There’s little that can ruin a camping trip quite like waking up in the middle of the night to frigid temperatures that you can feel through your clothes, long johns, and undergarments.
- How To Choose the Right Tent Heater
- Top Tent Heaters
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should have to miss out on the s’mores, star gazes, hikes, and campfire stories that come along with camping.
If you’re like me and want to keep it warm and comfortable while camping during the chilly months, these tent heaters might provide just the support you need.
How To Choose the Right Tent Heater
Camping in the cold requires additional resources to stay warm and cozy while sleeping in your tent.
For many people, that means finding the right in-tent heater to use for the chilly overnights in addition to other “stay warm” tactics. Personally, I found some really helpful tips for staying warm while tent sleeping in this YouTube video from BackpackingTV.
Choosing a tent heater is an important decision. You want one that’s safe, reliable, and easy to use. Further, there might be additional specifications that you’re looking for in your final pick. Some include stainless steel, others are ceramic. As for types of heaters, electric and propane are the most common.
Check everything off your list and go into your tent heater buying decision feeling confident just like I did. I’ve done the research, now I’m sharing it with you so you can save time, find the best tent heater, and get back to the great outdoors (no matter the temperature).
What to Know About Winter Camping
So you say you’re a real camper, but do you have what it takes to get a solid night’s sleep even in chilly conditions? Winter camping is not for the faint of heart, my friend. However, as an avid camper, its something you’ll get to know well.
Cold weather is simply part of nature. Even if you started your trek in the heat, scaling thousands of feet of elevation can change the environment by the time you get to the top.
Although we can plan for harsh weather pretty well now, there are still times when a sweeping cold front will catch you by surprise. That’s why it’s such a good idea to carry a tent heater you can confidently rely on.
When you have a high-quality portable heater to use in your tent, you can stay safe and warm despite whatever’s happening outside. Trust me.
What Are the Advantages of This Type of Product?
There are three primary types of tent heaters that you’ll find in the outdoor living space right now. You’ve got the electric heater, propane tank heater, and chemical heat packs. Here’s what I’ve found to be the best benefits of each type:
Electric heaters offer:
- a quick heat-up, which is helpful when you need to get warm quickly
- less condensation inside the tent, good for keeping dry
- the highest level of camping safety
- resistance to overheating
- automatic safety shut-offs in case it gets too hot
Propane heaters offer:
- Portability and ease of use
- About 7 hours of heating from a standard small propane unit
- automatic safety shut-offs in some cases
Chemical heat packs offer:
- portability and ease of use
- reusable packs that heat for about 15 hours
Things to Look For in Tent Heaters
It took me a bit to get my bearings on all of the ins and outs of what makes the best tent heaters. Now that I’ve got everything straight, I’m outlining what I’ve learned here to make your tent heater buying process simpler.
- What Kind – Are you looking for gas or electric tent heaters? Determine your heating method first or learn a bit more about the two options before deciding.
- Noise – Sensitive sleepers beware. Some of the best tent heaters are louder than others. If that kind of thing will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, be sure to look for quiet heat output options.
- Safety – While most people that use tent heaters overnight come out unscathed, it’s important to remember that using a tent with heater can still be very dangerous. The Coalition for Portable Propane Product Safety reminds us of this through their Camp Safe education program. Some tent heaters come with safety features that will automatically switch the device off if the heater is knocked over, there’s a presence of carbon monoxide, or the heater is on past a certain period of time.
- Coverage – How much area do you need it to heat? This will be the size of your tent (if you need to keep all of it heated). The less coverage area, the less heat you’ll need from your tent heater.
- Warranty – Manufacturer flaws are always a risk. Make sure you cover all your bases by picking a camping heater that comes with a warranty.
As you learn more about the best tent heaters, and how to shop for the best tent heater for your unique needs, keep these considerations in mind. Of course, budget is also a contributing factor, but if you want the best product you’ll need to be flexible enough to pay for high-quality features. In most cases, you get what you pay for.
