Camping in the winter doesn’t always have to be bitter cold. With the proper techniques and materials, you can make the perfect tent floor insulation to stay warm on even the coldest nights.
Successful tent floor insulation depends on the following:
- Insulative base material either inside or outside the tent.
- Avoiding moisture buildup from proper location selection or otherwise
- Ensuring adequate insulation coverage
Insulating the ground beneath your tent isn’t too difficult, but there are some things that every camper should keep in mind when insulating.
Besides the typical foam and blankets, there are several other possible materials to use for your tent floor insulation. If you want to avoid being cold when camping in the winter, read on to learn the best tips, tricks, and what not to do when insulating the floor of your tent.
- 1 The Best Way To Insulate Your Tent Floor While Winter Camping
- 2 What Materials To Use As Insulation For Your Tent Floor
- 3 Alternative Methods To Insulate Your Tent Floor
- 4 What Not To Do When Insulating Your Tent Floor
- 5 Why Insulate Your Tent Floor?
The Best Way To Insulate Your Tent Floor While Winter Camping
Most campers just accept that the tent floor is going to be cold and that there’s little that can be done about it. However, there are plenty of ways to insulate the bottom of your tent so that you don’t have to rely on only your sleeping pad to stay warm during winter or otherwise cold camping.
Below you will find a step-by-step guide on how to insulate your tent floor plus the common materials used and more important information to consider when insulating the floor of your tent.
Step 1: Choose Your Material
When it comes to choosing the material to insulate your tent floor, there are several options to choose from. While some campers swear by foam pads and blankets, others have used Reflectix or emergency blankets. Regardless of your budget and camping style, there are plenty of materials that will fit your needs.
I go into a ton of detail on different insulation materials as well as their average prices later on in this post. Click here to jump to it quickly.
Step 2: Find A Dry Location
Once you’ve selected your materials, it’s time to find the perfect location to pitch your tent. First, find a spot that has some sort of cover from the wind, like some tall trees or a small hill perhaps. If you do expect some high winds, it may be best to find a spot that has trees so that you can put up a tarp for extra protection.
Safety note: When camping near trees, it’s very important to look out for “widow makers” or dead branches that are likely to fall (especially during high winds). If you want to find out how common widow makers are I put some of that information in my post here about some of the little-known dangers of camping.
After you’ve found the perfect location, make sure the ground is dry. If you set up your tent on the wet ground, not only will your supplies get soaked, but your tent will likely be wet for the rest of your trip.
If you don’t have the luxury of finding a dry place for your tent, don’t fret. To prevent your tent bottom from getting wet, you can simply place a tarp, blanket, mat, or rug underneath your tent.
Remember also that you can relocate dry leaves to go under your tent to help your tent stay dry.
Step 3: Lay Down A Tarp
Placing a tarp underneath your tent is an important step to both staying dry and trapping warm air inside your tent. If you expect rain or snow, however, make sure that the tarp only covers the foot print of your tent, otherwise you risk having snow or rain catch on the exposed tarp and make its way into your tent.
You can find more information regarding when and how to use a tarp under your tent here.
Step 4: Cover Your Tent Floor
After you’ve found the perfect spot to pitch your tent and have put down your tarp, it’s time to start insulating the floor of your tent. This is pretty straightforward, just cover the floor with the mats, rugs, blankets, foam, or other material you decided to use.
If you aren’t planning on completely insulating your tent for winter, then cover at least 5 inches up your tent wall. A lot of cold air is able to come in through the sides of your tent, so this step is very important. After all, if you spend all this time and energy insulating the floor, you wouldn’t want the cold air to seep in through the sides.
Step 5: Double Up On Materials
It never hurts to have a couple extra layers. If you laid down a foam pad or an air mattress, then go ahead and put down some extra blankets underneath your sleeping bag or pad. Not only are you adding an extra barrier against the cold, but the extra layers make your stay more comfortable.
Step 6: Insulate Yourself
Even with the best tent insulation, you need to make sure you have gear rated for winter camping. For the best insulation, you should look for a sleeping pad or sleeping bag with an R rating that is either equal to or greater than 4.0. Generally, you should be comfortable with gear that has an R value between 4.0 and 8.0.
Step 7: Other Tricks To Stay Warm
Good insulation is just the beginning to staying warm when winter camping. Here are some other items and tricks you can use to stay warm when camping in the cold:
- Hand and foot warmers (these hand warmers from Amazon are pretty popular)
- Warm drinks
- Hot water bottles
- Eat and drink (yes, eating more calories helps you stay warmer!)
- Empty your bladder (your body expends too much energy keeping your pee warm, so go when nature calls.)
