaping it – winter camping comes with a challenging cold. But frigid fingers and frosty air can be battled with a can-do attitude and the right tips and tricks for tent insulation.
The type of the tent and its materials both play a large role. So to properly winterize your tent, you should understand insulation principles and options. In this article, we’ll cover:
- Heat transfer ways and how they affect tent insulation
- Insulation materials you can use
- Tent insulation methods
What Is Tent Insulation?
Insulation is a material used to stop or slow heat transfer. So insulation can do both – keep the cold air out and trap the warm air inside.
Heat will always move from warmer to colder areas. That’s why on hot days the heat from outside seeks to get inside while on colder days the heat from your tent escapes outside.
Before exploring insulation materials, it’s useful to understand how heat transfer works.
I’ll keep it short and simple.
Heat transfer can happen in one or more of the three ways:
- Conduction happens through neighboring atoms or molecules. It commonly happens by close contact with solid substances. E.g. lying on bare ground and getting robbed of your body heat by the cold ground.
- Convection makes the thermal energy move from one location to another. It usually happens in liquids and air. E.g. warm air circulation in your tent.
- Radiation is where heat waves are emitted and then absorbed, reflected, or transmitted. E.g. heat radiation from your body or sun.
So to achieve an insulated and warm tent, you should reduce heat transfer from the tent to outside as much as you can.
What Materials Are Used For Tent Insulation?
Considering the heat transfer principles I covered above, it’s easy to understand why the best insulation materials feature the ability to trap air. Just think about the windows in your house. They work so well because of the trapped air that serves as a barrier for heat transfer.
So you’ll want to start looking for tent insulation materials with plenty of air pockets. This way, the air will get trapped creating a wall between the inside of the tent and outdoors. Another property you should be looking for is the material’s ability to reflect heat.
If a material features air pockets and has reflective abilities, it should work well for various tent areas – the floor and walls of the tent.
Double-sided Reflective Foam
One of the most popular tent insulation materials is double-sided reflective foam. It features both of the needed properties with the bonus of being inexpensive and flexible enough to work with. Therefore, reflective foam is one of the most popular DIY tent insulation methods.
The reflective foam traps air into small air pockets and reflects heat – exactly what you should be looking for. It’s made from polyethylene foam sandwiched between aluminum foil on both sides.
As a general rule, the thicker reflective foam, the better the insulation for tents. However, I would recommend opting for 3mm reflective foam as it’ll take up less space and will be more flexible. If you’re planning to camp in extreme cold, try using a thicker reflective foam.
Double Air Bubble Reflective Foil
Another material you could opt for is double air bubble reflective foil. Although it’s not as effective as double-sided reflective foam, it has a very similar performance.
It’s made of polyethylene air bubbles bonded in the middle of reflective aluminum foil. With its reflective abilities and trapped air, double bubble reflective foil works similarly to foam fill. However, the air pockets in the bubble fill are larger, so they can transfer some heat through convection. Therefore, a double bubble reflective foil won’t be as effective as double-sided reflective foam assuming they are the same thickness.
Insulators from nature
If you wish to avoid carrying extra weight, there are some insulation options available in the wild.
The most available ones are dry leaves and straws. You can pile dry leaves beneath or on the sides of your tent. Dry straws are an even better alternative as they naturally feature air gaps inside. Moreover, they are easier to stack as they can be bundled for better coverage. This type of insulation for camping can work well if the outside temperature is moderate.
There are plenty of other materials you could use as an alternative. Some of the items you might have at home could do the job. Alternatively, a trip to a home improvement retailer’s store should provide some more options.
From everyday items, consider using a wool blanket. It won’t serve as a heat reflector, but it can prevent some heat transfer. As a heat reflector, try using a thermal blanket. Thermal blankets have been specifically created for insulation. Therefore, they do a great job at reflecting and trapping your body heat.
When considering insulation materials, remember to look for materials that can trap air and ideally – reflect heat on both sides. Tent insulation material should be flexible so you can work with it easily.
How To Insulate Your Tent?
Now that you know what materials to use, it’s also important to understand where to start first. You’ll achieve the best result if you insulate all tent areas. However, the issue with this approach is that you’ll need to buy and carry enough insulation material to cover the whole tent. As you can imagine, this might present some challenges.
Which Tent Areas To Cover First For Winter Camping?
In most cases, you’ll be warm by insulating the most crucial areas of your tent and not necessarily the whole tent. The tent floor and walls are the two areas to consider.
Many will argue that the tent floor should be insulated first. And there is a good reason for that. It’s the area you’ll spend the most time on and have the most contact with. So it’ll likely be the area where you lose the most heat in winter camping.
However, you must also consider the weather. You can lose lots of heat through tent walls if it’s windy. Wind will blow out all of the heat from your tent even if the tent floor is insulated.
So, if it’s windy – insulate tent walls first. If winds won’t reach you or the weather is calm, first insulate the tent floor.
To insulate the tent floor, first, make sure that the ground you chose is cleared from snow and ice, and is dry. The bare ground will be less cold.
Pro Tip: You can add a layer of the canopy to create an air layer beneath your tent floor for extra insulation.
Double-sided reflective material such as reflective foam will reflect your body heat into the tent and the cold to the ground.
Make sure that the insulation material you place on the floor has an extra inch up against the wall. This will prevent cold air currents from coming from the sides. Speaking of cold air currents, they’ll move beneath a camp bed or cot. That’s exactly why you should rather opt for a camping mat to prevent getting cold.
