How To Insulate A Tent: Tent Insulation 101

How_To_Insulate_A_Tent_Tent_Insulation_101

There would be no need for tent insulation if we were living in a perfect world. Why do we say this? Well, to keep cold air inside when it’s warm and to keep the heat inside when it’s cold you need to insulate a tent properly. Now, this can sometimes be a tricky job, depending on the type of tent you own (whether it is a 3 or a 4 season tent). Still, it can be done without too much hassle if you know what you’re doing. 

If you’re asking yourself why companies don’t just build in insulation the answer is pretty clear – they need diversity to make money. Unfortunately, that’s how it is, but keep reading this article and you will find out exactly what you can do about it! 

Insulate Tent – How does it Work?

We will be discussing 3 seasons tents in this article a lot more than 4 season ones. The second one usually has built-in insulation, so focus on 2 and 3 season tents if you’re wondering how insulation works. 

The basic principle of tent insulation is pretty simple. You need to build a barrier between two materials to reduce the transfer of heat. Scientifically – you need to reduce conduction and radiant effects. This maybe won’t help you a lot so let’s see how you can insulate tent in real life. 

Let’s assume that you don’t have a tent heater with you when you go camping. This means that the heat of your body will be very useful when it comes to heating the camping tent. If you’re wondering how you can warm a tent with body heat the answer to this is also pretty simple. We emit the same energy as a 100 Watt light bulb in a day, meaning we can warm the tent the same way. 

Don’t let the previous paragraph to confuse you. There are only two areas you need to insulate in such a small enclosed space like a tent. If you achieve to insulate the floor and walls in the tent your body head will keep you warm. 

Insulation Materials 

The way atoms are packed at the molecular level will determine how good of insulator material is. In other words, dense material is better for heat transfer and vice versa. So, the air is the most common thing we use for tent insulation. 

Trapping as much air as possible inside and getting rid of most of the solid part of the material is what most companies try to do nowadays to secure the best possible insulation. Pane windows are a really good example of this. The air film gets trapped inside and almost all of the window’s insulation properties come from this. 

Another very important aspect you need to consider is how the heat will reflect on you. Check the market and look for a material that can both reflect the heat and create a barrier. For example, some types of foam are very good at this. Foam can trap even some gases that are less dense than air, which is why it is such a great insulator. Still, foam is good for insulating the floor of your tent; you can use a different material for walls. 

Tent Walls Insulation

Cold air will get in contact with the walls of your tent much more than with the floor. The thin layers of 3 season tents can make it possible for warm air to escape (since hot air always rises). In some cases, insulating the top part of the shelter can resolve this issue. So, if you don’t plan to spend a lot of money on insulation, getting a reflective foil only for the rooftop can help you to some degree. Still, the air will escape through walls and if you want to eliminate the possibility of freezing you should insulate the tent properly. 

There are two ways you can achieve proper insulation. Just bear in mind that every time you’re packing up you will have to take the insulation down. So, think about the number of materials you want to use for convenience. 

Insulating From the Inside 

Keep in mind that you need to insulate the tent every time you set it up if you decide to go with this method. The principles are simple; you will just be doing what anyone would do for house insulation. You need a material that you can stick to the walls of your tent, so find something flexible enough (air bubble reflective foil is among the best materials). 

Still, this method will probably annoy you a lot if you need to insulate a tent often if you’re moving locations every day. However, this is the best method for tent insulation and the most reliable one when it comes to reflecting the heat. Try the outside version of this if you need your winter camping tent to be ready for use in just a couple of minutes.

Outside Insulation 

Keeping the heat outside is as important in hot summer days as it is important to keep the heat inside when it’s cold. This method is best for keeping the heat outside of your summer tent, but it can also work in cold weather. 

If you stick the reflective foil to the outer layers it will still do what it is meant to do; reflect the heat. So, the heat coming from the sun won’t affect the inside of your tent, thus resulting in a cooler temperature inside. Just put the reflective foil to the walls and the top part of your shelter and your tent should stay cool for the rest of the day. 

If you’re wondering whether you can put the reflective side to face your shelter – in theory, you can. Still, we’re unsure if this is going to work and what results you’re going to get. The foil’s properties may be affected by the tent’s fabric so that might be a concern for you. 

Tent Floor Insulation

The floor of your tent is the area you have contact with when you’re in. This is also a spot you’re going to sleep in, so you want it to be warm and cozy. Here is a step by step guide how you can insulate the tent floor and get the most out of the insulation materials you use:

  1. Buy foam with an aluminum layer that will serve you as a reflective surface on both sides. The main goal is to reflect the cold air that is rising from the ground while reflecting the heat your body produces back to you. 
  2. You need to cover the walls with the material you’re using to cover the floor. Make sure it goes about 4-5 inches against the walls. Reducing cold air currents is crucial and this is where they will form. By doing this you will reduce them almost entirely. 
  3. Using a sleeping bag is fine, but don’t use a raised bed. Sleeping directly on the floor is also not the best idea, but just don’t raise the surface you’re sleeping on. We’ve mentioned above that air is the best insulator, but you also need to bear in mind that it is also a fluid. If it gets into motion under a raised bed you will start losing heat inside your tent. Use an air mattress if you’re able to get the best results. 
  4. Heating carpets are always a good idea. Experienced hikers know how long we were waiting for them, and now we finally can make it even easier for ourselves. Of course, you will need a power source to use it. But, if you are near one and you have reflective foam, you will have no problems staying warm. In some situations, you won’t even need to insulate the walls if you have a heating carpet with you. 
  5. Get dressed well. Nice thermal clothes are sometimes the best way to stay warm inside a cold winter sleeping bag

4 Seasons Tents

You might consider buying a four seasons tent if you are not the DIY kind of person. There are a few differences between these and 2 and 3 seasons tents. For example, four seasons tents usually come with built-in insulation so you don’t have to do it by yourself. 

