(Photo by: Andrew Feazelle)
Ever wonder about using your tent’s vestibule area as a cooking area?
A few years ago, I was on a camping trip tour around the Santa Barbara, CA coast, and one of our overnight stops was at Gaviota State Beach, which is locally notorious for its strong, persistent winds. These are the types of winds that make tent campers pack up in the middle of the night and leave; believe me - I watched them go!
Needless to say, this area was not the most friendly, regarding cooking with a wind sensitive backpacking stove, or even a larger, butane canister burning stove, with the standard metal housing that accepts a 10 inch, iron frying pan. Our food was just not cooking, even when using our car, coolers, and backpacks as wind guards. Out of desperation, I set up my cooking stoves inside my tent’s closed vestibule to get away from the wind, and that was finally enough of a wind guard to cook some chicken burritos.
The tent I was using at the time was a 3 to 4 season, 4 person tent with an aerodynamic rainfly, designed to deal with extreme weather. But since I’ve been using my Featherstone Peridot backpacking tent on most of my trips this year, I started to wonder about using a small backpacking stove in its vestibule.
Naturally I put my tent up and began the experiment. More on the results of that, throughout the article. Let’s first go through the basics:
Why Would You Want to Cook Inside a Tent’s Vestibule?
The number one reason you would want to cook inside a tent’s vestibule is to avoid bad weather. This could be wind that destroys your backpacking stove’s efficiency, it could be rain, or even the cold: One can imagine being stripped down to their base layer after getting soaked by the rain, and wanting to just cook inside, with their sleeping bag around them for warmth.
Is It Safe to Cook In Your Tent’s Vestibule?
There are a few concerns when cooking inside your closed vestibule, including condensation build up on the inside of the tent, carbon monoxide build up inside the tent, and physical risks to the tent, such as the melting or burning of the rainfly, or tent body, or even accidentally spilling boiling water in the vestibule area, causing water migration underneath the tent. Further, you could make your tent smell like a food store, and attract the unwanted attention of animals as you sleep.
It is only safe to cook in your tent’s vestibule if you follow the common sense precautions I’ve outlined below, which minimize the concerns I’ve hence laid out.
Condensation happens when warm, moist air inside your tent is cooled on the colder surface of your rainfly, and deposits the water vapor it was carrying onto that surface, in the form of liquid water. This then can drip down into the tent onto you and your sleep system, potentially compromising its effectiveness in heat retention.
This is less of a concern with the Featherstone Peridot backpacking tent as it is a two walled tent, with adequate space between the tent body and the fly. This means condensation is less likely to migrate to the inside of the tent body. However there are ways of reducing the risk of condensation when cooking inside the vestibule.
- Limit cooking to just boiling water for a dehydrated backpacking meal, like those sold by Backpacker’s Pantry or Mountain House. This minimizes time spent cooking and thus less moist air is delivered to the underside of the tent.
- Use an efficient stove like a JetBoil to minimize the time between when the water is hot enough to evaporate and when it actually starts to boil.
- Use a pot with a lid so that most of the evaporating moisture recondenses on the underside of the lid, and not on the inside of the rainfly.
- If you are primarily sheltering from the wind, then reopen your vestibule doors once you are done cooking, if you notice any condensation.
- Always keep your rainfly’s two vents open, even when not cooking.
Of course, if you’re cooking inside because it’s raining, you need not worry about the small amount of cooking related condensation, relative to the high volume of humid air in and around your tent.
But there are ways to avoid additive condensation in non-raining conditions. Try to avoid camping right next to water sources, and in local low points at the campground that tend to hold colder air. Avoid bringing wet clothes and gear into the tent if possible.
It is also helpful to treat as much of your sleep system, and clothing shells, with waterproofing as the manufacturers of those components recommend. That at least minimizes how wet you might get if you’re experiencing dripage in the middle of the night. And it may also reduce drying time of your clothes so that you can bring them indoors more often, after a rainy hike into camp.
As far as my experiment went, boiling 500 milliliters of water with my JetBoil Minimo stove, inside my Featherstone Peridot tent’s vestibule, it resulted in no visible condensation, during or after the cooking process. However the limits to my experiment were that I performed it in the hot, arid Autumn season, here in the Mediterranean climate of coastal Southern California.
(Photo by: Andrew Feazelle)
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced as a result of burning your camping stoves. When cooking indoors, there’s no way to know if it’s in significant concentration in the air, unless you have a monitor or you begin to have symptoms.
Common symptoms include headache, dizziness, feeling sick or weak, cognitive decline, muscle and chest pain, and shortness of breath. It can make you lose consciousness and lead to death if the concentration is high enough in the air around you.
To minimize carbon dioxide build up when cooking in the vestibule follow these guidelines:
- If cooking inside the vestibule to avoid the wind, keep the opposite vestibule and door of your Featherstone tent open if possible. Afterwards open both the tent’s vestibules to air out the inside of the tent.
