a person's feet sticking out the door of an orange tent, looking out onto the snow

Winter Camping | Hot Tenting Vs Cold Camping

If you’ve are interested in the prospect of extending your camping season and trying a winter camping adventure, you have likely already discovered that there is a lot to learn! Camping in the colder temperatures is a whole different monster with new options, new rules and new gear. The key to the best winter camping experience is simply to discover which of these options is suited best for you!

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While winter camping is far less popular than the warmer weather options, there are some serious advantages to consider. There is no denying the beauty of the winter snow undisturbed out in the wilderness. Combine this with the calm and quiet as many animals are hibernating and the number of campers is seriously lower, and you have the recipe for a relaxing weekend.

However, there is nothing relaxing about being uncomfortable freezing your butt off outdoors! Unfortunately, an ill-prepared winter excursion may not only turn you off the idea of ‘roughing it’ during the colder months, but it could also carry even more serious risks such as frostbite and hypothermia. For this reason, it is important to do your research and invest in the necessary gear to keep you safe and comfortable.

For those that want to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors during the winter months, there are many different options ranging from the comfort of a small cottage through to the more adventurous option of tenting in the snow. Which option is best suited for you? This depends on what luxuries you require to be comfortable during the winter months, how you plan on spending your days while out on your adventure and where you plan on visiting. For example, some areas may only be accessible to those carrying their tents and gear in, while other locations may offer several easily accessible roofed accommodations.

Cottages, Yurts and oTENTiks

If you are new to the camping scene or simply prefer a little more luxury on your trips, cottages and cabins are a great option. Much like heading to the cottage in the summer months, you would have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful sights and the laid back lifestyle of a camping excursion while still enjoying some of the comforts of home – comfortable chairs and love seats, a ‘kitchen’ area, running water and electricity. You can look into cottage opens through rental programs like Airbnb, or you can book through the National Parks or  Ontario Parks.

If you are looking for the ‘tenting’ experience without giving up all of the luxuries of a cabin accommodation, you may be interested in checking out yurts or oTENTik accommodations. Available through the National Parks, oTENTik is a mix of a tent and an A-frame cabin, providing lighting, indoor furniture and heating options. Yurts are 8-sided tents that are permanently set up on a wooden deck. This allows for the perks of lights, furniture and kitchen areas while still enjoying the feeling of camping outdoors. You can book a yurt through either the National Parks or Ontario Parks.

long-haired black dog standing outside in the snow

Pet-Friendly Winter Camping

It should be noted that most roofed accommodations are NOT pet-friendly within the parks systems. As I do focus on pet-friendly travel a lot here on Alternatively Speaking (as we love travelling with our own pets), I want to be transparent with this information up front. You can find information regarding the availability of pet-friendly accommodations here:

National Parks – ‘Pet-Friendly Places to Stay Overnight’

Ontario Parks – ‘Dogs Now Welcome in Select Ontario Parks Cabins and Yurts!’

RV and Trailer Camping

For the seasoned campers that can’t get enough of the rugged outdoors experience, the winter season is also a fun time to break out your RV, trailer or tent for a getaway! There are many different parks available for RV/Trailer/Tent camping – providing easily accessible sites and heated comfort stations.

If you are planning on taking your trailer or RV winter camping, there are a few steps that you should consider to ensure that you’re prepared for the colder weather. Some RV campers will upgrade their insulation for the colder months, however, if you’re not interested in going to that extreme you should still examine your RV or trailer for possible air leaks and ‘cold spots’. Switch out any thin curtains for heavier options to block any cold drafts from your windows or install a window covering. Form board flooring, heavy rugs or carpets can be used on the floor to add an extra layer of insulation from cold air underneath your RV or trailer.

You need to seriously consider whether you plan on using your water lines during your winter outings. While some campers will winterize their trailer or RV, using water from a jug similar to tent campers, others choose to take steps to wrap heat tape or insulation on pipes and hoses to allow them to continue using their water lines.

Don’t forget to check your RV/trailer furnace to ensure that it’s in good working order before heading out in the colder temperatures. Even if your furnace is working great at home, this isn’t a guarantee that you won’t experience difficulties while at the campsite. Pack extra warm clothing and bedding so that you are prepared for a ‘worst case’ situation.

Related: ‘The Nomadik Subscription Box | The Perfect Gift for the Adventurer in Your Life!’

Hot Tenting

If you’re planning on tent camping during the winter months but prefer to stay warm and toasty, hot tenting is worth consideration. A hot tent is a larger tent, usually made of canvas, that is designed to support the use of a portable wood-burning stove. Made from a fire-resistant material (for obvious reasons), they are often a little heavier than your standard tent. Most have either no floor or the option for a removable floor. In the tent itself, you will find a spot for the fireplace chimney.