How Do I Calculate Heat Output?
If you know what the heat output of your propane heater is, you can calculate how much fuel you’ll need to bring to keep you comfortably warm throughout the nights.
First, take the heat output of the device given by the manufacturer in BTUs per hour.
Divide that by 21591, which is equal to a pound of propane in BTUs.
If you want to then calculate how many gallons you’ll use per hour, divide your usage in pounds by 4.24, which is equal to the pounds of propane per gallon.
Get the total load by multiplying by pounds or gallons per hour.
Tent Heaters: Are They Safe?
There’s some controversy surrounding whether it’s safe to use a tent heater while sleeping. Some camping experts say ‘never’, other experts say ‘usually.’ When in doubt, check the tent heater manufacturer’s description carefully to see if it can safely be used inside a camping tent.
To err on the safe side, I find it helpful to follow these common safety tips with any tent heater I use:
- Keep the tent heater a minimum of 3 feet away from anything that could be flammable
- Don’t use any sort of oven to keep you warm
- Make sure you’re using a tent heater that is easy to control and sturdy enough to stay in place through the night
- Give preference to a tent heater that has automatic shut-off safety features
- An electric heater is much safer than a propane tent heater
It’s critical to have a well-ventilated space when you’re using a heater. That might mean leaving some of the breathable mesh portions of your tent open to keep the air flowing. Otherwise, there’s a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
With a growing presence of carbon monoxide produced by the improper burning of fuel, you’ll eventually reach a level of low oxygen. If you breathe in carbon monoxide, it will bind with your blood’s hemoglobin and prevent your red blood cells from maintaining your oxygen levels across the rest of your body. It’s bad news.
Stay aware of the symptoms (dizziness, nausea, stomach pains, shortness of breath) that are similar to food positioning or flu. If you notice them, get yourself and your camping partners into fresh air as quickly as possible. If the condition worsens, call an ambulance.
Setting up your heater properly is the key to safety while using it inside an enclosed space. Follow these steps for optimal safety:
- Assemble it and check for all appropriate parts (before camping) – be sure to hold onto the manual
- Set up the propane tank and give it a try (before camping) – hook the tank up to the tank and turn the valve on
- Disassemble and pack up carefully (before camping) – turn fuel off, unhook, and pack up each item separately
- Careful set up in the tent – keep it on sturdy ground, a few feet away from any obstructions on all sides, away from water, and near a ventilated area
Before You Buy
Before you buy a tent heater, make sure you’re taking all of the other recommended precautions to stay warm during your winter camping nights. A heater for a tent will go a long way, but you also want to have other supports in place to maximize the coziness of your heater tent.
For instance, make sure you’re packing warm clothes. Not just large, chunky pieces either. Thin layers are important. You can adjust your body temperature more subtly and use extra layers as pillows, sleeping bag stuffing, or padding.
You’ll also want to get a 4-season sleeping bag that can handle all seasons of weather (including brutal winters). This specific kind of sleeping bag makes a big difference. You will thank me for it later.
Another helpful idea I’ve loved when I just can’t get my body temperature regulated on frigid nights is the hot water bottle. Simply fill with boiling water and tuck it into your sleeping bag for extra warmth.
Before shutting your eyes for the night, make sure you’ve eaten a hearty meal and have had enough fluids for the day. These extra nutrients will help your body keep warm for several hours.
Top Tent Heaters
I really appreciate all the features and advantages that these tent heaters offer. I’ve spent a lot of time testing out the different models available in the market and I’ve boiled all my research down to these six recommendations for the best tent heaters.
I hope you find it helpful so you can find the heating element your winter camping trips have been missing and get back out there!
The first thing that I noticed about this tent heater is its striking look. To me, it’s like something straight out of an 80s Sci-Fi movie. I love that in a tent heater (so do my family).
Beyond the design, this tent heater brings a lot to the table. In addition to looking great, it also performs incredibly well. Depending on how cold your campsite is, you can adjust your tent heater between three different heat settings.
