6 Ways To Keep A Roof Top Tent Warm

Like any other tent, a roof top tent can get quite chilly when the temperatures fall. There’s nothing worse than waking up in the wee hours of the morning inside a freezing tent. The good news is they can be warm—if you know what to do!

Here are the six most common ways to stay warm inside your rooftop tent: 

  1. Cover your tent
  2. Insulation
  3. Electric blankets & heating pads
  4. Electric heaters
  5. Propane heaters
  6. Butane heaters

If you plan on camping outside on cold nights, it’s a good idea to know how to heat your roof top tent. It’s just as important to know how to keep it warm once heated.

how to keep a roof top tent warm

Are Roof Top Tents Warm?

Like the name suggests, these tents are set up on the roof of your vehicle to keep you off the ground. Why? Well, they first became popular in Australia because there’s a lot of creepy crawlers down under. Nowadays, people enjoy using them for several reasons: 

  • You can easily relocate and sleep wherever you want.
  • You can use it in locations that wouldn’t be ideal for traditional tents.
  • It gets you off the hard (and possibly cold) ground.

In a way, the roof top tents are warmer than standard tents because they’re off the ground, and the canvas material is made from heavy synthetics so it can retain heat better. However, it won’t be able to protect you from falling temperatures. You’d need to take extra steps to ensure your tent stays warm. 

How To Warm Up A Roof Top Tent (And Keep It Warm)

This quick guide will cover the common methods for keeping warm inside your tent. Some of the tips may be more effective than others, but knowing all of them will help you be prepared. 

1. Cover Your Tent

There is a type of high-strength heat and cold resistant material you can put over your roof top tent. Think of it as a hoodie for the tent. The materials will also help shield and waterproof the roof top tent from heavy rain, hail, snow, etc.

Tuff Stuff Overland Xtreme Weather Cover
  • Aluminized coated
  • 150T Rip stop polyester Oxford
  • 2000mm Waterproof (can withstand 2,000mm of water over 1 day before water will start to penetrate
  • UV resistant
  • Flame resistant
See on Amazon

Tuff Stuff Overland Rooftop Tent Extreme Weather Cover is a good example. It’s built with strong materials that can withstand extreme cold and help keep hot air from escaping. 

Since the fabric is waterproof, it may become a bit humid inside the tent, and you may want to invest in anti-condensation mats and sheets. It’ll help keep the moisture at a minimum. Here is a good one that will keep you dry and comfortable. 

2. Insulation

You can purchase an insulator to keep your tent warmer. Some are quilted with insulation materials between the fabrics to keep the warmth in and the cold out. They usually come with insulator clips that fit around the internal frame of the tent for an additional layer of protection. 

Insulator for Rooftop Tents
$199.95
  • Fitted insulator provides and additional layer of protection from the elements
  • Provides quick zippered access to windows, doors and sky panels
  • Package Dimensions: 20.32 L x 59.69 H x 21.336 W (centimeters)
See on Amazon
12/07/2021 10:27 am GMT

Thule insulator is an example of a standard insulation cover that you can apply to the Autana or Kukenam 3 & 4 roof top tent to retain heat to keep your tent warmer longer. 

3. Electric Blankets & Heat Packs

If you’re facing a mildly chilly night (temps in the 40-50s) you could probably get away with warming up your sleeping bag rather than the entire tent by stuffing heating packs in your sleeping bag or turning on an electric blanket.

It may seem like a short-term solution, but it will help you fall asleep comfortably. And the combined heat will eventually accumulate inside the tent. 

You can choose which fabric material you want for your electric blankets. Some are made with sherpa, while others are made with flannel or polyester. Most of them come with an automatic shut-off feature. 

You can plug them into any portable battery or outlet and turn the dial to the temperature setting you want. The blanket has a mechanism that helps it regulate and maintain the temperature. 

Keep in mind that some of the heat packs can go up to 140 degrees, so direct contact with the skin is not recommended. Wear clothes and long socks to be safe. Besides, layering with clothes is always a good idea in cold weather.

Reversible Sherpa/Fleece Heated Electric Throw Blanket
$119.80
  • 100% polyester brushed microplush that reverses to a Sherpa lining
  • 5-heat settings to maintain your own perfect comfort level
  • Machine washable; 3-year manufacture's warranty
  • Throw measures 50"x 60" for full coverage
See on Amazon
12/07/2021 06:12 am GMT

Serta Reversible Sherpa/Fleece Heated Blanket has several features and is the perfect size for most people. The fabric is oh-so-soft. And It comes with a 3-year warranty, which is a nice bonus. 

4. Electric Heaters 

There are times when it’s so cold that insulation and blankets won’t cut it. This is where portable heaters come into the picture. They can be really useful for keeping small spaces warm, including tents. The most common types are electric or propane. 