Hot tenting provides you with a warm place to hang out if you know that you are going to be sticking around the campsite for most of your trip, or a warm place to return to after a day of hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc. It doesn’t take long for the space to heat up after you fire up the fire, allowing you to dry out and warm up.

One additional perk to using a hot tent is that you have a warm stove inside your tent at your disposal! This is a great place to cook a hot meal or make a pot of coffee without having to leave the warmth of your tent. Imagine getting up in the morning and enjoying your morning coffee before you have to face the cold temperatures that await you… Be sure to pack the necessary safety gear. While most people will consider the risk of fire, many overlook CO2 concerns. Always pack a portable CO2 detector for your trips (and test it before you leave home).

There are, however, some downsides to consider. As previously mentioned, these tents are generally heavier than your standard tent which can make it difficult if you have a distance to travel to your campsite. In order to run the stove, you also need to transport the stove itself as well as a supply of firewood (parks discourage campers from collecting wood on-site to preserve the natural beauty of the park). The gear is also quite costly upfront, however, if properly taken care of, a hot tent and stove can last you a lifetime of camping!

Cold Camping

Cold camping refers to any other camping experience in which you are not using a stove to add warmth to your camping accommodations. This includes those who are tenting in a standard tent (4-season tents are recommended if you will be camping anywhere where you may experience significant snowfall), hammock camping or tarp camping. In each of these situations, you are not relying on your accommodations to keep you warm – your tent or tarp will help to cut the wind, but you need to pack your gear accordingly!

For these trips, whether you’re hot tenting or cold camping, you need to trade in your usual air mattress for a closed-cell foam sleeping pad. Traditional air mattresses become cold, holding that cold air close to your body. You should also look at the rating temperatures for your sleeping bag. In the summer, we select sleeping bags that will prevent us from overheating, however, you will need a lower-limit temperature rating to ensure that you have the warmth and insulation required for the cold nights. It sounds like common sense to say that you should bring additional layers, like blankets, but you may not realize that you should be adding layers under your sleeping bag! The air around you in your tent will warm up due to your own body temperate, but the cold ground isn’t as forgiving…

a person's feet sticking out the door of an orange tent, looking out onto the snow with the title winter camping hot tenting vs cold camping


Whichever option you decide suits you best, make sure that you take time to consider your gear. Create a list and check off each item as it’s packed. After all, forgetting gloves for a winter camping trip is a much more serious situation than forgetting a bathing suit during the summer months!

You will also need to ensure that you are bundled up with the necessary layers during your trip to keep your body warm regardless of the temperatures. This includes synthetic or wool base layers, a toque or equivalent cold-weather hat, gloves, extra socks and waterproof boots. You may also choose to bring a hot water bottle or hand warmers for additional warmth. However, make sure that your layers will allow you to avoid running too warm by removing some when you are insider your accommodations.

Finally, you want to plan high-calorie meals and snacks throughout your trips. By boosting your sugars, fats and carbohydrates, you are actually helping your body to stay warm. Calorie-dense snack options like chocolate, cheese and nuts will leave you feeling full while giving your body a much-needed boost of fuel to stay warm as the temperatures drop.

Most importantly, take the time to really enjoy the experience. Take in the beauty of the winter months and allow yourself to relax. There are many benefits associated with spending time outdoors including helping to reduce stress and anxiety in our lives, so let it do its job!

Have you ever been winter camping? I would love to hear about your experience or any tips you have to share!

65 thoughts on “Winter Camping | Hot Tenting Vs Cold Camping”

    1. It’s SO peaceful! The parks can get a little noisy and busy during the summer months, but the winter is the exact opposite

  1. Winter camping is such an adventure! I’m not sure if I’d make it through the night outside in a tent– I did it once in a cabin. There was a least a foot of snow on the ground and we made maple syrup and told horror stories by the fire. We also hiked in the snow. This is a cool idea if you really want to shake things up in your life!

    1. You’d be surprised just how warm the tents can be as long as you have all the right gear – especially hot tenting!

  2. Definitely enjoyed standard camping with my family many times. Never considered ‘hot tenting’ or winter camping before, but will definitely check it out! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’ve always done cold camping in the past, but my husband and I are currently looking into the hot tenting gear for the near future!

  3. I think camping in winter in Canada would be gorgeous — hello Northern Lights!! Thanks for the tips, as well as the pet-friendly sites. 😉

    1. Absolutely stunning! One of those things that I think everyone should add to their bucket list if they are at all outdoorsy!

