No matter the season, your tent is a refuge from the outside elements like rain, wind, cold, and snow. While staying cool in a tent can be difficult, staying warm can be even harder, especially in the wintertime. Having high quality gear like a down sleeping bag, clothing layers, and a 4-season tent will only get you so far, so sometimes it’s worth bringing in a heat source to help out.
If you’re near an electric hook-up, an electric tent heater could be an option, but hook-ups for tents aren’t very common. Battery powered heaters are a good option, but will only work as long as your battery lasts. Solar powered tent heaters fix the issue with the battery running out, but that still leaves you dependent on technology working properly. Propane heaters can be an option as well, but can be risky to use without proper ventilation and can use a lot of propane that readily runs out. There are some other options for how to heat a tent, but the most simple and effective way is using a wood burning stove.
While setting up a stove and using it correctly does come with some hassle, it can be well worth it if you plan on spending more than a couple nights outside in the cold. It’s especially worth it if you’re in cold enough weather that gear alone won’t get you through the night comfortably. As a plus, the fuel for a wood burning stove can be almost endless, as you can collect and store wood from a variety of sources such as collecting and preparing your own ahead of time, purchasing large amounts (known as cords), or using what nature provides near your campsite.
A hot tent greatly expands your capacity for winter adventure, and will provide some of the most memorable outdoor experiences you can have.
What is a Hot Tent?
Using a wood burning stove to heat a tent is called a ‘hot tent’ or ‘hot tenting’ and it’s a brilliant way to warm your space. Your tent should be a special design that includes heavy duty fabric and supports that can withstand snow and winter weather. It should also have a stove jack built into the side or ceiling, which is a fire-proof rectangle where the stove’s chimney goes up and outside. The stove itself will provide lots of heat through burning hard woods such as maple, oak, birch, and more, and can double as a cooking surface as well.
To improve your experience and enjoyment, you’ll need some hot tent essentials like a stove, tent, and some accompanying accessories, as well as the knowledge on how to safely use a wood burning stove in a tent.
Hot Tent Essentials – The Main Pieces of Gear
Before you can even consider purchasing a wood burning stove, you must first have a tent that’s safe for wood stoves. Your typical camping tents are not going to be fire-safe, and are in fact very flammable. Some tents are treated with fire-retardant chemicals, but not all of them are, and this treatment doesn’t protect the fabric enough to allow for wood burning stoves. Even a fire-retardant coating doesn’t equal heat resistant, and a hot flue pipe will melt through nylon and polyester like they’re warm butter.
Tents for wood burning stoves should ideally be either canvas or polycotton and have an opening for the flue pipe (chimney). There are more modern materials that are making their way into the hot tent market and these materials make for a lighter and more packable shelter. However, there’s something to be said for more traditional materials that are more durable and breathable.
While you can add your own hole, which is called a stove jack, it’s easier to get a tent with a hole already built in. These tents with stove jacks are typically more spacious, made of a much heavier and more durable material, and are a true four season tent.
As part of your new camping setup, you’ll obviously need a wood burning stove. There’s lots on the market, and you can even make your own, leaving you with limitless options when it comes to shape, size, weight, materials and extra features. In our personal opinion, bigger is better for most situations. It’s better to have a larger stove heat your space more effectively (long and slow burn) rather than have a smaller stove that runs at max but doesn’t heat the space enough. A smaller stove would only be preferred for much smaller tents, or for situations when it will need to be carried more than a short distance.
As for materials, stoves come in stainless steel, titanium, and sometimes galvanized steel. Titanium is a lighter and thinner material, so that’s what you’ll usually see as the main component in compact and lightweight stoves. Stainless steel is heavier, less expensive, and is generally a preferred material if weight is not a consideration. You can make your own out of a variety of materials, just remember that anything made of galvanized steel will need to be burned outside first to burn off the chemical finishes.
The main thing to keep in mind is the stove frost ring, which is the level at which you’ll feel that it’s much colder below the top of the stove. Whatever the height of the firebox, it will be much warmer starting at around one inch above the top. There is one exception: glass transmits the heat sideways better, so if you’re sleeping low then you should sleep on the side of the stove that has a glass material.
You should look at the measurements of the stove and make sure the stove will fit in your tent with at least one foot of space between it and anything else. Looking at the height of the box will help you see if you should be sleeping on a cot or on the floor. While this video below only focuses on one brand of tent stove, it still contains some great information on the benefits of the different sizes and styles you commonly see on the market today.
