How to Stay WARM Sleeping in the Car During Winter

Winter car camping trips can be a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors during the colder months of the year. However, trying to stay warm and toasty when the temperatures plummet isn’t as easy as it may seem.

If you’ve ever struggled to stay warm while car camping in the winter, we’re here to help.

Up next, we’ll walk you through ten top tips for fighting the cold during a winter adventure to your local campground. That way, you can focus more on enjoying your camping trip and less on trying to stay warm at night.

1. Get a proper sleeping bag

woman relaxing on a sleeping bag inside the car

First things first, staying warm during a winter car camping trip to Yellowstone National Park or another cold locale starts with having the right gear. That means coming prepared with a proper winter sleeping bag that’s rated for the conditions you’ll face.

Most sleeping bags boast a temperature rating. These ratings are an estimate of the appropriate temperature range for the use of that particular bag. However, they are just guidelines and should be taken as such.

So, when shopping for a winter sleeping bag, you first need to consider the coldest temperatures that you’re likely to face.

Once you’ve checked the forecast, you’ll want a sleeping bag that’s rated to at least 5 to 10ºF (3 to 6ºC) warmer than the coldest temperatures you expect to experience. That way, you can stay warm, regardless of what the weather brings.

Read More : Sleeping Bag Storage Hacks and Ideas

2. Use a sleeping bag liner

man tucked in a sleeping bag liner preparing to sleep in a car

Once you have a quality winter sleeping bag, you may also want to consider investing in a sleeping bag liner. While many sleeping bags can be used on their own in wintery conditions, when the temperatures really drop, a liner is a great piece of gear to have.

That’s because some sleeping bag liners can add up to 25ºF (14ºC) of warmth to your sleeping bag at night.

So, if your bag is just on the cusp of not being warm enough for your trip, a liner can make a big difference. Or, if you’re the type of person that tends to sleep quite cold at night, a liner could help you stay warm on your adventures.

3. Make a hot water bottle

couple heating up water on a camping stove

There are few better things in this world than cuddling up with a hot water bottle on a cold winter’s night.

The good news is that you can have a hot water bottle, even when car camping in Glacier National Park in the winter.

To do so, you’ll simply need a quality water bottle and your camping stove. Heat up some water on your stove, pour it into your bottle before bed, and voila! You have a toasty hot water bottle to snuggle with at night.

Read More : Camping Stove Safety Precautions and Tips

4. Perfect your fire-starting skills

man starting a fire with magnesium fire steel firestarter

A campfire is a time-honored tradition of any camping trip. While starting a fire during the winter months can be somewhat challenging, perfecting your skills can help you stay warm while hanging around camp at night.

Do remember, though, that damp wood and wet conditions tend to conspire against you when starting a fire during the winter months. So, come prepared with the appropriate firestarters, lighters, and tinders, to make your experience as seamless as possible.

5. Nix the alcohol

man enjoying a hot cup of tea

Although having a few adult beverages with your buddies around the campfire at night might be a fun way to spend your camping evenings, it’s not a great idea during the winter.

In fact, while people often think that alcohol makes you warmer, it actually does the opposite.

When you drink alcohol, your body instinctively does something called vasodilation, which causes all your blood to flow toward your extremities and away from your core. This process causes your body temperature to drop quite quickly, which is why alcohol is generally a no-no during winter camping trips.

Instead of imbibing on your next trip, consider making yourself a hot chocolate or a tea before bed. Doing so will also help you stay hydrated, which can help you fight off the cold.

6. Bring extra blankets

We’ve already mentioned the importance of having a quality winter sleeping bag. However, if you’re car camping, you can go a step further with your sleep system by packing lots of extra blankets.

Since portability and weight savings are less of a concern while car camping, packing extra blankets can have a huge impact on your warmth at night without being an inconvenience.

Before you leave home, do a quick look around your house to see if you have any spare fleece blankets or quilts lying around. Tossing them in your car before a trip could be a game-changer if the conditions are colder than you expect.

Read More : How to Layer Effectively for Camping in Cold Weather

7. Remember to ventilate your tent

driver hand tuning the air ventilation grille

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but ventilating your tent (or your car if you’re snoozing in your car) can help you stay warm at night.

Since a poorly ventilated tent is likely to experience a lot of condensation build-up at night, ventilating your tent can create a warmer sleeping space. While latent heat is actually released during condensation, all this water build-up from condensation is problematic when it’s inside your tent.

In particular, as water droplets build up on the inside of your tent through condensation, they’re likely to fall onto your gear and get everything soaking wet. Even if you have a synthetic sleeping bag, wet gear is not as good at insulating you as dry gear.

That means condensation in your tent can make you colder at night. Yikes!

Read More : How to Clean Tent with Mold

8. Double up on sleeping pads

man unrolling his sleeping pad setting up camp

While we often focus on the power of our sleeping bags to keep us warm at night, we can’t overlook the importance of using two sleeping pads while car camping during the winter.

Sleeping pads play a vital role in insulating us from the cold ground at night. So, using two sleeping pads can provide even more insulation from the chilly ground.

Of course, if you’re car camping, you can also invest in a thicker air mattress, instead. These thick air mattresses often provide just as much insulation as two thinner sleeping pads. So, an air mattress can be a nice alternative for staying warm while car camping in the winter months, too.

9. Try heated clothing

man showing off his heated winter jacket

Insulated fleece and puffy jackets are awesome, but they’re never going to warm you up as well as a heated jacket can.

In fact, heated clothing, which includes heated socks, heated gloves, and heated vests, can be a great option for a winter car camping trip. To use these pieces of gear, you simply need to put them on, turn them on, and enjoy the extra warmth.

That being said, you will need to charge heated clothing on a regular basis. So, if you want to use heated gear, be sure that your campground has hookups available or that you have a way to charge your gear’s batteries in your car each day.

10. Consider a tent heater

man warming up his hands on a portable electric heater

Finally, in really cold conditions, a tent heater might be exactly what you need.

With the right tent heater, you can add a small boost of warmth to your shelter before you go to bed for the night. Then, when you wake up in the morning, you can turn them back on for some extra heat as you get dressed for the day.

As a result, a tent heater can be a great addition to any camping gear list, especially when you’re car camping during the winter months. Just be sure to follow all your tent heater manufacturer’s stated safety guidelines to help prevent any mishaps during your adventures.

Gaby Pilson

Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.