Car camping in cold weather is doable but doesn’t come without additional gear and preparation. You can prepare your sleeping space and body for winter car camping in many ways. These 12 winter car camping tips should help you to stay warm, cozy, and safe while camping in cold weather.
1. Add Insulation
Increase the insulation of your sleeping situation. This will look different for campers sleeping in a tent versus sleeping in a car.
If you’re car camping in cold weather and tenting, you can add ground insulation, a wind break, and/or line the tent with insulating fabrics.
- Adding ground insulation might look like stacking multiple sleeping pads or putting foam mats below your sleep system.
- If it is a windy night, create a wind break with a tarp to lessen the chill.
- Insulate your tent with reflective foam to prevent heat loss during winter.
Car camping in cold weather and sleeping in your car can be much warmer than tenting. Add reflectix wrap to windows, sleep on multiple layers, and create a heat barrier.
- Cars lose most of their heat through their windows so add reflectix wrap to windows before bed to lessen heat loss.
- Sleep on multiple layers! If you don’t have to move anything from your car, why not go all out in your sleeping arrangements?
- Create a heat barrier between the front seat and your sleeping quarters. Make the area you’re sleeping in smaller to keep it warmer.
2. Utilize A Sleeping Pad
No matter where you’re sleeping, you need a sleeping pad. Sleeping pads not only provide comfort through cushioning, but they also insulate which provides warmth.
All sleeping pads have an r-value. R-value measures an object’s ability to resist heat flow. Sleeping pads are generally rated 1-7, while thicker, less portable mats can reach double digits. The higher the R-value, the warmer your sleeping pad will keep you.
The warmest sleeping pad styles are self-inflating. This is because they include foam and air chambers. For added warmth, stack your sleeping pads. Many seasoned campers will lay an ultralight closed-cell foam pad under their self-inflating or inflatable pads to improve warmth when cold weather camping.
When car camping, you don’t really have to worry about how heavy your equipment is. Use this to your advantage when car camping in cold weather and bring a thick insulated sleeping pad.
3. Build Warm Bedding
When car camping in cold weather it’s best to build warm bedding. Bedding can include a sleeping bag, a sleeping bag liner, and an extra blanket.
You’ll want to invest in a 3-season sleeping bag at the very least. These sleeping bags are rated for 32 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Sleeping bags are rated for 20 degrees Fahrenheit and lower in cold weather or winter. We suggest investing in a cold-weather bag to car camp in the winter.
Add a sleeping bag liner to your setup for additional warmth. Mummy-style liners are designed to be used inside your sleeping bag while rectangular liners can be used inside your rectangular sleeping bag or on their own.
Sleeping bag liners come in a variety of fabrics. Silk liners are great because they help insulate in cold weather and help to absorb moisture while remaining breathable in cold weather. If you’re looking for additional warmth, fleece, and microfleece liners can add up to 12 degrees. They’re also soft, moisture wickings, quick drying, and come at an economical price. The warmest option is insulated and adds up to 25 degrees of warmth but is significantly more expensive.
Bringing extra blankets is easy when you’re car camping in cold weather. Add a thick wool blanket under your sleeping pad and a cozy fleece or puffy blanket over your sleeping bag. The more blankets, the cozier you can expect to be.
4. Heat Bedding Before Sleep
Place your bedding in front of a vent for a few minutes before going to bed. This means you’ll climb into a toasty warm sleeping bag! Although the warmth won’t last forever, it’ll make it easy to fall asleep and help trap that body heat from the start.
There’s nothing worse than climbing into a cold bed when it’s freezing out! At the very least, store your bedding where it will stay warmest.
5. Pick Pajamas Prudently
Your baselayers are some of the best pajamas for car camping in cold weather! Wool baselayers for skiing, snowboarding, and/or hiking are designed to keep you warm even if they get wet.
We recommend adding a fleece layer to your baselayers if it’s exceptionally cold. Fleece’s raised fabric traps body heat between the fibers and blocks out the cold air from the outside. This insulation helps keep you warm and toasty when car camping in freezing temperatures.
Wearing loose-fitting wool socks is recommended to keep your feet and toes warm. Anything too tight can cut off the circulation to your feet.
If you are someone whose toes get incredibly cold, invest in heated socks. These battery-powered socks can be a total game-changer! Be sure to purchase a pair where you can adjust the temperature.
6. Cover Your Head
Your head is one of the most sensitive parts of your body when it comes to temperature change. Because of this, it’s recommended that you cover your head when car camping in cold weather to keep heat.
There are multiple ways to cover your head while you’re sleeping. A simple beanie will do the trick, but if you’re also looking to cover your face, there are a few options.
