Are hot tents safe? The dangers of using a wood stove in a camping hot tent

I don’t do a lot of camping in the winter, but as the wilderness can be so beautiful this time of year, it was always inevitable I would be doing at least some cold weather camping at some stage.

As much as the outdoors is beautiful in the winter, I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I would have liked due to one thing. The nights were too cold for me. As the overnight air temperature was near freezing it was impossible for me to stay warm through the night. I was so very cold to the point that this trip was no longer enjoyable. I had brought extra blankets and warm sleeping bags, but that was not enough and I didn’t sleep well, making me a very grumpy throughout the days.

Apart from my lack of sleep and being cold, I really enjoyed the trip, and want to do more winter camping, so the question I have come to ask myself is….

How safe is it to put a wood stove in my camping tent?

I have a portable wood stove I use for camp cooking, and I have friends who have set-up a hot tent with similar stoves. But I have always been too scared to bring the stove inside my tent, for fear the tent would catch fire. So I did some research about operating a wood stove inside a tent and this is what I found.

Yes, you can operate a wood stove in a tent, however it is very risky and some precautions will need to be taken to ensure your safety. The main hazards of a wood stove inside a tent are;

  • the tent catching fire,
  • carbon monoxide poisoning, and
  • burning yourself by coming into contact with the hot stove.

A word of caution, operating a wood stove inside of a camping tent is dangerous.

This article is a guide only to give you an idea the dangers involved and how they might be able to come we recommend you take this knowledge and seek further advice from local camping experts.

So you’ve been warned but you still want to proceed. Keep reading below for the precautions you will need to take when operating a wood stove inside a camping tent.

The risk of a hot tent catching fire.

The most common materials used to manufacture modern tents are, nylon polyester and canvas. Often these tents are advertised as being treated with fire retardant. Fire retardant simply means it is slightly harder for the material to catch fire. Given enough exposure to a heat source the fire retardant materials can still catch fire and burn down. This would be a terrible situation for anyone trapped inside.

How to minimize the risk of a hot tent catching fire

There are a few precautions you can easily take to minimize the risk of a hot tent from catching fire. These precautions include;

  • choosing the right material for your hot tent,
  • make sure the tent is sturdy,
  • you don’t need the biggest and hottest fire to keep warm,
  • consider how the flue exits the hot tent,
  • consider where you place the wood stove inside the hot tent,
  • install a spark arrestor on the flue,
  • ensure fire fighting equipment is at hand, and
  • as an alternative, set-up your wood stove outside of the tent and direct the heat inside.

Make sure your hot tent is made from a material least likely to catch fire

Of the three most common materials used to manufacture modern tents, nylon, polyester, and canvas, the best material for a hot tent is canvas treated with fire retardant, as it is less likely to catch fire than nylon or polyester.

Make sure the tent is sturdy

It would be a disaster if the tent material were to make contact with the flue or the stove itself.

When camping in winter we often face storms and high winds. You have to make sure the tent will not collapse onto the wood stove or any hot elements. A tent collapsing in on a wood stove during a storm will result in a disaster.

Keep the fire small

Even a small fire will keep a tent warm. A large fire is not usually necessary. Remember you are very close to the wood stove, it will give off plenty of heat.

Keeping the fire small reduces, wood use, oxygen use, and the possibility of hot embers spilling when opening the door.

Consider how the flue exits the hot tent

The flu can become very hot and should never be in contact with the tent material. A heat shield or stove Jack should be installed around the flue where it exits the tent.

An improvement that must be made to the tent is stitching in a fire proof material panel or patch for the heat shield or Stove Jack to attach to.

Additionally red hot embers will occasionally travel up the flu and exit. This potentially sets up an undesirable situation where these red hot embers may fall back onto the top of the tent. To prevent this a spark arrestor should always be used at the exit of any hot tent flue.

Where to place and how to setup a wood stove in a hot tent

By design a wood stove is designed to get very hot as they radiate heat from the burning wood. Making sure the outside of the wood stove does not come into contact with anything inside the tent is a top priority. But keeping embers and sparks inside the firebox can be trickly when opening the door is as much of a top priority.

It should be somewhat obvious that a 1 or 2 person tent is not large enough to operate a wood stove. Any one or two person tent is simply too small to fit even the tiniest wood stove and maintain a safe distance from any flammable material.

