Understanding how to stay warm when camping seems like it should be a pretty straightforward and common sense thing to get your head around. Just wear more clothes and move your body, right? Well, yes, but there are also loads more practical ways you can minimise the chances of getting cold. Believe me, I have tried almost every way under the sun!
Aside from my sister, who wears her super puffy Rab down jacket even on summer camping trips, I am one of the world’s coldest people. Well, perhaps not in the whole world. But that’s sure how it feels sometimes! If I’m able to not get cold in the first place, then my body temperature is fairly normal. But as soon as I get even remotely chilly, raising my body temperature again can take me ages. And that process can mean a good few hours of a very grumpy version of me. So for the sake of all around me, I simply make sure I don’t get cold at all. This is easier said than done, and after years of fine tuning my temperature control I’d like to share my top tips on how to stay warm when camping.
50 tips on how to stay warm when camping
Clothing for staying warm when camping
Knowing how to stay warm when camping is not just about what clothing you wear, but how you wear it. Here are some tips on how best to dress when camping in the cold:
1Wear a hat
You don’t lose any more heat from your head than any other part of your body, but it’s often the last thing we cover up. Wool is best, but lined with fleece is even better to stop the wind getting in.
2Get in a Buff
These ingenious tubes of cosiness stop any chill creeping down your neck. Or, worn as a hat, they work nicely as an extra layer underneath a hood.
3Stop the wind
Even if the air temperature isn’t that low, a cool wind can really cause a chill if it’s not kept out. Make sure your outer layers are windproof. Good quality waterproof trousers and jackets do this well.
As tempting as it may be to get out of your walking boots once you’ve set up camp, you’ be better off keeping them on for as long as possible. A good pair of winter hiking boots will help prevent the cold of the ground from being transferred up through your feet to the rest of your body, especially when winter camping.
5Wear warm socks
As well as good boots, your feet will love you even more if you cocoon them in cosy socks. Go for a wool or merino blend that will wick away any sweat.
6Dress like an onion
Layering your clothing is key to keeping on top of your temperature control. Shed a layer when you are the move so you don’t sweat too much, and add it back on as soon as you become stationary. Layered clothing also creates lots of air pockets that warm up from the heat of your body and act as extra insulating layers.
7Wear magical merino
Merino clothing is a must for not only keeping you super warm, but also for wicking away any moisture from your skin. If the moisture doesn’t get removed then it will cool, lowering your body temperature.
8Don’t wear cotton
Cotton clothing is very good at holding water but useless at drying quickly. It becomes heavy when wet and will immediately lower your body temperature if you don’t take it off quickly. Avoid where possible.
Keeping your digits warm is harder than you might think when camping. You’ll need to experiment with different combinations to suit you, but I prefer wearing thin gloves inside big cosy mittens. This allow me to slip out of the mitts when I need to use my hands properly and then put them right back on again as soon as possible!
10Don’t wear restrictive clothing
Aside from the discomfort of restrictive clothing, having a little bit of space between your layers will help the air pockets to work as insulators. And if things are too tight then blood circulation can be an issue – especially around your extremities.
11Tuck yourself in
Just like your Mum told you! There’s nothing worse your midriff becoming exposed when bending over or stretching up. So wear long base layers and tuck them right in. Cosy!
12Choose down clothing
Although down doesn’t keep you warm when it’s wet, if you are in dry conditions you won’t get better instant insulation and cosy warmth than from a good quality down jacket. For maximal warmth look for a jacket with high fill weight as well as high fill power.
How to stay warm in a tent at night
Having a bad nights sleep because you are cold is miserable. Minimise the chances of your body temperature lowering with these tips to stay warm when camping in a tent:
13Have a good insulated sleeping pad
Sleeping pads are rated with an R-value. The higher the number, the better the pad is at providing insulation. Having a great sleeping pad is as equally important as a great sleeping bag – if not more so. Without a good pad, cold from the ground will be transferred directly to whatever body part is in contact with it. And when you’re lying down, that’s a lot of your body.
14Use a second sleeping mat
If you are camping on snow or on really cold ground, having another pad will help keep out the cold. A closed-cellfoam mat underneath an insulated mat can significantly raise the R-value of your sleeping set up.
