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Gear Guy

Are you sure it's safe to use a heater in a tent?

Are you sure about your advice (February 5, 2003) that it's OK to use the Coleman BlackCat heater in a tent? Coleman's Web site shows that one of their BlackCat models has electronic "ignition," so that no matches are required. It also says that it's safe to use them indoors "with proper ventilation." Maybe it would be worth calling someone at Coleman and asking their opinion. Michael Vancouver, British Columbia

A: Yes, I'm quite sure. The Coleman BlackCat ($50; is specifically designed to heat indoor spaces. It's OK to do this for two reasons: One, the BlackCat encloses its heat source, so that there's no open flame to ignite nearby materials. Two, it uses catalytic technology that burns without producing carbon monoxide. The latter is, of course, the real issue with indoor heating—carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless, colorless, and utterly deadly, rendering you lifeless if you're so clueless to put yourself in an unventilated space when this gas is around.

Now, having said that, keep in mind two things: One, the BlackCat does produce heat, therefore you don't want to put it where it might get covered by a jacket or unrolled sleeping bag. It won't ignite things quickly, but they will melt and could in time catch fire. Common sense is the key here. Two, because the BlackCat is burning propane, you will need some ventilation. Coleman recommends a six-inch opening somewhere near the BlackCat for safe usage.

Still, having said all that, the BlackCat is a reasonable thing to use in a tent, particularly a roomy one. In a little two-person tent? Still OK, but just be prudent.

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