If you are like me, you probably hate that moment when cold nights and a freezing tent can ruin your perfect camping experience. So let’s all stop freezing by checking out these seven tent heating ideas that I found to work during winter or cold weather seasons.
They’re safe to use, and it only requires minimal improvisation to adapt them in order to work on your tent.
Alternatively, if you’re not a DIY person, take a look at some safe tent heaters (electric) that we reviewed separately.
How to heat a tent without electricity
I like the idea of camping in nature and not using any sources of power or any devices that will distract me from really enjoying my time there. Yes, perhaps bringing in some technology can help you heat your tent faster but is worth the hassle?
When it comes to heating a tent without using any power I can only think of 7 ideas that will work and are not dangerous to use. No, I will not tell you to start a fire inside your tent. Really, don’t do that.
So is there a safe way to heat a tent?
The answer is yes, with the help of thermal mass.
Thermal mass is the ability of any material to absorb and store heat from a heat source(sun, campfire, etc.) and release it slowly over time.
If you look at the chart above you will see a list of conventional materials and their thermal mass numbers. Straightforward, you can see that water has the best thermal mass of them all.
So, without further ado, let’s see how we can use water to warm our tents.
Heat your tent with hot water bottles
Farmers widely use this idea. Huge greenhouses are being heated with the help of some barrels and water.
So let’s scale down to our camping needs and see how we can make use of this method.
For this to work, you will need some hard plastic bottles or metal bottles. You need to heat the water close to boiling temperature so any ordinary supermarket plastic bottles will not work. You will also need a boiling pan or something similar to heat the water.
And the fire, yes, you need a fire.
Once the water has reached a high temperature, safely transfer it into the plastic/metal bottles and spread these bottles inside your tent. If done correctly, they should release heat for many hours, slowly bringing up the temperatures inside your tent.
Because the water is so dense, you will probably wake up, and the bottles will still be warm. What I like to do, during the night, if I find them not to be very hot, I quickly pull a couple of them close to me to warm my body. It worked well for me, and as a personal opinion, this is the best way to heat a small tent safely.
Heating rocks to keep the tent warm
Same principle as the water bottles, but with a different approach. This method can heat the tent even faster than the water bottles, but there’s a catch. Stones don’t store heat for a long time.
This is how I found this method to work. Find some stones around your camping area. If you’re having trouble finding them, the best spot to find rocks is usually close to a stream or a river. Start a fire and place the stones very close to the fire.
Don’t throw them in the fire or you’ll have trouble taking them out. And I’m sure you don’t want to bring charred stones inside your tent.
Half an hour before you plan to sleep, wrap the stones in some cloth or some textile material. (Be careful, they can be pretty hot). Spread the hot rocks inside your tent. Try to spread them out as much as possible. Aim for the corners and places you are less likely to touch them. If you wrap them properly, they should be very hot, but at the same time, the cloth should protect them from melting the canvas.
Now, they will go cold in around 3-4 hours, but they release heat faster than the water bottles. This along with some warm clothes can really make a difference. Thus, depending on how cold it is outside, you might end up with comfortable temperatures and stay warm until the next morning.
Insulate your tent
To be clear, this method works best combined with any of the above. The idea of insulating a tent is to keep the warm air inside and reflect it back to you. If it’s not that cold outside, proper insulation makes sure that the tent stays warm simply with the help of your body heat. If you want to find out more, you can check my post about how to insulate your tent for winter.
Set up your tent on top of a campfire (after the fire dies)
I never tried this idea, but in theory, it should work just fine. This is how I would do it. I would dig a trench and start a campfire in it. The trench shouldn’t be too deep, but it should closely match the width of your tent. I would burn as much firewood as possible to gather up as many coals as you can. When the fun is over, and I am ready to set up the camp, I would fill up the trench and raise the tent on top of it. This should slowly release heat overnight.
If you do this, don’t put any insulated sleeping pad on the tent floor. They work by reflecting heat to its source so you will end up heating the ground rather than your tent.
How do I know this will work and how did I come up with this idea? The inspiration comes from pit cooking. People did this for ages. They dig a hole in the ground, wait for the wood to burn out, place the meat inside and leave it to cook for hours slowly. The area should be hot for many hours.
Although it’s a great idea, in theory, I can already see some of the drawbacks. First and the most annoying one is that you will need to wait late in the night to set up. We all know how frustrating is to build up a tent with little light.