Your flue pipe should sit at least 6 inches above the surface of the exterior of your tent and should fit through the stove jack of your tent with 1-2 inches to spare. But what exactly is a stove jack? At its most basic description, it’s a hole for inserting the flue through the wall of a hot tent. A stove jack will be a square piece of fireproof fabric with a round hole sewn in the middle. Most producers of hot tents have included a built in stove jack that ranges from 3-8 inches and will fit various sizes of stove pipes.
This plays into the safety of your stove because if not used properly or made properly (yes, you can make your own), it can cause future problems. Because stove jacks are still cloth, they can still be baked black or even melt a little. Make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s instructions perfectly to prevent damage.
If your stove jack has a flap (separate from the flap of the tent used to cover the stove jack itself), then simply let that sit against the pipe. It will prevent rain from dripping into your tent. It’s worth noting that while it’s tempting, you shouldn’t insulate or plug the extra space on your stove jack. The extra space is essential for air flow within the tent, which is an important part of circulation. Plus, the added material can create a failure point because it can transfer excessive amounts of heat from the pipe across the stove jack material and into your tent material.
A spark arrestor is a specific piece of metal that sits on top of your flue pipe. It’s designed to ‘catch’ any sparks that have made it this far, therefore preventing them from shooting out and raining down on your tent. This can and should be guyed out for extra support, but keep in mind that you’ll have to use heat resistant wires or add an additional metal loop (like a keyring). When guying out your arrestor, your lines should be loose enough that you can move them. They are simply there for added support in case of gusty winds, and should not be taut or pulling on the arrestor.
Most stoves that come with pipes should include a spark arrestor, especially stoves intended for hot tenting. Check with the stove you’re ordering before making an additional purchase, but these spark arrestors down below are great options if your stove doesn’t come with one.
While there’s lots of videos on YouTube about making your own arrestor, we wouldn’t recommend doing so. Purchasing a manufactured arrestor is best for beginners who are still learning the craft. Making your own requires lots of experience with wood burning stoves so you can have a better understanding of the mechanisms at play.
Pomoly Spark Arrestor
This spark arrestor from Pomoly works with 2.36″ diameter pipes. It’s ultra lightweight at only 1.59oz. and is made with titanium.
Fire Hiking Spark Arrestor
Fire Hiking’s spark arrestor is also 2.36″ in diameter but is made of thickened stainless steel. This makes it a bit heavier at 6oz., but it’s still very lightweight.
Always burn hardwood when using a stove inside your tent. Hardwoods will burn longer and hotter, and will also product less sparks and embers. If you must use a soft wood, burn them at a slower rate by dampening your stove down and it will still get hot inside your tent but will be much safer.
If you are burning wood in your stove and are producing lots of embers in the air, you are not doing something correctly. Do not stir the wood inside the stove while it’s burning, as this produces large amounts of embers and is extremely dangerous.
Top Hot Tent Accessories
These are the top accessories you should purchase in addition to your tent, stove, stove jack, spark arrestor, and firewood. Some of these items are deemed ‘necessary’, like the fire extinguishers on this list, while others are simply pieces of gear that could make your experience that much easier and enjoyable.
I don’t think we can stress enough that having a fire extinguisher in your tent at all times is one of the most important things you can have when using a stove. It doesn’t necessarily need to be full-size, unless that would make you feel more comfortable. We’ve selected the two top-rated Amazon fire extinguishers for you to consider.
Best Mini Fire Extinguisher
This mini, hand-held fire extinguisher is only 8.78 inches tall and fights five different types of fires in one. At less than 1 pound, it’s perfect for camping and road trips, keeping in the car, and in small spaces.
Best Mid-Size Fire Extinguisher
This fire extinguisher is shaped like a traditional one but is only 12 inches tall for easy transport. Simply pull the metal pin to discharge the sodium bicarbonate extinguishing agent.
As we discuss in the safety section below, an essential part of having a wood burning stove in a tent is making sure that the ground it’s on is fire- and heat-resistant. This could mean a few things, so you have options, but one of the methods is using a stove mat, which is available for purchase online. Here’s a few good examples.
This BioLite Fire Mat is aluminum-coated fiberglass fabric that effortlessly reflects radiant heat to shield the sensitive material below, whether that be leaves, grass, or even your deck. Plus, it’s durable and waterproof and rolls up for easy transportation.
Dimensions: 34 x 24 inches
Semmiro Fire Mat
This fire mat is a multi-layer material that’s made of fiberglass aluminized film, fiberglass, and food grade silicone coating. It can resist temperatures up to 2000°F and reflects 98% of the heat radiation. As a bonus, this mat can be staked into the ground using the four corner grommets.
