How to heat a tent- safely?

While I am a a hands-on person, that mostly extends to art and sculpture rather than engineering. Therefore, I thought I ought to bring this question to people with a little bit more knowhow in that area. See, with the cold winter months coming on camping is becoming a little more arduous. More to the point, heating a tent safely is a real problem. I don't trust gas powered heaters....but there's not a whole lot of alternatives out there.

So I was wondering if anyone here could think of a way to safely heat a tent for a prolonged period of time. Preferably without gas, electricity, or risk of fire.

Goodhart3 years ago
The best advice I ever got, was "not to heat the tent". During my younger days, while in Boy Scouts I attended Frozen Trail, which is exactly what it sounds like. DEAD of winter camping.
My dad wouldn't spring for a Winter type sleeping bag, so I was kind of "stuck out in the cold". But my Scout Master told me to remove all my clothes except underwear,  while I am in the sleeping bag, but keep them in there with me and zip it up tight.

This may sound strange, but the next day, while everyone else had sleep IN their clothes, sweated some (and so were damp) during the night, it was a bit cold that night....but the next day I was toasty warm all day :-) Now, I recommend then, getting a GOOD warm winter style sleeping bag, and if you try the little trick I just mentioned, the next day will be VERY pleasant.  The rest of the troup were cold all day long. 

This is only advisable if you have a decent expectation of privacy however.
gmoon Goodhart3 years ago
One trick for cold nights is to fill a nalgene bottle with nearly boiling water, and put that in your bag. I've never known a Nalgene bottle to leak, so it's a fairly safe practice...

Over the years I've probably spent 6 months of nights sleeping in a winter bag, in below freezing conditions. A warm bag is toasty!

The "sleep naked" thing is a myth. A persistent myth, though. One that people swear is true (from my experience, it's not). I can see why it might feel warmer if your clothes are damp, and you're a heavy sleeper (you aren't effected by the sleep cycle drop in body temperature).

Wait until you're below zero (F)--you'll opt for clothes. I've had nights where I wore nearly every stitch of clothing I had--fleece jackets, down coat, two pairs of fleece pants, etc.  Wearing sweaty, damp clothes in the bag has one advantage--you might be chilled for an hour or two, but the clothes will dry. A real advantage over a long week of backpacking.

It's also normal, damp clothing or not, to wake up with the outside of your bag soaked. Hence the debate over synthetic vs. down bags...

This tip and having a good ground barrier will keep ya toasty. I keep a couple think wool blankets in my car for emergencies and have used them to boost the insulation of my sleeping bag in a pinch.

Goodhart gmoon3 years ago
It only works if you sleep in a heavy sleeping bag, with all you clothes on, and sweat all night.

It worked wonders for me.   Everyone else in my troop was cold all day long, and I had a fairly light coat to use and wasn't cold most of the morning that day. 

But I wasn't advocating NUDE sleeping, but rather down far enough to keep one from getting all sweated up 
gmoon Goodhart3 years ago
Ahh. As far as moderating the temp in a bag-- well, yeah, clothes appropriate for the temperature is the obvious choice. Sorry, didn't savvy you were too warm from your post...

If you get too hot, you can also unzip the bag, or use it as a blanket and lay right on the sleeping pad. Or wear the bag up to your arms. Or my favorite--just unzip the bottom, and stick your bare feet out ;-).

I learned to not shed too many clothes. After a ten mile hike with a pack, my metabolism was usually "on high" for several hours, but it would crash in the early morning, and feeling cold at 3 AM was often the result (that, and temps drop overnight). So in would come my feet, and on went the the mummy bag hood...

I won't even mention the best trick to stay warm in the bag...
Goodhart gmoon3 years ago
Yeah, I was pretty cold that night, but I was comfy most of the next day :-) And that stupid heater they had in the tent was next to worthless.....the tent roof got warm but the tent remained rather was the infamaous "baker's tent".
gmoon Goodhart3 years ago
Oh, I remember winter camping at the age of 12 or 13--crummy summer bags, no tents (tarps) and invariably we'd be up in the middle of the night, stoking the fire. Great memories ;-).

If your fellow scouts slept well, I'd think their clothes would dry out after a little activity. They'd be pretty cranky at breakfast, though.

Maybe you're just a natural outdoorsman.

Scouts back in my day didn't have (or didn't believe in) sleeping pads. What a huge difference they make--to have insulation between you and the cold ground...

A Baker with the flap open?

I've spent many nights in WPA-era lean-tos. They proliferate in the Adirondacks in upper NY. Not as warm as a small tent, for sure.

