Cooking in a camping tent or ultralight shelter can be quite hazardous, but sometimes you don’t have an option because bad weather prevents you from cooking outside. What are the hazards you have to watch out for and how can you cook inside a tent safely? What’s the best camping stove for safely cooking in a tent?
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Setting your Tent on Fire
- Severe Burns
- Food Odors can Attract Animals
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Camping stoves give off carbon monoxide when you cook with them. This is an odorless invisible gas that’s generated as a by-product of burning carbon-based fuels including canister fuel, white gas, alcohol, solid fuel cubes, and even wood. Inhaling too much carbon monoxide can kill you or cause severe brain damage. The best way to avoid carbon monoxide when cooking on a camping stove is to use it in a well-ventilated place, either outside, or in your tent’s vestibule (See, what is a tent vestibule?) with the outer door wide open. If your tent doesn’t have a vestibule, unzip all the doors and fold them back, allowing for plenty of ventilation. Contrary to myth, carbon monoxide is not heavier than air and will diffuse evenly through the air inside a tent if you don’t ventilate it.
Setting Your Tent on Fire
If you use a camping stove in your tent, there’s a very real danger that you could set it on fire while you’re inside it and severely damage or destroy it. Not having a shelter in cold or stormy weather because you’ve burned it down, can be as life-threatening as being burnt and seriously injured. Many conventional tents (like those sold by major manufacturers) have been treated with fire retardents, that will slow or stop the spread of flames. However, many tents and ultralight shelters from smaller manufacturers have not been treated, requiring extra caution if you use a camping stove in one.
Certain fuels like white gas or alcohol are dangerous to cook with inside a tent because you want to use a stove and fuel type that is easy to see and that you can retain complete control over without spillage. When priming a white gas stove, it’s normal to set it on fire in a huge fireball when excess fuel is pumped from a pressurized fuel bottle. You want to avoid this because you can get burned in the confines of a small tent or vestibule or it can set your tent on fire (see above). Spilled white gas can also become a fire hazard. If you must use a white gas stove, prime it outside your tent and only then bring it inside when you can control the flame height. Alcohol is also very difficult to see when it’s burning and it can to tough to tell if your stove has been extinguished or not.
Odors can attract Animals
If you cook in a tent, it can retain a food smell and attract animals, like bears, mountain lions, and coyotes, to come to investigate. In order to reduce food smells, avoid cooking strong-smelling foods like fried bacon or fish inside your tent, and bring freeze-dried or dehydrated meals that you can rehydrate with boiling water.
Best Stoves for Cooking in Tents
The best stoves for cooking tents and ultralight shelters are all-in-one canister stoves that come with an integrated pot and camp stove combination like the Jetboil Flash, the MSR Reactor, and the MSR WindBurner.There’s very little flame up when you light these stoves and they’re fairly windproof so you can still cook efficiently in a breezy vestibule if the wind is blowing. I prefer the MSR Reactor and the MSR WindBurner because both stoves are effectively flameless. They heat up a radiant burner which is a rounded convex surface, covered by a wire screen, that sort of looks like the surface of the sun when it’s been lit and burning gas. While the burner pulls in air through side ports to enable combustion, it is completely covered and enclosed by the Reactor/WindBurner pot.
Isobutane canister stoves are the easiest type of flame to control in a tent:
- White gas stoves usually flare-up in a huge fireball when lit as part of the stove priming process.
- It’s hard to see the flame of an alcohol stove and tell when it’s gone out.
- Solid fuel tabs smell bad when burning and leave an unpleasant odor behind.
- Wood is hard to control both in terms of flame height and flying embers.
Some stove manufacturers sell hanging stove kits for canister stoves. They’re sold to counter the tippiness of canister stoves but are best used outside in the open air in snowy conditions suspended from skis or branches. Using them in a tent moves the stove flame unnecessarily close to the ceiling of your tent and should be avoided. You’d be much better off bringing a wider snap-on pot canister stand and a small piece of reflectix to set your stove on (the ground) to insulate it from snow when cooking or melting snow in your tent in winter. (See MYOG Reflectix Insulated Stove Base for Winter Camping)
Think low and away, when it comes to flames near the ceiling or wall of your tent.