Electric heaters are great if your campsite has access to electricity. Or, you have a portable battery, then you can use electric space heaters to keep your tent warm and cozy.

They’re really useful for cold nights where the temperatures are between above freezing and mid 40’s. If you need to warm up your tent at below freezing temps, then you may need to step it up a bit and check out propane heaters. (See below.)

Comfort Zone 1500 Watt Compact Utility Heater
$28.62
  • 1500 Watt performance provides targeted heating
  • Low and high heat settings as well as fan only mode
  • Adjustable rotary thermostat.
  • Equipped with power and caution indicator lights, a tip-over switch and an overheat protection sensor to help ensure safe operation.
  • Durable stay-cool metal housing and convenient carry handle allow for safe and easy transport as needed.
See on Amazon
12/07/2021 03:59 am GMT

Comfort Zone CZ707 Compact heater works well for small spaces. It’s built with a strong exterior and a large handle to make it easy to carry. Comfort Zone comes with three temperature settings and a high limit safety fuse. Like most heaters, it has a shut-off safety feature to turn itself off if it overheats or tips over. 

5. Butane Heaters

Butane ceramic heaters pack a punch and can warm up any tent in no time. Many campers use them for emergency winter survival, they’re that good! 

Butane is considered “cleaner” than propane and doesn’t produce as much carbon monoxide, but you should still keep your space ventilated and have a detector nearby to avoid any carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Camping Emergency Butane Heater
$59.56
  • Use standard butane gas cartidge for portability
  • Ceramic burner
  • Pressure sensing safety shut off device
  • Gas consumption 100gm/hr
  • CE certificate
See on Amazon
12/07/2021 09:53 am GMT

Neiko Camping Emergency Butane Heater uses gas cartridges for fuel, so you don’t have to worry about hooking it up to a propane tank. It’s strong enough to warm up a spacious rooftop tent. 

6. Propane Heaters

There are different types of propane heaters. The catalytic type doesn’t need a flame, instead it uses chemical reactions to break down the propane. It is really great at warming up the tent space in a short amount of time. 

They can easily heat up a tent from the minute you turn it on and can be used during below- freezing temperatures. You can keep the tent warm by keeping it on low, and it can run for about 10 hours. 

Our Pick
Mr. Heater Big Buddy Indoor/Outdoor Portable Propane Heater
  • 4,000, 9,000, and 18,000 BTU/hr
  • Automatic low-oxygen shutoff system
  • Accidental tip-over safety shutoff
  • Heats up to 400 sq ft
  • Connects directly to two, 1-lb disposable cylinders or a 20-lb cylinder with an optional hose (cylinders not included)
Learn More

Mr. Heater Buddy is a popular choice for propane-based heating. It is “clean” and doesn’t produce any carbon monoxide. It can also warm up a tent in a short amount of time. It comes with safety features and a shut-off switch.

You can also purchase an additional propane tank connector, which will allow you to use a larger propane tank. The bigger propane tank will allow you to heat your root top tent throughout the night.

Are Propane Heaters Safe? 

Propane heaters that use flames are NOT safe, especially in a small enclosed space. There’s a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

On the other hand, catalytic heaters are considered safe because they don’t use any flames. That means you won’t have to worry about any carbon monoxide issues. In place of flames, they use chemical reactions to produce heat. 

If done right, you can safely use these heaters to keep your roof top tent warm. Keep in mind that any kind of heaters requires attention– you can’t simply turn it on and forget about it. Make sure to check in on it and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Most of them come with safety features to prevent overheating, including an instant shut-off that stops the heater if it tips over. Still, it’s always a good idea to double check and make sure your heater has these features before purchasing it. 

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide can be a silent threat, especially in small enclosures. It’s a form of toxic gas that is hard to detect because it’s odorless and colorless. It comes from burned carbon fuel such as:

  • Wood
  • Gasoline
  • Coal
  • Propane
  • Natural gas
  • Gasoline
  • Heating oil

The detectors can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by alerting everyone with an alarm if any carbon monoxide is present, similar to your fire/smoke alarms. They should be brought along on the camping trip if you plan on warming your tent with a heater– just to be safe. 

You can purchase simple ones that operate with batteries, like Kiddie Battery-operated Combination Smoke/Carbon Monoxide alarm. What’s nice about the Kiddiebrand is it can also detect smoke and fire that may happen from a malfunctioning heater. 

Which Type Heater Should I Use? 

It really depends on the temperature of the nights and whether you have other things to help hold the heat in, like insulation. 

For example, if you don’t have a cover or insulation, then the tent may not retain the heat that well, and you would need something that gives off more heat. And if the nights get really cold (especially below freezing) you’ll need a propane heater because they give off more heat. 