If you want to try something a little more modern, try using a catalytic heater for inside your tent. There are some safety concerns with using a heater in your tent so make sure and read that article to find out which type of heater is safest as well as other tips on how you can stay.
Now that you’re armed with great insulation and the proper gear, you’re ready to get out and go winter camping.
What Materials To Use As Insulation For Your Tent Floor
According to many members of the camping community, reflective insulation, blankets, and foam pads seem to be some of the best materials for tent floor insulation.
Foam tiles, also known as interlocking floor mats, may be one of the most popular choices for tent floor insulation. While they may be bulky, many campers have reported that these work well for floor insulation. You can use the same colorful, puzzle-like tiles that kids use in their playrooms, or you can repurpose the foam tiles used in that home gym you never got around to using.
Because the foam tiles are flat and not very malleable, you may have to double up on materials to cover up the walls of your tent. However, this can easily be done with an extra blanket.
If you don’t already have foam tiles, then you can pick up a pack of them for about $15 to $30 from Home Depot, Lowes, or Walmart. When choosing your foam tiles, make sure to measure out the floor of your tent because odds are, you won’t need very many of these, and you may end up having to cut a few to size.
Wool or Moving Blankets
Blankets are a tried and true way to insulate the bottom of your tent. If you plan on driving to your campsite and have the luxury of space, then you should be fine with packing some old comforters and blankets. On the other hand, if you’re backpacking and space is something you’re lacking, then there are some lightweight options available at Amazon that are designed to pack down into your backpack.
You can find a wide variety of camping blankets at REI, but many of these blankets can be well over $100. Alternatively, you can find camping and moving blankets for rather cheap prices at Harbor Freight or Amazon. These blankets usually cost around $30 or less, so they’re a good option for a camper on a budget.
Some campers have used Reflectix or some other form of reflective foam to insulate the bottom of their tent.
While other forms of insulation attempt to keep the cold out, reflective material reflects your body heat back at you. This method keeps you comfortable without losing all of your body heat.
A roll of Reflectix usually costs about about $0.40 to $0.50 per square foot depending on how much you buy. Home Depot sells Reflectix in several different sizes, but because you probably won’t need 100 feet, you can likely get away with purchasing 25 feet for between $17 and $40.
The price differs because the rolls have different widths that typically vary from 16 inches to 48 inches. When you’re choosing your roll, just make sure to measure your tent to figure out how much you’ll need.
NASA astronauts and paramedics aren’t the only ones who can make use of emergency blankets. These reflective blankets will serve a similar purpose as Reflectix, but are smaller and more compact, so they may be better suited for campers who need to travel light.
Emergency blankets are up to 90% heat reflective, protect you from the wind, and are resistant to water. Additionally, emergency blankets double as life-saving gear and can be used in survival situations as blankets, shelter, and even in your shoes to prevent your toes from freezing.
Emergency blankets don’t provide insulation per se, but they reflect radiant heat escaping from our bodies.
You can find options for emergency blankets for between $10 and $40 on Amazon, and for as little as $5 at REI. Most of these even come in packs of multiples, so your $10 very well might get you 10 blankets.
Alternative Methods To Insulate Your Tent Floor
While the above steps are some of the most commonly used methods for insulating your tent floor, there are some different, potentially cheaper, options for tent floor insulation.
For an inexpensive way to insulate your tent floor and to add a more natural sleeping cushion, use dead leaves as floor insulation. While this technique may be more challenging in the winter due to the likelihood of snow, using dead leaves is the cheapest way to insulate your tent floor.
The trick is to use dry leaves because wet leaves will introduce moisture to the bottom of your tent, which is something you definitely want to avoid. Dry leaves will ensure that your tent bottom stays nice and dry too.
Using dead leaves is a simple insulation technique that keeps you warm because of the dead air space between them (similar to the idea that puffy sleeping bags use the air space for insulation). However, campers should make sure to replace the leaves each night because crushed leaves lose their insulated properties.
While straw may not be the first material that comes to mind when thinking about solutions to tent floor insulation, some campers have used this odd strategy successfully.
If you’re lucky enough to be camping in a location that has access to a bunch of dead grass, then go ahead and use it the same way you would use the dead leaves. However, you probably won’t come by straw naturally, and it may be difficult to find if you’re camping in a place with a lot of snow.
You may be able to bring your own straw camping, but it will likely be difficult to transport the amount you’ll need to insulate the ground under your tent. If you do end up using the straw technique, place the dry straw around and under your tent and enjoy a naturally cushion sleep.
Additionally, straw is pokey, so make sure and cover the straw with a tarp so you don’t poke holes into your tent floor.
