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.

sort by: active | newest | oldest

I read a cool tip that suggested heating rocks by the campfire and wrapping them in towels and tucking them inside the tent to provide heat. Here's a helpful article on tent heaters: http://thecampingequipmentspot.com/camping-heater-electric-vs-propane/

Just to put an end to the heating problem:
Might be a bit on the costly side though but anyway.
Get diesel or petrol powered caravan heater.
They use around 150ml of fuel per hour.
Leave tank and heater unit outside and connect a standard heater hose to it that goes into the tent.
Reuires a battery but a small deep cycle one with a soloar panel would do the trick here, as an alternative you can always use a dual battery isolator in the car to charge the spare battery.
If the heater unit is fitted with a silencer and also put into a small hole or inside a polystyreren box a few feet away from the tent you can enjoy a warm tent even in the snow.

tetrahemicon3 months ago

We were in college it was fall, or spring. Two inexpensive bags gave us versatility and cost less than two different rated bags. Ussually the second bag was padding and insulation from the ground, but it saved more than a few trips that started out moderate and dropped below freezing.

tetrahemicon3 months ago

No heaters at camp Ronfinke, we always had two rectangular sleeping bags per person. In cold weather we put one inside the other with the zippers reversed.

This allows you to telescope them longer and bring the bag over your head and for xtra foot room. In warmer weather we slept in one on top of the other for padding.

Would be too easy to just use a sleeping bad rated for the climate and temp!?

Toga_Dan5 months ago

Make a fire in the sand. get the sand pretty warm. Let the fire die. Bury it, and sleep on top. With or without a tent, it is cozy.

KevinH1585 months ago

could you look at items like air activated heat packs,i have brought two packs for $2 at my chemist you would either need a few of them or a larger ones but the idea fits with no risk of danger and they do last about 8 hours



JohnU195 months ago

Yes, I know a way. It is, as far as I know, the only way, but is not promoted because it render's other products worthless by comparison. A simple positive pressure stove. Positive meaning air(oxygen) is brought in from outside the tent to feed the fire in the stove, which is otherwise sealed. It is brought in via two separate a tube's. One feeds the fire in the stove. and draws air in via convection created by the heat moving up thru the flu. The other is feed by a small fan forcing air from outside through a tube which coils around and around the heat source until hot and then is released onto the tent, with the same oxygen content it had when out side. I cannot seam to find one available for sale and am suspicious as to why that is the case. I will build one myself and will will be happy to forward to you my plans when I complete my project, though I suspect you would have no problem designing one for yourself.

You won't find many on sale as they are still consired a fire risk.
Just get yourself a gas fired camping shower that does not require an additional motor to pump the water and run a hose coils through the tent.
Nothing apart from getting wet can haapen inside the tent and securing a camp shower to a tree or car should be easy enough...

JohnU195 months ago

Please note these concerns with regard to the information I gave below. For Safety; Points of concern are as follows, 1-exit-point for a double wall flu 2- size of stove should be commensurate with size of tent 3- not easily knocked over, and if knocked over a safety device that immediately extinguishes heat source within stove. 3- thermostat capable of opening or closing heat-pipe bringing in air from outside to be heated and released into tent.4- something in tent capable of absorbing excess humidity (condensation) most likely to become a problem if heat is maintained for an extended period when it is cold outside. 5- obvious concerns associated with heat and melting your possibly very expensive tent. 6- weight of said device should you be packing it on your back. note; device I plan to design will be very light and rather small so materials may be cost prohibitive for some such as titanium alloys that can expand and contract without creating stress-points that could compromise safety. 7-type of fuel, (non-explosive if possible) preferably wood so no reason to pack in with you.

spaesani8 months ago

Catalytic heaters do give off CO so use a CO detector if you use one in case your vents collapse or become obstructed, say by a snow storm.

Tealights (small candles in an aluminum holder) in a baking pan work well also. Around 80 btu each. 20 gives you a good 1500 plus btu for about 3-4 hours. They come in packs of 100 or 140 at around 7 cdn. Vent and use a CO detector.

When wood abounds and you're up to it a tent fireplace (you need 2 welding blankets) works as well. Self venting, no CO hazard. Do a search. The guy who shows this is a true outdoorsman.

For quick no purchase n carry fuel heat, a wood gas camp stove. Uses twigs. Light it outside, let it burn clean inside if you have a diy stove vent (just like the one above your home stove but in the wall and with fire retardant material) then let it ember burn inside either way (stove vent closed to retain heat). Always on a flat rock and always with venting and a CO detector.

Forced hot air from an outside 'heat box'. This is complex, somewhat excessive considering some of the alernatives, may be considered heavy (though lighter than a full woodstove or ''cauchon") needs electricity and requires some extensive diy. My first prototype melted (I used wax as fuel which ended up igniting). I inevitably switched to tealights in a baking pan.

Stay warm!

FredB249 months ago

For winter camping you want a smaller tent so there is less room to heat, I bought a tent made by NEMO, you don't want a dome tent for winter camping, they are to talk and have to much uneccessary room, and the lanterns won't warm them as well. My NEMO tent also is completely screened in at the top, with a cover that goes over the screen, so there aren't any vents at the top for the heat to go out of, the venting comes from the little space between the cover along the outside of the tent, so the heat stays in the tent pretty well. Me and my girlfriend, and we each have a UCO candle lantern beside us and that keeps us plenty warm in the winter. If we use our bigger tent we each bring out triple candle UCO lantern. Just light the candles in the lantern about an hour or so before, your going to sleep and keep the tent zipped up, and just let the UCO lanterns build some heat up in the tent, and then by the time you go in the tent to sleep it Will be pretty warm. like I said the triple candle UCO Candle lanterns put off a lot more heat then the single candle lanterns, but you would be suprised how much they actually warm the tent up. Just keep any vent flaps or whatever closed and you'll be warm.

FredB249 months ago

I've always wondered if sterno's could be used for heat in a tent, because they burn clean, but UCO candle lantern solved that problem and is safe from catching fire...

FredB249 months ago

I kept trying to figure out a way to do this to, and found 2 ways. 1.) If your staying at a campsite you could always get a spot with a power outlet and buy yourself a minatyre power heater. 2.) I bought a little candle lantern, that is safe to use for light and also heats the tent enough to keep you warm. I first bought 2 of the candle lanterns, at REI, and later I found a candle lantern that held 3 candles and put of more heat. You would be suprised how warm 2 candles can gets your tent up. The lantern is just a safe housing for the candle to burn in without having to worry about it falling over and catching fire, it also has a chain to hang from the top of the tent. Look up UCO CANDLE LANTERN. they really do warm up the tent, especially if you have the one that holds 3 candles. You can buy the regular candles for it that burn for 9gra, or the beeswax ones that cost a little more but burn 15 hrs. Best 20$ I've spent !!

Graywolf211210 months ago

The second best way to heat a tent is to sleep with a big Alaskan Malamute in the tent with you. ;)

Goodhart4 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 Goodhart4 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 gmoon4 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 Goodhart4 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 gmoon4 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 cold.....it was the infamaous "baker's tent".
gmoon Goodhart4 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 gmoon4 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.

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.

BrisB1 year 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.

rowerwet4 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.

rickharris4 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-o4 years ago
Easy: a winter-rated sleeping bag for two, and your significant other. Clothing optional. Toasty warm all night long!
crapflinger4 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