How to Light a Tent Stove

Make lighting a fire in a tent stove on the first try, every time, quick and easy by following these simple steps.

Posted on: December 11, 2019
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 portable wood burning 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 you’re 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 bang out any soot. 


Assemble a Fire Starter Kit

Fire Starter Kit

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 intended 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 means to bind your starter materials into a neat little packages.  A handful of dry grass tied in a knot, or wrapped tightly around a pen to form a little ember nest nugget is also an option.  Newspaper is a common for tinder but packing up a ball of it is less efficient than shredding it into long thin strips and building a birds nest. Dryer lint or cotton balls are a favorite for those with forethought.  Slathering a bit of Vaseline on any type of tinder as an accelerant is strongly recommended.  Pitch from a pine tree is also a quite flammable.

Starter Kindling: The small, thin, and super dry chards of wood that inevitably occur in the course of splitting wood are typically plentiful enough to make a good first layer of kinding.  Dry bark chipped off a conifer is another option. 

Feeder Kindling: Typically, I aim to split a stick of firewood into pieces about as thick as a pinky finger and roughly the width of the stove.  Consistency is variable but in the end you’ll get a workable mix of small chunks to foster an intermediary flame that will collapse as coals into the center of your stove and ignite larger logs as they are piled on.

Base logs: To logs of stove appropriate thickness that are roughly half the length of the stove to position along the length of each side of your firebox.  These logs form a the base of a kindling platform.  The height of your base logs should give you plenty of space to light your tinder which will then ignite your kindling.

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 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.  Aim for a cabin shaped structure with each piece exposed to as much air as possible.


Light it

Ignite your tinder and make sure it catches at least the first layer of starter kindling.  If you’ve laid the right foundation it should take just a few seconds of exposure to flame to kick off combustion.


Push it

Once you’ve confirmed kindling ignition push your flaming cabin to the back if 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, a relatively small amount of fuel is all that is required to get all the components up to temperature.  Increase your heat transfer by placing your stove in a location that maximizes the surface area of 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.  The subconscious stress of previously difficult fires leads them to think that the process takes longer than it does.  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.