Instagram is full of pictures of tents pitched just a few steps away from roaring campfires. The people around these fires all seem to be having the time of their lives without a care in the world.
Is this the magic of photography or are their tents less likely to burn?
Are tents fire resistant? Many newer and even older tents do have some resistance to fire but none of them are fireproof. The tent material you choose as well as the fire retardants used in making the tent will determine just how resistant to fire your tent is.
Let’s take a look at what makes one tent more fire-resistant than another.
Flame retardants have been used by many manufacturers for many years. Currently, (2020) most companies still use flame retardants in their tents.
These flame retardants are made from a wide variety of chemicals and they provide a protective coating to tents. This protective coating makes the tent less likely to catch fire and slower to burn if it does.
Unfortunately, studies have found that these chemicals are carcinogenic. In fact, Adventure-Journal.com reports that European tentmakers don’t even use these products.
Some US companies have also decided to stop using these chemicals. Just last year, (2019), Mountain Hardware made an announcement that they will no longer be using flame retardant chemicals on any of their tents.
The company followed through with their announcement this year and you’ll notice on their listings that their tents are no longer coated with flame-retardant chemicals. This also means that they do not adhere to CPAI-84 fire protection rules so it will be interesting to see what happens.
Here is an interesting and eye-opening lecture on the chemicals used in making flame retardants.
If you made it through this video, you’re probably headed off to check the tags on your furniture but before you go, remember why you clicked on this post.
Cancer is bad but so is catching fire. So how do you keep from burning up in your tent?
One way to lower your fire risk is to choose a tent material that is less likely to burn. As the City of Phoenix likes to point out, “all fabrics will burn, but some are more combustible than others”.
Here is a quick rundown on the materials used to make tents.
Linen, Cotton, Silk, and Wool
Materials like linen, cotton, and silk ignite easily and burn quickly. Wool doesn’t ignite as quickly and it won’t burn as fast as silk, cotton, and linen do.
In some cases, wool materials may burn so slowly that the fire dies out on its own before it spreads throughout the wool cloth.
Fortunately, you won’t see tents made from these materials because they aren’t waterproof on their own.
This being said, you should keep this fact in mind when sitting by a fire with a blanket wrapped around you.
Nylon, Acrylic, and Polyester
Most tents these days are made from synthetic materials. These materials are perfect for tent making because of their ability to keep out water as well as their resistance to fire.
One of the reasons for this is that they have much tighter weaves when compared to more natural cloths. Cloths with tighter weaves burn more slowly than cloths with loose weaves, so this makes them less likely to ignite and slower to burn.
The issue with these materials is that they can melt after ignition. A melting tent can drip, which can cause a fire to spread more quickly and can also be harmful to anyone inside of the tent that may be dripped on while trying to escape.
Canvas tents can be made from different materials but they’re usually either thick cotton or a combination of cotton and linen. These tents are naturally resistant to water but they aren’t waterproof.
To waterproof a canvas, a water-repellant must be added to them. Alternatively, a water-repelling wax can be applied to the canvas.
Of course, if you take an already flammable material and add wax and dissolving agents to it, it certainly isn’t going to make it any less flammable. The terrible Hartford Circus Fire proved that over 70 years ago.
The only true way to make canvas resistant to fires is to put flame retardants on it.
Non-Flammable Tents to Buy
If you’ve read up to this point, you know that there really isn’t any such thing as a non-flammable tent. The best you can really hope for is a fire-resistant tent.
The most fire-resistant tent is going to be a tent made from a synthetic material and then treated with a flame retardant. This type of tent will comply with the CPAI-84 and it will lower the chances that your tent will catch fire.
Like everything else these days, it may also give you cancer.
Your next best alternative is to just choose a tent made from a synthetic material with a tight weave. These tents are less susceptible to fire when compared to their more natural counterparts.
Keeping Your Tent Safe From Fires
Personally, I don’t worry too much about the flammability of my tent. Instead, I like to focus all of my energy on fire safety.
If my tent is never exposed to fire, then I don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s flammable.
So, how can you keep your tent from being exposed to fire?
Here are some steps you can take to reduce your tent’s exposure to fire.
- Keep your tent at least 10 feet away from any flammable or combustible materials or vegetation.
- Do not use grills within ten feet of your tent.
- Don’t store sources of ignition near your fuel.
- Only use outdoor-approved extension cords.
- Keep your generator at least 5 feet away from your tent.
- Never leave your fire unattended.
- Put your fire out with water before walking away from it.
- Keep your fire at least 15 feet away from your tent.
- Clear all brush within a 5-foot radius of your campfire.
- Keep your fire small.
- Don’t start a fire during a fire ban.
Keep a Tidy Campsite
Keeping flammable items near your campfire can cause the surrounding area to ignite. If you’ve also left flammable debris near your tent, this fire will quickly and easily spread to that as well.
Another thought to keep in mind is the fact that embers from your fire can travel a lot further than you might think. This is why the experts say that you should keep grills and campfires a certain distance from your tent. (see bullet points above)
It’s also why you should keep dry and easily ignitable items away from your fires and grills as well. Easily ignitable items could include anything from dry leaves to dead tree branches.
Always remember that the wind can push leaves onto your tent or next to your campfire. This means you may need to clear these areas out more than once.
It also means that you’ll need to keep an eye on your campfires at all times. Never leave them unattended and completely put the embers out with water before leaving the fire pit.
I generally bring a class C fire extinguisher with me when camping. In an emergency, these fire extinguishers can be used to put out campfires, grill fires, and even electrical fires.
Of course, having a fire extinguisher doesn’t give you a license to be irresponsible with your fires. Keep your campfires small and manageable and if there is a campfire ban in place, don’t start a fire at all.
For more great tips on starting and managing a campfire, check out this post from OffGridEssential.com
Additional Fire Concerns
Your campfire isn’t the only thing that can cause your tent to catch fire either. Generators and electrical cords not rated for the outside can also start fires.
Heaters can be a big source of concern too and even a fire-resistant tent won’t be able to compensate for a misused camping heater. If you do decide to use a heater in your tent, check out my post on camping heaters first and never use your heater when you’re not awake to keep an eye on it.
While choosing a fire-resistant tent material is important, doing so is just one small step towards keeping you safe from fires while camping. Combine a flame-resistant tent with all of the other fire safety tips and you’re much more likely to have a fun, safe, and burn-free camping trip.