Dimensions: 40 x40 inches
A pair of work gloves will greatly increase your enjoyment and safety when handling wood and hot surfaces. They make putting in wood much easier, and even just opening the stove’s door becomes less of a chore. Plus, a good pair of leather gloves (like the ones below) will last a lifetime and can be used for a variety of activities around camp.
REI Trailsmith Gloves
Inspired by the trails, these gloves are designed to be outside work gloves for the trail, projects, and whatever camping brings at you. The leather stands up to tough use and the fleece lining insulates.
Wolf & Grizzly Wilderness Gloves
These gloves are made from Grade C North American steer leather, and are ideal for Bushcraft, camp, and fire activities. They are super comfortable and minimalist for dexterity.
Wood Prep Tools
Since wood becomes super important when using a stove (obviously), you’ll need a couple of tools to prepare the wood for use. While not all of these tools are necessary, it’s up to you to decide what would benefit you the most. The Fireside Friend axe would be great for small pieces of wood and for use inside the tent because it doesn’t require a large swing, while the Fiskars is intended for a traditional splitting axe. The Kindling Cracker is a cool tool that will speed up all kinds of wood splitting, and a folding saw would help give you the ability to cut wood and trees around camp.
Remember, you’re going to be spending a decent amount of time preparing wood, so whatever you can do to make it easier will just give you more time to focus on other things around camp.
Estwing Fireside Friend Axe
Although it may look similar to an axe or hatchet, a wood splitter has a different design that’s meant for easily splitting small pieces of wood. The heavy backside and wide blade make it effortless to split already cut wood into smaller pieces.
Fiskars Super Splitting Axe
For splitting medium to large sized logs, you’ll need a true axe. This one by Fiskars is 36 inches long and has a shock-absorbing handle with non-slip grip. The weight and length of this axe make it easier to swing and split wood with ease.
Kindling Cracker XL
This Kindling Cracker XL is a really cool tool that would be worth having either at home to prep wood or at a car-camping site. It makes splitting wood look ridiculously easy and would cut your prep time down dramatically. Though not a required tool, it’s really cool and would benefit you for sure.
Folding Saw by Rexbeti
The steel blade on this saw is 11 inches and is ideal for sawing through branches up to 6-7″ in diameter. With 7 TPI (teeth per inch), this saw is ready for Bushcraft and camping use year-round. It folds down to be just under 12 inches, making it portable and easy to transport.
A plastic bucket for storing wood is a cheap piece of gear that adds a lot to the usability of the space inside your tent. Storing all your wood inside a plastic bin will keep your tent cleaner, and will also concentrate the wood into a more concise stack that doesn’t spread out like it would laying on the floor. Just make sure the plastic doesn’t get too close to your stove since it would melt when exposed to the high temperatures.
Getting a roaring fire going can take some practice, especially since you won’t be used to reaching into a stove. One of the easiest methods is to use a fire starter material, whether that be a tinder or a fire-starting wood like fat wood.
Zippo Tinder Shreds
Zippo may be one of the most well-known brands when it comes to lighters, and they make a great fire-starter product that is shredded pine bars coated in a paraffin wax. Each 2-inch shred can burn for up to 8 minutes, so you can be sure you will have the most amount of time to get your fire going.
Earth Worth Fatwood
This is the original fatwood fire starter and it’s one of the most reliable ways to get the fire going. The mini logs are 100% natural with no chemicals or additives. Simply use 2-3 sticks and light them with a match, and the pieces will light quickly and burn intensely.
A log carrier is definitely one of those optional pieces of gear on this list, but it would make your life much easier when it comes to transporting and carrying firewood. A log carrier is essentially a canvas bag with a handle. It lays flat on the ground while you fill it with wood, then you just clip it shut when you’re ready to carry it.
18″ Wood Carrier
This log carrier is about 18 inches long, but it doesn’t limit the size of the wood you can carry because of its open ends. It’s made of a durable and water-resistant waxed canvas, and the padded handles make it easier to grip.
36.6″ Large Carrier
This firewood carrier is also made of a heavy duty canvas material, but the different dimensions give you more space to work with longer logs. It’s twice the length of the other option, but it does limit the size of the wood on the bottom portion of the bag.
Though not necessary for shorter trips in your hot tent, a chainsaw would greatly cut down on your time spent cutting wood. Even if you primarily use this at home and not at camp, it would save you money in the long run since buying cut firewood can add up quickly. Just make sure you’re buying a chainsaw that’s gas powered, since a lot of the current ones on the market are electric and battery powered. You definitely don’t want something that plugs in, and a battery would drain too quickly in cold weather.
