Some individuals go snow camping in the winter. Climate scientists have been known to camp in the Antarctic. It is never too chilly for these adventurous explorers to go camping…
But what about the rest of us- How cold is too cold to go tent camping? What if you don’t have the proper equipment?
The quick answer is this:
Nighttime temperatures in the high 30s/low 40s Fahrenheit is too cold to go tent camping for inexperienced campers with cheap gear. Temperatures between 50°F and 65°F at night are ideal for camping.
Nonetheless, there are other factors to consider when determining how chilly it is to go camping. This guide will go over them and give you advice for camping comfortably even in the cold.
Gear Requirements for Camping in the Cold
If you want to go camping in cold weather, you will need the right gear. This includes the following:
1. Tents for Cold Weather
Tents don’t actually trap that much heat. They serve to keep the wind and snow at bay (which is important for warmth).
Yet, condensation makes your tent selection important. When the weather gets cold, condensation can build up inside the tent, accumulate on the roof and start dripping on your head. This implies you may get wet and hence chilly.
Single wall tents are particularly bad in terms of condensation. As a result of this, While camping in chilly weather, utilize a double-walled tent. If you must use a single-wall tent, keep the entrance slightly open (even if it seems illogical) to prevent moisture from forming.
2. Sleeping Bags for Cold Weather Camping
Sleeping bag ratings are quite deceptive. The figure you see is really the bottom limit. As a result, a sleeping bag certified for 30 degrees F is ineffective in 30 degree temperatures. At that temperature, the bag will keep you alive, but you won’t feel warm. Instead, you need to make sure the comfort rating of the sleeping bag matches the temperature of where you will be camping.
It can get colder than anticipated, especially in springtime or fall where the weather changes quickly. To avoid being chilly throughout the night, Choose a sleeping bag with a lower comfort rating than the temperature you anticipate.
For example, if you anticipate a nighttime temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, choose a bag with a comfort rating of 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pro Tip: Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
Sleeping bag liners are simply silk or nylon bags that are placed inside a sleeping bag. A sleeping bag liner may increase the temperature of your sleeping bag by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The amount it will contribute is determined by your bag’s original rating: The lower the sleeping bag rating, the more the liner will add to it.
Liners are pleasant to sleep on and keep your sleeping bag clean in addition to keeping you warm. They are cheap to buy (at least cheaper than a new sleeping bag) and will give your sleeping bag a lot more range. To prevent bedbugs, some visitors stay in hostels.
3. Sleeping Pads
If you don’t have a good sleeping pad, the ground will literally suck the heat out of your body (for us science nerds, this is referred to as conductive heat loss). Even with a thick sleeping bag, you will still be chilly at night.
Sleeping pads are rated in R-value, which refers how much the pad can Resist heat flow. The greater the R-value of the pad, the more it will insulate you from the ground. For cold weather camping, an R-value of 2-3 is recommended.
Here are tips for getting the right sleeping pad:
- Choose the highest R-value: The R-value of sleeping pads is measured. Select the largest R-value you can afford. If you are backpacking, you’ll be limited because high R-value pads are heavier. But it is worth carrying a few more ounces to get extra comfort!!!
- R-value is accumulative: High R-value sleeping pads may be rather costly. If you’re on a tight budget, you may layer one pad on top of another to keep warm. For example, a pad with an R-value of 1 on a pad with an R-value of 2.5 will give an accumulative insulation of R-3.5.
- Do NOT use a pump-type air mattress: Air mattresses might be comfortable, but they are heat sinks. The only exception is if the air mattress is insulated, as with these alternatives.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is one of the best backpacking sleeping pads. It has an R-value of 3.2 and weighs just 12 ounces. But, it is quite pricey. If you want something cheaper but nearly as good, check out these affordable Therm-a-Rest alternatives.
4. Clothing which Won’t Make You Sweat
You’re undoubtedly aware that you should dress in layers to be warm when camping. Yet layering does not imply that you should keep adding clothing as you feel chilly! It is a clever technique of blending garments.
The three layers of clothing required for cold weather camping are as follows:
- Base layer: This must be a synthetic or wool substance. Its purpose is to wick moisture away from your body so you don’t overheat (and thus cold). Cotton base layers absorb moisture like a sponge, so never wear them.
- Mid layer: This serves as your insulating layer. It has to be huge and fluffy. In moderate temperatures, fleece hoodies are ideal. In really cold conditions, you should wear a puffy jacket or a thick wool sweater. In really cold temperatures, you may wish to wear two midlayers. You’ll also want a midlayer for your legs, such as fleece trousers.
- Shell layer: The shell layer is what protects you from rain. It also keeps the heat from your midlayer from being blown away by the wind.
Layering Applies to Pajamas Too!
To wear as your pajamas, you’ll need a clean, dry foundation layer. The sleeping bag acts as the mid layer and the tent as your shell layer. Don’t attempt to sleep in cotton pajamas since you’ll become soaked from perspiration.
Cold Weather Camping and Rain
If you are camping in spring or fall, there is a good chance that it won’t only be cold but also rainy. Camping in the rain may be quite risky.
