If you’ve some good information that you’ll be camping in the rain and struggle to get a fire going, I know you’re wondering whether you can use a camping stove inside a tent.
Yes, you can use a camping stove in a tent, but I wouldn’t advise. Cooking inside a tent is risky but sometimes essential, so you must take the necessary precautions and always follow the proper safety precautions.
I love taking the big mountaineering traverses and alpinism trips, so cooking in a tent is necessary. I’ve done it many times, including “baking” a cake in my Dutch oven.
It’s risky, and at one point, I learned the hard way after burning my tent down alongside everything inside.
The good thing is you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes I did. In the guide below, I’ll share everything you should know about cooking in a tent, the risks involved, and how to minimize them.
Why Cook Inside a Camping Tent?
Most campers prefer cooking inside their tents if the weather outside is unfavorable.
Strong winds and rainfall will hamper your efforts to create fire on the outside, so making one inside your tent makes perfect sense.
We used to do a lot of winter mountaineering, and it never occurred to us that we could cook anywhere apart from inside our tents.
See, by the time we finished pitching our tents, it was already dark, or at least close, and usually no point staying outside in the biting cold.
The substantial winds also made the conditions less favorable, and it made sense to get into our cozy tents and cook from there.
Of course, there’re other personal reasons why campers would want to bring wood burning stove inside, but the weather conditions are, in my opinion, the biggest element.
4 Dangers of Using a Camping Stove in a Tent
Using tent stoves in a tent comes with challenges every camper should be aware of.
Here’re the four prominent hazards;
· Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the biggest hazard of using a camping stove in a tent. Cooking anything inside a camping tent will likely produce much more carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide (CO) isn’t to be confused with carbon dioxide (CO2)
CO is a lethal by-product of incomplete fuel combustion and is usually produced to an extent by tent stoves.
The gas has a high affinity for your blood cell hemoglobin, so it binds with them instead of oxygen. And with no oxygen in the blood, there’s no brain activity, which results in rapid loss of consciousness and ultimately death.
The effects are even more severe when you pack several people in a tent and zip it up. It means there’s a reduced oxygen level.
And if you’re mountaineering above sea level, it means that the oxygen levels are already reduced.
The worst part with CO poisoning is that the gas is odorless and has no symptoms. Or rather, the CO poisoning symptoms are similar to dehydration/hunger that many campers usually deal with when camping.
· Setting your Tent on Fire
Inhaling the toxic carbon monoxide isn’t the only threat to having a fire in your personal space.
You also need to be more worried about fire danger.
Consider how flammable your tent’s fabric is, and whether tripping over acanister, will result to a tent fire.
It may sound far-fetched, but a tent catching fire is more likely than you think.
I once had a problem connecting my canister fuel and the ring cooker and wasn’t aware. There was a leak, which ignited the flames up to 2 feet high.
Fortunately, it was on a hot day, and I was cooking outside. Now, if I was inside my porch or under the vestibule, there’s a likelihood that it would have caught fire.
I understand some tent materials, especially those waterproofed with polyurethane, are treated with stove flame-retardant materials.
Even then, they usually have a plasticky element, which can easily melt off when exposed to heat.
· Severe Burns
I’m usually not concerned with carbon because venting can take care of that.
However, burning myself is usually the biggest threat in my books.
I’m a bit clumsy and always find myself knocking things over, especially in limited spaces.
In a small, enclosed space such as a tent, it would be easy for me to knock my stove over, spilling and scalding my skin with boiling water or broth.
Also, camping stoves can tip over, scalding you and starting a fire depending on the ground level.
· Food Odors can Attract Animals.
Assuming you’re camping in a bear country, you should practice bear control everywhere.
I usually follow the rule of not cooking where I sleep for protection.
The odds are usually in my favor with the bears with a Glock 20, but when I cook outside my tent, I can sleep better knowing the dominant smell is hiker funk and not meatballs!
Cooking outside your tent means you won’t have a bear, raccoons, or other animals coming around sniffing while you’re sleeping.
Wood Stoves for Cooking in a Tent
If you feel the camp stoves aren’t your thing, you could consider the wood stoves.
Tents with wood-burning stoves aren’t new, and I’d imagine Mongols have been using them for a while now.
A wood stove is far from dangerous, so you need to know the basics of operating one.
I’ve used a couple of them, and I especially love those with chimney flues or chutes that help eliminate the toxic gases while keeping your tent cozy.
Wood stoves are awesome at keeping your tent warm and the chill out of the air.
