Staying warm when you’re out in the wilderness, be it camping or backpacking, is about more than just being comfortable. Being able to stave off the cold is key to prevent frostbite and hypothermia, so it’s useful to know some ways to heat a tent without electricity.
15 ways to heat a tent without electricity are:
- Use a mylar blanket
- Use a foam mat below your sleeping pad
- Do light exercises before bed
- Use a sleeping bag cover
- Use a hot water bottle
- Eat a high-calorie meal
- Wear a balaclava
- Heat rocks
- Use hand and feet warmers
- Use a candle
- Cuddle up
- Pack a low-temperature sleeping bag
- Use a moisture absorber/dehumidifier
- Bring the dog along
- Use a tent-safe heater
Below, we’ll go into more detail about why heating your tent is important, and discuss how heating a tent actually works. Then, we’ll discuss our list above in more detail, so you can pack the necessary gear to ensure you stay warm on your next trip!
Table of Contents
The Basics Of Heating A Tent
Heat is the exchange of thermal energy between physical systems. Heat is transferred in three main ways: conduction, convection, and radiation.
When heat is heat is transferred from one solid surface to another it is known as conduction. This occurs when a chocolate bar melts in your hand, as heat conducts from the surface of your hand to the surface of the chocolate bar.
Convection is when the heat from a liquid is transferred through the liquid, speeding up the movement, or increasing the kinetic energy, of the water molecules. As the water molecules speed up, they move apart and eventually become water vapor (water in gas form).
For example, when the sun beats down and heats the ocean water, it speeds up the water molecules causing them to move apart. The heat in the water is transferred within the liquid causing the water to turn into gas.
Radiation occurs when the heat is transferred via electromagnetic waves. What this means is that heat travels in waves away from the heat source. An example of this is a candle. The flame heats the air around it and ‘radiates’ through the air to heat nearby objects.
15 Ways To Heat A Tent Without Electricity
1. Use A Mylar Blanket
Our bodies radiate heat as a way to cool us during hot days. However, our bodies start losing heat when the outside temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. A mylar blanket helps to reduce this heat loss by reflecting the radiated heat back towards our bodies. Therefore, less heat is lost away from the body.
Mylar blankets are effective when you wrap them around your body. By creating an air pocket between the blanket and your body, the heat gets reflected within the air space, keeping you warm. However, if you lay on the blanket and lose this air pocket, then the blanket becomes a conductor of heat and pulls heat away from your body.
2. Use A Foam Mat Below Your Sleeping Pad
While the mylar blanket reflects heat, the foam mat retains heat. The heat held in the foam mat is transferred to our bodies by way of conduction. By lying against the foam, we benefit from conduction of heat back to our bodies.
3. Do Light Exercises Before Bed
We transfer heat in all three ways when we exercise. First, when we contract our muscles (arms, legs, and heart muscles) they produce and conduct heat to the surrounding tissues. Our heart pumps the warmed up blood throughout our body supplying the tissues with warm fluid. This is by way of conduction.
Next, our bodies sweat, and liquid is turned into a gas to escape into the surrounding air via convection. The newly warmed air stays in the tent thereby increasing its temperature. Finally, our skin radiates warmth into the air. This warms the surrounding air via radiation.
As you can see, this requires energy from our own body and therefore isn’t something you can do all night long. You also want to limit the amount that you sweat if the tent is particularly cold, as sweating can lead to you cooling down even more. Just do enough to get the blood pumping!
4. Use A Sleeping Bag Cover
A sleeping bag cover helps to store heat between you and the cover. So, after you do a few pushups and crunches, the heat is collected and remains close to you. So, in reality, it doesn’t transfer energy, but just helps to keep the heat your body generates close to your body.
5. Use A Hot Water Bottle
The water in a hot water bottle remains hot for a very long time. If you sleep with a bottle next to you the heat conducts from the bottle to your skin (clothes/skin). When the bottle is a few inches from your skin then the heat from the bottle radiates to you. These are obviously only useful if you have a means to heat up some water.
6. Eat A High-Calorie Meal
Similarly to exercising, eating a high-calorie meal increases your overall body temperature. This is conduction at work. If you don’t want to cook after hiking, Greenbelly makes super tasty meals with loads of calories. The meals are great for the weekend and weeklong trips and heat you up at the end of a long day.
7. Wear A Balaclava
Clothing, for the most part, is used to trap and store heat. Our clothing does not provide heat energy to us. It just uses what we provide and keeps it up against us. A balaclava, when up against our skin, helps with conduction and keeps the heat in.
8. Heat Rocks
Rocks, when heated by the fire, can hold their heat very well for a long period of time. The heat radiates into the air and provides warmth. Just be sure to use a t-shirt or towel between you and the rocks. Some rocks when heated will fracture and this could cause injury.
9. Hand And Foot Warmers
You use hand warmers up against your hands and feet to provide conduction of heat from the pouch to your hands or feet. Also, the pouches provide a small amount of radiated heat helping keep your hands and feet warm. Some hand warmers are reusable too, which makes them ideal for longer trips.
10. Use A Candle
Candles emit radiated heat and, when placed in a small area like a tent, raise the temperature inside the tent. Candles in tents can even have the ability to raise the temperatures in small tents by a few degrees. But candles are inherently dangerous. Only try this if you are staying awake while the candle is burning, and ensure you can provide some ventilation for the fumes they emit.
11. Cuddle Up
Depending on the social situation, cuddling up is a great way to stay warm. Cuddling up next to someone allows you to transfer body heat to each other through conduction.
12. Pack A Low-Temperature Sleeping Bag
A sleeping bag is simply a way to trap the heat created by your body. It’s best to pack a sleeping bag rated to temperatures below the ones you’re expecting, to ensure you can stay warm at night even if it gets especially cold.
13. Use A Moisture Absorber/Dehumidifier
Portable moisture absorbers are fairly inexpensive, and they can substantially reduce the humidity within the tent. When the outside temperature is cold and the humidity inside the tent is high, the body radiates heat more quickly and easily, making us colder faster.
14. Bring The Dog Along
Just like cuddling up, your dog provides conductive heating as well as a small amount of radiant heat.
15. Use A Tent-Safe Heater
A tent-safe heater does a great job of radiating heat into the air, keeping the tent warm. Just make sure you use a proper tent-safe heater, as there is always a risk of fire if you’re not careful.
How Do You Keep A Tent From Getting Too Hot?
While staying warm appears to be more important, keeping cool at night is also important. It’s very difficult to sleep in overly hot conditions, and it can lead to excessive sweating, which can leave you dehydrated in the morning.
Wear Breathable Clothing
The first thing to do to prevent you from getting too hot in your tent is to wear light, breathable materials against your skin. This helps to wick perspiration from your skin and cool you off.
Keep Your Sleeping Bag Open
Second, keep your sleeping bag open. Don’t zip it up, and instead use it as you would a blanket. You won’t hold in as much of the heat and humidity escapes from the bag.
Allow Some Ventilation
The next thing to do is open your tent windows a little. This allows for some ventilation, which helps to move the humid air out of the tent, and keeps you cool without letting too much of the heat escape.
Dehumidifiers and moisture absorbers help remove humidity and make it easier for perspiration to evaporate. Evaporative cooling happens when perspiration evaporates and heat radiates away from the body with the water vapor. A humid atmosphere prevents sweat from evaporating, so this is a good, low cost way to stay cool overnight.
Staying warm in your tent on a cold day or night is essential to not only have a comfortable, enjoyable time, but it’s also important to prevent frost bite and hypothermia. Use any of the methods above to help keep you warm in your tent, but remember that too much heat can be a bad thing too!