The second drawback, for me at least, it that you need to sacrifice the fire. For me, the whole idea of camping is to have a campfire. There is no such thing as camping without it. So unless you want to start a separate fire, I would look into other options to keep you warm.
Electric heaters for tents
If you have a large tent that you need to keep warm during cold nights, you’ll probably need to come back to modern technology to achieve this. But you need to know what device you can use safely.
When you go camping you want to enjoy nature, your time with family and have a good night’s rest. You don’t want to go to sleep and think about not touching the hot radiator. You definitely don’t want to wake up every 10 minutes because you are scared that your tent will catch fire from these electric devices.
Let’s dig into a couple of ideas of safe electric devices that you can use inside a tent.
Use an electric blanket to keep you warm
I know what you’ll say. This post is supposed to be about heating my tent not “cocooning” myself with a blanket. But there are not too many options out there to heat a tent safely, and I don’t want to tell you guys to buy a propane gas heater or a tent stove. There are so many terrible stories that involved these things.
This idea could work really well. The idea is to find one that doesn’t draw too much power. Note that they are safe to use. Electric blankets usually have some thin electrical wires built within the fabric. These wires will not touch you directly, and the blankets typically have an automatic switch off mechanism that prevents overheating.
If you can find one big enough to wrap yourself with, why would you even need to heat the tent? They usually operate at a minimum temperature of 77°F (25°C) and a maximum temperature of 118°F(48°C). But most of the time you’ll find out that a temperature a bit higher than your body temperature is the most comfortable. Your feet will stay nice and warm even though it’s freezing outside.
An excellent electric blanket should last for more than ten years if you only use it for camping purposes. With time, the wires will lose some of their conductivity, and the maximum temperature might drop a bit increasing the power consumption at the same time.
Now for the drawbacks. You need to be near a power source, and perhaps you need to check the length of the lead. It can be used with a generator, but they are costly things to buy and unless you have one I don’t think I want to advise you to buy one just for the electric blanket.
Underfloor heating carpets to use with your tent
I was waiting for these to arrive for a long time. And now they are here. They work just like the electric blankets but here’s the pro tip. You can lay this on the entire tent floor and use a sleeping bag without causing overheating issues.
Clever tip on how to set it up: I would use a heat reflective mat underneath the heating carpet. This way the cold air rising from the ground will not get in, and the heat from the carpet will be reflected back inside the tent rather than heating the soil.
Portable electric radiators
This is what I call a fake heat. I was never a big fan of radiators and here’s the reason why. The heat they gave is kind of a fake heat. Once you switch the thing off, it’s freezing in 20 minutes. All the warm air will rise and escape the tent leaving you with freezing and ruining the good night’s sleep.
But, if you like them, I would suggest looking for some oil-filled radiators. This way you don’t need to endure the annoying fan noise that most of them make. And the heat tends to be a bit more natural.
But they do consume a lot of power, so you’ll probably need a camping generator, and I am pretty sure that because they’re filled with oil it makes them hard to carry around.
What not to use to heat your tent
I’ve read hundreds of blog posts where people recommend gas heaters or even stoves to raise the temperature. I strongly suggest not to use any source of heat that releases carbon monoxide. This is the most dangerous gas out there, often called the silent killer. Any heat source that emits carbon monoxide needs to have a proper ventilation system where the gases can escape. I can’t think of a way to achieve this in a tent without compromising the insulation (and there’s very little insulation in a standard “tepee”).
Let’s say that you found a safe way to let carbon monoxide escape and you want to use a propane heater. Do you know that burning 5 lbs of propane creates 3 lbs of water? And what do you think will happen with that water? It will dump everything in your tent including your clothes. This way you will lose body heat even faster than ever. Not to say that with time this can cause mold to appear everywhere.
Somebody asked me recently about the idea of heating a tent with a candle. People do believe that candles don’t emit carbon monoxide. I even saw this post where this guy built some DIY candle stove to heat his tent. There’s a big problem with DIY heaters. They are the unsafest of them all. So unless the heater you’re going to use was tested many times and has safety features, don’t bother getting one. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
The only conclusion that I can think about is this: stay safe. Use methods that are tested and present few to no risks. If using nature to heat the tent is not what you’re after, please do your research before buying a camping heater.
No matter what way you choose for heating, you need to make sure that you’re using the right tent for the right season. (Check this article for additional information)
If you have any safe ideas to heat a tent please drop a comment below. I would love to include your idea in the post.