How to Light a Tent Stove

Posted on: May 23, 2023
By: Robyn Smith
How to Light a Tent Stove

Photo Credit: Embuzi


Lighting a fire in a tent stove on the first try is easy with the right strategy. Starting your day with a warm tent and a hot breakfast before you even get out of your sleeping bag can make even the coldest mornings in the field joyous. Make lighting a fire in a tent stove on the first try, every time, quick and easy by following these simple steps.


How to Light a Wood Burning Tent Stove



Clean it

Fires need plenty of air so start by making sure your stove is clean enough to draw and draft properly. Make sure your tent stove is clean by scraping out any ash and debris from the firebox. Remove the top few sections of flue pipe as well as your spark arrestor and shake out any soot. 


Stage it

Preparation is the key to success and convenience when it comes to starting any fire. I assemble a fire starter kit for each fire I intend to have when I first arrive at camp, or even before I arrive if I’m feeling ambitious.

Tinder: Twine works well both as a tinder and a great way to bind your starter materials into neat little packages. A handful of dry grass tied in a knot, or wrapped tightly around a pen to form a little firestarter (Don't forget to remove the pen once it's secure). Newspapers also work well as tinder. Shredding it into long thin strips and building a bird's nest is more efficient than squeezing it into a ball. Dryer lint or cotton balls are also a favorite. Rubbing a bit of Vaseline or pine tree pitch on any type of tinder as an accelerant is strongly recommended.  

Starter Kindling: The small, thin, and super dry chards of wood that you get when splitting wood make a good first layer of kinding. Dry bark chipped off a conifer is another option. 


Feeder Kindling: Typically, I try to split a stick of firewood into pieces about as thick as a pinky finger and the width of the stove. A mix of small chunks of wood help the medium-sized flame continue to burn and breakdown into coals in the center of your stove. The feeder kindling will ignite the larger logs when they are added.

Base logs: Your base logs should be about half the length of your stove and placed along each side of your firebox. These logs form the base of your kindling platform. Remember to give yourself enough room to light the tinder, so the height of the base logs shouldn’t be too high.

Fuel Logs: Have at least 3-4 fuel logs ready to go. Tent stoves come in a variety of sizes so make sure your fuel logs are going to fit before you light your stove.


Build it

Place your base logs along the lengths of each side of your firebox. Place your tinder in the middle. Start stacking your starter kindling on top, suspended over the tinder by your base logs.  Add your feeder kindling on top, placing each layer at 45° to 90° angles, leaving an inch or two of space in between each piece. Try to build a cabin shaped structure with each piece exposed to as much air as possible.


Light it

Ignite your tinder and make sure the first layer of starter kindling is burning. If you’ve laid the right foundation, it should take just a few seconds of flame exposure to start burning.


Push it

Once you’re sure the kindling is burning, push it to the back of your firebox, right under the flue pipe exit. Warming up your clean flue pipe should start your stove drafting – drawing in air from the front as the hot air rises up the flue. Kickstarting the air flow cycle prevents your tent from getting smokey while your stove warms up and it fans your flames effortlessly. 


Fuel it

It should take just a few minutes for all of your kindling to ignite into a sustained flame. Add one or two small fuel logs onto your stack and close the firebox door.  Make sure your air intake and flue dampers are fully open. If your stove isn’t equipped with air intake vents keep the door cracked slightly to allow plenty of oxygen in while your fire builds. 

Don’t over fuel your fire.  The most widespread error made by recreational fire starters is over fueling. Tent stoves radiate heat through the firebox and flue pipe, so you only need a small amount of wood to heat it up. Increase your heat transfer by placing your stove in a location that maximizes the surface area of the stove and flue exposed to the interior of your tent. Over fueling a tent stove can drastically boost combustion while having little effect on heating efficiency. Cheap cylinder stoves with 4+ inch flue pipe diameters are particularly susceptible to the ‘rocket stove’ effect when over fueled – shooting ash, flame, and heat violently up the flue pipe.

Watch it

The most common mistake people make when lighting a tent stove is not being prepared. Getting a fire going should take 5 minutes or less. Don’t plan on going to gather materials after you’ve struck the match.


Practice is the best method for learning how to light a tent stove. Follow @CanvasCamp on social media and let us share your own tips, tricks, and insight into camping and tent stoves.