Coocheer 62cc Saw
– 3.5 HP
– up to 8500 rpm
Dereal 62cc Saw
– up to 8500 rpm
Carbon Monoxide Detector
While most seasoned hot tenters won’t use a carbon monoxide detector, there’s nothing wrong with having one inside your tent if it will make you feel more comfortable. The point of camping is to disconnect and recharge, and if you’re going to constantly worry about CO poisoning, then it would be worth the minimal price for a small unit.
First Alert CO710
With a ten year battery life and easy to read digital display, this First Alert carbon monoxide detector is perfect for travel and on the go. It continuously monitors the air and will ring a 85-decibel alarm if it reaches dangerous levels.
Kiddie CO Alarm
This unit very similarly runs off batteries and will sound a 85-decibel alarm when it detects high carbon monoxide levels. It uses a soft light to alert to low battery and power.
How to Safely Use a Wood Burning Stove in a Tent
Your First (and Second) Use
The first time you set up and use your new wood burning stove should be outside, near or at your own home. This will give you practice and an idea of what to expect in the wilderness before getting there. You’ll have a better knowledge of set up, any missing gear you hadn’t thought of before, and how much wood you may need for your adventure.
Being outside during this trial run is key, as it gives the metals on the stove the opportunity to burn off any chemicals or finishes that could be toxic when concentrated inside a tent. Doing this first burn outside means the wind will disperse the toxins so you don’t inhale them.
If you have a stove that uses a roll-up titanium flue pipe, then you should also take this opportunity to roll the pipe into shape. These pipes are very lightweight and great for backpacking. You roll them up the length of the pipe to create a small and portable pipe (usually somewhere around 9 inches) or roll it width-wise into a longer pipe that is the chimney. It takes a couple tries to get good at rolling it, but the thermal memory properties of titanium will make it easier after each burn.
After an initial trail run, you should practice assembling your whole setup so you can make sure everything is compatible. There’s few things worse than trying to set up camp in cold temperatures, only to end up frustrated when things don’t work to plan. At least having set it up once in your backyard, you can work out those initial kinks.
This will also give you the opportunity to test different kinds of woods and hone in on your technique. How many logs fit and how fast do they burn? Wood actually has a wide variety of burning temperatures and times based on their own composition, so learning the right kind of wood to use can make a big difference in the cost of running your stove.
You should start with soft wood to get warm quickly, then transfer to a harder wood that will burn slower and warmer. You can also adjust the intake to increase or decrease oxygen flow inside the stove, which would then slow down or increase the speed at which the wood burns. Take mental (or physical) notes on how hot the tent gets and how fast, as well as how long the heats lasts after putting in your last log.
Now that you’ve tested your stove and the entire accompanying setup, it’s time to take it outdoors for real. Choose a location for your tent that is flat and wide open. This includes avoiding areas that have any low hanging tree branches, especially ones that are dead. You’ll want to clear away any flammable brush like crunchy leaves, and just overall make sure there’s nothing nearby that will catch fire easily.
When setting up the stove, it’s imperative that you directly follow the instructions from the manufacturer. While following the instructions may seem like common sense, I think that if we are really honest with ourselves, we would realize that we typically forgo any instructions and prefer the figure-it-out method. Especially if this is your first wood burning camp stove, you’ll want to take full advantage of features you may not understand and follow any recommended safety precautions you didn’t think of.
Begin with the base and make sure it’s a fire- and heat-safe material. There are heat mats that you can purchase, but you can also make your own using a large rock or a big tile from Lowe’s. The heat mats are the most straight forward, but also more expensive. A tile is cheaper, but prone to breaking into lots of pieces if not stored perfectly.
A rock is the cheapest, but it could be difficult to find the right shape and size rock every camping trip. The pro of a rock is that it will hold the heat from the stove and slowly release it over time, adding a second element to heating your tent. You could also use a few smaller rocks under your stove, and this will help protect the ground below. This is especially beneficial in fall when you may have dried matter under your stove, but is less important during winter when the ground may be snow covered or frozen.
As far as placement goes, a camping stove should never be placed near the walls of your tent or near any flammable materials like sleeping bags. The first step in assembly is the firebox, then the stand followed by the flue pipe. All pieces should slide together into a snug but not strained fit. After putting these pieces together and sending the flue pipe outside of the tent, light a small fire and check for smoke coming from places it shouldn’t. All smoke should be funneled out the top and never into your tent. Once you’ve set up your stove and tested it out, you can begin growing your fire by adding more wood.
