What is hot tent camping?

by | Aug 27, 2022 | Winter camping

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Hot tent camping is a very old way of winter camping that involves heating your tent with a wood stove.

Back in 2020, we decided we were going to give this adventurous style of camping a try.

After investing in a hot tent, a stove, and all kinds of specialized winter gear, we set out for a late fall trip to test everything out—followed by a longer trip in the dead of winter.

If you’re thinking if doing the same, first of all, good for you!

We’re sure you’ll love it.

Secondly, there’s a bunch of stuff you’ll need to know—even if you’re already a well-seasoned summer or three-season camper.

Let’s start with hot tents.

What is a hot tent, exactly?

A hot tent surrounded by trees and snow.

A hot tent is a type of tent that’s typically made out of insulating canvas material with a hole in its roof for a chimney.

All hot tents are meant to be used with a wood burning stove inside of it—a piece of gear you’ll almost always have to purchase separately from the tent itself.

These types of tents are’t a modern invention—in fact, they’ve been around for centuries and were actually the main way to camp in cold climates before the invention of modern synthetic materials like Gore-Tex and nylon.

Many indigenous cultures in North America, Scandinavia, and other cold regions have a rich history of using heated tents made from materials like animal skins and, later, canvas.

European fur traders and explorers in North America later adopted the use of heated tents from indigenous peoples.

Canvas tents with wood-burning stoves became popular for trapping and trading expeditions in the 18th and 19th centuries, making them a necessity for surviving the harsh winters of the northern wilderness.

Types of hot tents

Types of hot tents

Hot tents come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Tipi or teepee tents

Tipi-style tents are iconic and have a conical shape with a centre pole supporting the structure.

They’re easy to set up and have a circular floor plan.

Tipi hot tents are popular for their simplicity and efficient use of space.

Wall or cabin tents

Wall tents are typically rectangular or square in shape and have vertical walls that resemble a cabin.

They’re supported by a frame or a combination of poles and ropes.

Wall tents offer more headroom and space for larger groups or equipment.

Bell tents

Bell tents have a round or bell-shaped design, with a centre pole and a circular footprint.

They’re often spacious and offer a comfortable and cozy interior.

Bell tents are popular for glamping and family camping.

Pyramid tent

Pyramid hot tents have a single centre pole and are very similar to bell tents, but without the vertical walls.

Our hot tent is pyramid-shaped.

A-frame tent

A-frame hot tents resemble the letter “A” and have sloping sides, usually supported by two or more poles.

A-frame tents are relatively easy to set up and are good for smaller groups.

Dome tent

Dome-shaped hot tents have a rounded or geodesic design, making them sturdy and more wind-resistant.

They’re popular for their stability and are often used for mountaineering and extreme weather conditions.

How do you set up a hot tent?

Ross setting up the hot tent at the campsite.

The setup process depends a lot on what kind of hot tent you’re using.

In general, however, you can expect it to take a long longer to set one up compared to your traditional three-season or even four-season tent.

We have a pyramid-shaped hot tent—specifically the Esker Classic 12×12, which can sleep four to six people.

After picking a spot, we start by either shovelling snow away from the ground or packing it down with our showshoes.

Shoveling is harder and more time consuming, but by removing as much snow as possible, you’ll prevent it from melting unevenly inside your tent, which can create a slick, icy, and wet mess that can be hard to walk or sleep on.

Packing the snow down is faster and easier, but the melting risk is there.

To set up the hot tent, we typically lay it flat on the spot where we want it, making sure it’s positioned so the door is in the right place.

The centre peak point of the tent (the tip of the pyramid shape) is held up by a sturdy pole and a tent pole base like this one.

I usually stand under the tent, holding up the tent pole, while Ross goes around and stakes the four corners into the snow.

You can’t just use any any old tent stakes with a hot tent—you need heavy duty iron stakes that can be staked into the frozen ground.

We have these ones.

Once the four corners have been staked into the ground, it’s typically safe for me to come out of the tent.

Hot tents typically include several sewn loops all around the outer walls of the tent to tie guylines to the surrounding trees, which is the next step in the setup process to help lift the walls and increase the overall space inside.

Lastly, we’ll adjust the large flaps that line the bottom edges of the entire hot tent so that they’re facing outward, and then shovel snow onto them to secure the tent in place.

Hot tents like these are floorless, so this final step is necessary for keeping the heat in and the cold out.

Elise shoveling snow onto the edges of the hot tent walls.

Once the tent is set up, it’s time to set up the stove.

We have the Esker Superior, which is recommended for our size of hot tent.

Setting up the stove is pretty straightforward—the hardest part is just making sure it’s positioned in the right spot so that the chimney stands vertically through the pipe ring in the tent.

We like to set ours up on a fireproof mat so it doesn’t melt and sink into the snow as badly.

