Can I Cook Inside My Tent? Everything You Need To Know About Cooking In Tents

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

Can I Cook Inside My Tent? Everything You Need To Know About Cooking In Tents

Is it ok to cook inside a tent?

Having an open flame inside your tent is very dangerous. Most tents provide little to no ventilation and are very flammable. With no air circulation inside the tent, campers are prone to carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning happens because a steady influx of carbon monoxide inhaled by the body causes asphyxiation.

The body is deprived of oxygen which results in loss of consciousness, brain damage, and if exposure is prolonged, death. What makes carbon monoxide so poisonous?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, nonirritating gas that is produced when carbon-based fuels are used. In short, it is a natural byproduct when we use fuel to cook food or heat our surroundings. It is also the cause of fatal unintentional poisonings.

Once it is inhaled, CO binds to the hemoglobin in our blood much faster than oxygen. It causes tissue hypoxia in which the blood becomes less efficient at transporting and delivering oxygen. 

How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning?

In reviewing the literature behind CO poisoning, Simon Leigh-Smith gathered that CO poisoning especially in poorly ventilated environments, occurs in two stages that happen before the fire burns out:

  • A slow linear phase 
  • An exponential rate of CO increase phase 

Leigh-Smith continues that for reducing the risk of CO poisoning, there needs to be sufficient ventilation for oxygen to come inside the tent so the CO can be pushed outside through the ventilation vents. 

Today, there are tents that have been designed for cooking inside:

Stove jack tents 

These are equipped with many ventilation vents and one especially for a stove that goes right up outside. 

Tents with vestibules

Tent vestibules are enclosed areas connected to the tent located before the entrance. You can cook in the vestibule by closing the tent entrance and opening the vestibule flap. 

Cooking inside tents is not done when proper ventilation is not available. It should be avoided altogether and even in tents designed for cooking inside, campers should take the right precautions in order to be safe.

What are the good things about cooking inside a tent?

Warmth

Especially during the wintertime, stoves can be a source of warmth but do not let stoves burn for more time than you cook.

It may be tempting to use it for warmth but use stoves inside the tent ONLY if there is no other way to cook. Instead, for warmth use heat sources that are designed for heating spaces.

Convenience

Cooking inside your tent provides convenience as you don’t have to go back and forth between the tent and the cooking area.

Protection from the weather

When it’s raining it can be difficult to cook your food, but you’re protected from the weather when you cook inside your tent.

Protection from animals and bugs

When you’re cooking outside your tent the food smell can attract animals. Insects like mosquitos can come and bite you while you’re cooking outside. 

What are the downsides of cooking in a tent?

Moisture and condensation

The heat from cooking can create moisture and condensation in the walls of your tent. If not dealt with correctly, condensation can cause mold or mildew on your tent.

Mess and scent can attract animals/bugs

It is a general rule to not cook where you sleep. The cooking smells can attract animals long after you finish and fall asleep. Waking up to find animals sniffing or pawing along the sides of your tent is not the best morning experience. Ants can also come inside your tent if the mess from cooking isn’t cleaned properly

It’s dangerous to cook inside a tent

CO poisoning is very real and it can happen when cooking inside a tent without proper ventilation. Stoves also add to the possibility of tent fires if not correctly used, remember tent fabric can be treated with fire-retardant but it is still flammable. 

Things to keep in mind when cooking inside a tent

Again, cooking inside a tent is an activity that must only be done in certain situations when you have no other choice. If you are doing it, here are important things to keep in mind:

Use a fire mat underneath the stove

This minimizes the risk of flammables touching your tent floor and also makes cleaning easier. If you drop some food on it you can just take it out and clean it a safe distance away from your tent.

Use a stove with an attached chimney or pipe 

This ensures that the smoke is blown outside from the tent roof and keeps any sparks from the fire, away from the tent fabric.

Be mindful of the stove’s placement inside your tent

Keep your stove away from the tent walls. The further it is from the tent wall the less chance of sparks flying into the fabric and creating a fire.

If possible avoid using a BBQ or gas stove inside your tent

These types of stoves produce the highest amount of carbon monoxide than any other. It can still release CO into the air long after the fire has gone out. If you are using a gas stove:

  • Make sure to use LPG cartridges if possible
  • Check cartridges for leakage before the camping trip
  • Never change fuel cartridges inside your tent
  • Be familiar with how your stove works, especially what cartridge is best the best fit for it.

Ensure proper ventilation inside the tent

Open the door and window flaps, if possible take away the rain fly. Remember this lowers the level of carbon monoxide in your tent and keeps you away from the effects of CO poisoning.

Look out for the signs of CO poisoning

If you are with other campers inside the tent, monitor for signs of CO poisoning:

Mild exposure/ slow linear phase

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach ache
  • Confusion 

Continued exposure/exponential growth phase

  • Losing consciousness
  • Chest pains 
  • General feeling of discomfort 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Altered mental state

If you find yourself experiencing the first-phase signs, turn off your stove, open the door flaps, step outside, and breathe fresh air.

Always be alert because continued exposure to CO can result in brain damage and death. Consider bringing a carbon monoxide alarm with you to monitor the CO levels in your tent.

Bring a fire extinguisher

Packing a fire extinguisher for any camping trip that involves cooking inside a tent is the best safety precaution, even in tents that are designed for cooking. Always keep in mind that fire and the tent fabric is not a good combination.