Are Tents Insulated? (15 Tips To Insulate A Tent For Winter)

Tents normally don’t come insulated, especially if you’re using a 3-Season tent. Some, but not all, 4-Season tents have insulation options, but the price gets pretty steep. Many campers choose to insulate their own tents in order to save costs and ensure they’re getting a good night’s sleep. 

15 tips to insulate a tent for winter are:

  1. Use A 4-5-Season Tent
  2. Go Small
  3. Try A Tent Inside Of A Tent
  4. Use A Footprint
  5. Reduce Wind Exposure
  6. Pitch Your Tent Where The Sun Will Rise
  7. Use A Sleeping Pad With A Good R-Value
  8. Wear Proper Clothing
  9. Have Proper Gear
  10. Eat A Warm Meal
  11. Use Heaters If You Can
  12. Other Heating Hacks
  13. Know How To Use An Emergency Bivvy
  14. Use Multiple Methods For Maximum Efficiency
  15. Have An Exit Strategy

In addition to these fifteen tips, there are an array of materials that can be utilized to assist you in creating a very well insulated tent structure. Depending on how much time, energy, and money you want to spend on your winter camping project, there are many options to choose from that should cover a wide spectrum of camping enthusiasts. 

Are Tents Well Insulated?

The most common tents that average campers use are generally designed to protect you from wind, rain, and UV rays. Your typical 3-Season tent is traditionally made from either nylon or polyester with a low to mediocre denier rating. Their structural integrity simply isn’t sufficient enough to protect you from extremely cold temperatures

While 4- to 5-Season tents are a bit more sturdy and designed with the winter months in mind, they’re not always insulated. They’re built with sturdier poles, heavier denier on both the floor and sides, less ventilation, and a better weatherproof and waterproof rating. They’re certainly going to be warmer than your average 2- to 3-Season tent, but that doesn’t mean that they’re insulated.

While you can purchase insulated tents, you’ll pay a premium price for them. Most campers simply don’t want to dig that deep into their pockets, especially when there are so many do-it-yourself options available.

By the same token, there are a good number of campers that believe insulating your own tent is far more trouble than what it’s worth. In the end, you’ll have to make that decision for yourself. 

How Does Tent Insulation Work?

Remember, heat is always transferring from hot to cold. So while you’re sleeping, your body heat is transferring to the colder air around you. Most campers know to use a ground pad to prevent loss of heat to the ground, but when your tent isn’t insulated, your body heat passes right on through your tent walls as well. 

This isn’t a bad thing during the summer months, but during cold, wet, and icy conditions, this could be detrimental to your health. By creating a barrier between you and your tent wall, not only do you prevent the warm air from escaping your cozy Shangri-La, but when done correctly, you’re also reflecting it back on to you. 

At an average rate of approximately 100 watts per hour, you become your own heater through a process known as thermal insulation. This means that throughout the night your tent can maintain temperatures warmer than the outside air when done properly. 

By lining the interior and/or exterior of your tent, your tent walls become less permeable, thereby keeping the warm air trapped inside so that you can get a balmy and restful night’s sleep. A barrier can be achieved in a multitude of ways depending on the manufacturer and the tent design. 

To achieve good thermal insulation, you need a medium that is not dense. Air and gasses always work the best because they’re the least dense materials on the planet.

Many tents use air in between two layers of fabric to act as insulation. Some use trapped gasses that aren’t harmful to humans, and others use heat-reflecting materials to construct the interiors. Sometimes, all three are used. 

Can You Buy Tents That Are Already Insulated?

You can buy tents that are already insulated, but you really must know what you are looking for. Four-season or five-season tents are your best option for finding an insulated tent. However, don’t assume that all 4-5 Season tents are insulated.

You need to verify that the tent walls either have a thick insulated, almost quilted-like material or the exterior walls are inflatable. Your standard heavy denier fabric is not enough by itself.

A good example of an insulated tent is the Thermo Tent which sandwiches two inches of insulation between two pieces of breathable fabric, but the most popular seems to be the Crua Inner Tent Cocoon. 

The drawback to insulated tents is that they’re super expensive, and they’re heavy. So you likely won’t be able to pack one of these around on your back. As a result many campers often try to create their own thermal insulating tents.

Because most tents are made of thin nylon or polyester materially, they do a lousy job at retaining heat. As a result, campers use a variety of items to create barriers between themselves and their tent walls.

