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  1. #1
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    Default Shelter or Tent on cold nights

    There are many variables, but what will result in waking up warmer on a cold night - the shelter or the tent?
    Agreed that on a wet and windy night - the shelter normally allows you to stay drier unless the wind is in the wrong direction (which I am positive the shelter builders designed to be so)
    It would appear to me that the wood of the shelter floor would be warmer and conduct less heat away from your system than snow for argument. But then I always "seem" warmer in a tent?
    Any thoughts or even science?
    BTW Blood mountain shelter manages to keep a - 10 deg F even in summer.............

  2. #2

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    Unless you're doing something terribly wrong, you should be pretty dry inside your tent.

    Tent should be warmer under any circumstances because there's less volume of air inside, and some of that radiating body heat makes its way outside the bag/quilt and will warm up the inside air until it's a few degrees warmer than the outside air. BUT a lot depends on how windy it is and how much ventilation there is in the tent, as well as the ambient temperature and ambient relative humidity. But in general tents will be warmer.

    One caveat I should mention is that I absolutely abhor shelters and won't sleep in one unless there's a strict regulatory requirement or some unusual circumstances that force me to do so.
    UL, because nobody ever asks "How can I make my pack heavier?"

  3. #3
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    Setting up on wet ground and sleeping there would set you back over a dry shelter area to begin with.

  4. #4

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    Hammock is first choice followed by tent, at least to me. Most shelters have air under the boards and many have moving air heh. If its wet the tent leaves you more mess in the morning. Hammock is just a wet tarp to deal with. That goes up first and comes down last so everything else stays dry.
    “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready...”~Henry David Thoreau

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  5. #5

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    You can definitely notice a difference in temperature when you get out of a tent. If you have a decent pad, it won't matter much if your on the ground or on a shelter floor. Blood Mountain shelter being 100% stone is a refrigerator.

    Of course, there are reasons to stay in a shelter. If we're talking winter and sub 32 temps, not having to deal with a frozen tent is nice. If your in a tent, once you decide to get up you best be ready to pack the tent ASAP. In some conditions it can freeze to the ground once there is no body heat to keep it thawed.

    There can be some spindrift into the front of a shelter if it's real windy, but it usually doesn't pernitrate too far. A wet shelter floor is caused more by people stomping around in wet boots, then hanging wet clothes "to dry" which just drip water onto the floor all night.

    If it's just going to be kind of cold, like in the spring and fall, but no rain, definitely go for a tent. If it's cold and raining and I can find shelter space, I'd opt for the shelter.
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  6. #6

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    Shelters are colder in cold weather. Air circulation under the floor keeps it cooler. Ground temp is usually warmer than air temp. Most sleeping bag ratings assume you are in tent.

  7. #7

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    Even if you are planning to sleep in a three-sided A.T. shelter, you should always, always, always bring an emergency back-up personal shelter.

    If you make that back-up shelter a simple bivy sack, you can use it as extra insulation inside the shelter and stay just as warm as you would outside.

    OTOH, if your back-up shelter is a tent, under no circumstances should you pitch a tent inside a shelter. Not even if you are the only one there. Just don't do it.

    So you can plan to stay in the shelters in a bivy sack and get the benefits of both.

  8. #8

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    I was always warmer in my tent than the shelters.

  9. #9

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    Definitely warmer in a tent than in a shelter. Even my Notch, which is a double wall and vented all the way around, it's still warmer than a shelter.

    The only reason I might stay in a shelter on a freezing night is so that I don't have to pack up my tent with numb fingers in the morning.

    I tend to bring a considerably colder rated sleep system than the weather forecast calls for. I spent one miserable night in the 'teens with an insufficient sleep system and swore I would never freeze again.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Shelters are colder in cold weather. Air circulation under the floor keeps it cooler. Ground temp is usually warmer than air temp. Most sleeping bag ratings assume you are in tent.

    Air circulation is a polite way of describing it heh. I spent a windy night in the Baldhead Shelter on the Cohos last Fall with blasts of cold air pumping up through the floorboards. Guy next to me was using rocks and boards to hold down his tyvek
    “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready...”~Henry David Thoreau

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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Shelters are colder in cold weather. Air circulation under the floor keeps it cooler. ...
    I agree with this. The floor is a heat sink.

