Tips for Staying Warm While Camping

By Beverly Bird; Updated June 08, 2017

Brrrr! How to shake the shivers on your outdoor adventure

Tips for Staying Warm While Camping

You don’t have to resign yourself to chattering teeth and numb fingers and toes while camping. Here are a few tips to help you warm up even without a campfire, whether you’re hiking, tucked into a tent for the night, or passing the wee hours in your car.

When you’re on the trail

First, the good news. Movement – even just continually placing one foot ahead of the other – helps keep your body temperature up. Unfortunately, the warmth may not extend to your fingers and toes. Keep flexing your fingers, but better yet, invest in some hand and toe warmers before you start out. Yes, they really do help, especially the chemical kind which actually produce heat.

You might want to splurge a bit on your outerwear, too. Cheaper coats and jackets typically don’t provide as much insulation. And as long as you’re dressing for the weather, avoid wearing cotton under that coat. This fabric tends to pull heat from your body.

Help your inner furnace along with a high-fat and/or high-protein snack before you start out, like olive oil or peanut butter. Then take some periodic munch breaks along the way. Anything loaded with calories will help, because calories are literally heat units.

Ginger root tea will amp up your metabolism, too, even if it’s not hot – but it will do a better job of keeping you warm if you carry it in a thermos. And whatever you do, don't sit on the cold, hard ground or a rock when you pause for a rest. The cold will radiate right up into your body.

Keeping warm in a tent

OK, you’ve survived the trek to your campsite. Now consider the location of your campsite which can make the difference between freezing or being reasonably comfortable.

Obviously, you want to tuck yourself somewhere out of the wind – a copse of trees should do nicely. But try to avoid valleys and other low-lying areas. Remember, heat rises and cold sinks. You’ll also want to stay away from bodies of water, which tend to cool the air.

You may feel like you really deserve a hot toddy after you’ve finally pitched camp, but drinking alcoholic beverages isn’t a good idea. Alcohol dehydrates you, and dehydration lowers the body temperature.

Now it’s time to make sure you can sleep comfortably and stay warm until dawn. But first, some more exercise. Doing a few calisthenics right before bedtime will warm you up before you crawl into your sleeping bag, and your sleeping bag should do the rest, trapping that warmth in a snuggly cocoon. Just take care not to overdo it and sweat. Perspiration will chill you down again in a hurry.

And speaking of that sleeping bag, you’ll want to go the extra bucks for a really good one if you’re planning to camp in cold weather. Purchase a bag that’s designed to withstand temperatures at least 10 to 20 degrees colder than what you anticipate. If you just can’t swing the extra expense, pack along an extra blanket and put that on top of your sleeping bag when it’s time to bed down.

One of the best tricks out there is to keep a heat source between your thighs, something like a hot water bottle. The arteries there help regulate your body’s warmth. And remember that your body’s heat escapes through your head, so wearing a knit cap to bed can help, too.

Bedding down in your vehicle

Most tips and tricks for staying warm on the trail or in a tent work just as well if you’re bunking down for the night in your vehicle, but your car or van can offer an additional option or two for pumping up your warmth level.

Isolate the area in which you’re sleeping by sealing off the other areas that you won’t be using overnight. You can use blankets or even planks of wood that you’ve carted along from home – they can lay flat in the trunk or cargo area when you don’t need them, taking up minimal space. And if you really get cold, you can turn your vehicle on for a little while and blast the heat. Just make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked so the exhaust goes out, not inside where it can be deadly.

Try some buddy heat

No matter where you are, the best heat is body heat, so if you’re on good terms with your campmates, cuddle up and share it.

About the Author

Beverly Bird