photo by Tommy Lisbin

Car camping allows us to soak in nature without spending a fortune yet offers storage for gears and the ability to travel a great distance if necessary. Sometimes, you may encounter chilly, rainy or windy conditions even the weather forecast indicates otherwise. Without proper planning, gear and shelter, you are likely to have an underwhelming camping experience. If you plan to camp out in a region where the nighttime temperature is cold, even during the summer months, then this article is written just for you. We will show you what to look for when buying a tent and practical ways to stay warm inside your tent during cold nights.

How Low Will It Go?

The table below shows the largest day and night temperature differences in various Canadian cities in July: 

As you can see, daytime and nighttime temperature difference in July could be as much as 14°C. In Alberta for instance, the lowest average daily temperature almost drops down to single digit. The thin material that most tents are made of nowadays (nylon and polyester) does not hold heat very well. Therefore, using the wrong tent or camping gear could result in “Frost-rated” sleeps (freezing your bottom off is simply not a fun way to be camping).

Nylon Tent or Canvas Tent?

Nylon tents are sold everywhere because they are affordable, relatively durable, light weight and water repellent. Canvas is the other tent material that is available. In fact, it is our preferred material for an extended outing in cold weather. Canvas is a good insulator thus retaining a good amount of heat inside the tent. However, canvas tents are always more expensive when compared to regular nylon/polyester tents. A canvas tent is an investment. It can work quite well for campers who camp often in cold weather for extended periods. If you can afford it and don’t mind the heft and size, canvas tents can provide a more comfortable sleeping/activity quarter. Also, it could last a very long time if properly maintained.

How to Stay Warm Inside a Nylon Tent

If you are on a tight budget or not ready to invest in a canvas tent yet, we will show you what to look for when buying a nylon tent. Plus, a few practical tips to stay more comfortable inside a nylon tent during very cold nights.

  • Choose a double-wall tent or look for a 4-season tent. Many tents come with partial rain flies for better airflow to prevent condensation. However, the bottom half of the tent is exposed to the cold air and wind. To retain more heat inside the tent, the rain fly must cover the tent completely. Condensation is the primary issue with such tents but at least you have more control over ventilation.
  • Less space in a tent means less cold air to move around inside the tent. Therefore, smaller tents are warmer tents.
  • Place a tarp underneath the tent floor to keep moisture out.
  • Bring sleeping bags which are rated for lower temperatures than what’s forecasted at the campsite.
  • For an air mattress, place cardboard underneath it and closed-cell foam mat on top of it.
  • For a cot, place closed-cell foam mat on top of it.
  • If sleeping on the floor, place a sleeping pad (air pad; self-inflating pad; closed-cell foam mat) on the tent floor.
  • Don’t sleep against the tent wall because water droplets will form on tent’s inside wall due to condensation and you may get wet.
  • Bring a small rag to wipe off tent wall water droplets and dry the rag during the day if weather permits.
  • Wear thick socks, balaclava, or scarp/toques to sleep: it may feel ridiculous to bring such items during the summer months but they become priceless when the temperature dips drastically at night.
  • Cold weather makes you hungry. Hunger makes you feel cold. So going to sleep hungry especially during cold nights will result in a very poor sleep. Poor sleep prevents you from thoroughly enjoying next day’s activities.
  • Staying dry is the name of the game while camping. So triple-check the weather forecast and make sure you bring raingear (no matter what the forecast says); extra sets of socks, clothing and shoes just in case.
  • Check out this camping checklist so you are fully prepared.

The Bottom Line

Under cool weather conditions, staying warm and comfortable at night is the most basic ingredient to a good camping trip. Even a single night of poor sleep due to lack of warmth will have a negative impact on you both mentally and physically. You certainly don’t want your camping trip to be memorable for the wrong reasons. Therefore, preparing the right camping gear and extra clothing for the weather condition and following our tips above would certainly lead to a better camping experience.

If you need some camping gear ideas for staying warm, below are products which are mentioned in this article with decent reviews. Note: check our list of campgrounds with showers near you.

How many camping trips do you take per year?