Cold camping vs. hot tent camping: Is one better than the other?

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Winter camping

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Choosing between hot tent camping and cold camping in winter is kinda like deciding if you want hot chocolate with marshmallows or just the hot chocolate on its own.

Both warm you up, but one’s got a little extra comfort built right in.

Hot tents, with their built-in stoves, offer a cozy haven in the chilliest of environments, letting you kick back in toasty warmth as the world freezes outside.

On the flip side, cold camping is all about roughing it and embracing the elements.

It’s just you, your regular tent, and the quiet crispness of the winter air.

You’re not lugging around extra gear like a wood stove, which can be a serious workout, and let’s be honest, who needs more workouts when you’re out there to relax?

Whether you’re looking to elevate your winter outdoor experience with a bit of luxury or prefer the simplicity and challenge of cold camping, making the right choice can turn your winter outdoor adventure from just another trip to the stuff memories are made of.

The difference between cold camping and hot tent camping

Ross winter camping

Cold camping means you’re experiencing the outdoors without a heat source in your tent.

You rely on warm clothing, a well-insulated sleeping bag, and possibly a shelter like a tent or tarp.

These shelters protect you from wind, snow, and rainfall.

When you’re hot tent camping, you’ve got a portable heat source inside your tent.

This could be a wood-burning stove or a similar heater.

With this setup, you stay comfortable even when the temperature drops outside.

The warmth makes it a cozy retreat after a day in the chill.

Here’s a comparison to get the gist:

Cold camping:

  • No heat source (unless you bring a heater)
  • Depend on clothes and sleeping gear for warmth
  • Exposes you to natural elements

Hot tent camping:

  • Heat source present
  • Interior of tent is warmed up
  • Comfortable and warm atmosphere inside

Essential gear for cold camping

A four-season tent and tarp set up in the snow in winter.

When camping in cold weather, having the right equipment is key to staying warm and safe.

4-season tent, tarp, hammock, or bivy

Your shelter is your first line of defense against extreme weather.

A 4-season tent is designed to withstand harsh conditions like heavy snow and high winds.

If you’re looking for lighter options, a tarp or hammock with adequate insulation can also serve you well. For the solo adventurer, a bivy sack is a compact choice that offers a warm enclosure for sleeping.

Camp stove and fuel

A reliable camp stove is necessary for heating food and melting snow for drinking water.

Liquid fuel stoves perform better in cold temperatures compared to canister stoves, but they require proper ventilation due to carbon monoxide concerns.

Always bring an ample supply of fuel, as you’ll use more than expected in cold weather to heat things through.

Essential gear for hot tent camping

Setting up camp in winter

Heading out into the cold wilderness means you’ll need specialized gear to keep warm and safe during your adventure.

Let’s talk about the items you’ll want to pack for a comfortable hot tent camping trip.

Hot tent

First up, you’ll need a hot tent, which is specially designed to accommodate a wood-burning stove.

These tents are typically made from heavier materials than your usual camping tent to handle the rigours of winter weather and the heat from a stove.

Compatible wood burning stove

Next, you’ll want a wood-burning stove that’s compatible with your hot tent.

The stove should be portable yet durable, with proper ventilation features to ensure safety and efficient heating.

Firewood and tools

Don’t forget to bring along plenty of firewood.

You’ll also need a saw or axe for cutting wood, and a lighter or matches for starting your fire.

Keeping tools handy will help you maintain a warm and cosy tent atmosphere.

Sled or pulk

Finally, a sled or pulk makes transporting your gear through the snow much easier.

You can load up your hot tent, wood stove, firewood, and all your other supplies onto the sled, saving your back and energy for setting up camp and enjoying the winter landscape.

Comparison of safety concerns

A wood burning stove in a hot tent

When choosing between hot tent camping and cold camping, you must consider different safety aspects unique to each method.

Weather exposure risks

You face distinct weather-related risks with each camping style. In cold camping, hypothermia can be a real danger if you’re not dressed appropriately or your gear isn’t up to par.

On the other hand, in hot tent camping, you’ve got a stove to keep you warm, which reduces the risk of hypothermia.

