First up, this is not meant as an exhaustive guide and you should do your own research before embarking on a winter camp using a hot tent setup. The type of terrain, environment, weather conditions and temperatures you will encounter, and the gear you use, will dictate the appropriate precautions and preparedness required.
What is a Hot Tent?
Hot Tent is simply a term used to describe the use of a woodfire stove within a tent setup.
Why Hot Tent?
Adding a heat source to your tent offers all sorts of possibilities of extending your stay when camping in cold conditions. You will have a homely and welcoming base with which to stay comfortable for prolonged periods. Importantly, you will have a warm space to dry wet clothing, boots and gear (having dry socks when Winter camping is a game changer!).
Being able to easily cook hot food and having hot water on tap inside your tent has obvious advantages and being in a warm environment means you will need to burn fewer calories, and so, require less food. Most stoves have some sort of provision for cooking – generally, a flat surface on the stovetop, even the ability to remove a top plate so you can cook directly over an open flame – see the Winnerwell Nomad Stove.
If it’s sub-zero and inclement, stormy weather outside, starting an open fire can be difficult and time-consuming. Having a stove makes lighting a fire a straightforward process. Compared to an outdoor fire, a stove will burn wood much more efficiently so you will need to source less fuel. As you will have a protected dry spot inside the tent and a steady heat source, you also have a dependable way of drying and storing wood.
Aside from the practical reasons for camping with a hot tent, there is the pleasing ascetic of fire gazing and natural ambience created by a fire inside your tent. Camping with a stove in your tent gives you a relaxing and uplifting respite away from the elements – a simple hot meal inside a cosy tent whilst it is pouring down outside tastes superb!
There are many stoves available that are ideal for a Hot Tent, ranging from expensive but lightweight Titanium fireboxes through to larger and stronger stainless or black steel stoves.
Stoves are essentially a firebox set on legs with the ability to draw in fresh air, burn fuel safely and efficiently, and then exhaust the smoke and gas fumes outside your tent via a pipe (aka flue) system. There should be an adjustable air-intake vent set into the door opening which allows control of the oxygen draw into the stove. To help regulate airflow there will be a ‘Damper’ mechanism inside the stove exit or flue. In combination with the front air vents, Dampers help adjust the fuel burn rate and are useful for controlling heat by keeping the heat in the stove instead of escaping out via the pipe system.
Once the stove pipe exits the tent then is should end with a spark arrestor to reduce the risk of burning the outer tent.
Some reputable brands who manufacture stainless or black steel stoves are Winnerwell (recommended and stocked by Homecamp!), Kni-Co, Bereg, GStove, Four Dog and Australian brand Ozpig. For Titanium stoves check out the Winnerwell Titanium Fastfold Stove or stoves from Kifaru, Luxe Hiking 3W and Seek Outdoors.
Large tents are best suited as a Hot Tent as you can keep more distance between yourself and the stove. Cabin or Wall Tents are often used for to Hot Tent in the USA/Canada for winter hunting expeditions. With the correct precautions Tipis, Yurts, Bell, Esker and Laavu tents are good options but you should check on the compatibility with the manufacturer.
Having a red hot stove in your tent presents real risks which should not be taken lightly. You will need to evaluate your gear (and competence level) for this type of camping. These risks can be reduced by doing your own research and taking a commonsense approach to safety precautions.
The most obvious risk is fire. We recommend camping in a tent that has been suitably fireproofed. Either the canvas itself is weaved from a fire-resistant material or the canvas has been coated in one. Lightweight tents tend to be made from Nylon and you will need to pay special attention to how they are constructed for use with a woodfire stove. Ask the manufacturer if they are compatible with a stove.
You will need to consider how the stove chimney exits the tent either via a built-in exit jack or a hole made in your tent using a silicone flashing kit. The area where you stove flue exits the tent should be made of a fireproof material panel (best option) or treated with a fireproof coating.
There will need to be a way of keeping the hot stove pipe insulated from coming into contact with your tent canvas, this is usually done by incorporating a double pipe section in the setup. We also recommend a spark arrestor on the last section of pipe chimney, this will keep your tent protected from any errant sparks that make their way up the chimney system.
Probably the most common danger in hot tenting is being burnt by the stove itself. We recommend placing the stove on a fireproof mat and potentially incorporating a fireguard in your setup. Don’t handle the stove or other parts without wearing fireproof gloves (welders gloves are useful here).
When you position the stove, think about your access to the rest of the tent and the position of the stove in relation to the tent door is important. Don’t place the stove somewhere that will inhibit your exit or somewhere you will need to move past too frequently. You will need to be mindful of not having flammable gear near the stove. If 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.
Not to be underestimated is the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. This occurs when exhaust fumes escape your stove system into the tent either because there is some sort of blockage in the pipes or strong wind is blowing directly into the exit pipe. Carbon Monoxide is odourless and colourless and therefore is difficult to detect. For this reason, we don’t recommend sleeping with your stove lit and you should invest in a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm. Having a small fire extinguisher on hand is something to consider.
If you do plan to have your tent blazing overnight then taking turns for a fire vigil is recommended with each member of the camping party can take turns keeping watch.
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.
Is it worth it in Australia?
Naturally snowy regions in countries such as the northern states of USA, Canada, NZ, Northern Europe and Japan call for this type of camping, however, having a warm, dry environment to head back to on a cold and very wet Victorian alps adventure has plenty of attraction. There is no reason that a Hot Tent setup shouldn’t be considered for our varied climate here in Australia and some of the bigger stoves are suited to use outside of a tent as a controlled fire and can double as a fire pit or bbq in your yard when not in use camping.
Whatever you do make sure you research and evaluate the risks before going on a Hot Tent trip. If well prepared, the benefits can truly enhance your camping experience, ensuring a longer camping trip, especially in the underrated seasons.