Camping in a tent can be an exhilarating experience! However, if you’re new to the whole tent camping world, you may need some pointers, especially when it comes to keeping your tent warm, even when there is no electricity. This may not be a problem for most campers, since the majority of campgrounds have electrical outlets, even for tents. However, if you’re the type who likes to travel the roads less traveled, then you’re going to need to pay attention.
When it’s all said and done, the best way to heat a tent without electricity is with a portable propane gas heater specifically designed for camping. I recommend the MARTIN Safe Portable Gas Heater. It’s super compact and can heat a tent for up to 7 hours on one canister of gas.
A gas heater isn’t the only way to keep your tent warm when there’s no electricity to be found. We’ve compiled a list of tips that we’ve learned from others through the years as well as tips from some of the nations top outdoorsmen.
How to Heat a Tent Without Electricity
1. Buy a Portable Gas Heater
The easiest, most effective way to heat a tent when there’s no electricity to be found is with a good quality gas/propane heater, preferably a portable one such as a catalytic heater.
Without getting too scientific on you, A catalytic heater is a type of heater which relies on catalyzed chemical reactions to break down molecules and produce heat.
While a catalytic heater still uses propane, it’s a far safer and more efficient than a traditional radiant heater such as the Mr. Heater, which I also recommend for heating your tent when there’s no electricity.
As far as a catalytic heater goes, I like the MARTIN Safe Portable Gas Heater. Its small compact size make it perfect for tent camping! It also comes with foldable legs and is CSA Certified for the USA and Canada.
It also can heat your tent for up to 7 hours on (1) one Pound gas cylinder, which is about twice as long as other heaters on the market.
Another option would be to get yourself a radiant heater such as the Mr. Heater Buddy. The Mr. Heater comes in a variety of different sizes, but I like the 4,000-9,000 btu model. This is more than enough to heat your tent, even on the coldest of nights. However there is one drawback to using the Mr. Heater Buddy…. you have to bring enough propane.
While this may not be a problem if you’re driving directly to your campsite, it might be a problem if you plan on hiking several miles off the beaten path to your camping destination.
A small gas canister will only last about 4 hours if you run it on low. This means that you have to haul several canisters with you just to heat your tent for one night.
This is the main reason why I prefer the catalytic heater that I mentioned above.
A word of caution when using any type of heater that uses gas. All gas heaters will produce some amounts of carbon monoxide. While neither one of these units will likely produce enough to be a danger to you and your family, it is up to you to read the product instructions and use accordingly.
2. Keep Your Tent Well Insulated
Using gas heaters isn’t the only way to heat a tent! A tent that is properly insulated can virtually heat itself when you take the campers body heat into account.
One of the best ways that I’ve found to keep my tent insulated on those cold nights, is to line the floor with either a piece of all weather carpet that you can find at Home Depot, or better yet, purchase a tent mat that’s made for cold weather camping.
Drymate makes a good tent carpet. While it’s a little pricey compared to your standard all weather carpet, it does a much better job in my opinion.
Another way to add even more insulation in your tent and at the same time keeps you off the cold ground is a foam sleeping mat. Not only will you get a better night’s sleep, but you’ll also stay warm.
While I haven’t tried this technique, one of the coolest tips that I’ve heard about came from an article that I read on www.instructables.com.
They basically bought several all-weather emergency blankets and fastened them to the outside of their tent for insulation. I think this a brilliant idea, especially if you have a 1-2 man tent. I’m not sure if it would be very practical or cost effective with a larger family sized tent.
3. Hot Water Bottles
A good way to add a little extra warmth to your tent is by placing a couple of hot water bottles in your sleeping bag. The added heat will keep you warm and snug, especially when you first go to bed.
Keep in mind though that this is a short term solution and will not heat you or your tent for an extended period of time.
I really don’t have a specific brand that I recommend. Just make sure that it’s of good quality! The last thing that you want is for it to burst while you’re sleeping and drench you with water.