Sadly, self insulting your tent is rarely, if ever, permanent. Therefore, you have to do it each time you decide to take a hiatus in cold temperatures. It’s quite an arduous task, and most campers won’t do it more than a handful of occasions before they’ve had enough. 

But if you’re a die-hard for camping in the cold, there are a few things that you can do. If you’re crafty enough, there are ways to make your insulation permanent, but in doing so, you would no longer be able to use the same tent during the summer months. 

What Tent Materials Are Best For Insulation?

If you want to give it a go, then understand that non-dense items that have the ability to utilize air as a barrier are your best bet. There are an abundance of materials that can be utilized for insulating your tent. Some are rather easy, but others may take a bit of time and energy.

It’s up to you to figure out how much insulation you truly need for your winter adventures, as well as how much time and effort you want to put into the process. If you’re planning on a non-permanent solution, then keep in mind you’ll be insulating your tent during the cold temperatures, which won’t always be an easy or pleasant process depending on the weather situation at the time you set up camp.

Tent Floor

One of the most popular types of insulation for your tent floor is heavy-duty reflective foam. It’s a double-sided radiant barrier that has a closed-cell foam insulation core. The reflective foam not only traps the heat inside, but also inhibits condensation, which is an added bonus. It is a ¼ inch thick with an R8 insulation rating, making it nice and toasty.

It generally comes in a 24” x 25’ rolled bundle, so you can cut a length to match your tent size and lay as many rows as necessary to cover the entirety of your tent floor. If your tent is sturdy enough, you could attempt to cover your tent walls with it as well, but most campers opt to use something on the lighter side for roofs and walls.

Another option for your tent floor is thesquare foam mats that you can get from Walmart, Lowes, or other big box stores. Foam padding is an extremely poor conductor of heat, so it’s a great way to prevent losing your body heat to the cold ground. The thicker the pad the better the insulation. 

Rugs are also a good option, especially if they have rubber bottoms, for the same reason as foam. It’s a poor conductor. You could even consider double layering a rug on top of foam pads or reflective foam for a double layer of ground insulation. 

Tent Walls

For the walls, most campers prefer something light that won’t make the walls sag or put unbearable weight on the pole structure. One of the most popular choices among avid winter campers is double bubble reflective foil insulation. Very similar to the heavy-duty reflective foam, it has outer layers of reflective foil and its interior is filled with polyurethane air bubbles. 

The foil is reported to reflect 97% of radiant heat, which would go a long way in warming the air inside your tent. In addition, it’s substantially lighter and more pliable than the foam padding so it’s easier to wrap around the concaves of your tent walls. 

Some campers install the insulation on the outside of the tent between the tent’s skeletal structure and the roof netting. The tent poles essentially hold the material in place, and then with the added fly on top of that, it generally stays secure. Other campers prefer to place it on the inside of their tent and run it around like a curtain. 

Those wishing to make their tent modifications permanent spray adhesive to glue it over the tent walls. Remember, though, that in doing this, you’d have to purchase a separate tent for the summer months. An insulated tent would be entirely too hot during the summer. 

Wool blankets are also good insulators. The crimped nature of wool fibers creates an abundance of air pockets making it a natural thermal insulator. Wool is also great at regulating humidity, which is also be beneficial in preventing condensation build-up. 

Whether you opt to string them around your tent like a curtain, throw them on top of your sleeping bag, or both, wool does an excellent job at retaining body heat. It’s also very pliable and fairly light depending on the size of your blanket.

Many campers choose to use emergency bivvies as a way to insulate their tent. The whole purpose of emergency bivvies is to prevent hypothermia, so by lining your tent wall with the same material, it creates a barrier that reflects your body heat back to you. They’re extremely lightweight, and can be affixed to your tent walls without adding any substantial weight.  

To make it permanent, spray the outside of your tent with a spray adhesive and attach a plastic sheet to it, like a plastic painter’s cloth or industrial-strength plastic. You could even opt for a black plastic that would absorb heat from the sun during the day. It would also keep your tent dark so you wouldn’t be disturbed by the rising sun. 

Once the exterior has had a chance to dry, then spray the inside of the tent with adhesive, and affix the emergency bivvies on the inside with the reflective material facing you. The plastic on the outside keeps the warm air from escaping, and the bivvy reflects your body heat back towards you. 

Dual Purpose Options

Canvas can also be a good insulator. It can be used as a footprint underneath your tent floor as an added layer of insulation. Not only does it create a thermal insulation barrier, but it also keep water from making its way into your tent from the ground. 

