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Hot Tenting Guide | Everything You Need To Know

Master living in one of these and the results can be transformative. Mark Waring explains the details and joys of winter hot tenting

It is tempting in winter just to not bother camping. Long winter nights in dark and cold tents might hold just enough seasonal novelty for the odd weekend but multi-day backpacking trips in a freezing damp UK conditions can start to edge recreational adventuring into the realms of expeditioning. The main issue is that in prolonged freezing conditions, traditional mountain tents will tend to collect respired moisture on the surface of the inner and at some point this will lightly snow on you and your gear. As you fight the problem of pervasive damp, slowly creeping into all your gear, you may find its chilly fingers have also made its way into the recesses of your soul – and you could well resolve to wait until spring next year!

There is a way to manage this and to seize the winter months, however. And the answer lies in hot tenting. 

A custom hot tent by Trekkertent. Photo: Mark Waring

What Is A Hot Tent?

‘Hot Tents’ are shelters designed to accommodate a wood-burning stove. Master living in one of these and the results can be transformative. 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. With that rig you can burn wood as a heat source, to cook food or even dry clothing.

All this provides some memorable winter experiences. 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 properly sited Hot Tent with a ready supply of wood provides a comfortable space in which to cook, eat and relax. What’s more, modern materials from sil-nylon tents to titanium stoves mean that your set-up can be extremely lightweight and portable. With the lightest rigs at around 2kg for both tent and stove there is little weight penalty for being warm and dry.

Building experience with short trips in the UK hills, I have skied and snowshoed for days out in the deep cold of a Scandinavian winter. In temperatures of around – 20 Celsius, your Hot Tent is a cocoon. 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.

Photo: Mark Waring

Hot Tent Variations

The central piece of equipment is the Hot Tent itself. The traditional ti-pi tents of the arctic forest provided the inspiration for the contemporary hot tent style. Increasingly there is variety and some very interesting styles that reflect all modern tents and tarps. Most designs (such as Luxe or Seek Outside) favour the pyramid wall tents that can be set up with just one centre pole and minimum 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. Traditional fabrics such as canvas are arguably more durable, breathable and, most importantly, spark resistant. 

The Megahorn Tipi by Luxe. Photo:
The Cimarron by Seek Outside. Photo:
Snowtrekkers canvas tent. Photo:

You might make your choice on the type of trip that you’ve planned and the distance you want to cover. 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 there are single walled shelters, erected with trekking poles, that are around a kilogram and that will occupy little space in the pack.

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. These are typically stainless steel (cheaper and heavier) or titanium (lightweight and expensive). 

The size of the stove that you use inside the tent varies with the size of the tent. A bigger tent needs a bigger stove whilst a smaller one provides portability. A titanium stove can be very light indeed and occupies little space in your pack. My current titanium cylinder stove (including a 6ft chimney) from Lite Outdoors weighs just under a kilogram and is very compact to carry.

When selecting a portable stove you might want to consider how easy it is to put together. If you are on the move, you will be doing this daily and some stoves can take real practice to assemble in around 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 (consisting of flat sheets of metal) such as those by Pomoly or Winnerwell are easier to assemble than cylindrical stoves and have fewer hardware parts that can be lost or fumbled by cold hands. There can be a trade off with weight though.

The Winnerwell Nomas 1G L-Sized. Photo:
The Pomoly T1 mini 3. Photo:

Cutting equipment is key to processing firewood. The beauty of contemporary stoves is that they are very efficient and burn considerably less wood than an open fire. That said make sure the collection of wood is both legally and environmentally 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. No need to spend big, the Bahco Laplander saw and knife is an excellent choice at a wallet friendly price.

All this can prove to be expensive. 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 opt for a stainless steel stove you can start out relatively cheaply.

How to Get Set Up

Before you head off with your new stove and tent, you will have a couple of jobs to do at home first. The prime job is ‘the first burn’. 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 simple task and gives you an opportunity to practise lighting and using your stove. Secondly, it gives you the occasion 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. The first time you roll the pipe into shape can be tricky (it’s worth using a length of PVC pipe as a form and asking someone to help you). However, after the first time you burn wood in the stove, the fire will heat-set the shape of the pipe into the titanium. On subsequent uses, the chimney will acquire memory of the shape and essentially roll itself neatly into the required form.  

Pay attention to the rest of your backpacking gear, not least your sleep system and other warm gear. It is important that you take a sleep system that matches the temperatures outside. If the temperature is going to be below freezing make sure your sleeping bag has the correct rating for such conditions. 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.

“Do not allow yourself to fall asleep with the stove burning if you are on your own.”

Practising wood processing (cutting wood into suitably sized logs) is a must. You will need to do this safely and quickly when out on the trail. I generally reckon on around 30 minutes to cut 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 set of leather gloves is useful to prevent burns when operating the hot stove. They can also protect against cuts when packing up your gear when all is finished.

Finally, firelighters really help and are good for coaxing damp wood into life. I favour the waxy strips of paper made by Swedish company Hammaro. Of course, carry matches and/or a lighter too, making sure that you protect them from damp.


Being inside a tent with a fire is potentially very hazardous. Two things can essentially go wrong: carbon monoxide poisoning and having your tent burn down. Whilst both are very rare, you need to take precautions. Do not allow yourself to fall asleep with the stove burning if you are on your own. Make sure that it is properly extinguished before bed and that the stove pipe is drawing correctly so that fumes escape upwards. Make sure that the stove is assembled correctly. Guard against the action of the wind in a hot tent as well, making sure the tent walls do not warp and bend towards red hot metal. Keep a knife close to hand so that you can cut yourself out if required.

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. Importantly, it makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable. This is what winter is about. 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.

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