I love base camping during winter, and the wood-burning stoves are great for this application. Along with keeping me warm, their ability to dry out my climbing gloves and wet gear is amazing.
Two of the popular wood-burning stove designs for camping are:
· Full-size stoves
· Portable stove
The biggest differentiator between the full-size and portable stoves is the size.
Full-size stoves are larger and can accommodate more wood. They also provide more heat.
I’ve been running a custom-made full-size stove in my tent, and I love how it runs and holds coals all night long.
I simply open the damper, feed some wood, and it’s back rolling.
The ability of the stove to choke down all night is awesome, as it keeps my tent comfortable. It’s similar to wood burning at home.
You simply need to load the full-size stove before bed; the thick side and burning coal will radiate heat for hours.
While it requires a considerable amount of wood to keep running, a full-size wood-burning stove will shield you against the biting cold.
I’ve used mine in sub-zero conditions, with wind, snow, and everything, and I’m pleased it has held up well.
Cooking with the full-size wood-burning stoves is also pleasant, thanks to the wide flat top design.
A big shortcoming with the full-size stoves is size and portability. They’re bulky to carry and not ideal for backpacking.
On the other hand, the portable wood stoves are ultra-light, compact, and convenient, especially for backpacking.
Unfortunately, their small size means they can only hold so much coal and will hardly warm your tent past bedtime unless you refill it.
And unless you’ve a smaller, single-person tent, the portable wood-burning stove won’t be of many benefits to you.
In short, the convenience and efficiency of portable wood stoves come at the expense of heating efficiency.
Of course, there’re a couple of cons of using wood stoves over camping gas stoves.
Cons of Wood Stoves
- Cooking with wood stoves is more hassle. The tiny wood sticks don’t burn for long, so you must constantly monitor and feed the stove.
- A wood-burning tent stove generally takes a bit longer to heat and cook, depending on how dry the wood is.
- Using a wood-burning stove means you need to reliably find dry wood or solid fuel cubes. It can be an issue if you’re camping during the shoulder seasons. I live in the Pacific West, and finding dry wood is usually a big issue.
- The worst part of using wet wood is dealing with soot. It dirties the stove, your hand, and pretty much everything.
- As with any other fire source, you must be extra cautious not to start a fire with the wood stoves.
Handy Tips for Using Wood Stoves
- I’ve a Winter well wood stove, and it’s great. However, I always ensure I pre-burn it while on the outside to minimize the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- I’d also suggest you keep away from the stupidly cheap wood stoves. You probably will need to feed them the entire night, and they won’t even keep you warm. Their adjustment is also crappy; you’ll spend the entire night fiddling more than you should.
- Ensure that you add dirt or sand to the bottom of the flame retardant mat to prevent the bottom from burning prematurely.
- The ideal wood stove should have a chimney flue pipe extending past the peak of your tent and should be affixed with a spark arrestor.
- Also, when positioning the chimney, consider the direction of the wind so that the smoke and embers are carried away.
My takeaway is wood stoves are a fun option and are great if you lean on the more bushcraft sides of things.
They’re a bit fiddlier than the gas stoves, but I don’t mind as they give me something to occupy my time.
But if I’m with a group, especially with my kids, I prefer the canister stoves because of their efficiency.
Safest Way of Cooking in a Tent
· Use a vestibule
In my opinion, the safest and most convenient way of cooking in a tent is under a vestibule.
I do almost always cook in a vestibule. My EMS single-wall tent has a large integrated floorless vestibule with several zipper configurations.
The biggest benefit of cooking under a vestibule is my stove is better ventilated than if I was inside the tent itself.
I don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning because there’s a free air flow. A little breeze is sufficient to mitigate carbon monoxide buildup, and if the weather is a bit windy, I can always zip a little bit.
The best part is I can be in my sleeping bag, all warm and cozy, while my stove under the vestibule is busy churning some broth.
And unless the weather out there is extremely windy or raining thunderstorms, I can confidently prepare my meals even when the conditions are less favorable.
Of course, as with cooking inside a tent, there’re also real concerns about preparing a meal under a vestibule.
Melting the tent is a concern, especially if you don’t position your stove properly. You need t place it at the center, far away from the side tents.
Also, if it’s a little windy and you decide to zip the vestibule, you may risk carbon monoxide poisoning. Therefore, ventilation and free air flow are necessary even in a vestibule.