It can also be used on the inside of your tent floor as a protective barrier to line your floor, or it can be draped over the outside of your tent like a rain fly. Some people just purchase a canvas tent altogether, but they are substantially more expensive than your traditional nylon / polyester tents. 

Whether you use a canvas tent, or use canvas to line your floor and walls, the thicker material does a much better job at trapping heat inside your tent

The same can be said for tarpaulin tarps. It too can either be used as a ground barrier, windbreak, an additional fly, or all of the above. Tarps are an excellent way to insulate from the outside. Not only do they trap the heat inside, but they also act as wind and rain barriers because they are generally windproof and waterproof. 

Commercial Products

You can also purchase ready-made insulated tarps or Thermo-tarps, which are made with multiple layers. Insulating tarps generally consist of a lightweight, water-resistant, breathable tarpaulin fabric on one side, a thermal insulating fabric in the middle, and then a reflective barrier on the other side. 

The outside absorbs heat from the sun; the inside reflects transient heat back to you. While these items are on the pricey side, they just might be worth it for the sake of convenience. 

Another popular option, as mentioned above, are pre-made tent cocoons like what Crua makes. Not only do they offer temperature regulation, but they also provide light and noise cancellation. While tent cocoons are awfully expensive, they provide a great deal of convenience. If you’re a winter camping fanatic, it could very well be worth the investment. 

While it might be a little unorthodox for a back-country camping trip, you could invest in an ice fishing tent. While it wouldn’t provide you with a tent floor, the walls are typically very well insulated for keeping you warm on the ice.

You could then layer the ground with one or two of the floor options mentioned above, giving you a nice, well-regulated interior. For example, you could pitch the fishing tent over a thick piece of canvas, and then line the floor with heavy-duty reflective foam. Ice tents are notably less expensive than fully insulated tents saving you a few dollars. 

15 Tips To Insulate A Tent For Winter

1. Use A 4-5-Season Tent

Even if a 4-5 Season tent isn’t insulated, it is certainly constructed with more durable material, and less ventilation to withstand the harsher elements. It will also likely have a full-fly that extends to the ground as well as some sort of vestibule space that will assist in creating an air barrier. 

All of these things maximize the efficiency of maintaining the temperature inside your tent. Adding your own insulation to this augments the level of warmth and comfort to get you through the night.

2. Go Small

The smaller the tent the less space there is to heat. Minimizing your tent size as much as you possibly goes a long way to ensure you stay warm throughout the night. Smaller tents are also easier and cheaper to insulate because you’re not having to buy as much extra material. 

It’s much easier to insulate the exterior of a small tent as well because it doesn’t take much to cover it with a canvas or tarp from the outside. 

3. Try A Tent Inside Of A Tent

If the whole idea of insulating a tent seems like too much work for you, then try a tent inside of a tent. Remember air is the number one insulator. By pitching a smaller tent inside of a larger one, you create your own air-barrier insulation

This certainly won’t work in all situations, but if your camping circumstances are manageable enough, and the dimensions of your tents are just right, you can pitch a larger tent, and then pitch a small stand-alone tent on the inside. This creates the air barrier that you need to retain your body heat, plus you have a much smaller space to insulate. 

Equally, if you have a low-profile hoop tent, you could also employ this method by pitching it underneath a canvas, tarp, or larger A-frame tent. 

4. Use A Footprint

Whether you purchase a footprint specifically designed for your tent, or use a piece of canvas or tarp, make sure you have a layer on the outside between the ground and your tent. Not only does this provide extra insulation, it also goes a long way to keep moisture out of your tent. 

5. Reduce Wind Exposure

Anyone that has spent any substantial time in bone-biting wind knows how miserable it can be. Having a windbreak not only protects you and your gear from the wind, but it also adds a layer of protection from sand, rain, or snow. It’s also has the advantage of proving a barrier for cooking.

Whether you use natural or manufactured windbreaks to reduce your exposure to the wind and cold, you’ll welcome the relief it provides. Natural windbreaks like trees and shrubs can block the wind quite well. If you’re in an open area, then stake a tarp to the ground on one end and string the topside between two trees. 

If you’re in really inclement weather and up to your elbows in snow, you could even build an ice wall to help shield you from wind exposure. 