15Down sleeping bag
So long as you can keep your sleeping bag dry, a down bag with high fill weight and power should keep you sufficiently warm in all but the most extreme of winter camping conditions. Check the rating of your sleeping bag, noting that men and women have differing levels at which they are affected by the cold.
16Use a silk sleeping bag liner
Down becomes a less effective insulator when compressed. So adding a sleeping bag liner is a great way to increase the insulation of your sleeping bag without filling it with excess bulk, and thus inhibiting the insulating properties. Silk also dries quickly so it can be washed much more easily than a sleeping bag.
17Don’t wear too many layers of clothing
This can cause excess compression on a down sleeping bag making it less effective at keeping you toastie. And if your sleeping bag is a good one you’ll soon warm up once you’re tucked in. Too many layers may cause sweating, which will lower your body temperature.
18Drape extra layers over your sleeping bag
If you do want to add more layers to your sleeping set up then put them over the top of your sleeping bag so that they don’t compress the down. Emergency blankets, jackets, or survival bags can work well.
19Hot water bottle
Just before you go to bed boil up a kettle and fill a water bottle full of hot water. Make sure you seal it tightly and then sneak it into your sleeping bag with you. It will probably turn very cold in the night so be sure to take it out if you wake up in the night.
20Never go to bed cold
Super warm clothing and sleeping systems are great at maintaining your body body temperature. But if your body starts off cold then all that gear won’t be able to perform quick as well as it should. So if you feel yourself cooling off before bed, get up and jump around, do some push ups, chop some logs or do whatever it takes to raise your body temperature again.
21Camp with a dog
The more bodies in your tent the better, even a hairy one with bad breath! Plus, if you’re chilly then it’s likely that your clawed camping companion will be too. Your pup will come and steal cuddles from you, whether you like it or not! You can even get a sleeping bag extension for your dog!
22Huddle like penguins!
If all else fails and you’re still not able to stay warm, snuggle up with whoever is sleeping next to you. Getting cosy and sharing body heat can be a real lifesaver.
Setting up your campsite and tent
Take your time when choosing the best place to set up your tent so that you are as sheltered from the elements as possible.
23Get out of the wind
Find a sheltered spot to set up camp. And if that’s not possible then pitch your tent with its back to the wind. This prevents the wind from blowing right into your tent, and also ensures that there is a sheltered spot on at least one side of the tent.
24Set up a wind break
If you’re sitting around in the evenings then setting up a windbreak will make thing much more comfortable. It will also make cooking on a stove much easier.
25A place in the sun
If possible, pitch your tent in a spot that will be in the sun for as much of the day as possible. Morning sun will make it much easier to get out of bed, and the afternoon rays will warm things up nicely for an early night.
26Choose a double walled tent
These are tents with an inner chamber and an outer fly. Trapped air between the two layers help with insulation, and condensation inside the tent is much less of a problem than in single walled tents.
27Open up your tent vents
Although it might be tempting to shut out as much cold air as possible, having a little ventilation when camping in the cold is essential to prevent build up of condensation on the inside. Excessive condensation build up will start to drip from the ceiling of your tent, leaving you vulnerable to having icy water dribble down your neck in the middle of the night!
28Light a candle lantern
If used safely, candle lanterns don’t just light up your tent with a cosy and ambient light, they also provide a small amount of heat that can build up in your tent to really make a difference to the temperature.
Eating and drinking to stay warm
Camping in the cold is the one time when it’s totally OK to eat as much high calorie food as you want! Here are a few eating and drinking tips that will help you stay toastie:
29Drink lots of hot drinks
Your first priority when you settle into your campsite is to get the kettle on. Having a hot drink will warm you up from the inside and raise moral immediately. If you have a campfire, keep the kettle topped up and bubbling constantly.
30Sip from a metal mug
The idea of wrapping your mitted fingers round a hot metal mug of steaming coffee is enough to warm the heart as it is. And the practice is even better. Just make sure the metal has cooled enough to sip without burning your lips!
Although you may not feel like drinking much water when it’s chilly, your body actually needs more than you might think as it’s working harder than normal to humidify the cold air. Becoming dehydrated also accelerates the effects of hypothermia and frostbite. If you can’t face cold water, then warm it up and glug away.
