Picture of Adding thermal insulation to your tent
This instructable suggests a way to add thermal insulation to your tent. If you go camping in hot places like Burning Man you'll undoubtably have awoken at 7am bathed in your own sweat. The heat in a tent that is exposed to the morning sun builds up fast, making it hard to sleep in. But since you just went to sleep at 4am, getting at 7am isn't going to work, right?

With a little bit of cash and very little time you can thermally insulate your tent. Using sturdy emergency blankets and some clamps its possible to sandwich an insulating thermal layer between your tent and its rain-fly. This thermal insulation layer will then prevent your tent from heating up due to direct sun exposure.
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Step 1: What you'll need

Picture of What you'll need
In order to thermally insulate your tent you will need:

- 2 or more sturdy emergency blankets: "All Weather Emergency Blanket" available from sporting goods/camping stores. These "blankets" are insulating tarps and have nice grommets on them. They are NOT the cheap emergency mylar blankets! The mylar blankets crinkle and tear in the wind! 

These blankets are 5' by 7' and should cost between $10 and $15 -- that's pricey, but they are well worth it!

- 6 or more clamps: You can get these clamps from your local hardware store.  I found that two sizes were really handy: Small green clamps ($.37 at Home Depot) that can pinch one blanket around a tent pole. The larger red ones ($2 also at Home Depot)  that can pinch 2-4 layers of blankets for where blankets will overlap.

How many blankets and clamps you'll need depends on the size of your tent. You can cover a small tent in 2 blankets and maybe 6 clamps. My large tent shown in the pictures will eventually have 4 blankets, 6 large clamps and 8 small clamps. 

I would suggest that you make a guess as to how many clamps and blankets you need and then simply keep your store receipt so you can return any blankets/clamps that you don't end up using.

You know what might help if you are in a very cold night situation? It just might work if you pin blankets on the inside of the tent, it could help absorb heat and keep it in the tent!

rspear1 month ago

i think its great and to dial it better : after you lay out your blankets, sew them together with teflon sewing thread and a sewing machine. Then you could use the grommets and stake it down in one piece. technically radiant heat barriers need 1" of space above them to reflect reg radiation away. so using the rain fly would cut the effect that you are looking for.

themku2 months ago

backerman13 years ago
do you know if reversing the blankets in a cold weather situation would keep the warm air in? I'm looking for a way to keep my tent warmer because I'm going to be camping for an extended period of time in cold weather
ErinP1 backerman14 months ago

I know I'm adding my 2 cents 3 yrs after the fact but I was thinking the same thing. I think I would put them on the inside with the silver side IN... so that the interior walls are silver [and the floor] and will reflect and hold in your bodyheat as well as any heat generated by your lightsource. My best idea for attaching them so far are fabric gluing velco in small squares or strips as needed but I'm not sure how the fabric glue inside will effect the outsides waterproofing...? I wish I could assemble a second interior frame for it and leave it kinda freestanding... so theres an airspace..hmm ?

mayhemchaos (author)  ErinP14 months ago

Yes, inward facing to keep heat IN and outward facing to keep heat OUT. I'm usually desert camping in the late summer so I care about keeping the heat out. :)
mayhemchaos (author)  backerman13 years ago
Yes, it should help. I'm not sure how much...

What I would do in this case is to cover all parts of the tent, so you don't have some areas that are leaking heat. You might also consider how to fashion a blanket over your door.

Please do let me know how effective it is!
liongold2 years ago
Have you thought of using the large office spring type paper clips? I think some stores call them "Bull Clips" Pretty sure they would be cheaper. And they may not poke up so much so you might not have to worry about them poking through the flap? I use all sizes of these clips for many projects. I think you could line them up neatly on your tent support rod. Just a suggestion. Thanks for the tent insulation idea
dewnorth3 years ago
I like your idea! I'm wondering 3 things:

1) Could the blankets be cut up and sewn into the shape of the tent?

2) Are the blankets highly durable, esp. in BR Desert's high winds?

3) Are the blankets more silver than gray? Some burners are quick to point out that tarps aren't really silver, they're gray. And as such are not the best reflectors of light, which turns to heat. I'm hoping these blankets are truly silver. (I've even read that gold color reflects light even better, and that NASA uses gold--real gold--rather than anything silver.)

For packing light and avoiding a separate shade structure over your tent--like yo did--I'm sold on the concept of making your tent reflective, and even better, insulated too. I've seen another concept which I like too:

Go here (hoping outside links are permitted):
Or Google this: "Burning Man 2006 - Tent Insulation Project - a set on Flickr"

Ideally, I'd like a sort of silver, insulated "sun fly" that covers the tent underneath, and yet leaves a bit of space for air flow. I keep reading that air flow is important, and that a tent-inside-another-tent turns the inside into an oven.

The other thing is I want the sun fly hold up to the winds and be able to take advantage of the original tent's pole structure, thereby decreasing the materials needed.