As you become wet, the water on your skin begins to evaporate. Evaporation results in evaporative heat loss, which is why you become chilly when you’re wet. This is the reason Even at temperatures as high as 60 degrees F, hypothermia may develop!Mandatory Rain Gear for Cold Weather Camping
While camping in cold, wet weather, you’ll need these gear to keep you dry.
- A rain jacket and rain pants: It’s rather pointless to bring a rain jacket if you don’t have pants as well. These are my best options for women’s and children’s rain pants. .
- Rain shelter: You may bring a kitchen tent to serve as a shelter in case of rain. Then you’ll have a dry place to hang out when it rains. Personally, I like a tarp and rope (which I always have in the trunk of my car).
How Cold Will It Get Camping?
Temperatures may suddenly vary while camping at high altitudes or during the shoulder seasons (spring or autumn). It may easily change from the 70s to below freezing throughout the day. To determine how chilly it will become, check the height of the weather station and compare it to the elevation of the campsite.
The information provided here will assist you in determining what temperatures to anticipate while planning your camping vacation.
1. Know How Elevation Affects Temperature
Since there is less air at higher elevations, the air cannot capture as much heat. Thus, it will be much colder at higher elevations than lower elevations.
The general rule is:
- When there is no snow or rain, the temperature drops by around 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. °F for every 1000 feet in elevation (9.8°C for every 1000 meters in elevation).
- Whether there is snow, rain, or you are in a cloud, the temperature drops by around 3.3°F for every 1000 feet. (6°C for every 1000 meters).
Have a look at the screenshot below. It depicts Grizzly Peak’s daytime temperatures in November. The temperature difference between the peak’s high and low elevations is 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Adjust Weather Forecast Based on Elevation
It’s possible that the forecast for where you’re going camping is inaccurate: The weather station is most likely not located at the same height as your campsite.
For example, most forecasts for the Smoky Mountains are based on Gatlinburg, TN which is only 1,200 feet in elevation. The highest campsite in the Smoky Mountains is nearly 5,000 feet in elevation. That’s a significant change in height, and consequently a significant temperature differential.
To get a more accurate forecast, look for a weather station located near the campground and on a similar elevation. There’s a really cool website called Mountain-forecast.com which gives you live temperatures at different elevations of mountains. The NOAA also includes a “zone weather predictions” option. Just point the map to your destination and it will provide you with a prediction for that region.
If you can’t find a forecast at the elevation of where you are going camping:
- Get the forecast for the nearest weather station.
- Determine the height of your weather station and campsite.
- Determine the difference in altitudes between the two.
- Adjust the temperature forecast. Recall that this is 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of elevation in clear weather and 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet in wet or snowy weather.
3. Factor in Daytime vs. Nighttime Temperatures
The variation between highs and lows isn’t very great at low heights. Yet, at high altitudes, there might be a significant variation. It may be very hot during the day and extremely frigid at night.
For example, at Grant Village Campground (7,800 feet) in Yellowstone, summertime temperatures are usually in the 70s/80s but can drop to 30s/40s at night. It even snowed there on July 4th!
These are some temperature ranges to help you understand how much the temperature may decrease at night:
- Rocky Mountains: Summer temperatures range from the mid 90s during the day to the 60s and 70s at night.
- Yellowstone National Park: Summer temperatures at higher altitudes are in the 70s during the day and dip to below freezing at night. In spring and fall, temperatures are in the 30s to 60s during the day and drop to teens or single digits at night.
- Zion National Park: Temperatures may reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and autumn. At night, the temperature can differ by over 30 degrees.
- Grand Canyon, South Rim: Summer temperatures often range from the 80s during the day to the 40s/50s at night.
- Yosemite National Park: Summer temperatures are in the upper 80s during the day and dip to the 50s at night. In fall, daytime temperatures are in the 50s to 70s and drop to the 30s/40s at night. (nps source)
4. Plan for Sudden Weather Changes
Weather may be unpredictable in the autumn and spring, particularly at higher altitudes. It can be very warm one day only to drop to frigid temperatures the next.
Have a look at the screenshot below from Colorado Springs Wunderground (elevation 6,000 ft). The temperature dropped from 57 degrees Fahrenheit on September 7th to a bone-chilling 31 degrees Fahrenheit the following day. Anybody who is unprepared for this might have a horrible – or even deadly – camping experience.
Due of the substantial temperature variations that occur in the spring and autumn, you’ll need to plan for summer and winter. Sun protection and warm-weather clothing are essential, but so are a strong mid-layer and outer shell in case it is cooler than planned.
Camping in 20 vs. 30 vs. 40 Degree Weather
Camping in the 40s at night may be a really enjoyable experience. It’s chilly outside, but not dangerously so. You can even get away with having subpar equipment and clothing. That’s not to say I recommend it, but you’ll survive with a cheap sleeping bag and pad.
It’s worth noting that some individuals “sleep warmer” than others. I once stuffed my kid inside my sleeping bag to stay warm. She was toasty but I was shivering!
As temps reach the 30s, you’ll want to upgrade your apparel. Or, if you don’t mind lugging around a lot of extra gear, you can double up: use two sleeping pads and two sleeping bags.