  4. This was a really good read. I’ve never heard of winter camping. Love the idea of relaxing to the beauty of a winter landscape. Not sure how I’d handle sleeping in a tent on the cold ground (I’m a Florida girl) but would definitely enjoy taking my dog along!

    1. If you sleep on a good quality camping cot with a warm sleeping bag and some blankets, you’d never even notice that it’s cold ground! I would suggest a camp cot over a traditional pad in that case though, it elevates you off the ground a bit. My husband have actually been looking into a nice one for us for winter camping just for the comfort factor.

  5. I’ve been caught camping at a five day festival desperately unprepared in 2°C winter cold. All of these ideas sound like really great investments.

    1. There is really nothing worse than the feeling of being cold and not being able to do something about it!
      Even just a super warm sleeping bag would at least give you somewhere to go warm up.

  6. Wow, you’ve thoroughly laid out all the best camping options here. Great write up. I’ve done a lot of camping, but I live in the deep south so winter camping doesn’t often come with snowy views (sadly). I used to do all my camping with tents. After having kids though I find its usually safer and easier to camp in a cabin or an RV, in most cases. Though some locations just prove to be perfect for popping a tent.

    1. Many families make the switch from tents to tent trailers or smaller trailers when there are kids in the mix! It’s that added convenience when you have a million other things to consider now!

  7. I think cottages and cabins would be more up my alley–though my husband would live outside year round if he could! The winter landscape would be amazing though!

    1. My husband wasn’t much of a camper when we met, but we slowly started trying new things and discover what he did (and didn’t) like 🙂

  8. I enjoy living vicariously through people like you. As much as I like the idea of camping, the times I’ve actually done so have shown me that I’m sadly just a big wimp. hahaha

    1. There are option for everyone – while tenting or RVing may not be your style, curling up in front of a fireplace in a cabin could be a cozy way to spend the winter months.

    1. I’ve never done the yurts simply because they weren’t pet friendly up to this point, but with the introduction of pet friendly yurts in the Ontario parks starting in April, we’re already talking about going to one next winter!

  9. I never realized that there was different types of camping, I’ve been camping before (unwillingly) like when my home flooded and I had to say in a RV for months and it was in the winter, lol.

    1. I think going unwillingly can give it a negative spin, unfortunately – you are more focused on the flooding home than a getaway experience.
      I hope you get the chance to try it out because you legitimately WANT to some day!

    1. It’s an experience that I really think everyone should try once! To start out and ‘try it’ you could always look at options like Yurts where you don’t have to supply the bigger supplies because they’re already provided to you!

  10. I’ve never even thought about camping in winter before, I’m usually still cold indoors with the heating on to even want to leave the house. I love that you included alternative options like lodges though – and I love that you included the relevant pet friendly information even more x


    1. I’m sure if you’re the ‘always cold’ type, curling up in front of a fireplace in a cabin would be a nice, cozy way to spend the winter!

    1. I haven’t been hot tenting but I am definitely in the process of pricing out gear right now because I think it would be so cozy!

  11. Winter camping seems like it would be fun to try but there is no way my wife is getting out there with me unless we try the hot tent! I didn’t even know that those stoves existed. I looked at the link on Amazon and the price is very reasonable considering you will be warm all night! I also just discovered a show on HGTV or one of those networks on living in Yurts. I had no idea about these but they look really really cool to live in. And at least you are up off the ground. Interesting post.

    1. I’ve always been cold tenting and my husband has never been winter camping before. Rather than just throwing him in, we’ve been talking about picking up the supplies to try hot tenting together. Not only for him, but also for his dog – the spoiled pup doesn’t do too well with the cold lol

  12. Great post! I think it would be pretty beautiful to wake up and see the snow, fall/winter is one of my favorite times of the year. Yes I may freeze my butt off a little but camping is so much fun and it is nice to just escape in nature without a screen in front of our faces.

    1. Exactly! I can get past being a little cold/uncomfortable if I’m surrounded by nature. That being said, with all the options available you can be comfortable AND enjoy the great outdoors… best of both worlds.

  13. This sounds so wonderful! Most of my camping was done during the summer, while I lived in the hot & humid Southern US. It was…sticky. Now that I’m up North, I reaaallly want to try winter camping!

    1. You should definitely give it a try! There are some great options to try it out without having to invest in too much gear, like renting a Yurt.

  14. When we visit colder climate camping places, I’m know we’ll stay in cabins or Airbnb. The hot tenting sounds like a great option of offered as a glamping option. Here in Australia winter is the best tine of year to camp.