But sewing some sort of sun fly seems complicated, and I don't know if I could make one that would hold up under the high winds. I've even tried to figure out how to make a fly with insulated, reflective material sewn and/or glued to it. So far, I haven't come up with any great ideas yet.

A net over the blankets is another idea I've been trying to sort out, but I can't think of a good way to do that either.

I had a shade structure over my tent at my last burn, but the seams between the tarps really let the sun cook my tent in a hurry.
Sol5013 years ago
Tried this on the Summer Breeze openair in germany - just tied some foils and one first aid foil (all i had) to the east side of my tent - worked great!

So you just made it possible for me to sleep about 4 hours more per day what made it possible to survive 4 days feeling fine just like when i was 18 years old. Thank you so much!
mayhemchaos (author)  Sol5013 years ago
Awesome -- I'm glad it helped. Getting sleep at festivals is very very important to enjoying the festival. I'm glad it worked!
SIRJAMES093 years ago
if the rainfly ever gets damaged, or I know that some tents do not have a rainfly, stake a tarp accross your tent....that will hold down the blankets & block the wind too.
BeoWulfe4 years ago
I did something similar to this in 07. I didn't have the sturdy stuff though. I duct taped 2 large emergency solar blankets onto the east side of my tent and it worked like a charm! Wake-up time went from 7-ish to almost 10-ish. So... yeah... Not sure about covering the whole tent but if you point your door west and cover the back of your tent from the morning sun you can eek out a few extra hours of bunk time... cause you know you're not going to go to bed any earlier! :-) As far as sleeping through the day, it depends what kind of sleeper you are. If you can sleep through commotion all around you, you'll do great. Then it's easier to just find a bigger shade structure/camp (I slept alot at center camp... they have nice couches usually) and nap/sleep through the day.
kscott4 years ago
I'd do a lightweight, prism shaped frame of pvc & just attach the blankets or some other suitibly reflective surface to that. Make the prism large enough to fit over the tent & attach a tarp to the base. Insert tent into the prism & have both the shade & tarp on one unit. Tent weight keeps the shade from blowing away & the air circulating.... ahhhh.
Wazzupdoc4 years ago
I'd love to see vid of you in this at Burning Man, say, 0800. Looks as though it could become a convection oven by around 0900, without the benefit of the fan to cook you quicker. Try looking at the Berbers, etc. who live in the desert and see their designs for surviving in the "inhospitable" environment of Burning Man. The blankets are a key element to reflecting the thermal radiation, though.
mayhemchaos (author)  Wazzupdoc4 years ago
I took this setup to 4th of Juplaya and combined with an EZ-UP and shade cloths, I was able to sleep until 10am. Just the test in the sun by itself wouldn't quite do as well for sure. But I'm also sure that you can get more sleep than without the blankets. Another added benefit is that the blankets block out the light, which is nice for sleeping.
Yes. The problem with the thermal insulation set-up is air circulation combined with shade. There has to be a LOT of air circulating (or space for it) to provide the evaporative cooling for the body. Aerodynamic shade covers to direct air movement under the shade with thermal reflective shielding above would give the most "comfort effect" to prevent hyperthermia. Eye shades or blinders give the darkness needed for sleep. Your EZ-UP does that and you can lower the roof with the leg holes.
annaring4 years ago
I'd love to try this! Only.. my festival is not Burning Man, but Lowlands.. in the Netherlands. While we do have the kind of sun that gets you out of your tent early in the morning, we also have rain. And I think that this insulation layer will make my tent leak, right?
mayhemchaos (author)  annaring4 years ago
I think if you manage the insulation carefully you could have any water that leaks though your rainfly not enter your tent. You'd need to be a little more careful if you're worried about rain, but I dont think this will be much of a problem.
I will give it a try and let you know if we got any leaks!
AutumnF4 years ago
Great simple tutorial! I'm going this year and I cannot wait :) I think this'll help so much!
At Bonnaroo the heat was so brutal you couldn't sleep past 7:30 because the tent becomes an oven. Having a camping fan sitting on my chest blowing directly in my face enabled me to stand it for an extra hour each morning. So I would experiment before you head out to the desert if I were you. :)
If it's that hot, something you can do is take an old sheet, soak it in water and wring it out, then sleep under it. The evaporation will keep you cool.
I decided to have another larger shade structure, I was sure being out and exposed may be a bit insane for a first timer lol :D
izzyinsf4 years ago
nice! this will be my first year at burning man and i am looking forward to sleeping in during the day... thanks for the advice.
mayhemchaos (author)  izzyinsf4 years ago
I'm not sure this approach will work to let you sleep during the day. The blankets only reflect heat from direct sunlight, but ambient heat will still get into the tent. Unless the tent is completely enveloped by blankets it will be quite hot during the day. Some people have reported that using a few tent fans works well for sleeping during the day, but I've never gotten that to work...