14 ways to keep warm when camping in the cold
There’s no doubt about it; many places in Australia have some pretty cool nights to be out camping. There are a variety of ways for keeping warm camping, and in this post, we are going to cover everything.
There are a few ways to ruin a camping trip, and being cold is high up on that list. No matter what the weather throws at you, it is possible to stay warm. People camp in the snow in normal tents all the time, and with the right gear its safe, a whole lot of fun and comfortable. You should be comfortable when camping, period.
How to stay warm camping?
The first, and most important part of staying warm is to wear suitable clothing. People live in much colder climates than Australia, and with the right clothing they are almost sorted right from the get go.
Wearing clothing that hugs your skin, and in layers is a great way to keep you warm, whether you are outside, in bed or just sitting around in a tent.
Socks and beanies make a massive difference; if you are getting just a tiny bit too cold, wear a pair of socks to bed, and I guarantee you’ll feel a massive difference. Hoodies on jumpers are a great alternative too, especially those that you can tighten around your face.
Thermals are the perfect first layer if its cold, and you just keep adding layer after layer if its still cold.
Pro tip – a cheap pair of ugg boots are one of the best things you’ll ever take camping. They are amazing to wear around when its cold!
Cracking camp fire
One of the best things about camping when its freezing is a camp fire. Load on the wood, pull up a chair and sit around into the wee hours of the night. A nice, controlled fire will keep you toasty warm until you call it a night and head for the bed.
You’d be surprised how much a nice big cup of tea or coffee will warm you up. Of course, balance it perfectly, so you don’t have to get out of bed when its freezing in the middle of the night to have a pee!
Pro tip – if you do need to pee, its better you get up and do it, as your body actually uses more energy trying to keep warm with a full bladder!
There’s nothing worse than shivering your way through a night out camping. Sleeping bags have come an awful long way, and are all rated to various temperatures. You can get sleeping bags rated to -12 degrees, and that’s more than enough to cover Australia. If you are still getting cold, consider more clothes!
If you are lucky enough to be using a Doona, consider a couple of blankets on top, as this makes a huge difference. If you want something economical and warm, the wool blankets are amazing for keeping the warmth in.
Stop the cold from coming up
One thing people don’t realise is that you can be made cold very easily from the ground, or the mattress you are lying on. If you’ve ever spent a night camping on freezing ground with an air mattress, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The ground is freezing, and that soon drops the temperature of the air in the mattress, and no matter how many blankets you have on, you’ll still feel cold.
To stop this, you need either a foam mattress, blanket between you and the mattress (or something between the mattress and the ground) or to be off the ground (like on a stretcher bed).
Even in a camper trailer, if the mattress has nothing under it and air is allowed to move freely (like most soft floors, you’ll feel cold air coming up. Remember to insulate underneath you as well, and you’ll feel much warmer.
Sharing body warmth
The ultimate way to keep warm is to snuggle up to your partner. If you are in the same sleeping bag (a double, or two zipped together), you have no choice but to be very close to each other, and this helps a lot. Of course, there are other ways of generating heat in bed too ;).
Hot water bottle
You don’t hear about hot water bottles much anymore, but they are still popular when camping in cold weather. Simply warm some water up, fill it and tuck it into your bed, and you are onto a winner!
Don’t go to bed cold
If you hop into bed already shivering, you are behind the 8 ball to start with. Make sure you are warm, at least in the core before going to bed. A quick walk is all you need.
Tents (and camper trailers) will always get colder than caravans, simply because of the lack of insulation you have around canvas compared to a caravan which has multiple layers with insulation in between. If your van is cold, there’s a good chance the insulation sucks.
I have compared our camper trailer in many different temperatures, and my folks Caravan is always at least 5 – 10 degrees cooler when its hot, and 5 – 10 degrees warmer when its cold (and that’s without any heating).
This is where having a tent with double walls, or a fly makes a big difference to the temperature inside.
