Keeping your tent warm: Autumn, Winter, and Spring

Extend your family camping season beyond the Summer and learn how to keep your tent and family warm. We explore different tent heaters that you could use.

How to keep warm in your tent

Picture this: you’ve got an entire camping field to yourself, the campfire is crackling away, and the kids can run about and explore without worrying about cars from other campers. What’s more, you’ve been able to give them more weekends like this than ever before.

How?

Simple. Extend your camping season.

There are ways to keep warm, but if you want ultimate comfort, you’ll want to heat your tent.

In this post, we’ll go through a couple of options available to you.

Extending your Camping Season

Would you like to extend your camping season

As soon as the kids go back to school at the end of the Summer holidays, camping stops for most families, which is a real shame as September is a great time of year for camping (read more on camping in September here).

Family camping in a late Spring or early Autumn is perfectly possible
Family camping in a late Spring or early Autumn is perfectly possible. There are some simple things you can do to keep the cool nights at bay.

You can still camp in the October half term, or even the Easter Holidays. You may need to upgrade your sleeping bag and take a few more measures (read about keeping warm when it is very cold in our Winter Camping article). Even Christmas Camping is possible if you are prepared for it.

Tents are designed to keep the rain off and wind out, but they don’t insulate too well (especially the modern polyester materials), and so soon get cold.

For when it does get chilly, a tent heater is an obvious item to get, but there are a few different choices available.

Options for Heating Your Tent

Electric Tent Heaters – Best Choice for Most Tents

One of the simplest ways to heat your tent is with an electric heater. However, you need to consider safety and the sort of power supply is available at the campsite.

What type of electric heater is safest for a tent

To use an electric heater in your tent, you’ll need to book a pitch at a campsite that provides electric hook-ups (EHU).

EHU and Verwood Play Park
TIP: You can find campsites with electric hook-ups and campfires using our campsite finder.

Find campsites with EHU pitches >
you can’t just take an extension cable from home and plug-in a large electric radiator
However, if you’re not familiar with EHU, you may be disappointed to learn that you can’t just take an extension cable from home and plug-in a large electric radiator, as EHUs require a special electrical fitting and may be limited to only 5amps of electricity.

When using an electric hookup you must use the correct fitting with a built-in circuit breaker (RCD).  Accidents and fatalities do occur each year by people trying to save a few pounds and using power cord extensions from home.

A guide to connecting and using electricity in your tent

A Guide to Camping with Electric

If you are new to using electricity when camping then click here to read our guide to using electric hook-ups when camping to see what sort of electrical extension you should get and how to make sure you don’t draw too much current.

Electric Fan Heaters for Camping

Most campers will use a small electric fan heater to warm their tent, but it needs to be one that will work on the campsite’s power supply, which is much less than you would have at home.

Pros Cons
  • Can heat the tent relatively quickly
  • Lightweight and small so easy to transport
  • Cheap to buy
  • Can reduce condensation inside the tent
  • Fans turning themselves on and off at night can be annoying.
  • They can make the air stuffy and dry.
  • You might not want to risk leaving one on through the night.

An electric fan heater will heat the tent (relatively) quickly.  However, if the thermostat is going on and off all night it may keep you awake.

The Kampa Diddy Camping HeaterWith many family tents having separate bedrooms, the effect of the warm air breeze is also reduced.

On the plus side, they are small and easy to transport. Also, the warm air coming out of heater can help reduce or prevent the build up of condensation on the inside of the tent, which can be a problem on cold mornings.

If you decide to get a fan heater, make sure you get one with an automatic cut out if it gets too hot. Many families decide not to risk leaving the fan heater on through the night for fear that it could catch fire if it overheats.

They are safest used to take the chill off before bed and first thing in the morning.

Make sure you position the heater off the ground, just in case your tent gets a leak and the electric heater ends up sitting in water. Also, place it away from the sides of the tent, where the wind could knock it over, and not too close to the thin fabric of your inner tent.

 

Electric Radiators

Yes, you can take a radiator with you camping….but be careful on how many amps it draws.