- Do not cook with the stove inside the body of the tent; leave your stove in the vestibule area while you sit inside the tent.
- Always keep your twin vents open on your Featherstone rainfly, even if not cooking.
- Use a JetBoil or equivalent high efficiency backpacking stove that minimizes fuel burned to boil water.
- Again, only boil water to rehydrate a dry backpacking food bag. Do not cook long, elaborate meals that obligate your stove to burn for long periods of time.
I had my home’s portable carbon monoxide meter with me, during my experiment with my backpacking stove in my vestibule. As my stove was busy heating up my water, I placed the meter around the stove near the ground, above the stove in the vestibule, near the ground inside the tent body, and in the loft of the tent body. At no point did the meter register any number above 0 parts per million of carbon monoxide.
At no point did I experience any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
More on symptoms and treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning at the CDC website.
Risk of Melting the Rainfly or Tent Body
Be cognizant of how your stove is placed in relation to the tent body and vestibule doors. Make sure to place the stove in a manner to maximize clearance on all sides of it. Use your hand to feel the air around the stove burner to make sure there is no significant amount of lateral heat coming from its burner, or radiating from its pot.
Again use a high efficiency backpacking stove with a small burner size to minimize cooking time and waste heat.
If you do happen to damage your Featherstone rainfly, they do sell replacements online.
During my experiment, the Featherstone Peridot’s vestibule had an ample amount of room for the use of my backpacking stove, with little to no heat being delivered to the tent body, or rainfly. I was able to boil my 500mL’s of water with no compromises to the safety or integrity of the tent.
Further, I was able to comfortably sit inside the tent, with the body door rolled up, and kept out of the way with its toggle peg and loop, and use my stove. It didn’t feel unusual to cook in this position.
When Not To Cook In Your Tent’s Vestibule
If conditions are such that you cannot follow the vestibule cooking practices mentioned above, then the risks of the said safety concerns start to rise, and it is not advisable to cook in your tent.
But even beyonds these, it is not recommended to cook in your tent when you are in backcountry areas, where cooking near your tent is not recommended or prohibited, due to increased risk of bear or animal encounters inside your campground. The most cited number of feet/yards away from your campsite that you should cook is 300 feet, or 100 yards. But follow your area’s guidelines if they are available. It is also recommended not to sleep in the clothes you cooked in, which may have had food related aromatics embedded into them, during cooking.
Also trust your instinct: if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. After all, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety related decisions, while camping or otherwise.
What Is the Alternative to Vestibule Related Cooking?
If you are not able or willing to cook in your vestibule, or are anticipating such while planing your trip, consider preparing for some of the alternatives of doing so.
Bring a Backup Meal
Try to keep enough food on hand that doesn’t need to be cooked, but which also provides enough protein, carbs, and fat to take care of your energy needs.
Dried jerkies and sausages/salamis, nuts, nut butter packets, tuna/salmon packets, sardines in a can, or even protein powders with dried milk packets are just a few protein ideas that don’t require your stove. Lots of these also provide fats for your diet.
Granolas, wheat crackers, tortillas, cereals, oats, nut breads, or even whole wheat bread slices provide complex carbs to keep you satisfied enough to sleep, or wait out the inclement weather.
Check out my hiking and backpacking calories calculators on my hiking nutrition page, to get an estimate of your trail based, and daily energy needs.
Bring a Tarp
Small backpacking tarps are available; some even double as ground cloths for your tent, and ponchos. If you’re forced to cook in the rain, away from your tent, it may be beneficial to hang a tarp to cook under.
If you’re car camping you of course have more options regarding tarp sizes and weights.
Anticipate the Weather
If you see a storm front coming at you, or you are preparing to enter a rainy area in the distance, you may do well to prioritize cooking as soon as you can, even if it is not meal time, then eating your cooked food later, at your convenience, after the weather is upon you.
Again those commercial dehydrated backpacking meals are good to have on hand, since they zip up airtight after being opened, with their ziplocks, and can be stowed after cooking, even when full of food, as long as you’re not too rough with them. Heck they might even act like a hot water bottle, if you situate them right as you hike.
Just don’t burn your skin by placing a hot bag directly against it. And be careful not to melt any of your heat sensitive gear, by stowing a boiling hot food bag next to it. And remember, though these meals are generally loaded with salt, they have no other preservatives, so eat them as soon as you can.
The Featherstone Peridot 2 person tent has enough space and ventilation in its vestibule area for a camper to safely operate a backpacking stove there, if the weather would obligate them to do so. Using the common sense guidelines in this article, they can make full use of their tent in this manner.
However, if cooking inside a campsite is not recommended or is prohibited, or if conditions are such that a stove cannot be used in a safe manner inside the vestibule, then there are alternative methods to getting a good meal while out in nature, if you prepare ahead of time.