The smaller the tent, the better
If you are sleeping in a tent, the smaller volume it is, the better. This is because the warmth from the bodies inside will warm a smaller tent up much faster than a giant one that holds a lot of air.
Onto some more elaborate plans, and we check out electric blankets. If you have a dual battery system, or a battery system in your camper trailer/caravan, there’s a chance you’ll be able to run an electric blanket. These are by far the most efficient way of staying warm using electricity.
You can run a small 12 to 240V inverter, and use normal 240V electric blankets, or purchase special 12V ones that will run straight off your battery supply. Of course, if you have a tiny battery, this might not work; check how much power these draw, and how big your battery is, and ensure you keep the battery above 50% charged if possible.
We’ve never gone down this path, although have considered it a few times.
Ovens and stoves
Anything that generates heat will help to warm up a closed space. If you have an RV, a camper trailer or a Caravan that has an oven or stove inside, it will generate heat.
However, a massive, massive step you need to take is to be aware of the levels of carbon monoxide. When you burn something, like you do on a gas stove or oven, it creates carbon monoxide, and this will kill you if it builds up. You can’t smell it, and if you are asleep and it builds up, you won’t wake up.
In order to prevent this from happening, you want to be smart about how you use your appliances. Don’t ever use a burner inside an enclosed location.
Ensure the vents work, and air flows through correctly. It’s a good idea to have a CO monitor that works too, which will go off much like a smoke detector does if it picks up high levels of CO. These are cheap as chips (seriously, like $20) and will save your life.
It is relatively common for people with caravans to run a stove for a few hours before going to bed, in order to heat the caravan up. Providing the vents work correctly, there’s no issue with doing this, but you need to understand the risk.
Gas and diesel heaters
Even more elaborate is the gas and diesel heater, which have been common in caravans for some time, and are quickly becoming very popular for camper trailers too. You can purchase one for $200 – $1500 and a lot of people install them themselves.
These use diesel or gas fuel to create heat, but the fuel and fume side is outside of the caravan or camper trailer, meaning you never have to worry about CO.
Diesel heaters are much more common than gas, and will keep your camper trailer or caravan nice and warm all night long for very little expense. They do make some noise, but its a small price to pay for comfort.
I’ll touch on this, briefly. Using electricity to heat air while camping is virtually impossible, unless you are plugged into mains power, or you have a huge battery bank and a reverse cycle aircon. Without being plugged into the mains, you’d need a very expensive battery setup to use electricity to heat air.
If you are plugged into mains, go for your life; you can even use a cheap fan electric heater, which works very well but just uses a huge amount of power.
There are caravans out there (with 12V lithium batteries, big solar banks and reverse cycle aircons) that can keep their vans at a constant temperature year round, without being plugged into mains. This is not common.
You shouldn’t be cold when camping
These days, there’s no reason for you to be cold when camping. There is a solution for every budget and style of setup out there, and you’ve got to find what suits you.
Last, but not least, the best way to stay warm when camping is to head where its warm! Instead of freezing down south in winter time, head way up north where its sunny and warm every day. For more information, check out How to get the best weather in WA.
Yep, you are completely correct; brain fart on my end!
Thanks for pointing that out
All the best
Hi Aaron. Always good to read your posts and unbiased opinions. Surely you meant Carbon Monoxide not Carbon Dioxide?
Cheers mate. Just a normal bloke, writing about the things we love to do, and trying to help others do the same.
thanks for all the great work you have on this site. Aaron, you are my new guru,
Very valid points. There’s a fine line between being comfortable when camping in the cold, and shivering your way through the night!
All the best
Lots of good ideas here – thanks.
I’d add this: don’t load up your doona or down bag with heavy layers on top as this compresses the fill and reduces the insulating effect.
I’m a fan of fleece blankets, or even better the velour type, to use on top of a doona or down bag as they’re lighter than wool, are cheaper to buy and easier to care for.
You’re right about insulating the head as it and the neck lose a lot of heat.