    Also, if the shelter is facing the wind, you lose. I saw this firsthand at a shelter on the AT beyond Harper's Ferry. A breeze came up in the night, but because we were in tents it did not affect us. In the morning I chatted with the hikers who'd stayed in the shelter and they'd had a cold night indeed.
    (trailname: Paul-from-Scotland)

  12. #12
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    When my son and I share a tent, there can easily be a 5º difference between the temperature inside the tent and outside the tent.
    I've measured it as I like to carry a thermometer with me now a days to better learn what does and doesn't work for various temperatures.

    BTW: I carry this Reptile Thermometer. It has a 2º scale, which means with good eyes you can make out the temperature to the degree. The way the needle is mounted, the needle can be calibrate with a pair of pliers so that you get an accurate reading. So much better than those zipper pull thermometers with a 5º scale, with no way to calibrate.
    {If you're ever in a gear store or a pet supply shop, look at the stack of thermometers and see how their temperatures compare. Usually in a set you will easily find various temperature readings... which one is right?... hence the reason being able to calibrate it is nice}

  13. #13

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    I haven't slept in a shelter for about 2-3 years now I guess. To me it isn't an option, no matter the weather or conditions I am sleeping in my tent. I can arrive in camp in the pouring rain, soaking wet and within 10 minutes be inside my tent, and 100% safe from the conditions + dry. My matt insulates from the ground, regardless of how wet or cold the ground is.
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  14. #14
    Garlic
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    Another vote for warmer ground over the cold ventilated floor. Hammock hangers need to use underquilts in winter. The shelter floor is somewhat analogous.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  15. #15

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    Most AT shelters are oriented with the opening against the prevailing winds. Many bu not all sites sites are located on the east side of the ridge to catch the morning sun. Obvioulsy if there is particular feature on the west side of the ridge or the AT is routed downslope from the crest of the ridge on west side this may not apply.

    Years ago I took a winter camping course and the instructor was insistent that the snow be scraped down to the ground if possible. There is always heat coming out of the ground and into the air in winter. Depending on latitude the ground temp is above freezing from about 4 feet deep up north to far less heading south. One of the reasons why snow shelters work is they have large floor area that is usually down to to ground level and the roof is thick and acts as an insulator plus acts to retain the heat inside and cut down on radiational cooling at night. Another way to think about it is envision camping on ice. You know that at the bottom of the ice its at least 32 degrees.

    I wonder if this is why the original AT shelters had no floors?. The recommended camping method was go cut up some softwood boughs and lay them on the dirt (not sure what they did in hardwood stands. ). The new AT designs generally are elevated but I think the rational is it keeps people from stuffing trash under it the shelter and also keeps various vermin and reptiles from living under the floor.

  16. #16
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    " Guy next to me was using rocks and boards to hold down his tyvek "

    I was out on Standing Indian a week or so ago - every shelter had some big rocks inside - I thought they must be for throwing at Bears - now I know....

  17. #17
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    I wonder if this is why the original AT shelters had no floors?


    i always figured it was just a way of not having to haul in more supplies and all that...

  18. #18
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    I'm still trying to figure this one out myself. I spend a night last weekend up in the Grayson Highlands in the coldest I've ever camped. It took about an hour to warm up my sleep system enough to feel comfortable enough to fall asleep. I eventually got and stayed cozy warm, but I sealed the tent up pretty good to shelter from the wind and almost immediately condensation began forming on my bag and tent walls. Would have been a major issue to deal with if I was out for more than one night.
    While searching for that unknown edge in life, never forget to look home. For the greatest edge you can find in life is to stand in the protective shadow of those who love you.

  19. #19
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    At least in the pre-COVID days, it was sometimes nice to tent camp near a shelter to kind of get the best of both worlds - being under cover while preparing and eating food, maybe being near a fire, etc, while then having a private place to spend the night. I've also eaten dinner at a shelter and then hiked on a little more to get to a less impacted area (not always possible of course). I haven't done much hiking since COVID started but I would be avoiding shelters based on that factor alone for the foreseeable future.

  20. #20
    Registered User IslandPete's Avatar
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    Default

    As others have said, it’s all about how much air your body needs to keep warm. Moving air is worse. So tent likely better than shelter. What worked for us though, on the coldest nights, was laying our tent footprint in the shelter to keep wind from coming through the floor, then our double sleeping pad, then our quilt on top with the tent fly over everything. The only air our bodies had to heat was the pad and the air in the quilt. It was toasty.

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