As a bonus, it also includes a fan-only mode, which means you don’t need to purchase a separate fan for when the tent gets hot in the summer.
This tent heater is a bit smaller than some of the other models mentioned, but it still provides a decent amount of heat. However, if you’re planning on camping exclusively in freezing cold environments, you might want to invest in a higher-quality tent heater model.
The Comfort Zone sits at about 5,000 BTU, making it perfect for camping in temperate regions.
It’s a solid choice at an accessible price that would get the job done for most camping trips. Just keep in mind the lower heat output as compared to some other models if cold camping is what you’ll primarily be doing.
- ENERGY EFFICIENT: Reduce your heating bills with this safe and durable electric portable heater. Its compact and powerful 1500 Watt performance provides targeted heating in a garage or workshop.
- 3 POWERFUL SETTINGS: Choose from low and high heat settings on this utility heater and enjoy the convenience of a fan-only setting that eliminates the need for additional appliances.
- ADJUSTABLE THERMOSTAT: It’s easy to find the perfect temperature and take control of your comfort zone with the adjustable rotary thermostat on this compact utility heater.
The Mr. Heater F215100 MH4B Little Buddy Heater is a popular choice among avid campers like yourself. It’s one of the brand’s most recent product releases, made for lightweight, portable heating. If you’re taking a long hiking trip and looking to add some heat to your nights without adding too much weight to your pack, this might be a good product for you.
This indoor-safe propane heater can provide enough heat for rooms as big as 95 square feet. It provides continuous heat at a 45 degree angle as long as your elevation does not exceed 7000 feet. If you’re scaling 14-ers, you might run into some trouble there.
Personally, I felt safe going to sleep at night with this portable propane heater. Mr. Heater Little Buddy has an oxygen detection system (ODS) that will automatically shut off the device if low oxygen levels are identified. It shuts off if you accidentally knock it over, too.
I also loved how easy it was to turn on and off. It only offers a little short of 6 hours of heat time, but that’s enough to get you through the worst parts of the night.
The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is great for those looking for a small, portable, and reliable propane tent heater for winter camping.
- Indoor-safe portable propane heater for rooms up to 95 square feet. THIS UNIT IS NOT INTENDED FOR GOLF CART USE OR FOR MOTORIZED VEHICLES.
- Continuous odor-free, 45-degree heating angle. Maximum Elevation (Ft) 7000 Feet. Automatic low oxygen shut-off system (ODS). Perfect solution for heating small enclosed spaces like tents up to 95 square feet
- Simple on/off buttons; uses 1-pound disposable propane cylinder (not included). Run time at minimum btu and maximum btu is 5.6 hours. Do not operate heater in any moving vehicle. This heater requires a vent area of 4 square inches minimum for adequate ventilation during operation
While the Mr. Heater Little Buddy mentioned previously certainly gets the job done, this Mr. Heater MH18B Portable Propane Heater takes the cake as the most advanced version they currently offer. If what you need is a top-of-the-line portable camping heater, this is it. It’s easy to use, gives you lots of power, and does it all with the push of a button.
One of the stand-out features of this Mr. Heater model is its heating efficiency. This heater combines convection and radiant heating into one to heat the interior part of your tent as fast as possible. When I say fast, I mean fast. This comes in handy when you feel like you can’t take another minute of the freezing cold.
This heating efficiency also helps to heat larger areas. If you’re winter camping with the family and using a large-sized tent, this heater can still get the job done.
Another excellent feature this Mr. Heater model offers is fuel efficiency. At 95 percent fuel efficiency, you’re saving a lot of money by buying less fuel. That’s a Mr. Heater win for everyone.
Mr. Heater MH18B is a great performer when it comes to working in cold weather—really cold weather. While frigid conditions can be a challenge for some camping tent heaters, this one can handle it with ease.
This is one of the highest-quality camping tent heaters available today. By combining radiation and convection, it can keep you warm through the night.
