Cold vs. Hot Tent Camping

Tim Jones has a nice article entitled “Cold Can Be Warm: Two Ways to Winter Camp” comparing cold and warm camping, otherwise known as hot tenting.  From Tim’s article:

Cold camping means camping without a heat source, relying on a tent or tarp to shelter you from wind and falling or drifting snow, and warm clothes and a good sleeping bag to keep you comfortable. Though “cold camping” doesn’t sound all that appealing, you can be surprisingly comfortable in a “cold” camp.

The big advantage of cold camping is that your pack is lighter and you are more mobile. Almost any trail you’d backpack on in the summer is fair game for a winter cold camping trek. With a free-standing tent, it’s easy to travel on snowshoes or skis, reach your destination and, an hour later, be well fed and snug in your sleeping bag for the night. The only moment of potential discomfort unique to cold camping is hauling yourself out of that cozy sleeping bag in the morning. But, if you planned it right, you’ve already had something warm and comforting to eat and drink before you have to get up and get dressed for the day.

Warm winter camping is something of a misnomer, since it isn’t warm all the time. You spend your days and nights in the same cold as cold campers. Typically, the only “warm” in warm winter camping is in the evenings and perhaps again in the morning when you are awake and in camp to tend to some sort of heat source. That heat source might be a campfire in front of a tarp shelter, a woodstove inside a tent or even a candle lantern inside a snow cave or snow shelter – which can be surprisingly cozy. It would seem that gas-fueled catalytic heaters would be ideal inside a tent, but I’ve never found a stove/fuel combo that’s light and efficient enough to carry backpacking.

The advantage of warm camping is obvious – you aren’t confined to your sleeping bag when you aren’t moving. You get to dress and undress, eat and relax in a warmed space.

Warm camping also has its disadvantages. Warm setups are usually – but not always – heavier than cold camping. And it usually takes a lot more time to set up a tarp-and-campfire site or a woodstove-heated tent or to build a snow shelter than it does to pop up a free-standing tent. Then there’s the time and effort it takes to find wood for a campfire or stove – not always easy when the snow is deep.

Warm camping works better when you spend more than one night at a campsite rather than moving camp every day. A warm camp is perfect for a long weekend. Pack in and set up camp your first day, leaving plenty of time to find wood if needed. The following days you can explore out from there, knowing you can return to a snug haven.

Warm or cold, winter camping is something everyone should try at least twice. Why twice? Because the second try is almost always easier and more fun than the first.

Tim’s article goes on to describe common mistakes made by winter campers.  You can read it here.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at

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