Is it safe to use cooking stoves inside the tent or not? Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are dangers that people are often warned about when talking about using trekking stoves inside the tent. Despite this, using gasoline stoves is integral to a style of winter ski expeditions in Finland. The stoves are operated in an aluminium box for better fire safety, but the box does not guarantee safety from the silent killer that is carbon monoxide.

The Norwegians have done two tests related to CO from trekking stoves that you should familiarize yourself with, if you are interested in the subject:

  1. Carbon monoxide (CO) emissions from camping stoves
  2. Carbon monoxide production from the PRIMUS EtaPowerTM Pot (1.7L)

The first is a comparison of three stoves and their production of CO. The second is a test of a pot that has a heat exchanger, which significantly speeds up water boiling time but according to the test vastly increases carbon monoxide production.

This is common sense as the pot wicks away more heat from the flame, leading to burning at a lower temperature, which is known to produce more CO.

I’m going on a week long ski trip to Halti (highest fjell in Finland) in about a month and will be taking a carbon monoxide detector with me to measure the concentrations in a Bergans Helium Dome in the following scenarios:

  1. One gasoline burner (MSR XGK EX)
  2. Two gasoline burners (MSR XGK EX and MSR Whisperlite)
  3. One gasoline burner with one heat exchanger pot
  4. Two gasoline burners with one heat exchanger pot
  5. Two gasoline burners with two heat exchanger pots

I will be using a domestic CO alarm to measure the concentrations, so let’s hope it can withstand the abuse. I’m sure the PPM numbers will be ballpark figures rather than exact numbers, but they should still serve to reveal the magnitudes at least.

Update 26/03/2017: the results of my carbon monoxide testing are in

The reports above describe recommended CO PPM amounts as follows:

With respect to the maximum limit for acute exposure, Wabeke (1996) (4) refers to a value of 1500 ppm, which is the recommended limit stated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the United States. At such high concentrations of carbon monoxide, this agency considered that there was immediate danger to life and health.
In its directive “Administrative standards for atmospheric contamination of the workplace”, The Norwegian Directorate of Labour Inspection set a limit for CO at 25 ppm (5). This is to say that the average concentration of CO in the course of an eight hour work day or shift is recommended to lie below 25 ppm. The directive states furthermore that short term exposure to the gas shouldnot exceed 100 ppm.

I will write an update after the trip to summarize my findings. In the meanwhile, I suggest reading the studies by the Norwegians but also to be your own judge regarding the safety. Lots of people use gasoline burners inside tents, so with proper ventilation it is safe to do so. But ventilation may change, if falling snow blocks lessens airflow, for example. So be alert and be mindful of the risks. Safety should be the number #1 priority.

Update: the results of the carbon monoxide testing are now available




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