You can buy a bale of straw at your local Home Depot or Lowes for between $7 and $20, but it may not be available all year round.
What do you do if you have cold concrete floors in your basement? You add a rug! If you have some old rugs taking up space in your garage or storage, you may have just found a great way to repurpose them. Campers have used rugs both underneath the tent and inside the tent, so your rug should have a purpose regardless of the size.
Rugs make decent insulation because they trap cold air underneath them and prevent cold air from coming through the bottom of your tent. If you don’t have some old rugs you can repurpose, then you can pick up an inexpensive one for around $20 from Walmart or Home Depot.
What Not To Do When Insulating Your Tent Floor
Insulating your tent floor is not as difficult as it first may have seemed, but there are some key things to keep in mind when preparing for a night of winter camping.
Don’t Rely Solely On Your Tent Floor Insulation
Even though solid tent floor insulation will keep the bitter cold at bay, it shouldn’t be your sole source of warmth. Quality sleeping and quality camping gear that’s designed for cold weather can only increase your chances of being comfortable and warm on a cold winter’s night.
Instead, Make Sure To Bundle Up In Layers
You will want to wear the proper layers, starting with a moisture wicking base layer. When you sweat, the water evaporates off your skin which causes you to lose body heat. Additionally, sweating will also cause your body to cool down, leaving you cold and shivering all night long. With the proper base layer or thermal underwear, this issue can be avoided.
7 years ago I bought my favorite thermals that I’ve had and I use them for cold-weather outdoors stuff to this day.
The middle layer is meant to be your insulating layer and the one that keeps you warm. Because your main goal with the middle layer is to retain heat, you can choose a heavier middle layer or a puffy jacket.
The role of the outer layer is to protect your body from the elements, i.e., the wind, snow, sleet, and rain. Because it’s your first line of defense, you’ll want an outer layer that’s waterproof and wind resistant.
While sleeping, it’s a balance of finding the right amount of clothing to wear while sleeping to avoid sweating but still staying warm. If you are interested in learning how to strike this balance, check out our article about avoiding sweaty sleeping bag syndrome (SSBS).
Instead, Make Sure To Shelter From The Wind
If you’re camping in a place that is likely to experience high winds, you’ll want to find a way to get out of the wind. Generally, you want to avoid any large open areas, such as fields or other open spaces. If you can find cover by setting up camp near trees or hills, that should also help you avoid the wind. For further protection, you can hang tarps from tress or from your car by using paracord or rope.
If you’re stuck in open spaces with little cover, there are plenty of ways to build your own wind shelter. Camping in the winter does have its benefits, like an unlimited amount of snow to build a windbreak. There’s a reason that igloos came into existence, they’re very good at blocking the wind.
So, if you need to build your own wind shelter, build a wall from the snow and let nature protect you from itself!
Don’t Pack Too Heavy
How much insulation you can bring really depends on the nature of your trip. If you’re travelling by car and will be walking distance from your campsite, you’ll have a lot more freedom to pack as much tent insulation as you’d like.
However, if space and weight are not on your side, then you’ll have to be careful with how much tent floor insulation you plan to pack. You won’t want something as heavy and bulky as foam pads or large blankets, so you will probably have to stick to other options, such as emergency blankets or lightweight blankets.
Avoid Cots Or Raised Beds
While using camping cots is somewhat of a controversy when it comes to winter camping, using a raised bed without proper insulation almost guarantees a cold night.
Cots can be cold in the winter because of the extra space between the cot and the floor. This extra space allows cold air to blow beneath your cot, which steals your heats and makes for a chilly night.
However, there are ways to insulate your cot for winter camping, and many of the tricks include adding floor insulation. So, with careful preparation you can be completely comfortable on a cot.
Check out our post here about making cot camping warm during cold weather for more information.
On the other hand, you can simply avoid the potential cold by using your sleeping pad and sleeping bag in place of a cot.
Why Insulate Your Tent Floor?
Figuring out how to stay warm when winter camping is one of the most important obstacles to overcome. While some campers just accept that they’re going to be cold, others refuse to believe that there’s nothing that can be done to stay warm in the winter.
Insulating your tent floor is key to staying warm on the coldest winter nights. Without proper ground insulation, you’ll lose a lot of body heat through the bottom of your tent. When your body has no protection against the cold ground, heat is lost through the process of conduction. Basically, whenever your body comes into contact with a colder surface, conduction sucks your heat away.
When you have good ground insulation, you create a protective barrier between your body and the ground. So in order to prevent any heat loss via conduction, the best thing you can do is to install proper ground insulation on the bottom of your tent.