Skip to Content

Is it Colder to Sleep in a Car or a Tent?

Is it Colder to Sleep in a Car or a Tent?

If you are planning on going on a camping trip with cold winter weather, you may find yourself wondering if you should cozy up in a tent or just sleep in the back of your car. Surprisingly, there is one that is colder than the other. 

A tent is much colder to sleep in at night than a car. A car is sealed and any heat that may enter during the day will get retained, absorbed, and further trapped within the car. When you get into your car at night, you will still be warmer in your car than in a tent, as a tent is not sealed to the same level.

To learn more about why it will be colder to sleep in a tent than in your car, how one retains heat better, how wind chills and moisture build-up will affect the temperature, keep reading below. 

Car vs Tent – Which Holds On to Heat Better?

To understand if it is colder to sleep at night in your car or your tent, it is beneficial to know which of the two holds on to heat better. 

The greenhouse effect is what needs to be looked at to understand this. This is when heat from the sun enters in somewhere and is absorbed by it. When it goes to re-radiate the heat that was absorbed, if it cannot escape and gets absorbed again, it will end up heating up the inside of the object. 

Since the car is sealed where air cannot escape and most tents are not sealed, this effect will only occur in one. 

In a Car

Have you ever left your car in the sun all day only to get in it afterward, to find it boiling hot? We’ve all been there. This is because the things inside of a car, such as your dashboard carpet, or seats hold on to heat from the day and absorb it. 

Since your car is then pretty perfectly sealed tight, it has no way to release the heat, it will just build up in your car, and as a result, the inside of your car can sometimes be much hotter than the temperature outdoors. 

If you ever wait until the late of a night, your car may still be hotter than outdoors. 

In a Tent

With most tents being made out of very thin material, it is more than likely that the temperature inside of the tent will always closely reflect the temperature that is outside. 

This is because tents were not built to retain heat, so even though it is easy for heat to enter the tent, it is equally easy to escape when it is colder outside. If you are looking to retain heat and make it warm while you are in a tent, looking for an insulated tent or insulated sleeping bags.

Also read: How To Winterize a 3 Season Tent

Do You Feel a Wind Chill in a Car or a Tent?

A wind chill occurs when the wind that is happening outside makes it feel colder than it really is and, thus, lower your body’s temperature. 

The benefit of a car is that it was designed to withstand the wind and block it from getting in. Therefore, if you are in a car, you cannot feel a wind chill even on the coldest of nights. 

If you are in a tent; however, even those made to withstand cold temperatures, you will still feel a wind chill, as the thin lining can still allow air to come in. So, if there is a wind chill outside, your car still wins for keeping you warmer, while being in a tent may not be that much different from sleeping outside. 

Does Moisture Build-Up Affect Temperature? 

If it is colder outside than it is in the car, and you are either alone or with others, you can be sure that moisture build-up will form on the windows. This happens because the heat from our bodies hits the cold windows and produces moisture. 

When moisture build-up happens in a car, it can become extremely humid and, as a result, actually make the car feel colder. You can prevent this by keeping the windows slightly open. 

However, when moisture build-up happens in a tent, there is not much you can do without making the inside of the tent even colder than it already is. This is in relation to the last point. Since the tent is not prone to wind chills, slightly opening it will make you feel the wind chill inside the tent. 

How the Weather Impacts Which Is Colder

If you are faced with the decision of sleeping in a car or in a tent, while all signs point to the tent being the colder option and the car being the warmer option, here are some things to consider:

  • On a hot day, the hot air outside will, in turn, make the inside of your car much hotter, sometimes heating up the car from 35°C (95°F) weather outside to 47°C (116°F) inside. If you know the weather will not cool down to an unbearably cold temperature, sleeping in your tent would be the colder and more comfortable option.
  • On a warm day, whatever outside heat that the sun allows into the car will most likely stay in the car all night, allowing for a comfortable, cool sleep. However, if it is still slightly warm out at night, the car may remain too hot, and you may get sweaty. In this case, your tent would be a better option.
  • On a cool day, if there was still some sun outside, the car will still retain more heat than a tent would. If this is the case, the car would be the best option as the heat throughout the day will keep you warm at night. 
  • Your tent’s inside will feel very similar in temperature to the outside weather on a cold day. As a result, your car will be much warmer at night than your tent would be, especially if there is a windchill. 

You should also remember that if it is extremely cold or below zero outside, both the car and the tent will be extremely cold on the inside so it is best to use sleeping bags and blankets if this is the case. Same as if it is extremely hot out, and if there is little wind, the result would be that it is both hot within the tent at night and even hotter in the car due to the greenhouse effect. 

Final Thoughts

Your car is built to withstand wind and retain and absorb all the sun’s heat during the day. This will then make the inside of the car on hotter days feel much hotter than it is outside, holding onto this heat well into the night. As a result, your tent will be much colder to sleep in at night as no heat from the day will be there to warm you up.

While the weather outside is a big factor in determining how much colder it will be in a tent than in a car if you are looking to stay warm because it is cold out, sleeping in a car is your best bet. While if you are looking to stay cooler because the hot day heated your car up, the tent is the colder and more comfortable option. 


Up Next In Camping:

What is Stealth Van Camping?

Every Type of Campsite Defined (Camping FAQs)

10 BEST Extra Large Family Camping Tents

10 Best Fall Foliage Camping Destinations in the U.S.

Share this article!

Leave a comment