Adding Thermal Insulation to Your Tent





Introduction: 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.

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: Setup Your Tent

Now to get going! 

Set up your tent when it won't bother anyone (I setup in my parking lot). I didn't stake my tent down, since it wasn't windy -- you'll want to work on a day without much wind. Your life will be much easier!

Important: Don't put the rainfly on your tent! The insulation is supposed to get between your tent and your rainfly.

Step 3: Trial and Error: Lay the Blankets on Your Tent

Now we get to the hand-waving part -- since every tent will be different, it will be up to you to decide how to lay the blankets on your tent. I tried a few different approaches and ended up settling on the solution shown in the pictures.

Three sides of the tent are covered without any large gaps: This way, the emergency blankets will reflect heat away from your tent from three sides. Your tent will still get warmer because of the ambient temperature, but you get better airflow in the tent (prevents the tent from getting stuffy). This works well if you're trying to sleep longer in the morning while the outside temperature is sill reasonably low. It won't work if you want to sleep in the tent during the day.

Alternatively you could use more blankets and wrap the whole tent. You'd have to leave a flap where you can get in and out of the tent. 

Step 4: Using Clamps: Small Clamps Vs Big Clamps

As you try out various ways of laying the blankets on your tent, you'll find that you need to overlap the blankets in various parts. Use the clamps to clamp multiple blankets together onto the tent. In the picture below you can see a corner of my tent where three blankets intersect. In this part its perfect to use a large clamp. The large red clamps can easily clamp 3-4 blankets to the tent. Use smaller clamps to clamp single layers of clamps to the bottom of the tent. 

Step 5: Rotate Clamps and Add Rain Fly

Note: I am going to buy more clamps for my tent -- in this setup there are too many random edges of the blankets that could flap in high winds. Ideally you'll want to have your thermal layer be nice and neat with no gaps.

Once you're happy with the coverage on your tent, rotate the clamps (not shown below) so that when you put the rain-fly on your tent, the clamps won't poke through your rain-fly.

Finally, (also not shown), add the rain-fly for your tent -- this is an important step since the rainfly is the primary means to securing your insulation layer. Without a rain fly, even moderate winds will strip the blankets off the tent. To prevent this and to make the wind pass over/around your tent, add the rain fly.

Step 6: Final Note: Tent Placement

The last thing to consider is the orientation and location of your tent. Some tips:

- When setting up camp, make sure you know where the sun rises.

- If you can find any shade (tree or a vehicle), put your tent where the shade will be in the early morning.

- If you have no shade to work with, make sure to orient any uninsulated sides of your tent away from the morning sun. 

- Sometimes you simply need to guess at how to orient your tent and you're bound to be off a bit. When you wake in the morning, note where your tent is taking direct sun and adjust the blankets or the orientation of your tent so you can sleep longer the next day!

Happy sleeping in an adverse hot weather!



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31 Discussions

Nice idea! In case of rain, have the opening in the opposite direction of the wind to reduce water getting into your tent, staying dry is more important than keeping the sun out.

Copy/pasted your link and, well, it's not breathing..

Dewnorth: Coincidentally, that is my friend Jack with the tent that inspired me to use emergency blankets, as opposed to his OCD panel method. :)

Please consider, if you are camping with others, for example, at Burning Man: those around you can see the harsh reflection and actually feel the heat radiating from reflective insulation quite a ways away. It's no fun to have someone's aluminet blinding you and radiating heat at you on an already blistering day lol. Be considerate if camping near others.

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!

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.

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

3 replies

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 ?


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. :)

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!

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

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.

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!

1 reply

Awesome -- I'm glad it helped. Getting sleep at festivals is very very important to enjoying the festival. I'm glad it worked!

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.

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.

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.

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.