In larger tents place the wood stove in the center of the tent and if possible remove the floor and place the wood stove directly on the ground. It is not possible to remove the floor place a fireproof material underneath the wood stove making sure the footing is solid.

Make sure you have the ability to extinguish any fire quickly

If something you don’t want bird does happen to catch fire you want to put that fire out as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Perhaps the best method to putting a wood stove fire out quickly is a fire extinguisher. It’s a good idea to always have a fire extinguisher on hand when camping, particularly when operating a hot tent. Other alternatives to put out a wood fire quickly include, a few buckets of water, fire blankets, or shovels to shovel dirt or sand.

Pumping hot air into the hot tent

A wood stove requires a flu to not only assist the fire to burn properly but to exhaust the burnt gases. The flue will get very hot and will have to exhaust to the exterior of the hot tent. The flue exits the tent through a hole. The hole will get very close to the flue there-fore creating a fire risk. There are dedicated devices specifically designed to attached to flues exiting tents, these devices are either a heat shield or a stove jack.

Rather than having a very hot flue existing the hot tent a safer alternative is to have a much cooler duct bringing warm air from the wood stove into the tent. This warm air could be from a fire left burning all night (although not recommended) and directed through the duct Eco fan powered solely by the heat generated from the wood stove.

This is my preferred method to attempt on my next cold-weather camping trip. Obviously I will make sure to set up the wood stove on an inflammable ground, and ensure there is nothing in close proximity that could catch fire. I will also allow the fire to burn out before retiring to the hot tent for the evening, as I am cautious about leaving any fire unattended.

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a hot tent

Exposure to carbon monoxide gas can be fatal to humans, and is responsible for the deaths of many people every year. Carbon monoxide gas is created by an incomplete combustion of fuels. Carbon monoxide gas is a natural byproduct that occurs in all wood fires. Carbon monoxide gas is invisible and odorless, and cannot be detected without specialized equipment. Carbon monoxide gas created from the average home wood stove is usually exhausted via the flue. Carbon monoxide gas created from the average open air fire is usually diluted by the natural air flow within the and environment.

How to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in a hot tent.

There are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when using a wood stove in a hot tent. Precautions include;

  • ensuring adequate ventilation (incoming fresh air),
  • start a fire at the rear of the stove to promote drafting up the flue,
  • do not allow your wood stove to burn all through the night,
  • use a Carbon monoxide gas alarm, and
  • as an alternative, set-up your wood stove outside of the tent and direct the heat inside.

For best results, the safety of yourself and loved ones make sure all of these measures are put in place. Do not rely solely on any single of these measures.

Make sure your hot tent has adequate ventilation

Carbon monoxide gas levels will continue to increase within an enclosed area. The only way to remove carbon monoxide gas from inside a hot tent is via fresh air entering the tent.

Allowing cold air to enter the hot tent is somewhat contrary to operating a wood stove inside a camping tent, but fresh air ventilation is it must in all hot tents. I reality the wood stove should put out more enough heat in all but the most blustery of prevailing weather conditions.

Consider adding forced air ventilation with either an electric (battery or solar) or an Eco Fan.

Operate the wood stove for a minimum amount of time

It is not recommended for people to be inside a hot tent while the wood stove is burning. It is best to the light a fire in the wood stove too loud and wood stove to heat up then after allowing the fire to die down the wood stove will continue to radiate heat for a good if you hours there-after.

Once the fire has extinguished, you can ventilate the tent, then close the tent again in the knowledge that know that no more carbon monoxide gas will be produced by the wood stove. The wood stove will continue to heat the hot tent as it dissipates it’s heat that is stored within its own thermal mass.

Always use a carbon monoxide gas alarm inside the hot tent

These alarms are cheap to purchase and are an essential for operating a Wood stove inside a camping tent. Just make sure tp replace the batteries before each camping trip for trouble-free operation and peace of mind.

Set up the wood stove outside of the hot tent

An alternative method is to set up the wood stove outside of the hot tint while still directing inside the tent. this can be done through a heat exchanger attached to the flu or via directing warm air from around the wood stove via a duct into the hot tent.

This is probably the safest method that has a few benefits;

  • you can keep warm all night by allowing the wood fire to keep burning all night,
  • there will be lots of room to cook on the wood stove,
  • This method removes a lot of the risk of carbon monoxide gas as much of it will be dissipated within the natural environment, and
  • the duct entering the hot tent will be much cooler than a flu that would otherwise be need to exit the hot tent.