Getting the fire started in the hot tent's stove.

Is hot tent camping safe?

Hot tent camping is perfectly safe as long as you take some basic precautions and use common sense.

The biggest risks are:


Obviously, with hot tenting, there’s a fire inside your tent.

If you’re not careful, this could obviously lead to disaster.

Besides making sure you don’t put any gear within two to three feet of the stove, make sure you know how to use the damper and draft control on the stove’s door to regulate the amount of air flow, and never leave the fire unattended.

We also really recommend using a spark arrester like this one on the opening of your stove’s chimney if you plan on setting it up vertically (the other option is to set it up on an angle, which is not our preference).

The spark arrester will help prevent any stray sparks from escaping the chimney and landing on your hot tent’s canvas roof, which could obviously lead to a fire.

Carbon monoxide

As with any enclosed space with a burning fire, there’s a risk of carbon monoxide buildup if you’re not careful.

That’s why it’s important to make sure your tent’s air vent is open and the stove is properly vented so that the exhaust gases can escape.

Although carbon monoxide poisoning in hot tents is extremely rare and almost unheard of, we still like to play it safe by using a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector in our hot tent whenever we have the stove going. We recommend you do too.

Smoke inhalation

If your stove isn’t ventilating properly, you could risk smoking yourself out.

This happened to us once when we realized we were burning poor-quality wood, which covered the inner walls of our chimney in a thick, black layer of resin and completely clogged up the spark arrester.

Removing the spark arrester fixed the problem until we could get home and clean all the resin off, but it wasn’t ideal, because suddenly we increased our risk of a fire.

As a result, we had to pay much closer attention to the size of our fire to minimize our risk of seeing flames and sparks shooting out of the chimney.


Don’t even think about getting too close to that stove or chimney—it’s extremely hot!

Unfortunately, moving around in a small space puts you at a greater risk of accidentally brushing your body or placing your hand on the metal surface.

Be very aware of the stove at all times, and if you’re hot tenting with young children or dogs, make sure you keep an eye on them at all times and never let them go near the stove.

Cave-ins from snow load

When camping in the winter, there’s always a risk of your tent getting buried by an a heavy snowfall.

Even the sturdiest hot tents can succumb to heavy snow and potentially cave in, which could increase your risk of a fire.

These are hot tent-specific dangers, but there are several other dangers to be aware of when you’re camping in the winter (or in freezing cold weather in general).

These include:

  • Breaking through frozen ice and falling into ice cold water
  • Slipping on ice and hitting your head or breaking/fracturing a bone
  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Dehydration
  • Snow blindness
  • Sunburn and wind burn

It’s important to be aware of all these dangers and take the necessary precautions to avoid them.

We highly recommend reading Kevin Callan’s Complete Guide to Winter Camping so you understand what you’re getting into, and learn how to plan ahead so you minimize your risk of something going terribly wrong.

The Complete Guide to Winter Camping book.

It came in real handy on one of our trips when I had a minor frostbite scare!

An extra safety tip for hot tent campers

Something we’ve learned about hot tent camping is how important it is to have spare emergency gear in case of a fire.

Seasoned backcountry hot tent campers will typically bring an extra emergency tarp or tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and other essential gear is a separate bag or pack that they keep outside of the hot tent at all times.

This way, if a fire did occur and ruin everything inside, you would have your backup gear to get you through the night.

This is something we’re taking more seriously now that we’re going on more hot tent camping trips.

How hot does a hot tent get?

Ross eating while enjoying the warmth of the hot tent.

“Hot” isn’t an exaggeration when it comes to this kind of camping.

It can get very hot in a hot tent—even in extreme cold conditions.

We’ve camped in -15°C to -35°C (that’s 5°F to -31°F) and found ourselves having to strip down to our underwear because it’s so hot in the tent.

Heat rises, so in a hot tent, you’ll feel the hottest when you’re standing up.

At its hottest, we estimate that the air at the top of our hot tent probably clocked in at about 35°C (95°F).

As mentioned earlier, understanding how to use the damper and draft control will help you regulate the temperature inside the tent.

We also use a heat-powered stove fan to help circulate the hot air around the tent.

Another thing that will help you regulate the temperature is the type of wood you burn.

Hardwoods like oak and maple tend to produce more heat than softwoods like pine.

They’ll also burn for a lot longer. And, in general, the drier the wood, the hotter it will burn.

How do you sleep in a hot tent?

Winter sleeping bags

Just because you have a source of heat inside your tent doesn’t mean you can survive by sleeping in your summer or three-season sleep gear.

You really need to match your sleep gear (and all your gear, for that matter) to the temperature range and conditions of the time you’re planning your trip.

At the very least, here’s what you’ll need:

A winterized sleeping bag. We have down sleeping bags with a temperature rating of -30°C (-22°F) for our hot tent camping trips.

