Having a stove within your hot tent brings you great comfort along with great responsibilities. You have to make sure you know how to use your equipment correctly and that includes the maintenance of your chimney. Here are some tips on how to stay safe while camping in the cold weather:
Keep it clean
That seems like something one could dismiss and forget about, but that is the most important rule out there, so let’s start with this one. When you have a fuel source in an enclosed space it uses up all of the oxygen that we all need to breathe. The burning process results in the creation of an odorless and colorless gas called carbon monoxide, which is extremely dangerous to people and animals and is something to be aware of.
In order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, you need to make sure that you're keeping your stove and chimney clean and clear of ash and creosote. Creosote is a dangerous byproduct that comes from burning wood and stays in your chimney until it’s removed. When the oils in the wood aren’t completely burned, they travel up through the smoke. The smoke cools while rising and condenses with water and other chemicals inside your chimney. This mixture is called creosote.
If your pipes are dirty with creosote they will not be able to let the necessary volume of the smoke out and this will prevent your stove from drafting properly. Normally, a drafting stove will have combustion in the chamber. The airflow comes from the tent through the air baffle inside your stove. If the chimney is clogged up with dirt, your stove stops drafting and the products of fueling, in this case, carbon monoxide, will build up inside your shelter which is extremely dangerous.
You should scrap out the ash and unburnt wood from inside your stove after every fire: for example, if you had a night fire then you just clean it out in the morning. The ‘leftover’ wood is pretty visible to see inside your stove. What you don’t see is the products of the fire on your equipment and you have to make sure you’re cleaning it at least every two days. You’re going to know when a chimney needs cleaning because it's going to be really difficult to light.
To clean your standard chimney you need to use a chimney sweep or creosote sweeping logs. With tent pipes, it’s a lot easier as you can actually remove the construction from your roof and clean separate blocks.
Simply wait till the thing is cold and then take the pipe sections out. Start with the top couple – the ones closest to the top are going to have the most creosote built up. As the smoke and unburnt material move up, it gets crystallized into that sticky crease while at the bottom - most of it is gets re-burnt because that section of the chimney is extremely hot.
Make it a good practice – just take out these sections once a day and take a look inside the hole to check what's going on there. If it’s too dirty, shake it out or tap the metal outside with your hands so the dirt will fall off. That should keep your draft working properly and significantly reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you're camping for multiple days, you should do this on a regular basis. The frequency may vary depending on your stove, your wood and what's building up in there.
2. Install it correctly
Correct installation of equipment is really necessary for a safe camping experience. While installing the stove jack it is important to make sure that the sections are connected tightly - make an effort to get them into the flared part to the stop. This will prevent the smoke and ash from coming through the holes and building up inside the shelter.
Your tent should have a special pipe hole made from heat-resistant material. If it doesn’t have one, you’re not supposed just to cut a hole yourself and use it as it is - the contact with a hot metal construction may set the fabric on fire.
It is best to have your stove pipe long enough so there are at least 6 inches from the tip of your tent to the top of the chimney. Having the stove pipe extending above the roof allows the wind coming from any direction to blow sparks away from the outer layer of fabric. Softwood will burn into the ambers that will come out from your stove and may burn holes in the material. You need to have a gap that will allow the ambers to burn out before they fall on the surface of your roof. At the same time, you don’t want to go too much higher because the wind will start affecting your construction.
If your pipe is tall enough to be affected by the wind, you should stabilize it with special guy lines. Otherwise, it may fall down on your roof which is extremely dangerous. Guy line is a rope or cable used to restrain the motion of something, in this case, to prevent your pipe from major movements from the wind. Use the ropes with metal rings or clips on them so the rope itself doesn’t get hot from the heat of the pipe. It’s better to set your guy lines a little bit loose and not too tight. While the pipe is hot, the metal gets soft and bends so tight cables attached to it may create bending and falling of the whole construction.
3. Avoid burning softwood
When looking for wood to burn in your stove you need to make a choice between hardwood and softwood. Hardwood is often considered to be superior to firewood because it’s very dense. It burns longer, hotter, and produces less smoke without a lot of sparks. The most common types of hardwood are Birch, Walnut, Cherry, Oak and Maple.
Another advantage is that such wood creates hot coals which give out radiant heat for a long period of time. Although it’s pricy, using such wood may be more efficient for your long camping trips.