Fire safety

Hot tents come with the added concern of managing a fire inside your shelter.

If not managed properly, there’s a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or even starting a fire inside the tent.

Proper ventilation and following safety guidelines are non-negotiable to maintain a safe environment.

Skill level and experience required

Pulling a sled of gear across a frozen lake in winter to a campsite

When venturing into the world of camping during colder seasons, you’ll notice that both cold camping and hot tent camping present unique challenges and skill sets.

Cold camping skills

In cold camping, you’re directly exposed to the elements. You’ll need to master several skills:

  • Layering: Dress in layers to regulate your body temperature.
  • Shelter setup: Know how to pitch your shelter securely to shield you from harsh conditions. See Winter Camping and Backpacking Basics for guidance.
  • Signs of hypothermia: Recognizing symptoms quickly can be life-saving.

Hot tent camping skills

Hot tent camping offers warmth, requiring different skills:

  • Stove operation: You’ll need to understand how to safely use a wood-burning stove.
  • Carbon monoxide awareness: Ensure proper tent ventilation to prevent dangerous gas buildup.

Understanding proper tent and stove setup is key.

Read Understanding Hot Tent Camping A Beginner’s Guide for more insights.

Advantages of cold camping

A tarp set up in winter

Cold camping offers a few unique perks that can make your wilderness experience memorable.

Simplicity: You don’t need to carry extra gear like a wood stove.

This means you’re packing lighter, making your hike easier.

Closeness to nature: Without the barrier of a heated shelter, you’ll have a more authentic outdoor adventure.

You’ll be directly interacting with the environment around you.

Skill building: Learning to camp in cold conditions hones your survival skills.

It requires you to be resourceful and self-reliant.

Quiet solitude: Fewer people venture out in the cold, offering you a peaceful trip.

You’ll likely have the landscape all to yourself.

Reduced fire risk: Without a stove, there’s no danger of a tent fire, keeping you safer while you sleep.

Here’s a quick list to summarize:

  • Pack light without extra gear
  • Immersive nature experience
  • Develop outdoor survival skills
  • Enjoy peace with fewer campers around
  • Stay dry with less tent condensation
  • Sleep safe without fire hazards

Remember to prepare well for the cold. Choose appropriate sleeping gear and learn how to stay warm effectively to enjoy these benefits.

Disadvantages of cold camping

A weather thermometer showing extreme cold temperatures in the snow

When you’re cold camping, the lack of a heat source can mean braving lower temperatures throughout the night.

This can lead to discomfort and a risk of hypothermia if you’re not properly insulated or if temperatures drop unexpectedly.

Preparation: You need to have the right gear, like a quality sleeping bag rated for cold weather and insulated sleeping pads.

Comfort: Staying warm can be a challenge, and you might find it hard to get a good night’s sleep if you’re shivering.

Maintaining your body heat without a stove or heat source takes effort. You’ll rely heavily on insulated clothing, tent quality, and sleeping gear.

Also, the possibility of your water supply freezing means you have to take extra precautions to keep it liquid.

Safety concerns: Hypothermia and frostbite are risks if you’re not prepared.

Extra gear: You might need to carry more layers of clothing and thicker sleeping equipment, which adds weight to your pack.

Setting up camp in snow or on frozen ground is tougher than in milder conditions.

You’ll need skills and strength to secure your shelter effectively in potentially icy terrain.

Setup difficulty: Requires more effort and skill to pitch a tent on frozen ground.

Hydration: Your water can freeze, which means you have to find ways to prevent this.

Social interaction is often more limited, as people tend to retreat into their sleeping bags for warmth rather than gather as they might in a hot tent.

The shorter days mean longer nights, further urging you to stay cocooned in your sleeping bag.

Limited interaction: Longer nights in your sleeping bag can mean less social time.

Water supply: Keeping it from freezing will be an additional challenge.

You’ll often need to plan extensively for cold camping trips, as the margin for error is smaller.

Always keep safety in mind and prepare for the worst to enjoy the winter wilderness.

Advantages of hot tent camping

A hot tent surrounded by trees and snow.