If the night temperatures are considered mild, then you would not need to worry about needing a strong heater. In these cases, the electric heater would work just fine. Most times electric heaters are used for temperatures that are above freezing.

Generally, the rule-of-thumb is: colder nights= propane/butane heater and mild nights= electric heater.

If you are hesitant about using propane or butane heaters, you could try to use the tent cover and insulation along with the electric heater and heat pads. Eventually, the combined heat will accumulate inside the tent. It won’t be extremely warm, but it won’t be that cold either. 

How To Use Your Heater 

Now you have your heater, what’s next? Here are some tips to keep in mind when you reach for your heater inside your tent: 

  • Keep the space around the heater clear and keep it away from the walls of the tent.
  • Place a thick canvas material underneath the heater. It protects the synthetic fabric of the tent from the high heat temperatures. 
  • There should be a small opening while the heater is on, so there is fresh air coming in. (Unzip a window)
  • Don’t forget to insert a smoke/carbon monoxide alarm inside your tent to be safe. 

Most heaters can operate for hours at a time but try to resist the urge to leave them running all night. 

Is Ventilation Really Necessary? 

It’s highly recommended by many experts to ventilate the tent to avoid condensation. It happens when warm air hits a cold surface. It may seem okay on the first or second day, but after a while it start to pose some issues for your tent. 

After all, high humidity can cause mold and mildew. The worst part about mold is it’s really hard to get rid of once it sets in. It can even go as far as damaging the tent’s materials. 

By opening the window of the tent, you’ll be letting in fresh air, which will help with the humidity. Having fresh air circulating into the tent will also prevent it from getting too hot. 

If you have a heater going on inside the tent, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of ventilation. 

DIY Hacks

There are several hacks you can “do-it-yourself” to help keep your tent cozy. 

  • Comforters and Duvets
  • Candle Lanterns
  • Use generators 
  • Hooking up a compact RV furnace with an air return

Comforters and Duvets

There’s a reason why comforters and duvets are so popular for bedtime– they’re warm! Duvets are usually made with feathers, and feathers are quite effective when it comes to retaining warmth. The trapped air between the fabric and the feathers create an insulation effect. 

You can place your comforters and/or duvets along the inside of the tent. Most people drape it along the walls and ceilings by attaching it to the frame. You can play with it and see what works best for you. The idea is to create a layer (or two) within your tent to keep the heat in. 

Candle Lanterns

Believe it or not, candle lanterns were used for many years to heat up small spaces. The open flame can make people nervous, and for a good reason, it can be a fire hazard to have an open candle going inside a tent. Over time people switched to covered lanterns. 

Keep in mind that you still shouldn’t fall asleep with a lit lantern even though the newer types of lanterns are perceived as being safer because they’re covered. Instead, you should treat them like you would a propane heater. Keep it on until right before you go to bed, then turn it off. 

For extra warmth, you can plug in your electric blanket for a good amount of time before you go to sleep. 

Just because people use lanterns to warm up a small space doesn’t mean you should build any kind of campfire within your tent. Fires should not be set inside a tent (unless you’re in a teepee with a large opening overhead for the smoke but that’s for another post), keep it outdoors instead. 

Use Generators

Portable batteries can be nice, but heaters require plenty of power, and eventually, you’ll run out. Generators are great to have on hand for when you need something that will last longer. Think of it as a small motor that powers up your heaters and appliances. 

Note: they can be a bit noisy if you’re looking for some quiet and peaceful nights you may not want a generator going. If you plan, you can find an electric campsite with outlets.

Solar batteries are another option. It’s best to have two solar batteries since it can take all day for one to charge. That way, you can alternate between the solar batteries, charge one while you’re using the other. 

Hooking Up An RV Furnace

It’s important that the RV furnace has an air return, so there’s plenty of oxygen being delivered to the enclosure. It’s common for people to “jig” their tents with a small compact RV furnace, you may hear someone talk about it at one point or another. 

When done correctly, it can be a quick and effective way to warm up. However, it’s not a popular option because hooking up an RV furnace anywhere besides an RV should be done by someone with experience. 

Like with any heater or plugged in devices, the furnace should be turned off before you fall asleep for safety reasons.

Conclusion

There were quite a few choices in this article. It can be difficult to choose one and you’ll probably need more than one for different ranges of temperatures. No matter what you choose to go with it will be a worthwhile investment. Trust me, you don’t to wake up freezing in the middle of the night. It makes the next day miserable.

Personally, on really cold nights, I use the Mr. Heater Buddy Propane Heater with a 10 foot adapter hose hooked to a 20 pound propane tank. It works for me and I recommend it if it’s in your budget. For a normal cool night, I’m pretty good with a sleeping bag and a throw blanket.

I hope these tips help you figure out how to keep your Roof Top Tent warm the next time you’re ready to head out on an overland trip.


James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.