Please refer to our Equipment main section for a description of Hot Tenting.
Safety hazards with hot tents include tent fires and noxious fumes. A hot tent can kill you or burn you severely. Way into the back country a long way from help, in deep cold, a tent fire could also burn up your sleeping system and clothing. Even if you escape unharmed, you could be instantly exposed to deep cold without insulation or shelter. Therefore you must be very careful at all times and manage that woodstove attentively. Do not leave the woodstove unattended for long periods. If you are leaving on a day trip, let the fire die down before you go. To expedite matters you can carefully shovel out burning wood and coals, dispose of outside in the snow, and the stove will quickly cool down.
Inside the tent it can be very close quarters, so you must move slowly and carefully around the stove. Lean on your buddies if necessary, and if they are not looking at you as you are attempting to pass by, you can use simple techniques like placing a hand on their shoulder to let them know you are there and passing. You need to prevent a stumble into the stove and stovepipe, causing a catastrophic pipe separation when the stove is really going. When the stove is really going there are red hot and toxic fumes blasting through that pipe, and if the pipe separates they would instantly fill the tent and you would have mere seconds to escape. In other words, never hurry inside the hot tent and never even put yourself in the position where you may stumble into the stove and pipes.
Pipes can be wired together to resist separation. This has been explained in our Hot Tent section under the Equipment main section. The photo repeated here shows a wiring technique using partially extending bolts around each pipe on each joint.
The tent itself must be set up out of the wind so that it does not shake. Wall tents do not shed wind well and can act like a sail, so they must be set up in sheltered locations inside the trees. Wedge tents like the Snowtrekker, or pyramid tents are better shedders of wind and can be used in more open conditions. But if your set up is shaking and you see that pipe moving badly, then its time to kill the fire by shoveling out the burning wood. If your shovel cannot fit inside the stove then you need a small ash shovel to shovel out into a larger shovel. Be very careful not to spill the contents inside. With the proper leather gloves on, should a spill occur, you can quickly grab the burning wood with your gloves on and deal with it (pitch out the door or into the shovel).
Leather work gloves with insulation are always on hand anyways as you handle the stove door, stoke wood, and handle hot pots on the stove. You also need these instantly available to grab extremely hot separating stove pipes to put them back together, or to hold it together long enough for your buddies to escape. Should a fire ignites inside the tent, you can bat out small flames with your leather gloves.
If rigging a wall tent ridge pole to a tree, count on it moving in the wind as the tree sways. You have already anchored your front wall with the stove pipe thimble by pegging the corner into the snow and weighting the sod cloth with snow. That thimble wall should be tight. But the stove pipe wired to the ridge will move as the ridge moves if it is wired too tight, and it can pull the pipe apart causing a catastrophic pipe separation. To prevent this disaster, the pipe must articulate separately from the moving ridge pole. You achieve this by loosely hanging the pipe in a loop of wire so that the pipe can move independently of the moving ridge pole.
Never wire your stovepipe to a tree. The tree will sway in the wind and it can pull your pipe apart. Use a monopod pole stuck in deep snow, or bipod or tripod poles to support it, which is standard technique for wedge and pyramid tents.
If you are using a rope ridge between two trees it requires a very high tension using mechanical advantage to reduce the dip. Since the trees will move in a wind, your rope already under high tension will stretch. Make sure your have an appropriately strong rope to handle these stresses.
Open flames such as from candles must be watched very carefully in a wall tent. Clothing is hanging from clotheslines and it’s quite easy for a candle lantern to slide under a piece of clothing, where it may cause a fire. In the old days, open candles were used on sticks stuck in the snow, and some modern hot tenters still use this technique, and I admire their skills. I use LED flashlights rigged in the ridge as a light source now, in addition to headlamps. Others use naptha (white gas) lanterns inside, but light them outside to deal with flare up. Lanterns must be watched and their fumes must be vented. They also use lots oxygen so you need a full open fresh outside air draw.
Hot tents vent quite well once the stove gets going, since the woodstove is like a jet engine, sucking air from inside the tent and from outside through the open flap door. A zipped door should always remain partly zipped open. The woodstove stove vents the combustion fumes outside, even though the stove is not airtight and may be deliberately cut open on top for pot holes. Covers or pots cover most of the holes, but with a good draw no fumes escape, and instead are drawn in and out the stovepipe. A cold start up with poor draw may flood the tent with smoke, so open the door to vent this until the stove starts drawing well.
Hot tents cannot be air tight or the stove will use up all the oxygen, and when the stove is cooling down as you sleep, it would leak carbon monoxide. To prevent this, hot tents are designed deliberately to not be air tight. Doors are flaps where they can be closed but the stove can draw all the air it needs through the flap. Or doors with zippers are never zipped completely shut and left open at the bottom for an unimpaired draw of outside air.
If your sleeping system is properly designed, you can let the stove go out and have a good night’s uninterrupted sleep in the ambient cold temperature. If you get cold you can get up and stoke the stove, but then the stove is running unattended as people sleep. So it’s safer to let the stove go out at night when you retire. It should continue to draw as it cools, so as long as the tent door or other floor level opening is sufficient for fresh outside air draw, your air should be good and carbon monoxide will go up the pipe and out.
You may want to make an additional heat shield for the firewood stacking side of the stove. You use the heat from the stove to dry out frosty wet firewood, but there is heat and then there is extra heat. Twice now on my trips the heat from the red hot stove sides has caused my stacked firewood pile to carbonize on the edge and smolder. Since we obeyed our rule of not leaving the stove unattended, we caught this smoldering hot spot before it may have caused a fire.
Tent fires should never happen if using proper safety precautions. But we are human and accidents sometimes happen, although they shouldn’t. It means you probably messed up. You already should have a complete change of clothes in a dry bag to change into should you get soaked. This should be stored outside the tent should the tent go up in flames. But we often don’t have a back up snow boot since they are so big and heavy. Your extra liners may also be drying in the tent. When they are dry you should remember to move them outside. If they burn up, you will need a robust sock system as back up, and you may be able to duct tape up partially burned and melted boots. Your sleeping bags may totally burn up, so you will be using survival shelter skills to handle deep cold, such as deep bough beds inside reflector lean-to’s with big fires in front, or quinzees or snow caves. Scraps of the tent and fly, plus a tarp may be able to be salvaged and re-rigged with engineered snow walls into a smaller hot tent, since the stove will survive the fire of course. As long as you have a replacement clothing system outside and can salvage a boot option, you should be fine using your bush skills.
We all wonder what we will do to escape a tent fire during the night as we are asleep in our bags. Just like a house fire, you must keep your head very low and get out. Know where your headlamp is at all times and keep it within arms reach, and know where your knife is. If the door is blocked, you may have to cut your way out. It’s easier said than done. I hope I never have to experience that, and its not something we can rehearse, but one must be mentally prepared for such a situation. A poly tarp fly caught in the flames will melt and drip molten blobs of red hot plastic. If you are wearing synthetic underwear and head layers like I do, (since I cannot tolerate wool against my skin), that material will melt into your skin in intense heat causing severe burns – not a pleasant thought – another incentive to get out quick, and to use ultimate safety protocols in the tent!
I sleep better at night knowing that most of the wood is burned up before retiring and that the fire will be cooling down fast and going out.