When we’re out camping, the presence of naked flames from stoves, lanterns, or campfires gives many cause for concern. But with so many tent manufacturers these days claiming their tent fabrics are fire retardant, is that concern really warranted?
Are tents fireproof? Read on to find out more!
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Fireproof Tent Fabric: Myth Or Fact?
The answer to this question is not as black and white as many would assume, but requires the unpacking of a few definitions:
First up, while many tent fabrics use certain treatments that make them fire-retardant, absolutely no tent currently on the market is fireproof.
What this means is simply that many tents use a fire-retardant treatment that makes your family tent less likely to catch fire than untreated canvas or polyester. These treatments also mean that the tent fabric will burn more slowly, spread less easily, and self-extinguish if no longer exposed to a naked flame.
All of this, however, should be taken with a pinch of salt and bearing that last distinction in mind—exposed to a naked flame, even treated tent fabrics can and will burn, often at frightening speeds.
Flame retardants: what are they?
Most tents are chemically treated to make them fire retardant. These chemical retardants are applied to the tent fabric during production and can prevent or slow down the spread of fire in materials that are usually flammable when untreated. The use of these additives is currently mandatory to meet regulatory flammability requirements as outlined in the Tent Flammability Standard (CPAI-84).
Are flame retardants dangerous?
Although flame retardant additives can reduce the risk and slow the spread of fire, recent research has suggested that some of the chemicals used in retardants could be harmful to people and the environment.
While the research into the potential health effects of the retardants used in tents is as yet inconclusive, a 2018 study by Duke University revealed that the properties used in some retardants have been linked to several damaging health effects.
That study suggested the following ways in which campers can limit their exposure to flame retardants. These included washing your hands after pitching or handling a tent, ensuring the tent is well-ventilated at all times, foregoing the use of the rainfly to improve ventilation and avoiding using stoves, lanterns, or candles inside your tent.
Fire safety in your tent
A handful of safety measures can be taken to minimize the risk of fire in your tent:
Pitch your tent at least 10 feet from the nearest tent to reduce the risk of fire spreading and make sure your tent is a safe distance from, and upwind of, fire pits, barbecues, or campfires.
If building a campfire, make sure the fire stays within the fire ring or pit and that there is always an adult present to monitor the fire. Clear the area around the pit or ring to clear it of debris that could catch fire and be sure to extinguish the fire fully before going to sleep or leaving your campsite. If car camping or pitching up at an established campsite, consider keeping a fire bucket full of water or sand outside your tent.
No matter how foul the weather, never be tempted to cook inside your tent. Doing so not only places you at risk of fire but also carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal. Also, only cook in the vestibule if you can close the inner tent door to prevent fumes from entering the tent and if there is enough room to do so without exposing the tent fabric to naked flames. Finally, stow all pots, pans, and utensils at a safe distance from the tent fabric after use.
When turning in for the night, put out your campfire and turn off any lanterns or electric tent heaters before going to sleep. Needless to say, also never use candles to illuminate your tent—headlamps are more effective and, for obvious reasons, a far safer option.