Are you dreaming of “somewhere cold and caked in the snow?” The idea of winter camping is magical, especially if you’re used to muggy conditions and biting bugs. But while a campfire is mesmerizing, you can’t fall asleep and risk burning down your tent. With the following methods to heat a tent without electricity, you can camp off the beaten path with no electricity and stay comfortably warm.
For winter camping, start with the right tent and sleeping bag. Most tents are classified as a three-season or four-season tent. Obviously, you’ll want a four-season tent for very cold temperatures. But a four-season tent from department stores like Walmart may not be adequate for extreme cold. An outfitter store for camping is your best bet. Keep in mind that a tent designed for extreme cold is going to be heavier and more expensive. So if you’ll be hiking a distance to the campsite, this can be a problem. If the temps where your camping aren’t expected to fall much below freezing (32 F or 0 C), you can get by with a lighter, less expensive model.
Check your sleeping bag to see if it is rated for the temperatures you plan to camp in. Unfortunately, these ratings can be misleading, so go for one in a lower degree class to be safe. A goose or duck-down-filled sleeping bag is warmer than one filled with synthetic materials, but they’re more costly. If budget is a concern, you can find synthetic-filled sleeping bags with a low-temperature rating that will give you plenty of warmth.
Just like your home, a tent will be warmer with some added insulation, especially when considered along with the body heat of the campers. One way is to lay a piece of all-weather carpeting on the ground under the tent. You can find carpets made especially for tents, but the all-weather carpet from your local home store is cheaper and works just as well. To add even more insulation, use a foam sleeping mat under your sleeping bag.
One mistake cold weather newbie campers make is setting up camp in the wrong place. If you pitch your tent on a hill, mountainside, or open field, there won’t be anything to block gusts of wind and cold air. Try to set up camp in an area surrounded by trees to act as a barrier. If you find yourself in a situation where this isn’t possible, try piling leaves and brush around the tent’s exterior. Use the bushiest branches you can find and overlap them to stand up against the wind. You could also add a tarp over the barrier to trap the heat.
Suppose you get caught in a snow storm. Or maybe you just want the thrill of a snowy camping experience. Snow has long been used by humans to block the cold. Think igloos. The fluffiness traps the warm air to act as a natural insulator. Just don’t make it high or heavy enough that the tent walls won’t support it. For even more insulation, combine the snow with dense layers of branches.
To really stay cozy, several types of portable heaters are available. They are easy to use and effective when no electricity is available. You can expect to heat your tent for up to seven hours on a one-pound gas cylinder.
A portable catalytic heater uses catalyzed chemical reactions that break down molecules to produce heat. This type of heater uses propane but is more efficient and safer than a traditional radiant heater. Look for one with foldable legs and certified as safe.
Radiant heaters come in different sizes. If you purchase a 4,000-9,000 BTU model, you’ll have plenty of heat for the coldest nights. One drawback of this type of heater is that you’ll need more propane than a catalytic heater uses. You’ll need several canisters of gas. This may be a problem for long hikes, but if you will be driving directly to the campsite, a radiant heater will is an excellent choice.
Remember that all types of gas heaters emit small amounts of carbon monoxide. Be sure to read and follow all instructions.
This may sound like cheating, but since compact electric heaters operate on batteries, you can still enjoy wild camping away from external power sources. Electric heaters don’t produce fumes and are less likely to cause an accidental fire. They also eliminate the need to haul around additional fuel sources. If you use a rechargeable model, make sure the heater is fully charged before leaving on your trip. If it uses battery cells, bring plenty of extras.
For short-term cold weather camping, you may get by placing a few hot water bottles inside your sleeping bag. Make sure to get ones of good quality so they don’t bust while you’re sleeping. And make sure they can withstand boiling water. One with a fleece cover provides coziness, or you can simply wrap them in a towel or piece of clothing. They’ll stay warm longer and protect you from scalds.
One clever way to add heat to a tent without electricity is to use heated stones. River rock stones are best if you can find them. Use stones that way around one or two pounds. They heat faster and are easier to carry to the tent from the fire. Remove them from the fire using sticks, thick woolen gloves, or a plastic-free cloth. Let the rocks cool off a bit and then, you can either place the stones along the ground inside your tent or in an aluminum pan in one corner. Should you wake up later and feel chilly, the rocks can even be placed inside your sleeping bag.
If you get stuck with none of the above resources, you can try setting up your tent atop a burned-out campfire. First, make sure all of the large chunks of coal ate completely burned out. Put a layer of soil over the coats and top with some evergreen branches or grass. Then it will be safe to pitch your tent over the burned-out fire pit.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!