The Dangers of Cooking in your Tent

Cooking in the tent.  We know we shouldn’t.  We know it’s unwise and unsafe.  An accident waiting to happen.  But we’ve all done it.  After all, when the weather is lousy we don’t have much choice.  Anyway.  What are the odds of it all going wrong?  Pretty high as it turns out.

There is something fundamentally wrong with mixing naked flames and canvas.  But many campsites will have strict rules in place on how close an open fire can be to a tent.  Of course, when you’re on your own in the wild then you make your own rules.  Though not having a fire anywhere near your tent should be rule number 1 in anyone’s book.

While it is highly unlikely many would be so naive enough to cook over an open fire under canvas, though some have been unwise enough to try, a cooking stove is another matter.  Not many will see a problem with that.  As we mentioned earlier many of us will have used a stove inside the tent when it’s coming down in stair rods outside.  But don’t be tempted.  It’s a fire hazard.

But the tent bursting into flames is the least of the potential problems.  Actually let’s not be quite so dramatic.  Your tent is more liable to melt than catch fire, unless you are exceptionally careless, but the bigger, and more potent danger, comes from something which can’t even be seen.  Carbon monoxide.

The dangers of CO

Carbon monoxide is defined as, ‘a colourless, odourless, toxic flammable gas formed by incomplete combustion of carbon.’  In short.  It’s highly dangerous.  Unfortunately it kills and is a big reason why cooking in your tent is such a bad idea.

Using a camping stove to cook on, or as a source of heat in inclement weather, can be highly dangerous because the Carbon monoxide given off by the stove will build up in an unventilated, enclosed space.  As it is completely undetectable by either smell or taste a buildup of CO will go unnoticed.  Often until it is too late.  CO gases build up quickly and can, and have been, fatal with a number of deaths occurring on British campsites in recent years.  Symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains

Needless to say, if you experience any of these symptoms get into the fresh air as quickly as possible and find medical assistance.

Take it to the vestibule

So, having been the harbinger of doom and gloom, death and destruction, let’s look at how you can safely cook in your tent.  Sort of.

Large frame tents with vestibules may in some circumstances be used for cooking.  The vestibule must be well-ventilated and the main tent sealed to prevent any CO entering.  Ensure at least two doors or windows in the vestibule are open to allow Carbon monoxide gases to escape.  Those using smaller tents are advised to rig up a wind break away from the tent for cooking.  Unfortunately, that won’t keep you dry during a storm.

Safety first

Let’s finish with some tips on cooking when camping:

  • Never cook on a camping stove in a tent
  • Never use a camping stove or disposable barbecue for heating
  • Remember anything which burns, a stove, BBQ, open fire etc., can produce Carbon monoxide
  • If you need to cook use a well-ventilated vestibule or a wind break
  • Another reason for not cooking in your tent, which we haven’t touched upon, is that food smells. It smells particularly good to wild animals who may end up uninvited in your tent.  Hugely inconvenient, especially if you’re in North American bear country.

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