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Choosing the RIGHT Wood Stove for your Hot Tent (or Tent Sauna)

Updated: Feb 19

The right hot tent stove provides the heat you need. The wrong stove is TOO BIG or TOO SMALL.

With the increasing popularity of winter camping, the expanding range of hot tent stoves can be confusing. There are dozens of shapes, sizes, and styles of hot tents, with new variations being added continuously. There are many sizes of stoves, with different features, and different construction features and materials.

Not only is choosing the correct stove crucial for a comfortable camp, but the wrong choice may have devastating consequences. Best case, you (and your fellow campers) may quit winter camping after a bad experience. But you also may face lasting effects of frostbite and hypothermia. Worst case, you may burn up your gear or the surrounding forest!

Here are a few hot tent stove tips garnered from decades of winter camping and experience on the “frozen tundra”.

First, one hot tent stove does not fit all applications.

Decide what you need. It is very likely that one hot tent wood stove will not cover all your requirements. You might need one stove for heating and cooking on a late Fall hunting trip, and a larger wood stove for a mid-Winter camping trip in the Boundary Waters. If you want to use your hot tent for a sauna during the Winter, a third stove might be necessary.

Be careful reading reviews and watching videos of campers with a totally different hot tent! Most hot tents shield you from cold winds but only slow the release of heat. The bigger the tent, the bigger stove that is required. In contrast, insulated hot tents can often use one size smaller stove.

Second, define how you will be traveling to camp. How you will transport your stove affects your selection.

Canoeing and portaging into a remote lake region for an ice-out fishing trip may require that you sacrifice heating efficiency for light weight and compact size. Packing into a high-country camp forces you to limit weight and bulk. On the other hand, if you can drive to your campsite, there is no reason to spend extra for an expensive titanium stove when a steel stove will heat you more evenly and cost half as much.

Groups can share a larger tent with a larger stove. But a solo traveler in a tiny tent only needs a small stove. Groups have the added advantage of offsetting the weight of a larger wood stove by spreading out the rest of the gear and food among other members.

One STRONG opinion: I positively hate stoves that need to be assembled. In the first place, the materials are usually extra thin and warp so that they never create an efficient firebox. They don’t hold heat and are inefficient for cooking. By the time you have camp set up, you are usually in need of heat and a hot meal – which is the worst time to fiddle with cold steel barehanded. Why not just use a rigid stove that allows you to store the stove pipes inside? Except for the thin sheet metal, you really aren't saving much space or weight with knockdown stoves. I will gladly pay a two-pound weight penalty at the end of a long snowshoe trail or after tending to sled dogs to not need to assemble my stove with cold fingers in a snowstorm.

Third, in most cases I err on the side of the larger hot tent stove.

Tiny stoves designed for sail boats are cute. DIY stoves built from old ammo cans are cheap. But feeding twigs and 6-inch pieces of wood into these stoves every few minutes gets old very fast. Seriously, I’d much rather just cook over an open fire.

There’s an old saying that you can drive a fast car (or motorcycle, boat, etc.) slowly, but you can’t drive a slow car fast. The same applies to wood stoves: You can build a smaller fire in a large firebox in mild conditions. But when the mercury drops below zero and the wind is sucking the heat from your tent, a tiny stove might not raise the inside temperature above freezing. Or worse, the stove and pipe might get dangerously hot and present a real threat to your shelter and your life. (Selecting firewood, laying the fire, regulating the stove, and tending the fire are all skills that you will develop over time. Don’t handicap yourself with the wrong stove before you start.)

Finally, some hot tent wood stoves can serve dual purposes.

Yes, you can take a lightweight hot tent stove car camping. Yes, you can haul a heavier steel stove into a winter camping basecamp by toboggan. And you can heat a hot tent and cook over a stove designed for tent saunas.

It may be necessary to use two different stoves in the same tent over the seasons. It is also possible that one stove may serve double-duty in two different tents between hot tent camping and sauna tent sessions. The larger cylinder wood stove shown below will heat a large wall tent for backcountry hunters, or a smaller hot tent for mid-winter campers. Add a tray of rocks and you can heat a sauna tent to 200-degrees!

Sauna tent wood stoves have special requirements.

The most obvious difference is the temperature range. Sauna tents are insulated to retain heat. Still, a raging fire requires a bigger volume of firewood in a portable sauna tent than a camping hot tent.

If the sauna tent is a stationary setup, go with the largest and heaviest steel stove you can afford. Big and heavy retains heat better than light and portable. Big and heavy will also support more weight in the rocks you stack on the stove, adding to the heat retention and producing better “loyli” steam. (Harsh steam is created by water hitting red hot steel.) That said, if you enjoy taking your sauna tent to unique locations or distant campsites, go with a lightweight, packable stainless steel sauna stove.

Is your hot tent rarely used as a sauna? Then get the best camping wood stove and be willing to settle for less heat in the sauna. Is your sauna tent only used once each winter as a hot tent? Then get the best sauna stove. Leave the rocks at home and learn to build a proper fire in the sauna stove when camping so you don’t “cook yourself” out of the tent. Better yet, invest in a second stove that is ideal for the application. You can buy TWO great stoves for the same price or less than the expensive titanium stoves marketed as the ultimate heat source.

The Great Out There has assembled an array of several wood stoves that are designed for small and medium-sized hot tents. We also have small, medium, and large wood stoves for sauna tents. As described above, there is SOME crossover between hot tent camping and tent saunas. If you need assistance, contact TGOT for our input. In addition, The Great Out There offers discounted package prices on tent and stove packages.

hot tent stove


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