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How do I stay warm winter camping? Camping stoves/heaters?

Recently, I had the idea of going winter camping in Vermont and was wondering what equipment I should use to keep warm and maybe warm up some food. I have a few questions.

1. Is there a heater/stove that can be used inside of a tent with low carbon monoxide risk. 

2. Does anyone have experience or knowledge of camping in cold weather? Is there even a need to use heating equipment inside tents?

3. Last, is there something else I should be more concerned about? 

Thanks for your advice in advance!

17 Replies

In my experience, heaters inside tents don't work well. Back in the day, I would bring in a big flat rock, make a "bowl" out of aluminum foil, and fill it with coals from the fire. It helped if you were right on top of it, but tent walls don't keep the cold out. I would concentrate on my clothing layers, and sleeping insulation.

There is a thing call hot tenting where people set up stoves with tents but it require specialized equipment.  I have no experience with it but you can find information and vendors on line.

Otherwise,  generally for winter camping you need a 4 season tent, an appropriately rated sleeping bag  0 degrees or better...a good insulating pad R5 or better and appropriate clothing...layered and insulating. 

You can amend this with hot water bottles or similar to jump start the warmth in your sleeping bag but it is very dangerous to run any kind of heater/stove that burns fuel inside a regular type of tent.  Fire and carbon monoxide poisoning can result.

4 season tents are often really one season tents...only really appropriate for winter/snow and are often single walled with limited ventilation.  They are designed to support a snow load and exclude drafts.  In mild conditions you can get away with some 3 season tents... generally ones where the fly comes down to the ground and the inner mesh starts higher on the inner walls.


Any stove used for cooking in a tent should be well ventilated in order to avoid trouble with carbon monoxide.

As others have said, trying to heat even a four season tent is rather futile- absolutely no insulation.  It is more important to pay close attention to tent placement, staying out of cold air drainages, ideally choosing a spot that will get early morning sunlight.

Dress warmly in appropriate layers......


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Let me join the chorus in suggesting that tents and heaters do not go together. True, there are winter tents that can accommodate a stove (see Youtube for videos by the dozen), but these tents and stoves are really nothing that you would backpack into an area - Think very heavy and unwieldy. Additionally, you should be VERY careful when using a stove in a tent because Carbon-monoxide (CO) is a killer. I lost a Middle School friend and his father in a camping/CO accident. 

I love winter backpacking, especially in my area (Ozarks/Ouachita/Smokey Mountains) because the views are better, the ticks are gone, and the trails are all but empty. Watch this REI video on winter camping for a general overview, and then come on back with any specific Q's and we (your caring backpacking community!) will get you all set-up.



If the mere thought of camping in the snow makes you shiver, then let this video warm you up. We cover everything from selecting a campsite and building a ki...

> 3. Last, is there something else I should be more concerned about? 

Stay dry.

That means layering your clothes and adding/removing layers as temperatures and activities vary.

It also means keeping clothes and sleeping bags dry. You can change wet/damp clothes. But you only have one sleeping bag. If it gets wet it will lose a substantial amount of its effectiveness until you can get it dry.




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Hi @Tas - Thanks so much for reaching out. I am in Vermont as well and recently went camping near Stowe, so definitely understand the importance of a warm set up!

For heating up food, there are some great options out there.

  • If you are mostly looking to heat water for drinks and to put into freeze dried food, the Jetboil Flash works very quickly.
  • For a lightweight stove that can be used with a variety of pots and pans, we suggest the Snow Peak Giga Power.
  • If you are going to be car camping, something a little bit bigger like the Coleman Compact has the convenience of two burners.

We do not recommend using a stove in your tent, as they are not created for this purpose and pose serious health risks. For heaters, @acheela is right in noting that the thin insulation of your tent walls will really diminish how effective they are.

At night, one thing I always do to conserve heat is open the tent door as few times as possible. Remembering to bring all of my necessary gear in, filling my water bottle, and going to the bathroom before I settle in saves me from losing precious heat out of an open door.

We agree with the advice from so many here that your sleeping and clothing gear will have a huge impact on your warmth in a tent. Do you have a sleeping bag and sleeping pad already? If you are looking for recommendations for those or any other specific gear, we’d be happy to answer your questions.

