Toxic Tents and Camping Gear

Summer is all about getting outside and enjoying the sun with our little ones, and time spent in nature should not be a time we worry about chemical exposure in our children. Unfortunately, camping gear is one of those sad, and weird places we find a high exposure to chemicals such as flame retardants. If you don’t yet know about flame retardants, see my post here, but basically flame retardants are a known endocrine disruptor and carcinogen, with decades of research-proven documented health and environmental problems, but the chemical lobby is so powerful we have continued to spray and soak a number of different products with.

Sadly, tents are one product that continues to be sprayed with flame retardants. Yes, tents are often used next to open fires, and people aren’t always mindful of this. However, at the same time a number of gear folks have written about how tent fabric is so thin it’s not likely to burn in a dangerous way even if it did catch fire. Most tents today have a mild smoky smell that many of us that regularly backpack or camp can identify. I used to think that was campfire smoke. Unfortunately that smell, which will often rub off on your hands, face, sleeping bag, and anything else that touches your tent, is actually flame retardant. Tent fabric is soaked in this chemical, and it cannot be removed through rinsing.

Sadly, no major tent manufacturer has yet to remove flame retardants from their tents. REI has a blog post from 2016 about addressing the issue, but as of now has done nothing. At a recent visit to their flagship store, I was told they still don’t have a solution.

In addition to tents, a number of other items (especially if they use foam) can also be treated with flame retardants. These include camping chairs (even if only made of fabric), bags, mats, and sleeping bags. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a tent or sleeping bag is treated, because these companies utilize proprietary treatments that for some reason they don’t need to disclose (even know flame retardants are known carcinogens). Many cheaper sleeping bags at big box stores will list if they are flame retardant.

Recommendations:

  • If you can afford it, the TentLab which makes MoonLight tents is a small operation that is making small batches of flame retardant-free tents.
  • Wash your hands after setting up your tent, and keep it well ventilated. Wash your bedding after using in a treated tent.
  • Minimize the number of camping products you use that are chemically treated (check the labels of your sleeping bags, chairs and mats).