Hot tents provide warmth in freezing conditions. You’ll find they’re a cozy refuge in winter landscapes.

These tents are equipped for use with a wood stove or heater. This means you’ll stay toasty even when it’s snowing outside.

Hot tents offer increased comfort. Your camping doesn’t have to be a shivering experience.

A well-insulated hot tent keeps you comfortable. A cozy, warm tent makes for a better night’s sleep.

There’s a greater variety of camping locations. You’re not limited to summer spots.

Less condensation: Canvas hot tents in particular often have less condensation compared to nylon tents, keeping your gear drier and your sleeping area more comfortable.

Enjoy nature’s quiet beauty throughout the colder months. Every season can be a camping season with a hot tent.

Hot tents are a social space. They’re generally more spacious to accommodate the heating source.

This makes it easier to spend time with friends or family.

Gather round the heater for a warm, communal experience.

Disadvantages of hot tent camping

Setting up a hot tent for winter camping

Weight concerns. Hot tents are typically heavier than their cold tent counterparts.

You’ll have to carry additional weight due to the stove and heat-resistant materials.

This makes trekking more strenuous.

Increased cost. The specialized materials and design for heat accommodation means your expenses go up.

Hot tents often have a higher price tag compared to traditional tents.

Complex setup.

Getting your hot tent ready takes more effort and time than a regular tent.

You need to install the stove safely to avoid any hazards.

Safety risks. The use of a wood stove introduces the risk of fire.

Proper ventilation is a must to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

You must be constantly cautious.

Restricted usage. Some campgrounds don’t allow hot tents or have specific rules.

It’s your responsibility to check the regulations before setting out.

Maintenance demands. Your hot tent requires more maintenance than cold tents.

This includes regular checks for any damage that could be caused by high heat levels.

Varying skill levels.Not everyone’s equipped with the skills to safely manage a wood stove in a confined space.

It’s vital to have a strong understanding of the safety practices and how to use the equipment properly.

These points from Outdoors and The Pursuit Outdoors highlight the limitations of hot tent camping, giving you a clearer idea of what it involves.

Remember to weigh these factors carefully before planning your winter adventure.

Cost and accessibility

When choosing between hot tenting and cold camping, you’ll want to consider both the up-front costs and ongoing expenses.

Initial investment

Hot tenting generally requires a higher upfront investment.

You need a tent with a stove jack and a portable wood stove, which can cost several hundred dollars at minimum.

On the other hand, standard cold camping equipment, such as a quality four-season tent, can be less expensive, though prices vary widely based on brand and features.

Ongoing maintenance and fuel

After your initial purchase, you’ll have to think about maintenance and fuel costs.

For hot tents, this means buying wood or burnable fuels, which can add up each trip, especially if you’re camping where you can’t gather wood freely.

Maintenance includes keeping the stove and tent in good repair.

Your cold camping gear, while perhaps simpler, still requires care to last season after season, but you won’t have the added expense and effort of managing a heat source.

Choosing the right type of camping for you

When selecting between hot tent and cold tent camping, consider your personal comfort, the nature of your trip, the terrain, and whether you’re camping alone or with a group.

Personal preferences

Your comfort in various weather conditions and how you like to experience nature should guide your choice.

If you enjoy a warm and cozy sleep space, you might prefer a hot tent.

Cold camping suits you if you don’t mind layering up and braving the elements.

Trip duration and location

The longer your trip and the more remote the location, the more you’ll need to factor in weather patterns and resources.

Hot tents are heavier and might not be the best fit for trips where you have to carry your gear long distances.

Terrain and travel

If you’re trekking through the snow or mountainous areas, you’ll want a tent that can handle snow load and wind.

Extended-season tents are made for these conditions. In contrast, for a hike-in campsite on even terrain, a lighter cold camping setup might suffice.

Best types of trips for hot tent camping

Hot tent camping is ideal for basecamp excursions, hunting trips in cold weather, and winter photography tours where you return to the same spot and can afford the extra weight.

Best types of trips for cold camping

Cold tent camping is great for backpacking trips, alpine expeditions, and occasions where you want a quick setup and minimalistic approach.

More about winter camping:

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About Us

Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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