- Neck Gaiter
- Ski Hood
Wearing any hooded top backward will also do the trick if you’re looking for a lightweight, low-cost fix! Covering your face with a blanket will work, but tossing and turning in your sleep might expose your face.
7. Warm Drink Before Bed
Warm yourself up from the inside out with a warm drink before bed. Whether looking for something sweet like hot cocoa, enjoying a bedtime tea, or simply consuming hot water for warmth, this is an excellent strategy for feeling cozy in your sleeping bag.
Additionally, bringing a hot Nalgene bottle into your sleeping bag with you can be more helpful long term. Fill a Nalgene with hot water, seal the lid up tight, and put it near your core region. This will help warm the blood that circulates into your legs and feet.
Please use caution when handling hot water. Misuse or misjudgment could ruin your experience of car camping in cold weather.
8. Invest in Heated Gear
Purchase heated gear, such as tent heaters, vests, and socks to help keep your core and toes warm while you sleep.
Heated technology can be a fantastic addition to your winter accessories. It is well-known that heated socks are a great way to keep your lower extremities warm in chilly weather. You can also warm your hands and core with heated gloves and coats.
Bring single-use air-activated heat packs if the heated gear is out of the question! These heat packs come in different sizes, which allows you to effectively utilize them in places like your hands, feet, and core area. These are a great alternative to expensive, battery-operated heated gear.
Bring your heated gear to make car camping in cold weather an extra cozy experience. Pairing battery-operated heated gear with the other excellent tips provided should make for an incredible winter camping adventure.
9. Electronics Storage
Cold temperatures are known to drain battery power fast. It’s best to keep electronics warm when camping in cold weather.
You can do this by placing your electronics, such as headlamps and cell phones, at the foot of your sleeping bag, under your pillow, or in your stash pocket. Many sleeping bags have a stash pocket. If yours does, this is the best place to store those items so they are easily accessible, warm, and not get tangled up in your sleeping arrangements.
At the very least, store your electronics in warm fabric, such as an extra sock or hat.
10. Eat Enough Calories
Your body is an amazing machine. You shiver when you’re cold so muscle contractions can produce heat. This means we burn more calories when cold to generate heat.
It’s important to eat calorie-dense foods while car camping in cold weather. This will help your body function at its best, thus keeping your body temperature up.
11. Sleep With Tomorrow’s Clothes
Crawling out of your warm sleeping bag in the morning is difficult enough. Don’t make it more difficult by having to put on ice-cold clothes.
Tuck tomorrow’s clothes into your sleeping space. You can even tuck these clothing items between some of your sleeping layers to make sure they’re as warm as your body temperature when it’s time to put them on in the morning.
When you wake up, try changing your clothes while remaining cozy in your sleeping bag. It may take some creativity, but you’ll wind up warmer in the long run.
12. Don’t Hold It
If you have to use the restroom, get up and go.
A full bladder often leads to heat loss. Your body needs to expend energy to keep the liquid, your urine.
There are tricks to urinating without having to leave the tent, thus, helping you stay warmer. Pee into a designated empty water bottle or gallon ziplock bag. A pee funnel can be used for anyone who thinks that might make it an easier process.
If you release urine inside your tent, please store it in your tent vestibule area just in case your storage container isn’t sealed as well as you thought.
Car Camping in Cold Weather: Is it Safe?
Car camping in cold weather is safe if you’re adequately prepared! Great gear can go a long way in keeping you comfortable while spending the night camping in the winter.
Every camper is different. What is cold to some may be more tolerable to others.
It’s essential that you prepare for car camping in cold weather appropriately. Consider the environment you’re camping in, the temperature, and what gear you will have to provide warmth.
The following suggestions are simply suggestions. Proceed with caution when car camping in the winter and be sure to use all of the tips we’ve provided in this article.
If the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s considered too cold for tent camping unless you have specialized winter camping equipment. A 4-season tent, sleeping bag rates for 10 degrees colder than the temperature, a sleeping pad with an r-value of 4 or more, and proper layers are necessary.
Regular cars and SUVs used as daily drivers and not converted into long-term sleeping spaces can still be slept in. Unlike a van with proper insulation, a car or SUV will lose heat at a similar rate as a tent. With the proper gear and considerations, listed above, you can comfortably sleep in your car or SUV at 15 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
A well-insulated van without a heater can be comfortable down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit if you have a mattress with good r-value and a down sleeping bag/comforter. If you add another person and thus additional body heat, you can find comfort at -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Is A Car Better Than A Tent When Winter Camping?
A car will better protect you from wind and snow, but it can get as cold as a tent. Adding synthetic insulation to a car is more manageable, providing more warmth while sleeping. You are also less likely to get wet while sleeping inside your car versus a tent.