You shouldn’t run your stove super hot overnight, but as long as you’ve followed all the proper safety precautions and user manual, it should be fine to let it stay warm overnight. No need to let it die completely down before bed. Use larger, thicker pieces of wood that will take longer to burn, and damper the fire a little so it doesn’t get as much oxygen.
There’s a lot of skepticism about carbon monoxide poisoning when using wood burning stoves, but overall they are very safe if they are used and maintained properly. If you personally choose to not run the stove overnight, then that’s no problem. You’ll find that most hot tenters do allow a slow, long burn overnight because they are confident in their gear being set up and maintained properly. If it makes you feel better, you could always purchase a carbon monoxide detector (from above) to give you some peace of mind. Perhaps consider joining a local community and learning from some pros before going by yourself.
Do’s and Don’ts for Safely Using a Wood Burning Stove in a Tent
During operation, there are a few things you should do, and a few things you definitely should NOT do. Here’s a breakdown of the top points:
Cleaning & Maintenance
Having the proper setup and gear is the first phase, but maintaining that gear is an essential part as well. Keeping your equipment clean will not only help it last longer, but will also help you stay safe during future operation.
Clean the Ash
Wood doesn’t burn through completely, and it will leave behind ash and coals even when you’re done with burning. This leftover ash and small coals should be cleaned out every two days or so. Either dispose of them properly each time, or store them in a non-combustible metal container with a tight lid. This container should be placed somewhere that’s fire-safe and well away from any combustible materials.
Clean the Flue
The flue pipe or chimney is the pipe portion that feeds the smoke out of your wood burning stove and into the air outside the tent. Contaminants such as creosote can build up on the interior surface of the pipe, which increases the danger of an accidental fire in the long term. It’s essential to clean this part of the stove regularly to maintain its full functioning.
If you’re in the wilderness, you can clean the flue with no gear or experience needed. First, wait for this piece to cool and disassemble it into smaller pieces. Simply cut off an evergreen branch and feed it through the pipe a couple of times. This will get off the bulkier parts of the sediment. If you’re at home, use a wire chimney brush, or attach a steel wool sponge to the end of a stick using some string or twine. Feed the steel wool through the pipe several times, taking the time to rub it around back and forth to thoroughly clean it.
You can also help prevent creosote buildup by maintaining a briskly burning fire with well-seasoned and dried wood. Since incomplete combustion is one of the main causes of creosote build up, maintaining a flue temperature of at least 250 degrees Fahrenheit helps a lot. The outside portion of the flue will inherently be cooler since it’s exposed to the cold air, so it will need to be cleaned and checked frequently for creosote build up.
Part of cleaning the chimney also involves cleaning the spark arrestor. This could be one of the first places that experiences creosote build-up, so checking it after every use is essential. The creosote on this upper part of your pipe is less likely to catch fire, but it could potentially clog the holes and force smoke down and into your tent. This piece should be checked and cleaned even more regularly than the other components.
On top of regularly cleaning the ash and the flue pipe, you should take some time annually (or more often depending on use) and deep clean the whole unit. This post by Canadian Outdoor Equipment has a great step-by-step guide to doing this.
Is it safe to have a wood stove in a tent?
It is safe to have a wood burning stove in a tent, but only if it is set up and used properly. You must make sure the tent is made of the right materials and that the stove is setup properly within the tent walls. Having some key accessories and regular cleaning will also make using a stove safer.
How do you keep a tent wood stove burning all night?
After creating a nice hot base with several hours of burn time, rake the charcoal towards the front of the wood stove, then fill the space with large, thick logs. The actual number of logs will vary based on the size of your stove, but you do want to fill the space. Close the door and enjoy. You can also use the damper to lessen the amount of oxygen in the stove, which will increase burn time.
What do you put under a tent on a stove?
You can put a store-bought heat mat under the stove, but you can also use a large tile from your local hard wear store or collected rocks from the area around camp. If the stove is directly on frozen or snow covered ground, putting something underneath it is less important.
How do I keep carbon monoxide out of my wood stove?
Follow all these safety tips and steps above to keep carbon monoxide out of your wood burning stove. This includes proper setup, using the stove and its in the intended way, and cleaning/maintaining it regularly.
Can you get carbon monoxide poisoning from a wood-burning stove?
The short answer is yes, it’s possible to get carbon monoxide poisoning from a wood burning stove. That being said, it’s very rare and unlikely if you are using the equipment properly and keeping it clean.
Hot tenting in the winter time can be one of the most fun and rewarding outdoor adventures one could experience. Follow our hot tent essentials guide to make sure you have all the right gear and accessories, and that you know how to safely operate all of it. We wish you all the best on your future outings in all things, but especially in nature.