When I was a kid in upstate New York, we’d pack up our gear and go camping for the weekend no matter if it was July or February.
But in those days, when winter rolled around, we just suffered through the night in a cold tent, awaiting daybreak when we could go outside and build a huge fire and warm ourselves by it.
Don’t get me wrong – I have some great memories of “cold tenting” back in the day. But these days, I want to be comfortable year-round, which is why hot tenting is the way to go.
What is Hot Tenting?
It’s pretty simple, really…
Hot tenting is when you have a heat source inside the tent, typically a wood stove. So, my Russian Bear UP-5 tent, for example, has a wood stove that keeps the tent TOASTY warm, even in brutally cold temperatures.
I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to winter camp in comfort! Not only do I stay nicely warm and dry, but so do my gloves, boots, and sleeping bag. No more heating up a water bottle and sliding it into the foot of my sleeping bag for warmth, and no more slipping my cold feet into cold boots, either!
But hot tenting isn’t just about having a heat source in the tent. You need a specific kind of tent that has features that will stand up to the heat output of the stove.
My tent has a fire-resistant and waterproof silicone-coated mat on the wall by the stove that has a working temperature of nearly 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Under the stove is another fire-resistant mat to catch any embers that escape when the door is open.
The stove has adjustable metal plates to prevent burning yourself and there’s a pipe that extends up and through the roof of the tent to properly vent the smoke. The pipe is made of fire-resistant material and has a stainless steel ring to prevent any risk of fire on the roof.
Additionally, Russian Bear added a ventilation flap by the door that brings fresh air into the stove. It really is an ingenious setup that will keep the tent warm and circulate fresh air into the tent as well.
How are Hot Tents Constructed?
If you throw a wood stove in a traditional tent, you run the risk of condensation forming on the inside of the tent.
For that reason, many hot tents are either made of canvas – which is breathable and allows the water vapor to escape – or they are double-walled to create an air void that helps reduce condensation.
My UP-5 tent is the latter with dual-layer construction. The inner wall is constructed of Oxford 210 PU 2000 material that is coated with a water-repellent to prevent moisture build up. The outer wall is made of Oxford 300 PU 4000 material, which is water-resistant.
The last time I had this tent out it was in the 40s outside, but I got it up to the high 80s inside. That was a tad warm, but eventually I got the fire just right to maintain a very comfortable temperature in the 70s inside the tent.
You might be thinking that hot tents are big, heavy, and complicated to set up. But you’d be wrong!
There are many different hot tent options, from small to extremely large. You can get an A-frame tent, a dome tent, and they come with various types of pole structures to keep them upright.
In my case, my Russian Bear tent has an umbrella-type aviation alloy frame that’s lightweight, strong, and easy to set up. In fact, it takes about two minutes to get this tent set up, which is a huge bonus when you’re winter camping and want to get inside and get a fire going.
I’ve found that this umbrella type of frame holds its shape very well, even under heavy loads of snow. Obviously, at some point you’ll need to go out and brush all that weight off the tent, but this frame can withstand a significant snow load, which means you can stay inside and keep warm rather than having to constantly go out in the cold to brush snow off.
Hot Tenting Isn’t Just About the Stove
While hot tenting is mostly about having a heat source inside a tent that’s appropriate for hot tenting, there’s an additional factor that’s very important for camping in the winter – an insulated floor.
It doesn’t do you much good to have a nice, warm tent and then go to bed on the frozen ground. So if hot tenting is in your future, be sure the tent you buy has an insulated floor like the UP-5.
The floor of my tent has three layers, so you get multiple layers of insulation plus a barrier from moisture that makes for a far more comfortable sleeping situation. But, the floor is removable – which is a fantastic feature – so if you want to use the tent as a living room or mess hall, you can easily do so.
Additionally, your hot tent should have windows with multiple layers that insulate from heat loss while also giving you plenty of ventilation options. That ventilation is needed for the stove, and it also helps prevent condensation inside the tent.
Having wing-style doors is a bonus as well. Wing-style doors eliminate the problem of frozen zippers, so you not only extend the life of the zipper, but you can also get in and out of the tent much easier.
Hot Tenting Makes Winter Camping So Much Better
I love getting up in the mountains in the fall, winter, and spring and escaping life in the Los Angeles area for a few days.
And with my hot tent, making the trip up those cold mountain passes is so much more worth it because I know I’ll be nice and warm inside my tent, even when the temperatures drop and the snow flies outside.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many different hot tent options. The key is to do your due diligence and decide which option is best for your needs. In my case, the Russian Bear UP-5 was definitely the way to go, and I suspect it would satisfy your hot tenting needs equally well too!