Years ago they had fire pits, and you could feel radiant heat from a roaring fire in the lean-to. They kept the pits at least 15 feet from the lean-tos, due to the fire hazard. They weren't much use during the night. Fifteen or twenty years ago the fire pits all disappeared--too much eco damage from firewood scavenging.
Goodhart gmoon3 years ago
I really miss camping, but I am afraid now my arthritis might not like the "ground" cold or not anymore :-) But I still tolerate cold very well.....coats are like worthless to me (as I am almost never out in 20 F or below weather, and anything above 30 F and I am comfortable as long as the wind isn't blowing too hard or it isn't raining/snowing :-) I sweat most of the winter time in just a jacket. So, this light weight one I got from Instructables is 100 % ideal :-)
That's what i always do, of course my whole troop goes through orientation before camping to avoid hypothermia.

It worked for me camping on a glacier.

Investing in a decent bag and roll-mat is far better in the long term, not just safer than a heater, but easier to pack and lighter to carry (you'll be carrying the bag and mat anyway, so the heater is extra weight).

If you're in the tent during the day, wear warm clothes (layers), and the more people in the tent, the warmer it is in there.
Downunder35m5 months ago

Might be time to share an old army trick....
In the cold winter times a tent be can scary, you wake up and everything is frozen rock hard.

That's why you should keep your clothes and boots inside the sleeping bag....

Anyway, if you camp alone it usually means you have a fire as well to keep you warm.

Once really good heating option is to have an overhanging wal behind the tent and the fire in front of the tent.

Can be a rock wall or makeshift with some tree branches.

Other option for colder temperatures is to put some rocks in the fire itself to heat them up good.

Have the tent pegs loose amd a suitable hole next to the tent.

Drop the hot rocks, cover with dry sand and slide the tent back over the hole.

The hole should be deep enough so you have at least 30cm of sand on top of the rocks, otherwise it might get too hot for the plastic - try before melting a hole in the floor ;)
We had an old piece of thick canvas to cover the sand as an added protection, the rocks keep the tent warm for up to 5 hours before it starts to cool down again, you get more if the hole is insulated with dry sand all around.

BrisB5 months ago

Heating rocks in a fire and keeping them in a safe place inside of the tent might be an option. They stay hot for a long time. If you want to do some extra work you can also bury them below your sleeping bag and they keep the ground nice and warm. Far North Bushcraft and Survival (youtube) has some good information on this.

rowerwet2 years ago
easy and fairly cheap tent heater with all combustion outside the tent.
I have used a Mr Heater Buddy Heater for several years for winter camping. They run off propane and are safe for use indoors. They will work off of a 1 lb propane bottle or, with an adapter hose, run off the larger 20 lb propane bottle.
rickharris3 years ago
Heating a tent by anything other than electricity is possibly a serious mistake. Almost ALL other methods involve combustion products like CO that can and will kill in an enclosed space.

With satisfactory insulation you shouldn't need to heat the tent - that what a good sleeping bag is for.

IF it is a Marquee then forced hot air is probably the best way to go. or IR patio heaters (Electric)
Five or six people in a tent for three with hot tea and lots of woolly sweaters - the way rodents live (only without tea and sweaters). I found it all right in the middle of May (something around 10-15C during the day and 0- -5 at night) even with a summer sleeping bag. Probably, with a winter one you can do up to around -10 - -15. Some people say that in the mountains they slept in that manner in -25-30, but its too extreme in my opinion;)
You could always dig a fire trench for your camp fire, then after you have quite a bit of coals you cover the pit with earth and put your tent on top. The coals will provide heat all night long as it rises up thru the earth. Also you could line the inside of your tent with a mylar space blanket, that will reflect your body heat back down keeping it nice and toasty.
jeff-o3 years ago
Easy: a winter-rated sleeping bag for two, and your significant other. Clothing optional. Toasty warm all night long!
crapflinger3 years ago
eat a lot of beans and fart your way to comfort......or buy an adequately rated sleeping bag system (yes i said system). if you're in a 40 degree bag in -20 degree weather, that heater isn't really going to help you that much either.
-1 on the first

+1 on the 2nd.
I was in a SUMMER bag in the winter time (Frozen trail that year was REALLY FROZEN) and so I didn't have the best of nights :-)
They make catalytic heaters that run off propane, they are called black cats supposedly dont produce CO and will shut off when accidentally tipped over.
They are inexpensive at about 60 for single burner ones to 120 and up for double burner fancy ones. The expensive part is the disposable propane cylinders they run on.
Your next option is to invest in a sleeping bag system. If you plan on doing lots of camping you can get a system that is versatile one that will work in summer and winter months. (like a used military 3 bag system) But even a sleeping bag rated to +32 will be more than adequate for 0 degree weather with a blanket or sleeping bag liner installed.
Sleeping bags are priced on their degree rating as well as thickness/weight. A bigger bag will be cheaper than an ultra thin one but will be heavier.
Like goodheart said sleep in your underwear or cloths that you normally sleep in at home. then change when you wake up so you dont get cold. If you have some pajamas to sleep in you wont be frozen cold when you have to go to the bathroom at 3am. cause you will be when your just in your tighty whities.
Sweat is your worst enemy, you want to be slightly uncomfortably cool, but not warm or youll sweat. Change your socks to prevent trench foot