6. Pitch Your Tent Where The Sun Will Rise

Pitch your tent in an area where the sun will hit it first thing in the morning and shine on it all day long. This helps heat your tent naturally throughout the day providing you a little extra warmth, and making your tent as warm as possible before the sun goes down. Every little degree helps. 

This works even better if you’re exterior is wrapped in a sun-absorbing medium such as black plastic, tarp, or canvas.

7. Use A Sleeping Pad With A Good R-Value

Regardless of what type of sleeping pad you use, make sure it has a good R-value. Remember the higher the number, the better the insulation and the warmer you will be. For extremely cold temperatures, you really should not have an R-value of less than 5. If you’re cold-natured, you might even consider going higher.

8. Wear Proper Clothing

Make sure you wear moisture-wicking clothing. If you wear cotton or other moisture-absorbing material to bed, as your body emits perspiration it stays close to your skin, which could actually make you colder. Make sure you wear something to bed that will move the moisture away from your body. 

Some campers recommend sleeping in merino wool, socks, and beanies to help retain warmth. We’re all peculiar about how we sleep, so you’ll have to find the right match for you, but whatever you do make sure you stay dry. 

9. Have Proper Gear

If you’re planning on going camping in freezing temperatures, then make sure you have taken the time to invest in winter gear. You can’t expect to stay warm if you’re camping with summer equipment. This includes more than just your tent. 

Make sure your sleeping bag has a rating for the freezing temperatures in the degree range that you plan on camping in. Make sure you know the difference between survival ratings and comfort ratings. At the very least, you need a 3-4 Season sleeping bag. Mummy-style bags work much better since they cover your head too. Invest in a sleeping bag liner for an added layer of insulation and warmth. 

10. Eat A Warm Meal

It takes energy to stay warm. Having a warm meal and a hot drink before bed not only helps warm you up, it gives you the energy that you need to keep warm through the night. Having a full belly also helps you sleep better.

11. Use Heaters If You Can

Depending on your camping environment, you might have the option to use a tent heater to help warm your tent before you go to bed. Just remember to turn it off before you hit the sack, and have enough ventilation so it won’t become a hazard. It’s always wise to have a CO2 monitor on hand when using gaseous heaters inside your tent.

12. Other Heating Hacks

If you’re out on the trail and don’t have the luxury of a tent heater, having heat packs on hand are a nice, easy, lightweight option for heat and comfort. Place them in your sleeping bag to help keep you warm. 

Another hack you could try is hanging an emergency candle from a lightweight chain down the center of your tent. While you’ll make sure the candle is out before you go to bed, the chain will retain some residual warmness for a short period of time. Just be careful not to burn yourself.

Some campers fill water bottles with boiling water and then toss the bottle in their sleeping bag to help stay warm. Others heat large rocks and place them in the corner of their tents to emit warmth. 

13. Know How To Use An Emergency Bivvy

Believe it or not, there’s a right way and a wrong way. Make sure youknow the correct way to don an emergency bivvy. If you do it incorrectly, it can cause a retention in moisture, which would cause your body temperature to drop and make you colder. This could lead to a life or death situation. Hypothermia is a serious thing, so know what you’re doing.

If you’re using a bivvy blanket as part of your sleeping system, then be aware that not only do they reflect heat, but they also retain moisture. Therefore, you should not place an emergency bivvy closest to your body when used as part of your sleeping system, otherwise, you’ll wake up wet. This could result in a deadly situation. 

14. Use Multiple Methods For Maximum Efficiency

Keep in mind that insulation stacks. So if you have a sleeping pad with a decent R-value, on top of a rug, on top of foam mats, underneath a wool blanket, underneath reflective siding, you’ve got a good chance of staying warm through the night. 

15. Have An Exit Strategy

Mother Nature has gotten the best of us all, and she’s nothing to play around with. Camping in freezing temperatures places you at risk for hypothermia. If things aren’t going according to plan, know when to say when.

Have an exit strategy in place if you have to leave unexpectedly to stave off freezing conditions. Don’t try to suck it up because once you start losing body heat, it may already be too late. Know the symptoms of hypothermia, and know when to call it quits

Final Thoughts

Winter camping can be a fun and exhilarating experience, but if you’re not well prepared, it can be disastrous. Having a warm sleeping environment at night is paramount. How you decide to achieve that is entirely up to you, but there are several options at your disposal. 

The key is having a well-insulated tent, proper winter gear, and adequate knowledge of winter camping risks. If you can acquire those things, then winter camping can be just as much fun as summer camping, and can offer you the adventure of a lifetime.