Master living in one of these and the results can be transformative. Mark Waring explains the details and joys of winter hot tenting
It’s tempting to skip camping in the cold. Long winter evenings in dark and chilly tents may provide just enough seasonal novelty for the occasional weekend, but multi-day hiking journeys in freezing wet UK weather may start to push leisure adventure into expedition territory.
The major concern is that in extended cold temperatures, classic mountain tents tend to gather respired moisture on the inside surface, which may eventually snow on you and your gear. When you battle the issue of pervasive moisture, which is slowly seeping into all of your clothing, you may discover that its frigid fingers have also found their way into the caverns of your spirit – and you may decide to wait till spring next year!
There is a way to manage this and to seize the winter months, however. And the solution is hot tenting.
What Is A Hot Tent?
‘Hot Tents’ are tents built to house a wood-burning stove. If you can master one of them, the effects may be revolutionary. With the addition of a fire resistant ‘stove jack’ sewn into a tent wall, it is possible to put a stove inside, and run a chimney or stovepipe through the stove jack. You may use that setup to cook meals and even dry clothes by burning wood.
All of this makes for some unforgettable winter adventures. From creeping off British hillsides into the woody abundance of conifer plantations or even undertaking real wilderness expeditions in the frozen boreal forests of the sub-arctic. A well-placed Hot Tent with a convenient supply of wood gives a nice spot to cook, dine, and rest. Moreover, new materials like as sil-nylon tents and titanium stoves allow your setup to be incredibly lightweight and portable. There is no weight cost for staying warm and dry, with the lightest configurations being under 2kg for combined tent and fire.
I’ve skied and snowshoed for days in the extreme cold of a Scandinavian winter after gaining expertise with short outings in the UK hills. Your Hot Tent is a cocoon in temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius. It is hard work in that level of cold but the satisfaction of the tent up and the stove chugging away as you sit in a heated shelter is so much sweeter for the effort. Moreover, from your hearthside you can enjoy the stillness of winter whilst others are simply sitting at home and waiting for the arrival of spring.
Hot Tent Variations
The Hot Tent is the main piece of equipment. The modern hot tent style was inspired by the polar forest’s traditional ti-pi tents. There is more diversity and some extremely fascinating designs available that mirror all current tents and tarps. Most designs (such as Luxe or Seek Outside) favor pyramid wall tents, which can be put up with just one center pole and few pegs. Another style is the modified wedge or A-frame tent (such as the Snowtrekker Expedition Shortwall) enabling a self-supporting style tent.
Modern fabrics such as sil-nylon mean that many hot tents now are both lightweight and durable: ideal for backpacking and travelling unencumbered. Canvas, for example, is undoubtedly more robust, breathable, and, most significantly, spark resistant.
You may base your decision on the sort of vacation you’ve planned and the distance you wish to go. One advantage of winter is that in deep snow you can carry your gear behind you in a sled or a pulk with the weight of your gear effortlessly gliding behind you. For UK backpacking, single walled shelters constructed with trekking poles weigh around a kilogram and take up little room in the rucksack.
Hot Tent Stoves
Just as there are many shapes and sizes of tents, the same can be said for the wood stove – the very heart and hearth of your hot tent set up. They are often made of stainless steel (which is less costly and heavy) or titanium (lightweight and expensive).
The size of the stove used inside the tent varies according to the size of the tent. A bigger tent needs a bigger stove whilst a smaller one provides portability. A titanium burner may be incredibly light and take up little room in your bag. My current titanium cylinder stove (including a 6ft chimney) from Lite Outdoors weighs just under a kilogram and is very compact to carry.
While choosing a portable stove, you should think about how simple it is to assemble. If you are always on the road, you will be doing this on a regular basis, and certain stoves might take some experience to construct in under fifteen minutes. You may be doing this in temperatures way below freezing, when you are tired and dealing with the faff of not losing small components in the dirt or snow. Box stoves (made of flat sheets of metal) like those made by Pomoly or Winnerwell are quicker to construct and have fewer hardware bits that might be misplaced or fumbled by cold hands. Yet, there may be a weight trade-off.
Cutting equipment is essential while processing firewood. The benefit of modern stoves is that they are very efficient and use much less wood than an open fire. But, be certain that the collecting of wood is both legally and ecologically sound. You do not need much gear but a hand saw (to cut fallen wood into small logs) and a robust knife (to baton or split your logs) is essential. There is no need to overspend when the Bahco Laplander saw and knife is a good alternative at an affordable price.
All of this may be pricey. The premium stoves and hot tents that have evolved from the hunting scene of North America (and you’ll find them at Seek Outside or Lite Outdoors) are excellent but they can be expensive to import. However, in recent years, China has manufactured many of these tent designs and you can find some decent budget options out there from companies such as Luxe or One Tigris. If you choose a stainless steel stove, you may get started for a low cost.
How to Get Set Up
Before you go with your new stove and tent, you’ll need to do a few tasks at home. ‘The initial burn’ is the most important duty. This performs two tasks: first, you must burn off the poisonous gases in the zinc formed when lighting up a new stove. This is a basic assignment that allows you to practice lighting and operating your stove. Second, it provides you with the opportunity to shape your stovepipe.
The chimney pipe is typically made from a single sheet of very thin titanium that rolls lengthwise for compact storage and widthwise into a pipe. It’s best to use a length of PVC pipe as a form and ask for assistance the first time you roll the pipe into shape. The fire, on the other hand, will heat-set the form of the pipe into the titanium after the first time you burn wood in the stove. The chimney will remember the shape and will effectively roll itself neatly into the proper shape on future applications.
Pay attention to the rest of your backpacking gear, not least your sleep system and other warm gear. It is essential that you wear a sleeping system that corresponds to the temperature outdoors. If the temperature drops below freezing, be sure your sleeping bag is rated for such circumstances. Unless you are sharing the tent and have the option of a fire watch system with watchers awake through the night it is not advisable to have the fire light when asleep.
“If you are alone, do not allow yourself to fall asleep with the stove on.”
It is necessary to practice wood processing (cutting wood into suitable sized logs). You will need to do this safely and quickly when out on the trail. I usually estimate 30 minutes to chop and prepare enough for a few hours. Sawing small logs and also quartering by batoning means you can reach the driest wood for a hot blaze.
In addition, when the stove is chugging away think about how you want to protect yourself and the ground. A fire resistant welder’s mat can protect the ground underneath the stove from scorching. A pair of leather gloves might help you avoid burns while using a hot stove. These may help guard against cuts while putting up your stuff at the end of the day.
Thirdly, firelighters are really useful for bringing wet wood to life. I like the Swedish manufacturer Hammaro’s waxy paper strips. Of course, carry matches and/or a lighter too, making sure that you protect them from damp.
Staying inside a tent with a fire may be quite dangerous. Two things may go wrong: carbon monoxide poisoning and your tent catching fire. Although both are very uncommon, you should take measures. If you are alone, do not allow yourself to fall asleep with the stove on. Make sure that it is properly extinguished before bed and that the stove pipe is drawing correctly so that fumes escape upwards. Check that the stove is properly built. In a heated tent, protect against wind action by ensuring that the tent walls do not distort and bend towards red hot metal. Have a knife nearby so you can cut yourself out if necessary.
Whilst ‘cold camping’ in a typical mountain tent can offer the opportunity to go fast and light, a hot tent provides warmth and comfort that can sustain for many days at a time. Most importantly, it enhances the whole experience. This is the essence of winter. To relish in the silence of the season, getting away from the crowds and enjoying a time of year that few wilderness enthusiasts get a chance to experience.