Keep us updated on where you end up camping this winter. Stay warm and enjoy!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I will echo others in saying that stoves and tents do not mix. However, I have used a small candle lantern for light in my tent because it gets dark so early in the winter, and I have allowed the candle to burn all night. It seems to raise the temperature in the tent a degree or two, or maybe the light from the candle lantern just makes me think it is warmer in the tent.

I also swear by the hot water in the liter Nalgene trick. It helps warm up my bag before I crawl in, but it won't last all night long. Wear clean, dry socks in your bag and a hat on your head for extra warmth. Eat some food to fuel your body through the night. I go with a down bag in the winter and a full length sleeping pad. Supplement your bag by using a liner inside and/or breathable shell outside. 

aka "Boonerelli"

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Hi there,

Winter camping is awesome! Very few others out there, lots of solitude. I’m assuming you’re going by car and not back packing in, in which case you’ve got lots of options. I’ve only backpacked in, so was limited by what I took.

Anyway, take layers, dry socks (I’ve put on two layers), and two layers of sleeping pads. I’ve done it with a three season tent but the air will come in. Try to find a place with more wind cover so you’re not exposed. Recently got biodegradable sleeping bag warmers and am testing them out before using. If I were car camping I’d take a hot water bottle to put boiling water in and stick in sleeping bag!

No stove in tent ... you may get shrink wrapped if it catches fire!

Have a great time, and experiment!

@Tas  here are some tips I've been collecting..enjoy!  I mean, stay warm! (the struggle is real!! lol)

Here is a list of random winter backpacking tips.  Thanks to everyone from Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers (Meetup) for contributing!

  1. Put a hot water bottle into your sleeping bag
  2. Use a metallic car windshield sun screen as an insulating pad under your sleeping bag
  3. Use a homemade aluminum foil wind screen around your cooking stove
  4. Keep your clothing dry, this is an imperative!
  5. Keep your down dry at all costs! This includes your coat and sleeping bag
  6. Keep your socks dry
  7. Don't put dry socks into wet boots, use a plastic bag such as a shopping bag, a bread loaf bag, or doggy poop bag to put over your dry socks.
  8. Use chemical hand warmers, especially in your sleeping bag (Bass Pro Shop)
  9. Layer up, thermals, shirts, sweaters, down jacket, wind/rain jacket on top
  10. Really thick thermal bottoms
  11. Stocking cap which will cover your entire face while sleeping
  12. Warm up fuel can under coat before using
  13. Keep water from freezing by covering with coat, etc. At night
  14. Turn water bottles upside down at night so freezing will be at the 'bottom' of the bottle not around the spout/opening
  15. Water bladder sips tubes will freeze
  16. Hot tea, hot wine, hot water....good for drinking and staying warm before going to bed
  17. Rain gear is a good wind break over your coats/pants to reduce 'wind chill effect' warm air removal
  18. Add +20 degrees to whatever your bag says is its winter rating for true comfort range. If the bag is supposed to be a "15F" bag, you'll probably only be comfortable down to about 25F
  19. If your clothes are dry, it's ok to wear in your bag at night.
  20. If you start getting cold in your bag, start putting on everything you own/brought with you.
  21. A trash bag used for backpack inner rain protection can be a very good - and warm- vapor barrier liner for inside your sleeping bag, can add about 10F warmth (downside it retains a bit of moisture and feel clammy)
  22. A gortex bivy sack over sleeping bag will add warmth
  23. Pumping up your heart rate (pushups, brisk walking, etc.) Just before getting into your bag will help to generate that initial heat to start warming the bag.
  24. If you toes start to get cold at first, when in your bag, make sure your core (chest area) and head are well covered, once your brain decides they are 'good to go' blood will be turned back on to your extremities and will warm up.
  25. Do not skimp on warm gloves and stocking hat.
  26. Coldest times will be just before you go to bed and getting up to get dressed and cook breakfast (mornings are usually the coldest times or just as cold)
  27. If your stove flame is 'contained' like a jet boil, heat up a hot drink under you vestibule when you get up to help stoke the internal furnace.
  28. Try to purchase an air mattress rated for winters. If you use your summer mattress, use something like a yoga pad to insulate between your bag and the mattress, not between the mattress and ground.  You don't want super cooled air in the mattress to transfer the heat from your bag.  Remember, you are compressing the down underneath you, making it worthless as an insulator.
  29. Warmth is created by trapping dead air around your skin. You do this by insulating the areas around your body (layers, down), while preventing wind from chilling your outer surface (rain/wind jackets/pants)
  30. Put some water in your pot before going to sleep if it's going to really freeze. Then you'll have ice already in your pot, ready for the stove.  This helps if your water bottles are frozen.
  31. Expect your water purifier to freeze, including filters and tubes. Keep it covered like your water bottles. Consider water purification tablets in winter (30 min wait time)
  32. a 'cozy', 'insulation pouch' is a good idea for helping your meals cook after hot water is added.

