Depending on what kind of tent you own (if it’s a 2-3 season or a 4 season), insulating it can be a tricky job, but it can be done. In a perfect world, all tents should be ready for all types of weather, and you won’t need to insulate them. Why do I say this? Well, insulation works both ways. It can keep the heat inside when it’s cold or keep cold air inside when it’s warm. But it’s not a perfect world, and companies need to diversify in order to make money so let’s dive into this topic and see what we can do about it.
I chose to discuss more ways to insulate 2 and 3 seasons tents, as these suffer the most when it comes to camping in cold weather. Most of the 4 season tents have some kind of built-in insulation.
How does tent insulation work?
The principle behind insulation is straightforward. We need to create a barrier that will reduce the transfer of heat between one material to another. This can be done by reducing the radiant effects and conduction.
I know, scientific terms, but how will this work for a tent in real life?
Most of us will not go camping with the idea of heating a tent so in this case, we need to trap the body heat inside our tent. You might say…Stefan..body heat? You must be joking. But let me tell you something. On average, the human body releases 8.37 x 106 joules ingested per day. In other terms, the heat that we emit has the same energy as a 100 Watt light bulb.
Still thinking this is not enough? Well, your tent is not as massive as a house. It’s a small enclosed space, and you only have two areas to insulate. The tent walls and the floor. If you achieve this, the body heat should be more than enough to act as a tent heater.
What materials are the best for tent insulation?
When it comes to heat transfer, you want to look for materials which, at the molecular level, the atoms are not packed tightly together. In other terms, you don’t want a dense material. If we think this way, the most common stuff that we can use to insulate a tent is…AIR.
The top insulation materials on the market today work by getting rid of most of the solid material and trap as much air inside as possible (usually in tiny pockets). Think about the single-pane windows. Almost all its insulation properties come from the air film that’s trapped inside.
Like I said before, there’s another critical step you need to consider, which is reflecting the heat back to you. I looked around the web to find some materials that can create a barrier and reflect the heat, and I came across this heavy-duty reflective foam on Amazon. Foam insulation usually takes the “trapped air” technique to the next level by using trapped gases (safe for people) that are even less dense than air.
I would use this foam to insulate the tent floor. But I will go into details in a separate topic about this later on.
Another idea that literally uses the trapped air approach is this double air bubble reflective foil. I wasn’t able to find a cheaper version of it, but you can browse around Amazon to look for it. Maybe I missed it.
How to insulate the tent walls
This is the area that gets the most contact with cold air. And because the warm air will always rise it’s easy for it to escape through the thin layer of a 2 or 3 season tent. I’ve seen people get around this issue by only insulating the rooftop of the shelter. That’s not actually a bad idea. The warm air will rise, and if you use a reflective foil, it will be reflected back to you. I’m not saying that it will not escape through the other walls, but if you want to get this insulation job done for cheap, it might be a good solution.
There are two ways of achieving this. Keep in mind that you will have to take the insulation down every time you’re packing up.
1. Insulate the rooftop and the walls from inside
This can take you a lot of time, and it has to be done every time you set up the tent. You apply the same principles that anybody would use to insulate a house. The air bubble reflective foil that I mentioned above is flexible enough to stick it to the tent walls.
While this method of sticking the insulation fabric inside the tent gives the best result because it reflects the heat back to you, it’s often the most annoying one. If you are like me and want your tent up and running in 15 minutes, you might want to try the outside version of this.
2. Cover your tent with thermal insulation
I can see this to work in cold weather, but I think this method works best for keeping the heat outside. Why? Well, the reflective foil will do what it’s meant to do: it will reflect the heat back to its source. In the case of the image above, all the heat coming from the sun will be reflected helping you to keep the tent cool. If this is what you want to achieve, then I suggest you read this guide about how to insulate a shelter to keep it cooled.
You might think that you can flip the foil, so the reflective side is facing your tent. I am not sure if this will work. In theory, it should, but the only concern I have is that I don’t know how much the tent’s fabric will affect the reflective properties of the foil. If you know more about this leave a comment and I will make sure I will add your thoughts to the topic.
How to insulate the tent floor?
This will be the area that you will have contact with. This is where you sleep. And I’m sure you always want this to be nice and warm. So this is how you get the most out of the insulation materials to achieve the best results.
- Find a reflective foam that has that reflective aluminum on both sides. You want to reflect your body heat back to you, and at the same time, you want to reflect the cold air that is rising from the ground.
- When you cover the floor make sure you go up 5 inches against the walls, not just cover the tent footprint. That’s where the cold air currents will form, and you want to reduce this as much as possible.
- Don’t use a raised bed. Yes, I know that you don’t want to sleep directly on the floor, but a raised bet won’t help. You might be saying: “Wait but there’s air between me and the ground, and you said that air is the best insulator.” It is indeed, but remember that air is fluid. Cold air will move under the raised bed, and if air gets into motion, it will start to transfer heat. Think about cooling fans or fan heaters. My advice? Use an air mattress. This way the air won’t move, and you created the perfect air pocket to barrier the cold air.
- Consider using a heating carpet. This is a new addition that I was waiting for for quite some time. So, if you are near a power source, combine this with a reflective foam, and you are good to go. I would even dare to say that you can skip the insulation of the walls if you have one of these.
- Insulate yourself. Sometimes the best way to stay warm is some nice thermal clothes.
Buy a 4 seasons insulated tent
If you are not the DIY kind of guy, and you want tent camping to be as comfortable as it can be, then you might want to consider getting a four-season tent. You can check my guide about the differences between 2, 3 and 4 seasons tents if you don’t know much about them.
Remember, you want an insulated tent, and not all four seasons tents have built-in insulation. You can look at the image above for a guideline when you shop around. You can see that all the walls and the rooftop have a thick insulating material that will not only thermally insulate the tent but can help with noise reduction as well.
Some thermally insulated tents on the market took this idea even further. They use some patented insulation material that can make the tent breathe. Condensation inside a tent was always a problem, but if they can sort this out, then go for it. There’s always the option of buying a good tent dehumidifier to get past this problem.
How much will they cost?
They’re not cheap. A good one can set you back with 500-800 dollars. But, if you like camping and you think summer camping is not enough to satisfy your needs, then you might want to consider one. I would pay the money if I’d know that they will last for quite some time.
Use natural insulator when you go camping
Some of you might want to take this to the survival ideas and use what nature has to offer and insulating materials. I can see myself doing this sometimes, and it’s not even a bad idea.
What nature has to offer to help you insulate your tent?
Use dead leaves to insulate your camp. You can use them both ways. To form a raised bed under the tent to keep you warm, or, if you are using a low profile tent, you can cover it completely with leaves. Make sure the leaves are dry though. You definitely don’t want to bring any moisture inside. As for the insulation value of the dead leaves, the real value it’s in the “dead air” between them. Note that if you sleep on them, they will get crushed and this will reduce the insulation properties.
Useful resources that you can use
If you want to find more about tent insulation I recommend the following articles:
- A list of insulation materials and their properties. Use this to find better fabrics to achieve better results.
Although there is stuff we can use to insulate a tent, and it can be done in many ways, I am not convinced it’s worth the effort. I am very frustrated with the idea that I need to take down all the work I’ve done and put it back together the next time I want to go camping. So, in my opinion, is better to invest some money in a good and reliable insulated tent that will last you forever.
Now I’m sure that some of you guys probably have some better ideas of how to achieve some better results and if you do, please drop a comment below. I really want to make this post more useful, and any opinion counts. Until next time, stay warm and stay safe.