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How to Winterize a Tent

January 08 2021

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, then you’ll know what it’s like to feel the call to go camping - even when the snow outside is an inch thick. Winter camping can be a lot more difficult and requires a lot more prep.

The biggest factor to keep in mind is winterizing.

A starry night sky high in the mountains and a tent.

In this guide, I’ve broken down the steps of how to winterize a tent for all your cold-weather camping needs.

What You’ll Need

  • A small, 4 season tent
  • Two big tarps
  • Plastic sheets
  • Lots of blankets
  • A sleeping pad
  • A warm sleeping bag
  • A heat pack or a hot water bottle: Both a heat pack and a hot water bottle can be convenient to use. A hot water bottle will obviously need hot water, and a heat pack requires warming up in a microwave if it’s a chemical heat pack (which is difficult when camping!), or an electrical charge via a USB cable. Personally, I like USB heat packs the best because you can easily charge them with a portable solar panel.
  • A propane heater or candle lanterns: My preference is a propane heater because it is very effective if used properly and carefully. However, if you don’t feel comfortable working with a propane heater, a few candle lanterns can be a safe and easy alternative.
  • Thermal clothing
  • A beanie
  • A plastic trash bag or a bivvy: Both work the same, so it’s a matter of personal preference. I think a trash bag is fine, but you can get a bivvy if you’d like something a little fancier.

Winterize Your Tent

Green tent in snow mountains and winter forest with pine trees
Purchase a Tent for Winter Camping

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to get yourself a small, 4 season tent for winter camping (assuming you are camping by yourself or with just one other person). The smaller the better. This is because, with a smaller area inside, there’s less space that you will need to heat.

4 season tents are the best choice to keep you warm while winter camping. You could use a 3 season tent but I prefer a 4 season tent. They’re built without mesh and instead use a nylon polyester to trap in heat and block out cold winds. This makes them the perfect tent for protection against all sorts of frigid weather conditions, from rain or snow to hail.

This style of extreme cold-weather tent will be your best friend in cold conditions and is by far your best option for winterizing.

Get a Warm Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag

Do this while picking out your 4 season tent. You won’t get far on a winter camping trip without one. The thicker the better. I prefer down over synthetic sleeping bags and would go for one rated to at least a comfort level of -10 degrees.

A mummy sleeping bag that zips all the way up is your best bet. You’ll want to keep yourself as tightly zipped in as possible so that you don’t lose any body heat. Make sure you get one that’s to your tastes - it’s going to be the thing keeping you the warmest at night.

Bring Extra Blankets

A warm sleeping bag is great but another layer of warmth really makes the difference in sub zero temperatures. We recommend placing a warm camping blanket over your sleeping bag to insulate yourself even more. 

Pick a Sheltered Campsite

Before you set up your tent, it’s best to find yourself a nice, sheltered campsite if you can. Somewhere nestled between some trees or big stones would work well.

This will shelter your tent from wind, protecting it from any freezing gusts that might come your way. But if there’s nowhere cozy for you to settle down for the night, don’t worry, because the rest of these steps will still help you stay warm.

Put a Tarp Beneath Your Tent

With your first tarp, lay it out on the ground and peg it down. This will give you a protective base to put your tent on and is one of the best ways to winterize your tent.

The biggest way that you’ll lose body heat while sleeping is through the ground. By laying a tarp out beneath your tent, and pegging it down properly to keep it from blowing away in the wind, you’ll add an extra layer of protection between you and the cold floor.

The tarp will also protect you that much more from any ground moisture. Plus, if it’s big enough, you’ll have a nice spot for your chair (try these camping rocking chairs).

Set Up Your Tent

Set up your tent however you’d like on top of the tarp. Make sure to put extra effort into pegging it down if you’re in a windy area. The last thing you want is for an icy gust to blow your only shelter away.

Don’t forget the sleeve or outer layer if there is one - you’ll want as much protection as you can get.

Cover The Outside of Your Tent with Plastic Sheets

Emergency space blankets are a great fit for this as they are light and easy to use while also being waterproof. Its reflective foil surface is also excellent at reducing heat loss through both precipitation and convection.

To do this, I recommend you use some sort of spray adhesive. It’s a quick and easy way to affix the plastic sheets to the tent. Just be careful not to get any on the zips if you do use this method.

Covering your tent with plastic sheets is a very useful way to winterize your tent. By acting as a vapor barrier, it helps prevent heat loss. This means that once you’ve made your tent all warm and cozy, it will stay that way for long.

Put A Tarp Over Your Tent

green touristic tent under a tarp in a forest Using your second tarp, set up an extra barrier over your tent. The kind of tarp will affect how you arrange it, but I recommend using one that’s a bit bigger than your tent to create an extra shelter around your tent.