Mike Taylor

Winter backpacking ideas

1. Bring those little glove/hand warmers and toss the down into your sleeping bag.
2. Don’t wear too many socks. It will actually cut off circulation and cause your feet to be colder.
3. Bring more clothes than you think you’ll need. They really aren’t that heavy and you’ll wish you had them!
4. Being in the cold burns calories.. eat snacks more often and stay hydrated.
5. Be extremely careful crossing snow bridges over streams... it could be your last!!! :0
6. Warm/hot water in a water bottle down in your sleeping bag makes for some toasty toes!
7. Don’t be too embarrassed to tell someone you are cold.. they may have some extra gear!


About #1, The good old fashion campfire is pretty much a thing of the past for many good reasons.  But if you do have one, grab a half loaf of bread sized rock from the fire that is slightly too hot to touch and wrap it in clothing or whatever.  Bring it in the bag with you.  Most people like their feet on it.  Depending on the type of stone and the time in the fire, it may provide warmth throughout most of the night.


  1. If i bring an extra fleece blanket, I use it outside of the bag.
  2. Test and know your stove in extreme cold temps
    • My standard JetBoil is very inefficient below 20°. My Primus propane/butane stove takes 15 minutes to bring 1/2 litre of water to boil.
    • I need to put my alcohol stove fuel in my pocket to warm it up, and I have to actually dip my match into the fuel to light it. I was able to use my alcohol stove efficiently in temps just above 0° but need to have a good windscreen.
    • My MSR Dragonfly works well but I have to make sure I bring plenty of fuel and need to pump it more often in the cold.
    • Camp fire seems to be the best for bringing water to a boil in under 5 minutes. Get a pot that is safe to use on a campfire (I use titanium).
    • Bring or make a cozy for your pots, cups and dehydrated food.


  1. Use a 1 person tent as your body heat will fill the smaller space and give a bit of "extra" warmth.
  2. Use 1-2 body size hand warmers in the foot of your sleeping bag.
  3. Exercise before climbing into your bag.
  4. Use a balaclava instead of a beanie, it won't come off during the night.
  5. Bring a 3/4 length of 1/4" ensolite to use under your ground pad.
  6. If you use a down quilt like I do a sewn foot box is best.
  7. Eat a high calorie meal that will keep pumping warmth through your body.
  8. If you wake up and need to pee get up and do so otherwise your body is burning heat trying to keep the urine at 98.6.
  9. Don't overdress, you need some dead air space between your clothing and your body.
  10. If you wear gloves to bed choose mittens instead.
  11. As I mentioned above I use a 900 down fill quilt, the down under a sleeping bag compresses under your body weight and provides no warmth verses extra weight.
  12. Pack your sleeping bag loosely in your pack instead of in a stuff sack or compression sack.
  13. Use a contractor weight trash bag instead of a pack cover.
  14. Camp at a bit higher elevation as the cold air tends to settle.
  15. Camp away from creeks for the same reason.




Hot hands, which I rarely use for my hands! Throw one in the bottom of your bag when you set up, if it's really cold throw one in each boot when you go to bed. And in the morning I like to put one in each back pocket to keep my butt warm.

Another tip which I learned from Shaun G is to turn your puffy into a foot warmer by zipping it up and turning it inside out. Put your feet into it in the bottom of your bag. Toasty!

REI Member Since 1979
In this video I show how to Make a DIY Cozy for your Pot/Cup & a Cook pouch on the Cheap!