in Camping / by Nick Jaynes
Going winter camping? Here’s how to stay warm while camping in winter so you’re better prepared to face the elements.
If you have never been camping in the winter, you are missing out on one of the greatest experiences available to campers. The cool, crisp air invigorates, while the lack of haze provides unparalleled views in the early morning hours. With fewer campers braving the elements, you get your pick of camping locations — plus all the privacy you could want.
The key to successful winter camping relies on keeping warm at night while you sleep. To help you maximize your wilderness time, here are four top tips and gear choices to keep you warm and toasty inside your Roofnest.
There are two main ways to keep yourself safe and warm in cold weather– passive heat retention and active heat management.
Passive Heat Retention
This is the most basic way of staying warm. Essentially, we are talking about self-insulation. Things like putting on a coat or wrapping up in a blanket. The focus here is to do everything we can to retain the heat we already have.
Since all Roofnest rooftop tents come with good mattresses, we don’t need to worry as much about insulating from the bottom, so let’s start with your bedding. A good sleeping bag will do wonders to keep you warm at night. Make sure you are using the proper bedding for your expected weather, and make sure you pay attention to temperature ratings. If you find a sleeping bag that is advertised with one number like 30 degrees, that is not a comfort number. That is a survivability rating.
That means that if you are wrapped up in that in 30-degree weather, you won’t die, but you certainly won’t be warm and comfortable either. Make sure you get something rated for at least 15 degrees colder than your camping weather.
If you prefer a more traditional blanket sleeping experience instead of a sleeping bag, just make sure to choose your material to match your predicted weather and environment. Blankets like the Roofnest Down Blanket are lightweight, easy to pack, and retain tons of heat. Just make sure you keep it dry, as all down products lose their insulating properties if they get wet. If you plan on spending a lot of time in really wet environments, consider keeping a backup blanket made of wool.
Cover The Hot Spots
The human body loses most of its heat through your head, hands, and feet. If you are having trouble keeping warm in cold weather while you sleep, consider wearing gloves, thick socks, and a beanie at night. For extra heat retention, make sure you keep that hat pulled down over your ears.
This is a small balancing act though. The more heat you keep inside your body, the less your body is heating your rooftop tent. This brings us to our next tip.
More People Means More Warmth
The reason you get cold is simple physics and thermodynamics. The air in your tent is colder than your body, so your body radiates heat and cools off. If you can radiate enough heat to warm the air around you, the process equalizes, and you will stay warm. The more people you have in a small space the warmer that space will stay. Camping with another person can drastically increase temperature and comfort inside your tent, so bring your best friend with you. And don’t forget about your pets.
Camp With Your Dog
The human body is about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Man’s best friend on the other hand runs a bit warmer with average temps around 101 degrees. A lot of Roofnest rooftop tents can comfortably fit two people with plenty of extra room for a dog or two. And that warmer body temperature means even more radiant heat for your tent.
If you plan on using your four-legged friend as a space heater, some breeds work much better than others. Cold weather critters like Huskies seem like a good choice, but their thick coat is built to hold body heat. That means less heat escapes into your tent. Shorter hair breeds like beagles or working dogs like Australian Shepherds will warm the tent better. But don’t rely on your furry friend as your sole source of heat; it’s not a safe, reliable solution for you or your pet.
Insulate Your Tent
Our final tip for stayinge warm in the winter is to add insulation to the tent. For all you fine folks out there using a Roofnest Sparrow, there is an available insulation kit that covers every wall, the ceiling, and the floor of the tent, completely encapsulating you to keep in as much warm air as possible. These kits are available for all models of the Sparrow including XL and Adventure variants.
Not everyone wants to wrap up in a hundred layers and cuddle with four dogs to stay warm in the winter, so what about our options to actively heat your roof top tent?
Compact Propane or Butane Heater
We are including these heaters in this list because they are ubiquitous and people want to know about them. But let’s be clear: We don’t think these are safe enough to use inside your tent to keep you warm at night.
A popular choice for the overlanding folks is a compact propane heater like a Mr. Buddy. These use small 1-pound propane tanks like a camping stove and provide radiant heat. These can be an effective way to keep you warm, but they are less effective at managing the air temp in larger spaces. The radiant nature means all the heat is concentrated right in front of the heater, making a hot spot in your tent instead of warming the whole interior.
While these are useful at the campsite, we aren’t huge fans of using them for sleeping. First, there is the fire danger issue. Anything that produces heat is a risk for fire, and sleeping with a major heat source inside of your tent is dangerous — no way around that.
Secondly, with any heater that burns fuel, there is a risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
So although some people will roll the dice with a propane or butane heater in their roof top tent, we can’t safely advocate for it.
If you want the heat output of a real heater, but want something a bit safer than a propane heater burning away inside your tent, there are lots of great diesel heater options. These have been popular with RV campers for a long time. In recent years, they have really caught on with the overlanding crowd.
Basically, a small diesel heater is mounted outside of your tent. As diesel fuel is burned, it heats up an exchanger. A powered fan blows air across that exchanger to heat it, and it gets pumped into your tent through some flexible ductwork. For all intents and purposes, it is a miniature version of the central heating system on most homes.
Because the fuel burning happens entirely outside your tent, the risk of carbon monoxide is drastically reduced, and the heat exchanger process means the air coming into your tent is hot and dry so there is almost no way the inside of your Roofnest will build up any kind of condensation.
Diesel heaters are not without their flaws or considerations. You are running a small diesel engine and a blower, that means some amount of noise. If you are the kind of person who sleeps with a fan on, you’ll probably love it, but for those who prefer silence it is something to consider.
Secondly, that blower fan requires power, so make sure you are using external battery backups so you don’t risk stranding yourself by draining the battery on your vehicle.
Lastly, diesel heaters are expensive. We’re talking $1,000 or more. Does this make it a no-go? Certainly not. But you’d want to know you’re definitely going to use it often and for a long time, like you will your Roofnest, before you invest in a diesel heater.
If all you need is a little bit of extra warmth to make it through the night, consider a heater blanket. You can find these in all manner of sizes and heat ratings, and they have options that run off standard 110-volt, 12-volt, or even battery-powered units.
If you have an external power supply like a large unit from Jackery, the 110v blankets provide the greatest amount of heat, but will eat through electricity. The battery powered units fall on the other end of the scale with the least amount of effective heat, but they are usually more compact and use much less electricity.
Whether you choose to cuddle your puppy, crank the thermostat on your diesel heater, or just wrap up in a few extra blankets, as long as you keep yourself warm, camping during the colder seasons will be a truly memorable experience. Now get out there in that wilderness and use your Roofnest rooftop tent to its fullest.
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