Finally, a vestibule won’t save you from the rodents. See, I try to avoid bringing food near my tent, and when using a vestibule, there will be inevitable crumbs, splatters, and drips.
It’s a bit concerning, not so much that a bear will gate-crash into your tent, but I’ve seen a couple of rodents make their way through the forest to get the smallest morsels of food in a tent.
Safety Precautions for Using a Camping Stove Inside a Tent
There are several precautions to account for if, for any reason, you can’t use a vestibule or cook outside in an open space.
Ventilation is Key
The first safety precaution is ensuring proper ventilation.
Proper ventilation is crucial for eliminating or minimizing traces of carbon monoxide.
Start by paying attention to how your tent is vented. While most tents are open, ensure proper airflow, especially on the top sections.
Ideally, you should have open spaces or unzip your tent to allow the free flow of air.
You want openings towards the upper section of your tent, closer to the roof.
My tent, at least, comes with a zip mesh lining on the top for better ventilation.
A properly-vented tent will also eliminate the effects of condensation, so you don’t have to worry about your tent getting wet.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Even with the tent open, it’s still a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector. A detector notes the ppm level to keep you posted on the level of CO in your tent.
It’s a handy gear because CO is odorless, so it’s rather hard to detect when the levels are high.
Consider the Wind Direction
When setting up my tent, the very first thing I usually do is consider the direction of the wind.
I then position my shelter the same way, with the direction of the wind being at the back of my shelter.
While it won’t fix all your CO and ventilation troubles, it’s a good way to let nature do some of the work.
Another quick fix to CO trouble is getting a small fan for your tent. Position it upwards, facing the opening of your tent.
Consider Fuel Type
Understand that CO toxicity isn’t a tent’s only kind of toxicity.
Some fuels are relatively safe, while others are lethal, especially those with methanol solvents.
If you’re using a wood stove for here, understand resinous softwoods emit more toxic fumes and that certain types of trees are outright dangerous and lethal to inhale.
It’s easy to get distracted when cooking in a tent or even attempting to multi-task.
That’s the perfect recipe for disaster.
Instead, you should always remain attentive, or rather always have someone look over the camp stove.
I always like to assign at least one person to literally watch over the camp stove while camping.
On top of that, I always ensure that I put out the stove when going to sleep. I can run it a few minutes to bedtime, and I switch it off once the tent has collected enough warmth.
Consider Canvas Tent Material
No camp tent material is completely fireproof, but some materials are more fire retardant than others.
For example, the natural fibers in canvas are heavier and much more fire resistant than the thin materials from synthetics.
But I’ll keep reiterating that it doesn’t make the canvas fireproof, so you should always exercise caution when using a stove.
Keep the Flammable Gear at a Distance
You must keep the flammable materials away from your camping stove.
Combustible items such as bug sprays or aerosol products should be stashed far away from the stove and, if possible, removed entirely from the tent.
Safe Flue Pipe Positioning
A correctly-placed flue pipe will direct all the carbon monoxide and other toxic gases away from your tent.
However, if it’s improperly placed, you risk getting your tent filled with toxic emissions and even hot sparks.
Ideally, the end of the flue should be at least a half foot from the tent’s surface.
In addition, the exit of the flue should be away from any materials such as hanging branches or anything that may catch fire.
The perfect location for flue placement should be in an open space.
Use a Spark Arrester
While still on the flue pipe, you should also consider installing a spark arrester.
See, when the wood stove burns, the embers may emit sparks, resulting in a fire on the outside, especially if it’s dry.
But having a spark arrester will ensure the sparks are extinguished before leaving the pipe.
Choose the Right Stove Base
The biggest issue with most stove canisters is they can stand upright on slanting ground.
So, the first step is to ensure you create a level ground for your stove base. It eliminates the instability that is often the cause of spillage and scalding.
Always Have a Fire Extinguisher
Planning for the best is necessary, but you should also prepare for the worst.
Even with all the precautions, something could go wrong. And if a fire breaks out, having a fire extinguisher could be a real savior.
Conclusion: Using Camp Stoves Indoors
Using a camping stove in a tent is risky, but some situations may require using one inside.
The trick to using a camping stove in a tent is taking precautionary measures and following the safety guidelines.
A couple of hazards come along with using a camp stove in a tent, but if you’re cautious, they shouldn’t be a big issue.
I’ve used a camping stove in a tent for several decades now, and I’ve had no problems.
And if that sounds like a tall order, consider the wood stoves, but make sure you position the flue properly for efficient emissions and spark disposal.