Make sure you read our sleeping bag temperature rating guide before you decide to buy one yourself.

An insulated air mattress. Ideally, you need an air mattress with an R-value of at least 5 or higher for camping in cold temperatures.

Our Therm-a-Rest air mattresses are rated at 4.2, which is close, but we place our reflective sleeping pads on top of them, which not only increases the warmth, but is also a surprisingly better option than placing beneath the air mattresses.

Something to use as a groundsheet. A regular tarp works well as a groundsheet to put beneath your air mattresses.

The ground is cold, so any additional barriers you can create between you and the ground will make a big difference.

Warm clothing to sleep in. We typically wear base layers, a wool sweater, and wool socks to bed.

A hat and scarf or buff are also necessary for when the tent cools right down and your exposed face starts to feel the chill.

We also recommend reading our guide on how to keep your feet warm in your sleeping bag.

Wood for the next morning. Trust us—you’ll want to get that fire going as quickly as possible when you get up, and you won’t want to go outside of the tent to fetch or process any wood.

As far as running the stove all night goes, that’s entirely up to you.

It’s an option, but it requires somebody to get up every two hours or so throughout the night to feed the fire.

The other option is to just heat it right up before you go to bed, dress warmly in your sleeping bag, and then let it die down overnight.

This is the route that we take, and even though it’s bone chillingly cold by morning, we find that it’s worth it because nobody has to suffer from uninterrupted sleep.

Where can you go hot tent camping?

Our hot tent glowing among the night sky and stars.

Many parks and campgrounds close by late fall and don’t open again until spring, but several do stay open to offer year-round camping.

You’ll have to do your own research to find out what’s available in your area.

Frontcountry hot tent camping

Here in Ontario, the following provincial parks are open to frontcountry tent camping in the winter:

  • Algonquin
  • Arrowhead
  • Pinery
  • MacGregor
  • Killarney
  • Silent Lake
  • Quetico

Check the Ontario Parks website for more information.

As far as national parks go, we do know that the Bruce Peninsula National Park recently started offering winter tent camping as well.

Hot tent camping in frontcountry campgrounds is more convenient because you can usually drive your car right up to your campsite and unload right there.

Backcountry hot tent camping, however, is another story.

Backcountry hot tent camping

We’re backcountry campers through and through, and that’s no exception even in the winter.

We have two sleds that we bought specifically for hauling our hot tent and winter gear several kilometres into the backcountry.

Two pulling poles attach to the sled end, with the other end attached to harnesses we wear on our hips.

Ross pulling a sled of our winter camping gear across a frozen lake to our backcountry campsite.

The risks are higher in the backcountry than they are in frontcountry campgrounds.

If you decide to go hot tent camping in the backcountry, we suggest spending several weeks planning ahead and acquiring all the necessary gear you’ll need to make the trip a successful one.

Backcountry camping is available at the following Ontario provincial parks:

  • Algonquin
  • Frontenac
  • Killarney
  • Quetico
  • Sleeping Giant
  • Wabakimi
  • Woodland Caribou
  • Kawartha Highlands

You may also want to consider hot tent camping on Crown land in Ontario.

Two of our favourite spots include McCrae Lake (a very popular spot especially on weekends) and the Temagami area.

The best time to go hot tent camping

Our hot tent in the fall.

The best time to go hot tent camping really depends on your location, your style, what you plan to do, and how much of a challenge you want.

In late fall (end of October, November, and early December) here in Ontario, there’s the least amount of daylight and it’s often difficult to adjust to since it’s so early in the season.

You can certainly get snow during this time depending on how far north you are, but it can also be quite mild—meaning a higher chance of rain, sleet, and slush.

This can make for a wet and soggy trip.

In early winter (mid-December and January), it’s usually a mixed bag depending on what kind of winter it’s going to be (colder or warmer than normal, more or less precipitation than normal).

There’s still very little daylight, but temperatures usually take a dive by this time.

Still, there can be very little snow until later in January or February and some lakes often aren’t fully frozen over yet.

Mid- to late winter (February and mid-March), is our sweet spot for hot tent camping.

By this time, the cold of the winter season has set in so most lakes are frozen.

Even though it’s still dark out, at least we’ve had months to adjust to it—and it’s starting to get a littler lighter out every day.

We’ve also had this time to adjust to the colder weather, seemingly feeling more bearable than being thrust into freezing temperatures so abruptly in late fall and early winter.

Come early spring (late March, April, and early May), it’s a race to beat the extremely wet and soggy weather.

Luckily, you can still get some serious cold snaps during these months, and with the longer daylight hours, hot tent camping during this time can be a real pleasure.

February and March are our favourite times to go hot tent camping.

It’s right in the middle of that five- to six-month off-season, which makes it the perfect time to get out there and enjoy the change of scenery from being cooped up inside for so long.

