Are Tents Or Cars Warmer? It May Surprise You


Have you ever asked yourself “is it warmer to sleep in my tent or my car?” I have wondered this on some cold nights while camping. I have searched around the web to find the best information on staying warm when faced with this question.

So, is it warmer to sleep in a car or a tent? In most situations, a car will keep you warmer than a tent. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Cars hold on to head from the day inside.
  • Covering the windows of a car can help trap heat.
  • There is no wind chill inside of a car.
  • You can easily reduce moisture build-up in a car.

It is important to keep in mind that while sleeping in your car may be warmer than sleeping in a tent, you still need to be prepared in advance for cold weather. Read on to find out why it’s warmer in a car and how you can ensure you stay warm enough.

By the way, If you are in the market for a new tent, then you should click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.

Which Holds On To Heat Better?

At least initially the car will have a warmer inside temperature than that of the inside of your tent. The car acts as a sort of greenhouse where your car’s dashboards, seats, etc. hold on to the heat that was received through the windshields during the day. That is why windshield sunshades do so well at keeping your car cooler.

Those parts of your car hold on to that heat and then when they release it, it can not easily exit the car when it is sealed tight. So that is why your car’s internal temperature is usually warmer than the exterior ambient temperature. Your car could be holding on to some heat well into the night that might be just enough to get a comfortable night’s rest while camping.

On the other side of the spectrum, a tent is made out of very thin material and most tents are not designed to retain heat. That is where a sleeping bag comes into play. For the most part, a tent’s internal temperature will very closely reflect that of the outside ambient temperature as opposed to with cars. This means that when it comes to getting a warmer ambient temperature, you should choose your car over your tent.

Which One Prevents Heat Loss Better? 

At least initially the car will have a warmer inside temperature than that of the inside of your tent. The car acts as a sort of greenhouse where your car’s dashboards, seats, etc. hold on to the heat that was received through the windshields during the day. Those parts of your car hold on to that heat and then when they release it, it can not easily exit the car when it is sealed. So that is why your car’s internal temperature is usually warmer than the exterior ambient temperature. Your car could be holding on to some heat well into the night that might be just enough to get a comfortable night’s rest while camping.

On the other side of the spectrum, a tent is made out of very thin material and most tents are not designed to retain heat. That is where a sleeping bag comes into play (Like this one that I personally use from amazon). For the most part, a tent’s internal temperature will very closely reflect that of the outside ambient temperature as opposed to with cars. This means that when it comes to getting a warmer ambient temperature, you should choose your car over your tent.

Which One Reduces Wind Chill Better?

A wind chill is the lowering of your body temperature due to lower temperature air passing by it. It is the reason why windy days feel so much colder than what the actual temperature is. Wind chill “temperature” will always be lower than ambient temperature. In a vehicle, you can block the wind from hitting your body. A vehicle is a very sturdy object that is properly sealed.

Car exteriors are designed to cut through the wind and the interiors are designed to prevent air from getting in. This is especially true at high speeds because of the aerodynamics of cars that help with fuel efficiency. Tents do not offer such protection from wind chill, even tents designed for winter use will be inferior for wind chill.

Tents simply do not have the thick mass it takes to eliminate wind chill as cars do. We have all had our tents up on a windy day and have seen them struggle against the raging winds. Tents are actually designed to allow proper airflow even with a rain fly and closed windows. This design within tents also helps reduce moisture buildup inside of the tent. So on windy nights, a car will beat a tent for wind chill reduction.

How to Prevent Moisture Build Up In Both

Moisture build-up can be a problem in both cars and tents. If you intend to sleep in your car to avoid the cold outside air then you may find your windshields building up a lot of moisture on them. This happens because the windshields are very cold surfaces and our bodies produce warm moist air. The act is known as condensation, and a completely closed car will act as a small greenhouse where the moisture from our bodies or even other wet materials in our car evaporates and collects onto the inside of the windshields.

We want to prevent this from happening because it will become uncomfortably humid inside the car. To prevent moisture build-up in our car we simply need to leave a small crack open in the window to let the warm humid air escape. It may seem counter-intuitive, but extreme humidity will make the interior feel colder than cracking the window open a little bit will.

Moisture build-up can also occur in a tent. The process of condensation is similar to that of a car. Having a space open to vent out the warm air helps, but it will cause a significant temperature decrease compared to in a car because of the wind chill factor. So the best option for in a tent is to keep as many wet items outside of the tent as possible. Moisture from wet items will build on the inside of the tent walls, so keep everything in the tent as dry as possible.

Another possible solution is in the setting up of the location where you place your tent. Putting your tent under a tree instead of in an open space could help reduce moisture build-up because the tree will collect more moisture instead of your tent.

It Is Best To Be Prepared For Cold Weather In The First Place

Above all, you should be prepared for cold weather regardless of if you are sleeping in the car or sleeping in your tent to stay warm. Always check the weather conditions for a general idea, but don’t count exactly on the predictions. Weather can be very unpredictable and change in an instant. This is especially true where the best places to camp are. Bring cold-weather clothing and gear even if you do not think that you will need it. Some of the essentials for combating cold weather are:

Proper preparation is the secret to having a good experience while camping. This goes beyond cold weather nights and encompasses all aspects of camping.

Conclusion

Given a choice between the two, on an uncomfortably cold night, I would opt to sleep in the car instead of a tent. Cars are simply able to hold on to heat better than a tent is. Cars also lose heat at a slower rate than a tent does. On windy nights, the car will protect you better than a tent from the wind chill factor.

It is also easier to prevent moisture in a car without sacrificing warmth. Regardless, in either situation, it helps to be prepared for the cold and windy weather above all else because it will make the difference between a comfortable night and a miserable night.

Related Questions:

Are Small Tents Warmer?

Small tents are warmer than larger tents because there is they can retain heat better since there is less surface area inside of the tent for your warm body heat to escape.

How Much Warmer Is It Inside Of A Tent Than It Is Outside?

You could expect a tent to be about 5-10 degrees warmer inside than the outside ambient temperature on a clear and windless night. Your tent could temporarily trap some body heat warmth, but eventually, it should be ventilated away. During the day a tent can get much warmer than outside.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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