How to stay safe from Carbon Monoxide when camping

Do you want to know how to stay safe from Carbon Monoxide when camping? This article contains the information you need.

What is Carbon Monoxide and how does Carbon Monoxide effect us?

Camping often means cooking in your van, at campfires or bbqs, it is part of the joy of the great outdoors. Anything that burns however has the potential to give off Carbon Monoxide (CO), which can be very harmful to us if we breath in too much. Carbon Monoxide in our blood prevents our blood cells from holding onto oxygen and is very hard for our body to expel. The rules below are well worth knowing at home or away, or even in rented accommodation. In the UK alone 40 people die a year and over 4000 end up in hospital because of Carbon Monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is caused by inefficiently burning flames or faulty appliances.

How can I spot Carbon Monoxide?

Unfortunately Carbon Monoxide is an invisible gas with no smell. Fortunately it is easy to spot a flame that is giving off excess CO, because it will generally burn orange or red. An efficient clean flame is one that is burning blue, so with cookers and stoves its easy to tell straight away if there is significant amounts of CO being given off. Things like woodburners, BBQs, gas fires and campfires are clearly orange but for those we ensure they are used outside or have a chimney to move the CO away from us. Embers such as in an extinguished campfire or bbq are likely to be giving off a larger amount of CO than something burning efficiently.

It is likely in our campervans that we have stoves inside, so ensure the burners are burning blue and ensure windows and vents are open whilst they are in use. Don’t use cookers or gas heaters for prelonged periods to heat the inside a van or tent.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tiredness and/or confusion
  • Stomach pains
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

You may experience some or all of these symptoms if you get CO poisoning. If you find the symptoms come and go, returning upon arriving at your van or home, it may be a good indicator of CO.

There is no need to be frightened however, it can be avoided if you take steps to stay safe. Of course if you experience any of the symptoms and believe you have CO poisoning.then seek fresh air and medical advice immediately.

What can I do to stay safe from CO poisoning?

  • If your camper’s cooker flame is burning orange it’s not burning cleanly which is a sign its giving off more CO, get it serviced and cleaned.
  • Soot or brown/yellow stains on appliances is a sign there is a problem.
  • Buy a CO Alarm, they are cheap and effective and give peace of mind.
    • These should generally be placed at breathing height (not on the ceiling/floor) read the instructions.
    • Avoid placing them within a meter of an appliance or kettle (avoid steam).
    • Check yours is suitable for travelling (some are delicate) and be aware of when it needs replacing. Most last between 7 and 10 years.
  • Never leave bbqs (even ones that are only smouldering) or gas heaters on inside your camper or awning. In fact with bbqs ensure they are a good distances from your sleeping space. BBQs can give off CO even after they appear to have stopped burning and in fact when warming up and cooling down is when they are at their most dangerous.
  • Do not sleep with gas or fuel powered heaters on in enclosed spaces unless they have an external exhaust like a Propex, Webasto, or Eberspacher.
  • CO Alarms should be at least a meter away from an appliance and away from things that can cause steam such as kettles or pans. Ideally they need to be mounted at breathing height and should not be placed on the floor or ceiling unless otherwise stated in the manufacturers instructions.
Roland Wessling

Click to visit BBC article

Here is a really moving story of Roland Wessling whose partner Hazel was killed by CO whilst camping. Another telling of the story in more detail can be found here .





Warning Upsetting Video.

Linked from Youtube created by Brightstar Productions

Further information on what to do if you think you have CO poisoning is attached. First turn off any appliances and go outside immediately or into a well ventilated area.

Further information can be found at these links:

A great PDF guide in more detail can be found here:

Camping and Carvanning Club CO Article

CO Be Alarmed

NHS Carbon Monoxide Guide

Cadent Gas Carbon Monoxide Guide

Propane 101 some information about propane and CO

Hopefully we have now answered how to stay safe from carbon monoxide when camping, staying away or even at home.



Posted on January 6, 2017 in Camping Equipment, Safety

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About the Author

Matt loves campervans, the outdoors and photography. Combining the 3 is a recipe for happiness.

Responses (2)

  1. Deborah Ward
    January 9, 2017 at 5:14 am · Reply

    In 1971 we went camping in Cornwall it rained non-stop for two days, I remember wrapping up with wellingtons macs and our sowesters,…. ( waterproof hats like Fisherman wear ) we went to the shop and bought loaf of bread and some condensed soup, while we were enjoying our nice warm snack my mother took the label off the Soup and filled in a competition, we then wrapped up in our waterproofs, we skipped along singing and dancing in the rain! and went and posted it, mummy had to fill in the tiebreaker describing where she was and what she was doing at the time of writing so she put something humorous 1 months later there was a letter delivered saying my mother had Won a holiday for two all-inclusive to Majorca!!
    my mother had toasted the bread and it was cut into chunks and floated in the soup it was lovely still one of my favourites today

    • Matthew
      January 9, 2017 at 2:02 pm · Reply

      My grandad once won a car in a packet of margarine. He thought it was a toy car until he called up to claim it.

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