The primary concern with camping at nighttime temperatures of 30 degrees or below is that it is likely to rain at some point during your vacation. Similarly, when midnight frosts melt around sunrise, everything might become moist. If you don’t have experience staying dry when camping, at least bring some extra warm clothes as backups.
Things are really unpleasant while camping in 20 degree temperatures. If you don’t have the right gear or knowledge, you can end up with frostbite – or worse!
I wouldn’t take small children camping in this weather (particularly my daughter, who moans about having to wear “dorky” clothing, but that’s another story…).
On the flip side, there are a lot fewer campers out when the weather gets this cold. You’ll get exclusive access to popular campgrounds, and the snow-covered summits may be breathtaking.
But don’t hurry it: practice camping in milder weather first before putting your gear (and stamina) to the test at 20 degrees.
Tips for Camping in the Cold
Choose a Campground Where You Can Make a Fire
Campfires are excellent for keeping you warm until it’s time to burrow into your sleeping bag. Nonetheless, campfires are not always permitted. Or you may be required to bring a portable campfire pit if you want to make a fire.
Keep in mind that you must also know how to start a fire. It’s not always simple when everything is damp or you only have a limited supply of wood!
Avoid Sleeping Bag Mistakes
Any of these blunders might make it too chilly to go camping, even if you have a cold-weather backpack.
- Not fluffing a down sleeping bag: Down sleeping bags are often rated for extreme cold. However, they only provide insulation if the down feathers are fluffy. When you use a down bag directly from the compression sack, the feathers get squashed together and no longer offer insulation. As a result, you must fluff a down bag before using it.
- Sleeping with your head inside the sleeping bag: If you are camping and it is chilly, your initial instinct may be to put your head inside the sleeping bag. But this will cause vapor from your breath to get into the bag. Even a slight amount of moisture will cause you to feel cold! Put on a hat instead if your head is chilly.
- Choosing a sleeping bag which is too warm: While it is smart to err on the side of caution when choosing a sleeping bag, don’t go crazy and use a 0F bag in 40F weather. You will end yourself sweating profusely at night. Sweating will lead you to get very chilly when sleeping.
- Using an adult sleeping bag for children: Because of the greater space, the sleeping bag will not retain as much heat. Get a child-sized sleeping bag for your children.
The Hot Water Bottle Trick
Several sources advise filling an uninsulated water bottle with hot water and placing it in your sleeping bag.
This will cause your sleeping bag to heat up, but it is also hazardous. What if the water bottle begins to leak? Your sleeping bag, which is intended to keep you warm, is dry!
Be very careful if you decide to do this. Make sure the bottle won’t leak and still wrap it in a towel in case it does.
Cooking At Below Freezing Weather
Keep in mind that isobutane camping stoves do not perform effectively in temperatures below freezing. You’ll want to switch to liquid white gas, which performs better in the cold.
No matter how cold it gets, NEVER COOK IN YOUR TENT. Carbon monoxide poisoning has the potential to kill you.
Bring Extra Calories
Make sure you pack a lot more food than you normally would camping when it’s cold. You may use this calculator to estimate how many calories to bring.
Use a Pad for Sitting On
If you don’t have camp chairs, sitting on the chilly ground will absorb your body heat. A close-cell foam pad is great to sit on and will also keep your butt dry.
Orient Tent towards Sun
Consider which way the sun will rise while setting up camp. Ascertain that your tent will get morning sunlight. It helps to defrost the frost and warm you up on a chilly morning.
Go to the Bathroom before Sleeping
It is a common misconception that having a full bladder can keep you warm. This is completely false! Make sure you go to the bathroom before bed. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to crawl out of your cozy sleeping bag in the middle of the night.
Beware of Condensation
Even if you vent your tent, moisture may accumulate inside on really cold camping nights. Condensation has the potential to drench your equipment. Keep all your gear covered with garbage bags or your backpack cover so it doesn’t get wet.
Not sure what to eat while camping?
I’ve produced an eBook with over 50 backpacking dehydrator recipes. They pack down to lightweight and you just add water to rehydrate. Plus, there’s tons of info on meal planning and nutrition for backpacking. Further information may be found here.
Can you sleep in a tent in 50 degree weather?
Is 50 degrees Fahrenheit too chilly to sleep in a tent? No, it does not. As long as you have a good three-season or four-season tent plus a sleep system (sleeping bag, air mattress, etc.) that’s designed to be used in 50-degree weather, you’ll be fine camping in a tent at 50 degrees.
Is 55 degrees cold for camping?
Certainly not, as long as you bring appropriate attire for the weather/temperature circumstances. I’ve been camping in the winter when the temperature got down to 2° F at night.
What temperature is too cold for tent camping?
30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit
How cold is too cold for tent camping? 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 to -4 degrees Celsius) is generally considered too cold for camping in a tent, especially for those less experienced or not equipped with the right gear.
Is 55 too cold to sleep in?
“Based at the existing information, most studies agree that a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is best for sleeping, with temperatures over 75 degrees and below 54 degrees disruptive to sleep.