For quick, efficient heating, the Lasko 100 MyHeat Personal Ceramic Heater is the machine for the job. This is one of many electric heaters that can also be used for tent camping if you have electricity hookups.
This small, personal heater is designed to heat you rather than a whole room, so keep that in mind. If you’re looking to keep a big tent warm, this tent heater just doesn’t have the capacity. If you need something to keep just you warm, that’s another story.
At just four inches by four inches, this tiny heater can go anywhere with you. All it needs is a standard 120v outlet. With just the flip of a switch, you can get about 2 amps immediately.
This portable tent heater can do double duty. Not only can it provide you great overnight heating during winter camping trips, but it can also keep you warm at the office or at home.
Since it’s self-regulating, you don’t have to do much to get warm and stay that way. It’s also a lot safer, so if that’s a concern of yours, it should help. Knowing that your heater will turn itself off when it gets too hot can be a big relief.
When it comes to spot heating, this machine really does it best. It provides concentrated heat to a small area in a matter of seconds so you can unthaw and get cozy again.
If you only need to heat yourself and know you’ll always have access to electricity at your camping spots, you might really enjoy the efficiency of this tent heater.
If all you need is a low wattage heater to get the job done, you might really like the AmazonBasics 500-Watt Ceramic Small Space Personal Mini Heater.
What I like the most about this model is the power it packs within a small frame. At just 6.3″ tall, the 500W power provides plenty of warmth. All that at a great price? It’s a pretty good option.
Although this electric tent heater it does have tip-over protection, Amazon doesn’t advertise any sort of overheat protection. If you’re planning to leave your heater running at night, this one isn’t a good idea. There are other models on this list that fit that bill better.
It’s compact, efficient, and available in 4 fun colors to fit your style. As long as you’ve got the electricity for it, it will keep you warm for hours.
This could be a solid pick if you need a heater to use during the day while winter camping. You don’t want to leave it unattended at night.
- Compact personal space heater design that is small enough for tables or desktops
- Featuring efficient ceramic coils that heat up in seconds
- Available in 4 colors to custom-match your decor
The Camco Olympian Wave 3 is a versatile heating option for someone who wants to find a great in-home heater that can be packed up for camping trips. This model has been around since 2005 and loved by many campers.
It’s sufficient in heating up to 100 square feet, so tents as big as 10×10 can get proper heating all night long. Since the unit doesn’t have a fan included, there’s very little noise made. I found that it helped me sleep through the night. You might, too.
You have the option between two heat settings: 1600BTU or 3000BTU. There’s also safety features that make sure there’s no extra fuel discharge. While the manufacturer describes a very low output of CO2, it’s still smart to maintain some level of ventilation while you use it.
Since no electric hookup or battery connection is needed, it’s great for dry camping in the middle of nowhere. It’s also a great choice for long-term heating use as opposed to other options.
If you want a reliable heater that can work both indoors and out, you’ll be really happy with the Camco Olympian Wave 3.
- Adjustable from 1600 to 3000 BTU/hr allow it to be used as a secondary heating source
- Wave heaters operate on low pressure gas, and can be wall mounted or used as a portable unit
- No electrial drain or battery connection make it the ideal solution for boondocking and dry camping
Finding the best tent heaters is no easy task. As a camping lover myself, I take my camping gear and overall experience very seriously. My journey to finding the best tent heater was not a short or simple one, but I learned a lot about the products available in the market and what features make them stand out.
Features like automatic safety shut-off and tip-over shut-off have saved me while I was most vulnerable—asleep. Different heating modes have made all the difference between camping in cool temperatures, cold temperatures, and frigid temperatures. Simple on-switches and efficient heating have turned my numbed fingers into workable appendages again.
The heater models listed above are the best you’ll find today. Between brands like Mr. Heater, Camco, and Comfort Zone, you’re sure to find one that meets your specific set of camping needs.
Once you’ve found the right heater for you, your winter camping trips will never be the same.