How to stay warm when winter camping

Camping in winter has its benefits: fewer bugs, cosy campfires and more opportunities to sleep in. Here’s nine tips to help you stay warm when the temperature drops overnight.

Eat a lot

Meals that are higher in fat will help keep you warmer for longer, so take this opportunity to enjoy some mac and cheese, bangers and mash, or hot chocolate around the camp fire.

Use a hot water bottle

For a little camping ‘luxury’, pack a kettle and gas burner so you can pop a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag. Especially good for cold feet, hands, or a good old fashioned spoon.

Make time to pee

So you don’t interrupt the confines of your warm cocoon, make sure you relieve yourself before zipping in for the night. But if you do need to go, it’s best to suck it up and make the journey – your body won’t have to work as hard to keep you warm.

Get changed before bed

It’s tempting to jump straight into your sleeping bag in your day clothes rather than risk exposure to the cold air. Sadly, it is better to get changed into clean, dry clothes. Any moisture (like sweat) will work to cool you down overnight.

Man sitting in his tent as the sun risesMan sitting in his tent as the sun rises
Wearing the right clothes in your sleeping bag will help keep you warm

Go to bed warm

If your cold self gets into a cold sleeping bag, it’s going to take a long time to warm up. Instead, do a couple of jumping jacks before you jump in your sleeping bag. Just make sure you don’t work up a literal sweat for the reasons above.

Bring proper bedding

This is going to be your main form of defence overnight, so invest in a proper 4 or 3 season sleeping bag. This will depend on where you are, so make sure you do a quick search on the average overnight temperature and weather conditions for the duration of your stay.

A down sleeping bag will offer excellent insulation, but if you're expecting damp conditions for a prolonged period of time, than a synthetic sleeping bag might be a better option. A silk or thermal sleeping bag liner can be beneficial too.

Keep your sleeping bag dry and lofty

  • Make sure you store your sleeping bag in its stuff sac on the way to camp
  • If it's down, lay it out and let it loft in your tent while you set up. This will help keep you warm.
  • You should avoid completely covering your face in your sleeping bag: your breath will force moisture to accumulate inside. Winter sleeping bags often come with a hood, so it's a better idea to pull the drawstring in around your face so your breath moves away from the bag. Or, keep your head warm with a trusty beanie.
  • If you do sweat in it, make sure you air it out thoroughly the next day.

Get off the floor

It’s cold down there! A proper layer of insulation between you and the ground will always be warmer than nothing at all. It's important to bring a proper 4 season sleeping mat or a camping bed.

Warm your bones with a fire

If you're camping in a place where bonfires are allowed, utilise this source of warmth to heat your bones, cook up a hearty feed and boil some soothing tea.

Father and daughter starting a camping bonfireFather and daughter starting a camping bonfire
There's something special about sitting around a bonfire in the wild

Wear the right stuff to bed

Not enough layers and you’ll spend hours in discomfort. Too many and you’ll wake up drenched in sweat. Layering for winter sleeping can take some practice, but a good place to start is to wear thermals, a mid-layer, socks and a beanie.

For your base layer, opt for materials like merino wool. It’s a natural temperature regulator, so you’re less likely to sweat in these than polyester. If it's super cold, add another merino layer or a light fleece over the top. Stay away from cotton as it can absorb moisture.

Layering is personal, so how many layer will you wear will ultimately depend on how warm you run, how cold it is outside, and how good your sleeping bag is. One layer is often enough, but it's always good to be prepared.


Embrace winter camping with the right gear...