What's a Tent Vestibule?

Think of it as your tent foyer —but don't cook in it

Mountain Pyrenees landscape view from a tent

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Think of the vestibule as your tent's foyer or porch, a sheltered area just before the actual entrance. On some tents, the vestibule is integrated into the ​rain fly or tent wall. If your tent has multiple doors, it will sometimes, but not always, have a built-in vestibule over each door.

Add-On Tent Vestibules

Some tents accommodate add-on vestibules that can be zipped into your tent's door opening. These add-on vestibules usually require at least a couple of stakes and may or may not require poles as well. All of those elements can add a substantial amount of weight to your pack if you are backpacking.

Still, that weight penalty is worth it if you're backpacking in notoriously wet weather, such as in the United Kingdom or in the Pacific Northwest. You might also want a vestibule as a place to store your gear out of the weather, change from wet clothing into dry, and maybe even cook. Some tunnel-style vestibules can even be used to connect two tents door-to-door.

What's a Good Alternative to a Vestibule?

Try carrying a silnylon tarp to pitch over your tent. You get all the benefits of a vestibule plus better ventilation by default, often less weight, and a lot more flexibility. You can also pitch the tarp as a stand-alone shelter or to protect a cooking area well away from your tent. That is the best of both worlds for reducing the risk of tent fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Plus, you will be less likely to have a bear join you in your sleeping bag.

Can You Cook Inside a Tent Vestibule?

All the official, written advice will tell you to never cook in your tent or tent vestibule. The biggest two reasons are the obvious risk of fire and the silent but deadly risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Heat plus fabric can mean you'll be homeless in the outdoors, if not burned down with your tent.

But even if you're being careful with the heat and flame, there can be a build-up of carbon monoxide that can sicken or kill you. Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas produced by the burning of stove fuel. If there isn't enough airflow to remove it, especially if you've placed your tent in a sheltered area, you can fall into a coma and die without realizing there is a problem.

Then there are the food smells that you don't want anywhere near your sleeping place if you're out in bear country. The bottom line is that operating a stove in or near your tent is a very bad idea.

Unfortunately, some people cook in their tent vestibule anyway. You shouldn't take the risk, but if you have a life-or-death reason to do so, make sure your vestibule is well-ventilated from at least two points. Preferably, these should be opposite each other with one low and one high so the air will circulate as much as possible. Then be very careful about where you put your stove and how you move around it. Seeing your only shelter go up in flames is a whole lot worse than choking down cold oatmeal for breakfast.