As far as temperature ranges go, we prefer to go hot tent camping when it’s -10°C to -30°C (that’s 14°F to -22°F).

We find that hot tent camping in dry cold weather is much better than doing it in wet cold weather, which is typically a greater risk if the temperatures start to creep too closely toward 0°C to (32°F).

A note about bears

If you plan on going hot tent camping in late fall or early spring, it’s important to be aware that bears could be active during these times, meaning you’ll need reconsider storing food and cooking in your hot tent.

It’s typically safe to do so from January through March here in Ontario, which is when most bears are basically guaranteed to be hibernating, but mild weather in the fall means there’s a risk of bears going into hibernation later than normal—and mild weather in early spring means they may wake up early.

When we go hot tent camping in late fall or early spring, we don’t store our food or cook inside our hot tent.

We treat the situation as if we were summer camping—by either hanging our food in a tree or hauling our food barrel away from our tent, and cooking at the campsite’s fire pit.

So, are hot tents affordable, and are they worth it?

Ross looking excited to be hot tent camping. Two thumbs up!

Now that you know all about hot tent camping, you’re probably wondering if it’s really worth investing in a hot tent for yourself, how much they cost, and all the complimentary (and often necessary) gear that goes along with it.

If you checked out the Esker tent we linked to above, you know it’s not cheap.

Expect to pay a couple thousand dollars for a good quality canvas tent—not including the stove and all the accessories.

It’s much more expensive than summer or three-season camping, in our experience.

The tent and gear are more specialized and designed for harsher conditions, meaning the prices are going to reflect that.

Luckily, there are many more affordable hot tent options out there—most of which aren’t made of canvas material.

Check out our top 10 hot tents guide to see prices.

They’ll still be more expensive than three-season tents, but you won’t have to drop $2,000 to $3,000 on a tent AND a stove.

We think getting a hot tent was worth it—and here’s why.

We love hot tent camping because it allows us to extend our camping season well into the winter months, which is when we often find the landscape at its most beautiful.

It also means we don’t have to bother with making reservations months in advance (like we often have to do for summer camping) since there aren’t nearly as many people out hot tent camping.

We also love how cozy and comfortable it is to hang out in a hot tent, especially when the temperatures outside are plummeting.

It really does feel like you’re living in another world when you’re all snuggled up inside your tent with a fire going.

A hot tent might be worth it if…

  • You’ve gone summer or three-season camping before and enjoyed it.
  • You plan on hot tent camping at least 1 to 2 times a year.
  • You’re open to more of a challenging type of trip and are willing to do the work.
  • You don’t suffer from any serious health conditions and your physical fitness is at least average to above average.
  • You have the budget to spend at least $1,500 to $3,000 on a good quality hot tent, stove, necessary accessories, and complementary gear.
  • You understand the risks of winter camping and are willing to acquire the necessary specialized gear to make your trip as safe as possible.
  • You appreciate the silence and beauty of winter.
  • You can get used to the cold once you’re out there and even learn to love it.

A hot tent might not be worth it if…

  • You’ve never gone camping before, or if you have, you didn’t enjoy it.
  • You’re not sure if you’ll go hot tent camping more than once.
  • You’d rather relax as much as possible while camping and don’t enjoy the manual labour aspect of it at all.
  • You have a health condition or you’re not very physically fit.
  • You don’t have a lot of money to spend and are looking for super cheap hot tent and stove alternatives.
  • You’re not willing to do your research and plan ahead for worst-case scenarios—you just want to get out there and wing it.
  • You’re not really a big fan of winter and think you might feel bored, annoyed, or miserable.
  • You tend to be very uncomfortable when you’re cold and/or have a hard time with dramatic temperature shifts.

It’s a big investment, we know. If you’ve never gone camping in the winter or in a hot tent, we suggest you give it a try first to see if you like it.

Many of the Ontario provincial parks listed above that offer frontcountry tent camping in the winter also have yurts that you can book, which are like canvas cabins that come with a wood stove—a great way to try hot tent camping without making the full investment.

If you find that you like it, you could consider getting your own hot tent as a gift to yourself.

We typically go on just two hot tent camping trips a year, and we find that sufficient for ourselves.

If you don’t love it, save your money.

You may even want to consider getting a gas-powered heater for camping in cooler temperatures (but perhaps not the dead of winter), which is much more affordable.

Want to see us in action?

Check out our four-day, three-night winter hot tent camping trip we did in -35°C February windchill temperatures on Lake Temagami:


If you’re looking for a way to extend your camping season and camp in some of the most beautiful—and quiet—places, we think hot tent camping is definitely worth considering.

After all, winter doesn’t have to so miserable… and camping certainly doesn’t have to be so seasonal!

Happy hot tenting!

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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!

Read more about our story.