  15. I have never tried winter camping, but would be game for it – with the right gear of course. The hot tenting sound really interesting and maybe something that would be good to have when being introduced to winter camping.

    1. Hot tenting is one of the options I actually haven’t tried yet, but we’ve been talking about investing in the gear and heading out with our pups at some point. I can just imagine how warm the tent would be with the fire rolling.

    1. That’s the great part – there really is something for everyone! We are tent campers the rest of the year, so we’re super intrigued with the idea of getting hot tenting gear in the near future.

    1. That sounds like a GREAT trip to take with the boys! While the cost of equipment can add up quickly, there are some super cost-effective options!

  16. As much as I like the idea, I don’t think I’m cut out for cold winter camping. I guess the A frame one where you set up your tent on the deck sounds kind of nice. But only if you can bring your dogs along because I can’t see doing anything outdoors if my pups can’t come.

    1. I understand you all too well! Our pups come along on all of our random outdoor excursions. I love having them by your side and exploring the great outdoors as a ‘pack’.

  17. Hi Britt,

    Your post made me want to go camping badly. It has been more than 5 years since I camped last time. I don’t do cold tent camping (as I freeze even at home in the wintertime), and I didn’t know of hot tenting – that seems like a bit too much gear to take with you! But I do like the idea of cottages for the winter (preferably, with fireplace! 🙂 ), Yurts and oTENTik (the last one is also new to me).

    We used to go skiing in New Hampshire, USA, and renting a cottage for the night was always a great pleasure. I wish we could go now to the dog-friendly places you pointed out, but our beloved pup is too old to travel, and she doesn’t enjoy the snow anymore, which she absolutely loved when she was young.

    I’ve done some summer camping and kayaking trips.
    Once, when I was young, we went to the Elbrus mountains for 10 days 3000+ meters above sea level. It was in the summer. The air was warm, but snow all around. It was fun to take a quick bath in a mountain lake where the water was just above the freezing point! That whole trip was breathtaking and unforgettable!

    Thank you very much for the wonderful post. I might use some of your shopping suggestions – super-warm touchscreen gloves might be handy for winter photography. They also make a good Christmas gift.

    Keep warm and happy holidays to you!

    ~ Julia

    1. My mother picked me up a pair of the touchscreen gloves last year for Christmas as I do photography with our local marching band. It allows me to keep my hands warm while photographing the band in the Christmas parades!

  18. I have been camping before with a tent in the snow – it was COLD!! It is so important to do anything you can to keep warm, especially when it’s freezing temperatures. Love that there are many resources out there to help out. Oooh I have the same camping beanie! Love it! Next time, I’m definitely doing a cabin. Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy ? exquisitely.me

    1. You definitely need to be fully prepared with all the right gear, no one wants to be stuck out in the cold all uncomfortable. A cabin is a great way to enjoy the beautiful scenery while enjoying some of the finer pleasures 😉

    1. We’re planning ahead for next winter too, talking about picking up all the gear to try out hot tenting with the pups. I can’t wait!

  19. I haven’t heard of hot tenting before but it sounds like the best option for winter camping. It would be so calm and peaceful camping in the cooler weather.

    1. I’ve never actually tried it, although I know plenty of people who have and swear by it. My husband and I have been pricing out the gear and talking about trying it out next winter.

    1. There is something so incredibly peaceful and serene about the winter nights away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

    1. Cold camping has been my go-to since I was a child, but my husband and I are currently exploring hot tenting gear to give that a try

  20. The closest I’ve come to Winter camping was in Scotland, where I stayed in a glamping pod towards the end of October. I really enjoy it, especially the chilled air in the morning and how picteresque everything looked. But I would be willing to try cold camping too. My sleeping bag is only good for 2 seasons though (as is my tent) so these would need to be updated. I’ve actually never heard of hot camping though! But I’m not sure it would be for me – I can be quite clumsy.

    1. I LOVE cold camping. You would definitely need to upgrade your sleeping bag, but it sounds like a great excuse to do some gear shopping haha! We picked up winter sleeping bags that are 2 parts each, an inner and an outer, so we can separate them leaving us with a warm weather sleeping bag the rest of the year 🙂

  21. Never really been a camper but getting close to having three months in Washington which has some beautiful national parks, might be time to try some Winter / Spring camping. I’ll keep these tips in mind 🙂

    1. There are some INCREDIBLE parks in the area. There is something so relaxing about camping and spending time outdoors. It’s like for a short moment time stops, and you’re allowed to just ‘be’ in the here and now.

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