Doing this means that the tarp will catch any snow or rain that falls while you’re bundled up inside your tent while also acting as an extra buffer against the wind.

Every little bit counts here, and this will help keep your tent warmer by protecting it that much more from the elements.

Cover the Floor of Your Tent

Use the blankets and the sleeping mat to cover the floor of your tent. You can get away with using one or the other, especially if the sleeping pad is specifically designed for winter camping, but the more layers you have between you and the ground, the better.

Arrange the blankets and the mat however you like, but be sure to leave space in the corner for the next step. I recommend making it as cozy and comfortable as you can. What better way to wake up on a cold winter’s morning than with a pile of blankets around you?

Like I explained above, the more layers there are between you and the ground, the less heat you’ll lose to it. So it’s important to pile those blankets as high as possible!

Set up Your Heater

In the corner that you left free of blankets, set up your heater. Put it on top of a thick canvas bag or something non-flammable for extra protection if it falls over. Like I mentioned before, you need to be very careful when using a propane heater in an enclosed space.

Before you even switch on the heater, make sure to put a carbon monoxide detector inside your tent. This will help with early detection just in case anything goes wrong. But that doesn’t mean you should be any less careful with the set up itself!

Once you’ve set the heater inside your tent, put the tank outside. Make sure it’s close to your tent.

Connect the tank and the heater with a hosepipe. It is essential that the connection is airtight so no gas leaks out.

Once everything is connected and switched on, keep your tent slightly open. This helps with ventilation and to prevent any buildup of gases.

If this all sounds too complicated or scary, don’t worry. Like I said before, if you’re not comfortable with a propane heater, candle lanterns can do in a pinch.

The candles release a little bit of heat while they burn, so get a few and put them in the corner. Then, just light them! Because the release of heat is slow, it will take longer to heat up your tent, so make sure to do this a few hours before bed.

Once your tent is warm, turn your heater off before you go to sleep. Don’t worry, if you follow the rest of our steps, you won’t get cold when the heater is shut off.

Bundle Up in Thermal Clothing

winter camping family of three
This is important both for when you’re out hiking and for when you’re bedding down at night in freezing cold temperatures.

Put on several layers, from thermal underwear to fleece jackets. This will help keep you protected against any harsh and cold weather conditions while setting up your campsite and keep you insulated at night.

Put on a Beanie

Winter camping in the forest with a tent and a fire.


Beanies are not only great for keeping your head warm while you’re outside, but they’ll help insulate you while you sleep, too. You lose most of your heat through your head, so they are very important for keeping yourself winterized throughout your camping adventures.

Wearing a beanie will help keep you snug at night and will help you resist the temptation to tuck your head into your sleeping bag. It’s important to keep your face clear of the sleeping bag because you run the risk of running out of oxygen and making the inside of your bag damp with your breath. So a beanie is a perfect solution to keep your head extra warm.

Heat up Your Sleeping Bag

A man sits in a sleeping bag near the tent and snowshoes. This is where the heat pack or the hot water bottle comes in. If you need to heat them up first, do that before you bed down. Then, just stick your heat pack or hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag.

I recommend keeping the heat pack or hot water bottle between your thighs while you sleep. Not only will it warm up the space inside your sleeping bag, but it’ll help keep you warm throughout the night.

If you’re using a hot water bottle, be sure to keep it insulated. You’ll want it to last as long as possible throughout the night so you don’t lose any heat.

You can also use a similar technique to the plastic sheets on your tent to add an extra layer of warmth to your sleeping bag. By covering the sleeping bag from your thighs down with either a plastic trash bag or a bivvy, you’ll create the same kind of vapor barrier that you have on your tent. That way, all the warmth you’ve built up inside your sleeping bag will stay there for longer.

Keep Your Tent Closed

Tent in mountains in the winter

Finally, in order to keep your tent fully winterized, you need to keep it closed - at all times, if possible. Besides some slight ventilation, if you’re using a propane heater, you should avoid opening your tent as much as possible.

Go to the bathroom right before you go to bed. If you stop taking in liquids about three or four hours before bedtime, you shouldn’t need to get up in the middle of the night at all.

Opening the tent will let out all of the heat you’ve built up, so avoiding that is important. Keeping your tent closed will trap that heat in and help you stay much warmer throughout the night.

By following all the steps to winterize your tent, you should be ready for your winter camping outdoor adventures. Remember, it’s dangerously easy to lose heat quickly when temperatures drop below zero - so it’s important to stay as warm as possible when braving the elements, especially in winter. Hopefully, this tutorial will help you do exactly that.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Did you find it helpful? Which part did you find the most useful or interesting?

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