While I don’t recommend a particular brand, I do recommend that you buy the ones that come with a fleece cover.
4. Set Up Your Tent in a Good Spot
If possible, you never want to pitch your tent on a hill, mountainside, or any other area that sits above the surrounding area that you’ll be camping in. You want to have something to break the wind and positioning your tent on higher ground invites the cold wind gusts to hammer your tent with cold air.
You also want to avoid setting up camp in an open field, as this could have the same consequences as pitching your tent on the side of a mountain – nothing to block the wind.
The best place to set up your tent is in an area that is surrounded by trees, while at the same time avoiding placing it directly under a tree, as this may help to block the wind, but will also block the sun during the day.
5. Heat Some Stones
Another clever way to add a little extra heat to your tent when there’s no electricity to be found is to heat some stones in your campfire and place them in your tent.
While some campers like to place the heated stones in the ground next to their tents, I use a different method.
I like to bring along an aluminum baking pan and place it in the corner of my tent with the stones in it.
If they’re available, river rock stones work the best! I like to use stones that are 1-2 pounds. I’ve found that when they are this size, they heat faster and are also much easier to carry from the fire to the tent.
6. Dress for The Occasion
Insulating your tent starts with you! If you don’t dress for the cold weather, then none of the other tips in this article are going to help that much.
There’s no need to pile on every piece of clothing you have, it’s a good idea to wear warm clothing including undergarments such as thermal underwear, or better known as long johns.
There are two main places that the heat from our bodies escapes. The head and feet!
This is why it’s always a good idea to wear some type of skull cap as well as a good pair of socks, preferably ones that are made from wool.
If it’s really cold, you may even want to wear your gloves to bed.
7. Invest in a Good Quality Sleeping Bag
If you’re just gonna be camping in chilly temperatures, then any sleeping bag, along with the previously mentioned tips should keep you plenty warm for the night. However, if you plan on camping in extremely cold temperatures, then you’re going to need a sleeping bag specifically designed for this type of camping.
When shopping for a cold weather sleeping bag, you’ll want to choose one that is best rated for the temperatures that you’ll be camping in. Sadly, these ratings are not very accurate! They tend to be anywhere from 10-15 deg off. So if the sleeping bag that you’re thinking about getting has a rating of 20-25 deg, then you’ll want to opt for one in the 10-15 deg class.
Also, if you have the money to spend, get a down sleeping bag. They are more than worth the extra money when compared to their synthetic counterparts.
8. Buy The Right Tent
As with the sleeping bag, you’ll want to make sure that your tent is up for the challenges of cold weather camping, especially when there’s no electricity that will help save the day.
Most tents are either a 3 season or 4 season tent. The 4 season tent is designed for camping in all conditions, including cold weather. However, your standard 4 season tent that you can buy at Walmart may not be enough, especially if you plan on camping in really cold weather.
If you’re wanting the best of the best, then I recommend that you check into an Arctic Oven. This tent is specifically designed for extreme cold weather camping. However, it is pricey though! In fact it was much too pricey for my budget. They range in price from several hundred dollars to over two grand. They’re also heavy, so if you plan on trekking long distances to your campsite, then this may not be the tent for you.
Another option is the ALPS Mountaineering Tasmanian 3 Person Tent. It’s more in align with most peoples price points and get the job done. It’s not as roomy, or warm as the Arctic Oven tent, but weighs much less, making it manageable for hiking and it also costs much less.
Don’t limit yourself to campsites that have electricity! As you can see from this article, there are numerous ways to heat your tent when there is no electric to be found.
If you’re new to camping in cold weather, all of this may be a little overwhelming. “Wear this, don’t wear that! Do this, don’t do that!”
However, once you get a few cold night’s under your belt you’ll get the hang of it and figure out what works best for you. Maybe you’ll even come up with a few tips of your own on how to heat a tent without electricity. If so, we would love to hear about them in our comments section below.
Until then, happy camping!