Another option for tent floor insulation is covering the ground with a tent footprint. It’ll act as an extra barrier between the floor and the icy ground.
Tent walls have the most exposure to cold air. If it’s windy outside, the heat transfer will happen even faster. Therefore, wall insulation has a major role in a good result. Cover the tent walls either from the outside or inside with the insulation material you chose.
Insulating your tent from the inside will provide the best results due to body heat reflection. However, if you like to get things done quickly, you might want to try insulating from the outside. Covering your tent from outside will be easier and faster as you won’t have to figure out how to stick the insulation to the tent walls from below. To fixate the insulation material, use duct tape as it’s the easiest and cheapest way to do so.
Thermal blankets or insulating fabric like a woolen blanket can work well as an insulated tent cover. While these won’t be as effective as double-sided reflective foam, they will help with heat transfer reduction.
Pro Tip: Consider waterproofing your tent fabric with a special coating. It’ll act as an extra insulation layer as it adds some thickness. You can get a spray-on coating for a fast and easy application.
How To Heat a Tent Interior?
You might be surprised to learn that our bodies produce about 100 watts of power while resting. That’s about the same energy as a 100 watt light bulb. While this small amount of energy might seem insignificant at first, it can be enough to heat the tent naturally. With proper tent insulation, it should be enough to keep you warm.
If you want to ensure warmth in your tent, consider additional tent heating options.
A tent heater is the most obvious option. You can choose gas, electric, or battery-powered tent heater. However, there are some safety guidelines you should follow. First, turn off the tent heater while you’re sleeping. Even with the built-in safety systems, tent heaters can start a fire if used incorrectly.
Heated items are a safer choice. Using an electrically heated blanket, for example, will help you stay warm for winter camping. The generated heat will radiate to the tent interior providing you with a lasting and safe heat source.
Hot Water Bottles
While not as effective and long-lasting, hot water bottles might be the easiest tent heater with the least safety concerns. However, the generated heat is very limited. If you decide to go for this method, make sure that the water bottle is well-closed to avoid any leakage.
Choosing the Warmest Tent Location
Your tent set up also plays a vital role in keeping you warm. As mentioned above, strong winds will expose you to cold weather on a whole new level. So will sleeping on the ice. So make sure to choose the least exposed area for your tent set up.
Find a Shielded Place
Cold winds can be hard to withstand – both outside and inside of the tent. Strong winds can pass through many insulation materials so it’s best to avoid them. Choose a location that provides natural shields on multiple sides. Large rocks, trees, and natural walls can all serve as wind-stoppers. To avoid getting stuck in heavy snowfall while winter camping, try setting up your tent in a forest area.
Setting up your tent on a hill – top, middle, or bottom – can pose a threat to your safety. While a hill can protect you from winds, it can create another set of problems. If it rains, you can find yourself sleeping in a puddle or even worse – getting in the middle of a flash flood.
Choose Warm Surface
Ground radiates cold. But there might be some surfaces that are warmer than others. For example, if an area receives lots of sun, it’ll be naturally warmer and more suitable for pitching a tent. Look for bare soil or rock – it’ll absorb heat from the sun during the day making it less cold at night.
Clean the area from the snow and ice before pitching your tent. You can build snow walls around your tent to protect you from the wind and help you stay warm.
Other Tips For Tent Insulation
We’ve covered the most important steps for tent insulation. However, there is some additional knowledge that can take winter tent insulation to a whole new level.
Choose the Smallest Tent
Insulation will work best if the tent area is small. Less room for air also means less air circulation and heat loss. So a smaller tent is easier to heat. Moreover, you’ll need less insulation material to achieve the same effect.
Try a four-season Tent
Four-season tents are built to be comfortable regardless of the season. So you might be able to avoid adding tent insulation if the temperatures are moderate. Four-season tents come with built-in insulation to keep you warm in winter and cold in summer. If it’s freezing outside, consider applying the same insulation methods we covered above.
Build a Campfire Near the Tent
The radiating heat from a nearby campfire will heat your tent. This way, you can also heat water bottles and cook a delicious camping meal to keep you warm for longer. Always remember to keep a safe distance between the fire and your tent to avoid any accidents.
Don’t Keep Wet Items Inside the Tent
Wet items such as wet socks and other gear will soak up the heat to get dry. It’s better to pack them up and leave them outside. You’ll be able to dry them during the day by exposing them to the sun.
Choose Appropriate Camping Gear
Insulating your tent won’t help much if you don’t have proper camping gear. A warm sleeping bag and a thick camping mat will do half of the job of keeping you warm. For a sleeping bag, look for an indicated comfort temperature that will match the expected weather.
Now that you know how to insulate a tent for winter camping, winter camping in a tent will no longer mean getting dreadfully cold at night. Instead, you’ll find that you can get comfortable to enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Get an insulation material that can do both – trap air and reflect heat. A material featuring these abilities will have the best insulation performance. A good choice is to opt for double-sided reflective foam or double air bubble reflective foil.
Remember to consider the weather when choosing the tent insulation areas. If it’s windy, insulate the tent walls first. If it’s not – insulate tent floors. Choose the least exposed tent area, apply insulation, and enjoy your winter camping trip!
Leave a comment if you have more tent insulation tips.