Pros Cons
  • Can heat the tent quietly
  • Emits heat for a while after being turned off
  • Doesn’t create stuffy air (like a fan heater does)
  • Usually heavy, and more difficult to transport to the campsite
  • May not ‘radiate’ heat into the sleeping areas
  • Can take longer to heater the tent up

De'Longhi Bambino RadiatorTaking a radiator when camping many not be as mad as it first sounds…but yes, it means you are fully glamping and taking a lot of gear with you.

Certainly, oil-filled radiators are a lot less annoying than the sound of fan heaters turning on and off all night.

Their heat might not reach all the way into the bedrooms but could keep the chill off the main tent area, making it more pleasant when you get up in the morning or when getting changed before bed.

A radiator’s heat isn’t instant, unlike a fan heater, but you can get some with built-in fan heaters for the best of both worlds….you just need to make sure they stay within your EHU amp limit. You may find that you have to unplug the heater if you have an electric camping kettle for example.

 

Electric Halogen Tent Heaters

those that stand on the ground can present a fire hazard
Electric Halogen heaters provide a lot of heat output for the small amount of power they consume, and so look an attractive option when camping. However, those that stand on the ground can present a fire hazard, and you may even find them banned on some campsites.

An alternative to the ones that stand up is to get a halogen heater that hangs in your tent.

Pros Cons
  • Can heat the tent quietly
  • Warms up quicker than radiators
  • Creates a nice warm glow (that can double as a lantern)
  • Lighter to transport than radiators
  • Ones that stand-up could be a fire hazard
  • May not ‘radiate’ heat into the sleeping areas

Outwell Fuji Tent HeaterIf you are thinking about a halogen heater for your tent, I recommend you look at the designs from Outwell. They have created a halogen heater that you can use even on a 5 Amp campsite power supply and hangs in your tent lantern holder so it’s away from kids and fire hazards. Read more about the Outwell Fuji Electric Camping Heater.

I’ve felt the heat coming out of the Outwell Fuji heater and it was very warm. It also put out a nice warm glow – enough to light a tent.

With it suspended from the lantern hook in the tent, it would be just the right height to walk into, so I would place a table underneath so that no one can walk into it. Obviously, this is not an option for smaller tents.

I was also worried about the heat coming out of the top of this Outwell heater. After all, it’s very close to the roof of the tent. But after the heater had been on for some time, it was still relatively cool above the lantern (could touch it with my hand).

I’m not sure I would leave this heater on all night, but it would make the tent nice and warm before bed, and perhaps with a timer, come on just in time for the morning.

Other ways of heating with EHU

Electric blankets might also be another use of the Electric Hook-Up, but if you’re taking the basic steps to keep warm and heat your bed with a hot-water bottle, they’re probably not worth it.

I haven’t yet come across a heated tent carpet, but I suspect underfloor tent heating is only a matter of time. 😉

Update: Underfloor heating for your tent is now available!

Outwell Heating Carpet L
So it was a few years ago I said that it was only a matter of time before underfloor heating is available for your tent, and now it’s here: Outwell’s Electrical Heating Carpet.

A Wood Burning Stove for your Tent

By far my favourite heater 😉

Though, a wood burning stove requires a bit more effort than turning the switch on an electric heater.

Pros Cons
  • No EHU required
  • Can heat the tent quietly
  • Puts out a lot of heat
  • Can stay warm for a long while
  • You must have an appropriate tent with flue exit
  • You must have a proper stove
  • Some can be bulky to transport

Robens Volcano Stove keeping the Kiowa warm in Winter

With a wood burning stove you don’t need to be limited to campsites with electric hook-ups, enabling to explore a much wider area of the country in all seasons. However, you do need the right sort of tent, and most family tents are not equipped to take a stove, and so this option is not open to most of us.

If you have a fire-retardant canvas tent then you could fit a wood burning stove with a flue. You will need an appropriate flue exit in your tent. See the Robens Mescalero or Robens Kiowa for a tent you can buy with a built-in flue flap.

You will also need a heat resistant mat to place the stove above or roll back the groundsheet as in the picture above.

Of course, most wood burning stoves are extremely heavy, but you can get portable versions such as the excellent Frontier Stove or Robens Volcano Stove.