Still, not all of them have this feature built-in so be careful when buying. When you go shopping for a tent check the images and search for the guideline. You should be able to notice whether there’s an insulation material via images. Just check the rooftop and the walls and make sure they have a thick insulating material. The noise reduction feature is also a big plus. 

If you’re ready to pay up a bit more you can have a thermally insulated tent with even more useful features. Some of them use breathable insulation materials providing even better air circulation through your shelter. Experienced campers know that one of the biggest problems with tents is the condensation. These materials can solve this problem and are always a great option for long-distance hiking

The Cost

Be ready to spend some money on a four-season tent if you’re not willing to make your insulation. You could end up paying up to $1,000, but you can be sure that you will have the best quality for the money you’re spending. If summer camping is not enough for you and you want to camp throughout the year, a four-season tent might be the best solution for you. Also, paying for a bit higher price means the product will most likely last longer. 

Natural Insulators 

If you don’t have a synthetic insulating material there’s always something you can find in nature that can help you. We often undervalue what nature has to offer until we find ourselves in a survival situation, and you want to be prepared for it. You can try this at your home to test how well the natural materials can keep your tent warm. 

So, what nature has to offer to help us with tent insulation? The first spot goes to dead leaves. You can find them almost anywhere in nature and they can help you a lot to insulate a tent. You can use them to cover your low profile tent completely with leaves or to form a raised bed under your tent to reduce heat loss. Still, you need to make sure that the leaves you use are not wet. Any moisture inside a tent is bad news and you want to do anything you can to avoid it. 

Back to dead leaves – they provide a “dead air” pocket between them, which is the real insulation value. But, the insulation properties will be reduced if you decide to sleep on them since they will get crushed under your weight. 

FAQ

How_do_you_insulate_a_tent_floor

Q: How do you insulate a tent floor?

A: 

There are many ways you can insulate tent floor. But, it is recommended to use a reflective foil and to cover at least 5 inches of walls. Keep in mind not to use a raised bed to reduce air circulation. Check the weather and dress accordingly. Consider using a heating carpet if you have power access near your shelter.  

Q: Does a tent keep you warm?

A: 

Yes, a tent can keep you warm. Your body heat will be enough if you have proper tent insulation. But, if you think it will be really cold don’t forget to bring your camping blanket. Some hikers recommend sleeping on a sleeping pad to prevent cold air from the ground to rise.  

Q: How do you winterize a tent?

A: 

Winterizing your tent may not be easy as it seems. You will need to use a material to cover the floor first. A tarp under the tent is also always a good idea. Insulate the walls with adequate material. Heating units are welcome if you have access to power. Make sure to create a windbreak. 

Q: How do you keep a tent warm without electricity?

A: 

The most important thing you need to do to keep your tent warm without electricity is to insulate it properly. In addition, you can use a portable gas heater, hot water bottles, and heated stones. Setting up your tent in a good spot is also crucial to preserve heat. 

Q: Does aluminum foil insulate cold?

A: 

Yes, aluminum foil can insulate cold. In fact, it is a much better insulator than cotton or paper. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to insulate tent on your own, having a piece of aluminum foil can be very helpful. There are also many other aluminum foil uses beneficial for camping. 

Q: How do you insulate a camping tent for winter?

A: 

There are a couple of things you want to do to insulate your tent the best you can. Start by the tent itself, bring the smallest one you have. Make sure you insulate the ground; walls if possible. Make windbreaks; bring your sleeping bag and heat packs if you have them. Use blankets and wear thermal clothes. 

Q: How do you stay warm when camping in a tent?

A: 

To stay warm even in the coldest nights make sure your tent is properly insulated. Wear clothes that will keep you warm and don’t go to bed cold. Sleep in a sleeping bag and use disposable heat packs if you have them. Down insulation is always a big plus, so it would be great if you can invest in it. 

Q: How cold is too cold to camp?

A: 

Inexperienced campers with amateur gear shouldn’t go camping if the nighttime temperature is about 30-40 degrees F. On the other hand, 50-70 degrees are the most comfortable camping temperatures. Still, these are just general considerations – there are many other factors that determine how cold is too cold. 

Globo Surf Overview

Tent insulation is one of the most important things you need to pay attention to when you decide to go camping, especially if you’re camping in a cold location. The good news is that you can insulate the whole tent on your own; you just need adequate materials you can buy before you go camping. Using a reflective foam and aluminum foil is always the best option if you’re going with the DIY way. 

On the other hand, you can buy a four-season tent with great insulation already built-in and solve all your problems. But, you will have to pay up a bit more if you decide to go with this option. This can be a good thing since these tents are usually of better quality and will last longer. Lastly, if none of the above are an option, using natural insulators such as dead leaves is the best you can do. Just make sure you don’t sleep directly on the ground and that your walls are insulated properly.

Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!