Anytime you are camping, safety is always the first priority. Being far from home and spending the night in nature does bring with it some risks. But if you plan accordingly and take certain actions, you will have a wonderful experience.
Still, it is beneficial to have more information. When camping, one of the hazards is fire because many people enjoy having campfires. If they are not extinguished properly, they can cause forest fires or damage campgrounds.
This may lead you to wonder whether tents are flame retardant? Can a tent catch on fire easily? Are they treated with any substances to make them safer?
In the United States, most tents are chemically treated to make them fire retardant. The tent flammability standard, referred to as CPAI-84, originated in 1976 and outlines the rules around flammability and tests. A tent being fire retardant only means it is resistant to fire and does not mean fire proof. Always use safe practices with campfire and other sources of fire in and outside your tent.
It also outlines the performance requirements and test methods as well as certification and labeling. However, these guidelines were initially put into place to reduce fires in tents that were often made from canvas and coated in paraffin.
Recently, some people have begun to raise concerns about the health of the materials used to make tents flame retardant. Some are worried that they may be harmful to people and could damage the environment.
There are a few tent manufacturers who do not use fire-retardant chemicals to treat their tents. One, in particular, is The Tent Lab which sells tents made from lightweight materials. According to their website, the materials are quite fire safe and are difficult to catch on fire when a flame is held against them.
It seems that many backpacking tents, due to their lightweight fabric and nature, should be safe even if they are not treated with a fire retardant. It is unclear what the new standards for larger tents will be as companies are now looking into flame retardant options which are healthier and better for the environment.
How to Make Your Tent Flame Retardant?
If you have a tent that has not been treated with flame retardant chemicals, what can you do to protect yourself? You could look into getting the tent materials chemically treated to make them flame retardant.
Canvas tents can be washed and sprayed with a fire retardant spray and left to absorb and cure for 24 hours. Check with the manufacturer of your tent to see if it has been treated and to find out how to apply fire retardant without damaging the tent.
However, if you are concerned about the adverse health risks of camping in a tent that has been treated, there are other ways you can avoid your tent catching fire.
- Keep Fire Far Away
For those who want to have a campfire, make sure it is not too close to your tent. Keep a minimum area of 10 feet cleared around your fire.
Make sure the fire stays within the fire ring or pit and ensure an adult is always there to monitor the fire. Never leave a campfire unattended for even a short period of time.
Keep the fire small and make sure the area around it is free of debris that could catch fire. Check the fire conditions before setting a fire and always comply with the rules and regulations of the campground.
- Strategically Position Your Tent
Depending on the campground, you may not have much of a choice about where you pitch your tent. Tent pads that are already built mean you have to put your tent on there instead of elsewhere at your site.
However, whenever possible, put your tent upwind from your fire. This will prevent the risk of sparks or kindling being blown toward or into the tent.
Of course, the wind often changes so it may not always be possible to completely avoid having your tent in the path of the fire. Many people may also want to take advantage of using the fire to indirectly heat their tent.But, if you want the most protection from fire, keep your tent away from the fire at all times. Even better, don’t start a campfire at all if you think there is a high risk of your tent catching fire.
- Don’t cook in the vestibule
Although tent vestibules are often lauded as excellent places to do chores when there is adverse weather. You can get away from the wind to prepare food or repair gear in the vestibule without getting the tent dirty.
You may also be tempted to use the vestibule for cooking, but this can be dangerous. Because the vestibule is covered, there is a possibility of any open flame burning the tent.
So resist the temptation to cook food inside even if the weather is bad. Instead, put up a tarp outside above the picnic table and put your camp stove there.
- Bring a fire extinguisher
Anytime you are camping, prepare for all kinds of disasters. This means purchasing and packing a small fire extinguisher with you every time you go camping.
Although you may never need to use it, you will have peace of mind and won’t worry as much about fires. Plus, it will be there should an emergency arise. Even if your campsite isn’t affected, you may end up saving your neighbors should a fire get out of control.
- Always put out your campfire
When you are finished with your campfire, take extra measures to make sure it has been fully extinguished. Keep water and a shovel nearby so you can douse it and then stir the ashes to make sure all parts of the fire are out.
The campground host should provide adequate water to douse all campfires. If you don’t have a shovel, use a long stick to move the remains of the fire around and continue to douse all areas, including the coals.
- Don’t put a heater inside the tent
Although tent heaters do exist and are quite safe, avoid using one for additional protection against fires. Electric heaters are considered among the safest but there is always a chance that they could catch on fire.Even if the tent itself does not catch fire, other camping gear could ignite and spread inside the tent. Gas heaters will need adequate ventilation and you should never burn charcoal or solid fuel inside the tent.
Needless to say, never bring a campfire inside the tent either, even if it is inside a metal container. If you choose to use a tent heater, read the manual to make sure you know how to properly operate it.
Keep all flammable items away from the heater and don’t place anything on top of it, such as wet clothes to dry or drinks to be heated. Any heater you use should have a switch that will shut the heater off automatically if it tips over.
- Don’t smoke inside the tent
Another way to prevent tent fires is to refrain from smoking any kind of cigar or cigarettes inside the tent. If they are not extinguished properly, they could catch fire depending on the type of camping gear you have inside.
How to Make a Fire Retardant Tent Safer
If you are concerned about your tent being treated with flame retardant chemicals and the possible negative impacts, there are ways to mitigate the risks.
- Keep your hands clean
Several studies have found that the chemicals applied to the tent material can rub off on your hands while setting up the tent.
To prevent this, wear gloves while setting up the tent, taking it down, and folding it up for storage. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the tent, even for short durations.
- Ventilate the tent well
There have been concerns about the buildup of the chemicals in the air inside a tent. To avoid this, keep the ventilation flaps open as much as possible.
Take the rain fly off whenever possible for further ventilation. Camp during warmer weather so you won’t need a rainfly or to fully enclose the tent which could trap air inside.
- Spend as much time outside the tent as possible
Use your tent only for sleeping or shelter from extreme weather. Spend as much time outside in the fresh air while camping. Set up a tarp or other overhead cover so you can utilize the outdoor areas of the campsite even if it’s raining or sunny.
If the weather is nice, put up a hammock and take a nap outdoors instead of inside the tent. All food should be cooked outside the tent but also eat outside at picnic tables if provided.Invest in camp chairs so you can sit and relax outside in the evening instead of going into the tent several hours before you will be sleeping. Upon waking up in the morning, ventilate the tent and go outside to get some fresh air.
Many tents are already flame retardant and lightweight tents that aren’t treated are quite difficult to catch fire. By following fire safety rules and not bringing open flames or burning objects into the tent, it is easy to prevent a tent fire.
If you are concerned about flame retardant chemicals, ventilate your tent well and wash your hands after setting it up. Continue to educate yourself about the changes in flame retardant tents as they evolve and companies adapt to make healthier products.