Burning wood in your tent does have to be in a proper wood burner with the fumes being directed out of the tent via a flue. A carbon monoxide alarm is also a good idea.

How to use a Wood Burning Stove in your tent
Want to know more about using a stove in your tent?

Click here to read our guide to using a wood burning stove in your tent

Gas Tent Heaters – Don’t Take The Risk

Gas heaters is an option I wouldn’t recommend.

Modern designs have reduced the risks of fire (but not eliminated them), but the biggest killer comes from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Unsure about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide? Read our Say No to CO campaign.

Comparison of Tent Heaters

Here’s a quick comparison of the type of tent heaters mentioned above.

Fan
Kampa
Diddy
This little fan heater is only 22cm high
  • 750W or 1500W
Convector
Duronic
HV120
Stands upright and looks like a radiator
  • 750W, 1250W or 2000W
Halogen
Outwell
Fuji
A heater that hangs in your tent
  • 600W or 1500W
  • Your tent needs sufficient height and strong enough to take the weight (1.6kg)
Woodburner
Robens
Volcano
A great little stove for the tent
  • No EHU required
  • Tent with Flu Opening Required
  • 3.2m Flue Height
Woodburner
Anevay
Frontier
The popular portable stove
  • No EHU required
  • Tent with Flu Opening Required
  • 2.4m Flue Height (extensions available)
Woodburner
Anevay
Traveller
A great looking little stove
  • No EHU required
  • Tent with Flu Opening Required
  • 2-3m Flue Height
Carpet
Outwell
Heated Carpet
Creates a lovely warm patch in your tent
  • EHU required

Wait! Do these before buying a tent heater

Simply getting a tent heater is not going to keep everyone warm. A tent heater is not like central heating at home, and people could get cold even with a tent heater on.

Here are some simple tips to keeping warm in your tent.

  • Wear warm clothes (obviously).  It is easier to stay warm than to warm up when cold.  Sleep in your base layers at least (see base layers for kids), but try not to wear too many clothes when you go to bed as you do not want to sweat in your sleeping bag, as this will build up moisture that will ultimately make you colder.
  • Get 4-season sleeping bagsIf you are not sure what to look for in a winter sleeping bag, and not sure what all the temperature ratings mean, then read this guide.
    Just because a sleeping bag is rated for winter, it may still be cold if you are not used to it.  Bring a duvet from home to put over the top. You can also get thermal sleeping bag liners to increase the performance of your existing sleeping bag.
  • Insulate well under the sleeping bag as a lot of heat is lost through the ground.
    This is something a lot of people miss. Putting a blanket under you is the opposite of what most people expect, but camping is different to home. This simple step is by far one of the best ways to be warmer at night.
    You can also get insulated self-inflating mats that provide better protection from the cold ground than your standard air bed.
  • Get a tent carpet as these aren’t just luxury items, they do help keep your tent warm too (read why).
  • Put a hot water bottle in the sleeping bag before getting into bed.  Sleeping bags are designed to keep the body warm. They don’t warm up all by themselves. Prime the bag with a hot water bottle.
  • Get some hand warmers. They’re useful for cold feet too!
  • Eat plenty of food, preferably warm food.  Sounds obvious, but it is important to remember your body needs more calories when it is colder.  Having a snack before bed can help you keep warm through the night.

Waking up to a cold tent is no fun.  If possible, try to stay in your sleeping bag as long as possible.

In an ideal world, cook breakfast, get some warm food in you, a warm cup of coffee or tea (an insulated mug is a must), and then get dressed (having warmed socks first – stuff them in your sleeping bag if you have nowhere to warm them).

This is not always practical, though.

I do try to get up first in the morning, get the fire going, get the kettle on, and so there’s some warmth for the rest of my family when they emerge from their bags.  It does mean that I don’t get to stay in my bag for long… but that’s being a parent 😉

I tend to have my clothes handy (but protected if it’s going to freeze), get dressed, get out the tent, and exercise quickly to get warmed up.  It works for the marines and it works for me. 😉

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Gav Grayston
Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.
Gav Grayston

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