32Eat lots of calories
High calorie food gives your body the fuel it needs to stay warm, and like hydration, your body works extra hard to keep your core temperature up, thus burning more fuel than normal. So eat up and enjoy!
33Have a ginger tea or spiced hot chocolate before bed
Not only will this ensure that you go to bed warm, but ginger and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg also speed up your metabolism and generate heat. The high calorie hot chocolate will also help with this.
34Prepare hot meals
Making sure your meals are piping hot and hearty will immediately warm you up. Add some mild spices for an extra bit of warmth, but don’t go so spicy that you end up sweating away all that internal warmth.
35Carry a full flask of hot water
Boil a kettle of hot water in the morning, fill your flask and take it with you everywhere you go. A hot soup on a winter hike can raise the spirits immediately if you’ve become cold. Start sipping on it as soon as you stop and it will help prevent cooling in the first place
There’s definitely a place for quick swig of something strong to warm the cockles when camping. But just be aware that alcohol actually lowers your core temperature and increases the risk of hypothermia. So keep the booze limited if you truly want to stay warm.
37Eat a high fat meal just before bed
To maximise your chances of staying warm in bed, make your last meal a fatty one. The fuel from your food will generate heat, and the fat will metabolise slowly providing warmth for longer through the night.
Other important tips on how to stay warm when camping
These tips are for time sat around the campsite as well as out and about. You’ll also find some general rules to follow to keep your body temperature warm and stable.
38Move around regularly
If you’re sitting around camp you can easily become chilled. Be sure you get up and be physical before you get so cold that you don’t even want to move. Play hacky sack. It’ll warm you up quickly and will take your mind of your chills too.
39Snuggle under a blanket
Wrap a woolly blanket or sleeping bag around your legs when you’re sitting cooking or eating your meal. It will take away the chill and make things much more cosy.
40Don’t sit on the floor
The cold ground can really get into your bones so avoid sitting directly on it at all costs. If you don’t have a camp chair then sit on your sleeping pad or use a sleeping pad chair kit to turn you mat into a lounging chair.
41Avoid getting too sweaty
This is very dependant on what you are spending your time doing. But where possible, pace yourself in your activity so that excessive sweating is kept to a minimum.
42Have a wash
The last thing you want to do if it’s cold is to take your clothes off to wash – especially if there’s no hot water. But it’s important to freshen up to avoid sweat cooling you. Even if it’s just a quick clean with a wet wipe, you’ll always feel better after a wash.
43Sit in the sun
As simple as it sounds, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much warmth can be absorbed from the sun. Move position with the sun if you need to and soak up as much of its rays as possible.
44Use hand warmers
Put them in your pocket or even better, directly into your gloves. Hand warmers do a great job of warming up frozen fingers when gloves just don’t cut it any more. Use the disposable ones for emergencies or fuel-filled ones for all day warmth.
45Build a reflector fire
Getting a fire going is an obvious way to stay warm, but you can end up with one scalding side of your body whilst the other side is verging on hypothermic. So direct the heat from the fire back towards where you are sitting with a screen or a wall of logs or rocks.
Make sure you waterproof your hiking boots before you go, and avoid getting soaked at all costs. But if you do get wet, then stay in any damp gear whilst you are still moving – just make sure you have dry clothes to get into as soon as you stop moving and have your shelter set up.
47Keep wet things out of the tent
Be super strict about keeping your wet and dry gear separate. Have a dry bag that you can bung all your wet stuff into, and don’t bring it into the sleeping area of the tent as it will cause condensation.
48Think warm thoughts
There is evidence that being cold is all in the mind. And as annoying as it is to have someone tell you to think warm thoughts when you’re teeth are chattering from the cold, they might actually be onto something! So get thinking of that hot fire or sweltering desert.
49Go to bed early
If you feel yourself cooling off as the sun sets, there’s no shame in sacking in the evening for an early night. Your well insulated sleeping set up will be right there just waiting to keep you toastie and warm for a long and deep sleep. (In theory!)
50Don’t go camping in the cold!
If these 49 other tips haven’t managed to keep you from the brink of hypothermia then camping in the cold is probably not for you. Instead, buy a caravan!
Got any other tricks and tips that make sure you never get cold feet about going camping again? We’d love to hear about them so drop us an email, or share on our Facebook page.