A Guide To Insulating The Ground When Camping

Tent camping in cold weather brings unique challenges to sleeping comfortably. That’s why we believe the best way to start making a comfortable place to sleep in your tent is by insulating the ground beneath the tent and above the tent floor. 

The best way to insulate the ground when tent camping is to start with a clear, level site, ideally sheltered from the wind. Lay down a ground tarp to keep moisture away from the tent floor. Inside the tent lay down a foam padding with reflective foil facing up to reflect body heat back into the tent.

A Guide To Insulating The Ground When Camping
Insulating the ground in cold weather will make for a better nights sleep and a great next day

Why Insulate Your Tent Floor While Camping?

Four-season tents are designed for cold weather camping. But you may not want to invest in an expensive four-season tent you’ll only use once or twice a year. Even the best four-season tent in cold weather will still be cold inside. 

Since the could ground is a surface you’ll be standing on and sleeping on directly it’s best to start insulating your tent from the ground up. We also have a guide to sleeping on the ground without getting cold.

You can make your camping a lot more comfortable with these tips for insulting your tent floor.

Use A Smaller Tent

You may think you want a large tent for all your gear. But it will be easier for you to get and stay warm in a smaller space. So if you have more than one tent, choose the smallest tent you have that will accommodate the number in your group. In warm weather, sprawl out in that big tent. In cold weather, go smaller and you’ll stay warmer. Smaller means you won’t have to keep as much space warm. 

Pick The Right Spot For Your Tent

When deciding where to place your tent think level, dry, and out of the wind. 

A level site is a must. 

You don’t want to fight gravity pulling you off your cot or sleeping pad all night long. I hate it when that happens. 

You also should look for a spot that will stay dry.

The ground may be wet, that’s okay. There may even be snow, that can and should be cleared. What you don’t want is to pitch your tent where there may be water flowing under the tent if it rains or snow melts. 

If you’re concerned about whether the site will stay dry you can do a bit of light trenching as a diversion. Just be sure to level the ground again before you break camp and leave. Leave no trace that you’ve trenched your site. 

If the ground is already wet but its level you could spread some leaves on top of your site to help keep the moisture away from the tent. 

If there’s snow on the ground remove it from the area where you’ll pitch the tent. If you don’t the snow could melt and refreeze leaving you with bumps and ridges of uneven ice under your tent floor. That’s no fun. 

You should also remove any debris from the ground that can easily be removed such as rocks and twigs. If you’re sleeping on a pad on the ground taking your time with this is worth the good night of sleep you’ll get. 

If you’re using a pop up tent you might be wondering how to keep it dry if it does snow or rain we deal with that here.

Pitching your tent on top of a windy hill will make it harder to keep warm

Look for a natural shelter from the wind.

While you’re thinking about moisture you should also be thinking about keeping your tent out of the wind if possible. If you can, find a few trees or a slope to be near that will provide a windbreak from strong winds which will help you keep some of the warmth inside your tent. 

Think too about elevation. You might think that setting up camp in a depression in the ground would be best but remember that throughout the night cold air will be sinking and settling in around your tent. Too high an elevation can mean dealing with difficult weather if rough weather comes in the night. So choose an elevation somewhere in between too low and too high.

Another caution is that when camping near trees you should be careful that you aren’t under any loose limbs that could come done in the night on top of you and your tent. Those are called “widowmakers” for a reason. 

Place A Tarp or Footprint Under The Tent

A tent footprint is a light tarp designed specifically for your tent by the manufacturer. If you have one, that’s great. If you don’t just use a tarp. 

Place the tarp or footprint on the site you’ve chosen and cleared for the tent. 

If using a tarp it’s best to find one that matches the size of your tent. You could even cut down a larger tarp to match the floor size of your tent. Either way, when it’s time to pitch your tent, be sure that the tarp or footprint doesn’t extend past the sides of the tent. 

If the tarp sticks out from under the tent at all, fold the tarp under itself (not over) until it’s completely under the tent. 

If you fold it over itself, you’ll have a pocket on the ground tarp that will trap water. 

If you leave any part of the tarp sticking out from under the tent you could end up with water or melting snow from your tent under your tent which can lead to a soggy sleeping bag and gear.

On another note, using a ground tarp can help you keep from ruining the floor of your tent. Go here to learn the proper tips for protecting your tent floor.

Cold weather camping can be a lot of fun with the right gear and planning

Insulate The Ground Inside The Tent

Think layers. A simple tarp under your tent will do little to stop the cold. What you’ve mainly done there is stop moisture which is very important for insulating the ground under your tent.

Now, adding a few simple and strategic layers will go a long way to insulating the floor of your tent in the cold of fall, winter, and spring camping. 

For the floor of the tent, you have some options and some of the options depend on how much room you have with you while traveling. 

One option is using a piece of carpet that fits the size of your tent floor. This is likely only an option if you have the space in your vehicle for it.

A better option is to use interlocking foam pads on the floor of your tent. This will make a good barrier from the cold. But this takes up some space when traveling. The tiles could, of course, be spread out inside your vehicle around your gear. 

If you go with this method you should also spread out a space blanket on top of the padding on the floor. This will reflect the warmth of your body back into the living space of the tent.

You could skip the interlocking foam pads and the space blankets and go straight to a roll of foam that has the reflective foil already on it. 

Whichever method you choose, you’ll be much more comfortable and insulated from the ground with the right preparation of your site, protection from moisture on the ground, shelter from the wind, and a good insulating layer between you and the ground. 

Just a note here about camping in the cold or any kind of climate. Always be sure to bring along a first aid kit. Even a minor injury can take the fun out of your trip. Check out our recommended first-aid gear here.

One more thing to think about is to bring all the gear you need to be comfortable but not more than you need to be comfortable. We like to keep camping simple and make it easier.

There are many other ways to stay warm while camping in the cold. But this method will give you a good start from the ground up.

  • Kevin

    About the Author

    Hi, I'm Kevin and I love getting outside. I want my articles to be as helpful as possible so that you can learn to enjoy getting outside more often yourself. So leave a comment if you have a question, find a typo, or think I missed something. I'd love to hear from you.

    You can learn more about me and find more of my articles here.

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