Tent living does not provide the comforts of a traditional home, but the option is viable in a variety of climates. Tent living is ideal for temperate climates, but customized tents allow you to live in cold environments as well. If you are simply bunking down for one night, I’d usually suggest that a quality high spec thermal sleeping bag, some good layered clothing and a decent tent will get you through. For winter campers, especially those who are staying outside for a couple of days, you might find that the best way to stay warm is to set up a wood burning stove inside their tent… this really can make camping a wonderful experience, but there are a few very serious safety precautions to get right.
If you are thinking of camping with a wood burning stove inside your tent, I’d suggest doing extensive research to make sure your equipment and planning is correct. When done right, this set up is brilliant – when done wrong, it could be deadly.
What is a Hot Tent?
A hot tent is basically using a wood burning stove inside you tent to provide a warm and dry living area while camping. Not only does it mean you’ll be more comfortable, (especially at night), but it allows you to easily dry out your boots and clothing as well as do basic food preparation such as boiling water within the comforts of your tent. Many good stoves give you the ability to cook on flat surface stovetop. A “hot tent” set up can allow you to stay in sub-zero temperatures and allows that dreamy experience of staring at the flames, while not having to content with any of the annoying smoke!
Setting up and operating a wood burning stove inside a tent has a number of special considerations that need to be kept in mind at all times and can help to prevent the stove from becoming a fire hazard.
Equipment for setting up a wood stove inside your tent:
Your stove should be a firebox with legs that uses a flue pipe to direct smoke and fumes outside of the tent. You want a stove with an adjustable air intake vent so that you can control the amount of air the fire can draw in to feed the fire. There will also be a damper at the flue or stove exit, which helps for adjusting the rate at which you burn fuel and also the rate at which heat is lost through the flue system. Your flue pipe should also include a spark arrestor which is designed to reduct the chance of any burns to the outside of the tent.
Larger sized tents are best suited for having wood stoves inside so that you can keep a safe distance between yourself and the stove. Remember: “A meter from the heater” as rule of thumb for clothing, bedding and anything else that could potentially catch fire. Check with the manufacturer of your tent to make sure you get something that is compatible with your needs.
There are some pretty cool accessories available for hot tent stoves, including hot water tanks and cooking capabilities such as pizza ovens.
Safety Considerations With Using a Wood Fire Inside your Tent:
Let’s be realistic…having a fire burning inside your tent comes with some serious safety risks and if you are going down this route, you need to make sure you do your research and use common sense. Your tent needs to be up to the task. I recommend camping in a tent that has been suitably fireproofed, meaning that either the canvas itself is weaved from a fire-resistant material or has been coated in one. Lightweight tents tend to be made from nylon (highly flammable) so not necessarily suitable for use as a hot tent. Always, always, ask the manufacturer if they are compatible with a stove.
Consider how the flue (chimney) exits the tent. This might be via a built-in exit point or a through a hole made in your tent using a silicone flashing kit. The area where the flue pipe exits the tent must be made of fireproof material.
Your flue should have a double pipe section to provide insulation from the hot flue coming into contact with the canvas. Make sure your flue also includes a spark arrestor in the last section of the pipe to eradicate any embers that travel up the flue and stop them from falling on (or near) your tent.
As well as preventing your tent from catching fire, it’s also really important to keep yourself protected as well. Invest in the right gear to set up safely. Use a fireproof mat to sit your stove on and a fireguard to keep belongings from inadvertantly getting too close to the heater itself. Have the right toold for handling the stove and your wood such as fireproof gloves, pokers and tongs.
Set up your stove so that people don’t have difficult nagivating past it when moving about the tent. Ideally keep your wood stove away from the exit – if the only exit could be potentially blocked if the stove ignited something nearby, maybe keep a knife by your bed so you can cut your way out in an emergency!
When you position the stove, think about your access to the rest of the tent and the position of the stove in relation to theIf there are a few people in a confined space with a stove then get used to sharing tasks and being mindful of each other’s movement. Sleeping with a knife nearby is a justifiable precaution in case of fire and you need to cut your way out of the tent. The safest possible way to keep a wood fire burning inside the tent overnight is to keep one person on fire duty. Set up a roster to each take a turn at staying awake with a book to be absolutely sure everything stays safe.
As well as the obvious fire hazard with a hot tent, let’s not forget the risk of CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning. If fumes from the fire manage to escape in to the tent, you could be in some real trouble. CO is odourless and invisible and deadly within 30 minutes at around 1200 parts per million. Each year, over 400 people die in the US from accidental CO poisoning, usually whilst sleeping. If you are going to set up a wood burning stove inside your tent, I recommend investing in a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm. Having a small fire extinguisher on hand is something to consider.
Stoves need oxygen to burn so it’s important to provide plenty of ventilation in your tent whilst the stove is in action. Aside from this, condensation will build from your breath and having the windows or door slightly open will reduce this problem.
Set up your tent so that the vent pipe opening in the roof is not underneath any dead branches or anything else that could catch fire. That means you need to be aware of overhanging dead trees when you are choosing your campsite. Wood burning stoves sometimes shoot sparks out the stovepipe and if the tent is close to the deadwood, you may risk your life and cause a fire hazard.
Put 1 inch of sand in the bottom of your stove to help insulate the metal from direct contact with burning wood, which could weaken the metal. This is a standard recommendation for most wood burning tent stoves, and should not be overlooked. The metal on these stoves is very thin, and the hot coals that sit on the bottom will gradually weaken the metal without a layer of insulation provided by the sand.
Fit a spark arrester into the top of your vent pipe as per the manufacturer’s instructions. If you do not have a spark arrester, you can also use a knife or other sharp object to poke several holes into the upper part of the stovepipe itself. These holes will help to cool off any sparks before they get out of the pipe. Sparks are also a hazard to the tent itself. A spark arrester can simply be set into the stovepipe on tent stoves.
Do not burn a lot of spruce, pine or larch as your primary source of fuel. Since these woods give off a lot of sparks and can cause fires even if your stove is equipped with a spark arrester. However, it is okay to use a little bit of these softwoods in the stove as tinder.
Place the stove inside the tent in a corner near the door so it is convenient to wood stacking outside. Make sure the metal of the stove is at least 2 feet away from the fabric wall of the tent to avoid burning or scorching. The stove should sit close to the floor of the tent for proper heating.
Wood burning stoves cannot be put in all kinds of tents. The tent will typically need to be canvas or poly cotton because they are tough, well ventilated and not easily burned. I repeat: Always check with the manufacturer.
If your tent stove has a hot surface, it’s a great place to put a kettle and even a skillet, griddle, or a pot. You can make delicious food on the stove.
Whether you are camping 10 feet from your car or backpacking miles from civilization, you’ll have to sacrifice some creature comforts in the name of adventure. However, being warm and comfortable is not something to sacrifice. Staying warm not only helps prevent hypothermia, it is important for keeping your spirits high as well.
If you are planning a winter camping expedition and will be set up for a few days, consider if using a wood burning stove in your tent is a viable option. When done carefully and correctly, having a fire burning inside the walls of your tent really does make a memorable camping experience and rain, or even snow becomes a pleasant camping environment!
I hope this article has been helful for you. Remember to be safe, always.