Are Tents Flammable? (How To Be Fire Safe When Camping)


I always make sure that I pitch my tent far enough from my campfire so that I don’t have to worry about my tent catching on fire. It got me wondering if tents are flammable, flame resistant, or fireproof. So I sought out to learn more about the flammability of tents and how to prevent fires from occurring when camping.

So, are tents flammable? All tents are treated with a flame retardant in order to reduce the rate at which tents will burn. There is no such thing as a fireproof tent as a tent exposed to an open flame will completely burn eventually.

There is a specific safety law that dictates a certain standard of treatment for making tents flame resistant. However, tents are still susceptible to catching on fire and because of this, there are certain fire safety precautions you should take when camping.

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How flammable are tents?

Tents are made from different fabrics and the rate at which they will burn varies. The most common materials for tents are cotton, PVC coated, polyester, nylon, etc. While the different fabrics at which they burn, all tents are required by law to meet a certain flame resistant standard. 

The standard is known as CPAI-84 which stands for Canvas Products Association International and was put in place by the Industrial Fabrics Association International or IFAI. CPAI-84 is a standard for the flammability of recreational tents. The standard applies to more than just the tents we use for camping today.

It also applies to “any portable temporary shelter or structure designed to protect people from the elements. This includes, though not exclusively, the following: camping tents; play tents (indoor and outdoor); recreational vehicle awnings; dining flies and canopies; fabric screen houses; add-a-rooms; and ice fishing tents” according to the publication.

The standard was set in place in 1976 to limit the risk of fire in large canvas tents like those in the circus and has been in place ever since. The standard is basically a means to measure how easily tents can catch on fire. With the added fire retardants to tents and the CPAI-84 standard, tents do not catch on fire as easily as the base materials themselves. This allows more time to get away from a tent fire before it is too late.

What is the difference between fireproof and fire resistant?

To be fireproof a material must be able to greatly resist burning from fire. It can be argued that no material can actually be fireproof since everything will eventually start to burn at very high temperatures, but for the most part some materials that are known to be “fireproof” are cement, bricks, ceramics, and fiberglass. These materials can usually stand up to your average fire, but put them next to the sun and they don’t stand a chance. There is no such thing as a fireproof tent. The materials that tents are made from simply cannot be made fireproof.

To be fire-resistant, a material must be able to resist a standard of heat for a specified period of time. The long definition can be seen in the dictionary as “: so resistant to fire that for a specified time and under conditions of a standard heat intensity it will not fail structurally or allow transit of heat and will not permit the side away from the fire to become hotter than a specified temperature”.

A tent has fire retardant chemicals added to it to make it compliant with safety regulations. The retardant slows down or reduces the spreading of a fire. All tents you buy should have this feature of being fire-resistant since it is against the law to sell them without it. You can usually find this compliance on the big sticker that is inside of your tent, usually near the door. 

Fire safety precautions you should take when tent camping

Prevention is the best thing you can partake in. Even though your tent is treated with fire-retardant chemicals, you don’t want to find out if they work. Use the following suggestions when you are on your next camping trip in order to prevent your tent from going up in flames.

Set up your tent at least 15 feet away from open flames

The further the better, an open flame can come from your campfire, your camping grills, any kind of open flame lantern, or even a candle. Keep all of these things away from your tent. If it is windy then try to set up your tent even further away.

Have something sharp easily accessible inside of your tent

Keeping a pocket knife in arms reach inside of your tent can allow you to make a quick escape in the event that your tent catches fire. Especially if the fire is near the door and you wouldn’t be able to exit the tent otherwise.

Keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water near you

Have something that can put out a fire with you. A fire extinguisher is ideal, but a bucket of water could also do the trick. Getting to a fire when it is small is better than waiting until it has spread.

Put your campfire out completely before bed

Make 100% sure that your campfire is out cold before leaving it unattended. Never let it burn out on its own. Use water to suffocate it and then use a shovel to mix up everything to ensure the fire is completely out.

Never use open flame light in or near your tent

Only use battery operated lights like flashlights near your tent. Why even risk bringing fire in or near your tent. Accidents happen and you could be the one that sets your tent on fire if you bring flames near your tent.

What to do if your tent catches fire

If your tent catches on fire then hopefully you aren’t inside of it reading this paragraph right now. Jokes aside, you should clear a safe distance from the tent and alert others in the area to stand back. The most important thing is getting accountability and making sure no one gets injured. The next is to put out the fire as safely as possible. Remember that fires need oxygen to work so removing that with water, dirt, etc. is what you need to do to stop it.

The tent shouldn’t burn voraciously due to the fire retardant chemicals on it, so if it is safe to do so, get a team of people with buckets of water to put the fire out. A fire extinguisher would be ideal, but water can safely be used on a normal fire. If you do have a fire extinguisher than bravo for being extra prepared. Utilize the P.A.S.S system that is advocated by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. The P.A.S.S system stands for Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep side to side.

If you are able to safely put out your tent fire then that is great, if not then that means it could spread depending on where you are camping. Dry forests are especially susceptible, and in this case, you want to get professionals on the scene as quickly as possible. Call 911 if you can, it is best to personally assign someone responsibility to call 911 or get help.

Related Questions:

How to fire retardants work?

Flame retardants are designed to inhibit the ignition of combustible organic materials. This means that the chemicals react to the fire by slowing it down compared to if the materials were not treated with any fire retardant chemicals. There are over 175 different chemicals known to act as fire retardants.

Are sleeping bags flammable?

Sleeping bags have their own standard of flammability known as CPAI-75. It was also set by the IFAI, but you can find a lot of sleeping bags without added flame retardants so it would seem that the standard flammability requirements for sleeping bags are less than that of tents. This may also have something to do with health reasons and contact with fire retardant chemicals.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
  • Tent: click here to see my favorite tent available on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.

Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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