Softwood is a lightweight wood which is typically very resinous. This allows the wood to light easily and burn hot and fast. A fire built from softwoods usually has large flames and lots of sparks and crackles. Softwoods grow very fast compared to most hardwoods resulting in a less dense piece of wood. The most ‘famous’ trees classified as softwoods are cedar, fir and red pine.
As you may have guessed, burning hardwood produces less ash and unwanted creosote that you really don’t want to have to deal with inside your stove. Using resinous softwood, on the other hand, will make you clean it much more often. So if you are burning softwoods – try to burn them at a slower rate. Do not stir the coals inside of your stove – it’s just spitting sparks that go up your chimney and land on the tent.
We’re not saying that you should forget about softwood but consider opting for hardwood to keep your stove and chimney cleaner. Both hardwood and softwood can be a great choice - it just depends on how you plan to use them. Softwoods are usually a popular choice for kindling or making an open fire as they light much easier.
4. Don’t forget about spark arrestors
This part of your stove equipment also needs attention and cleaning. A spark arrestor is a must-have piece of your construction that protects the outer layer of the tent from sparks burning holes in the fabric and also keeps your fire safe from rain. The spark arrestor increases the efficiency of the stove and evenly heats the cooking surface.
A spark arrestor usually looks like a piece of a metal pipe with a lot of holes in it and a small ‘roof’ on top. This design helps to catch up the flames and ambers flying out of the stove and break them into smaller sparks. Spark arrestors with smaller holes are usually better at ‘their job’ but they do get clogged pretty easily. You can always take it out of the construction to check how much ash, crease and dust built up inside the arrestor which makes it pretty difficult to light the stove. And that also gets pretty dangerous. If your stove stops drafting because of the clogged spark arrestor’s holes, smoke will build up inside your camping home, and that will be an oxygen issue.
So if you're using the spark arrester, remember that its holes also need to be cleaned regularly and maybe even more often than your chimney, considering the design of the piece.
Different manufacturers create original designs of spark arrestors which may vary in their forms, numbers and the sizes of the holes. For example, each of the RBM Outdoors hot tent stoves comes with a coil-type spark arrestor built in the upper side of firebox. It splits the firebox into two areas: in the lower main section, there are burning and heat emission processes. The upper section is where the after-burning process occurs.
5. Don’t try to modify it yourself
Last but not least – don’t try to change your stove construction if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing. This is a very serious safety tip and should be considered by all camping enthusiasts.
Changing one of the elements may prevent the correct air circulation and make the burn unregulated and dangerous. Modifying your chimney or spark arrestors may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. For example, don’t ever try to apply a small mesh inside your spark arrestor if it’s not designed to have one inside. This will only make the holes clog up very quickly and prevent ash from coming out of the pipes. This process is incredibly fast and if such a thing happens at night that may lead to serious accidents.
Everything that comes with your hot tent is usually thought-out by the manufacturers and engineers and you don’t need to pump it up yourself if you’re not qualified to do so.
For example, each of the RBM Outdoors hot tents has a smoke pipe hole which is made from fire-resistant material with a working temperature up to 2192° F and is equipped with a stainless steel ring. This allows for keeping the tent materials safe during the process of burning and you don’t have to worry about the hot metal touching the fabric around the hole.
Each of our stove packages includes a deflector that helps protect the smoke pipe from rain and improves smoke ventilation. The air damper regulator of the firebox cap regulates the intensity of burning and the temperature inside the tent.
Carrier handles are located on the end walls, which make cleaning ash from the stove easier and finally, a smoke detector included in the package will sound an alarm if smoke gets inside the tent.
If you’re looking not only for a memorable but also safe camping experience, consider RBM Outdoors and a tent of your choice.
🏕 Why should I clean my hot tent’s pipe?
You should keep it clean because the ash and creosote that build up inside the pipe make it harder for the smoke to come outside. That prevents your stove from drafting correctly and puts you in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning inside the tent.
📦 What is creosote?
Creosote is a byproduct that comes from burning wood and stays in your chimney. When the oils in the wood aren’t completely burned, they travel up through the smoke and mix with the condensed water and other chemicals inside your chimney. This mixture is called creosote.
💡 Why should I clean the spark arrestor?
Depending on the design, the spark arrestor may have a different number of holes in it. Smaller holes usually get clogged up very quickly which leads to smoke building up inside your stove and eventually, inside your tent. It’s important to keep it clean to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.