All hiking fans are familiar with the troublesome procedure of getting ready during the cold season. What kind of points is not included into your to-do list: check the integrity of the tent, take food and flasks of coffee, don’t leave behind the portable furniture and warm clothes... Have you forgotten something? Is it time to buy a tent heater?
This guide describes how to pick a heater for tents, clears the differences between diverse models, explains which fuel is best to use and how to calculate the required amount.
We chose the 5 best tent heaters from $30 to $600, recommended by the fans of outdoor activities and camping, tourists, fishermen and deer hunters. Among them, you’ll find both portable low-end models for small 100 sq ft tents, and very powerful and safest for heating tents up to 1000 sq ft in area.
How essential is it to have a tent heater when camping? Imagine, you go on a hike, excited for an adventure, but at night you find out that although the starry night is indescribably beautiful, it is going to be freezing in the tent! You won’t feel comfortable and no sleeping bag will relieve the sensation.
And how will you spend the night if rain or wind adds to that? Candlelight or placing the tent over a cooled fire is outdated! It is the tent heater that will save you and turn even the gloomiest and chilliest evening in a warm and comfortable one and will let you sleep soundly.
Table of content:
What type of tent heater for camping will suit you best?
Only comfortable things, reliable tools and portable devices are valued when camping, so it’s best to use a propane heater. Such devices could not be better suited for such a relatively small space, as a tent for 2 reasons:
- Cheap gas fuel.
- Soft spot heat enough to warm up several persons in a tent.
Gas tent heaters may either be suitable for indoor use or bear the “outdoor propane heater” mark meaning you can only use it outside of the tent. If the camping site has electricity, feel free to use electric heaters. Since it’s less common and isn’t considered to be a portable tourist option, we will disregard such devices for now.
Why is a propane tent heater better than a kerosene one?
Propane heaters are considered to be more advanced than the obsolete kerosene ones. This fact can be treated differently, because it’s possible to find and buy a kerosene tent heater. The cost of fuel is a different story. Propane is much cheaper and easier to use, propane tanks are used to power a variety of different products: heaters, grills and so on. So the choice is pretty obvious.
What thermal output are the propane tent heaters for different types of tents supposed to have?
The answer seems apparent: the bigger the tent is, the more output you’ll need to heat it (especially if there are fewer people than it can fit). In any case, it makes no sense to buy a heater with an output less than 3000 BTU. But not all is so simple as the required output largely depends on the type of the tent itself, as they differ in shape, purpose, number of layers and the seasonal use. Mind that:
- Summer tents are often delicate and well blown, so if they are used in the wrong season, you’d better have a powerful heater.
- 3 season tents (spring-summer-autumn) protect you quite well against the wind, rain and are not difficult to heat.
- 4 season tents are durable and can be used even in cold. They require a small heater.
The price matters too. Often, the more expensive your tent is, the harder the manufacturers worked on it, and the better it will protect you from dampness and cold. The latter is carried out via a breathing second layer, a dense fabric or a robust design, and so on. Such major purchases suggest the need to spend minimum funds on additional heating. Thus, undersized 4-seasons tents permit you will to stay there in winter without any heater at all or with a low-power one in order to maintain comfortable temperature.
How to calculate how many gas cylinders are needed for a hike?
Thermal output of any gas (propane) heaters is measured in BTU. Knowing this figure, you can figure out how long the gas will suffice for: the higher the BTU, the faster the gas will be consumed. Naturally, the cost will be different: it is one thing to go to a one-day trip, and another to stay at the camp for 3-4 days.
Some camping tent heaters are powered by only 1lb propane tank, while others can run from a standard 5, 10 or 20lb propane tank. A big tank will clearly be enough for the entire trip, but 1lb propane can rarely last over 6 hours.
Is there a perfect tent heater? No, there isn’t. Different models have their advantages and disadvantages. In addition, to ensure high-quality heating of a tent, you have to follow a number of safety rules (we will talk about them at the end). But it's worth it, because camping in the cold can ruin any, even the most vivid and positive impressions.
So, we present to you 5 most worthy propane tent heaters. Some of them are super-popular best-sellers among all heaters and have been tested by thousands of fans of outdoor activities. Others are premium-priced outsiders with special technologies, well thought-through, but without proper audience yet. One thing they all have in common is that they all deserve your attention.
First comes the Buddy line by Mr. Heater, an all-time favorite of tourists, fishermen, deer hunters, and motorists. These infrared propane heaters are relatively safe because the combustion is carried out within the ceramic emitter and no open flame is there, which makes them an excellent choice for heating tents, garages and various production facilities.
Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater - #1 Best Selling Tent Heater
“Mr. Heater saved the vacation!” - From the customers’ reviews.
Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX
✔ 4,000- to 9,000-BTU radiant heater for spaces up to 225 square feet. Approved for indoor/outdoor use; clean-burning; nearly 100-percent efficient
Portable Buddy Heater for ~$62.2 is an example of a heater that is the best in various fields: it is a №1 Best Seller in the Outdoor heaters and RV Heaters & Furnaces categories. This portable heater has already received its laurel wreath, when we determined the top five garage heaters. Generally, Portable Buddy was appreciated by over 90% of users. Mind that every seventh Amazon.com shopper buys this heater just for hiking purposes, let’s elaborate below!
Buddy is equipped with a built-in safety features such as automatic shutdown when dropped, the oxygen sensor (switches off if the oxygen level in the room is insufficient), and piezo-ignition. All of that ensures safe use of the heater both in a tent, and on the non-residential premises.
The thermal output of the model ranges from 4000 BTU to 9000 BTU, meaning only two temperature settings are available. But this would be enough even for you to wear a light jacket and feel comfortable in the tent during the iciest winter when the temperature outside reaches -5ºF. Portable Buddy is a great option for small and medium tents of up to 150sq ft. 9000 BTU will warm up such a tent up to 82º F in just 5-6 minutes!
As for the fuel, you can power the heater with 1lb propane bottle or buy a hose and connect Mr. Heater to a big 20 lb cylinder. 1lb will work from 4 hours (9000 BTU) to 6 hours (4000 BTU).
Speaking of the drawbacks, we wouldn’t mind if Buddy had more than two temperature settings. But, as the users note, this becomes irrelevant against the quality of operation of the heater. Portable Buddy seems to be a truly universal heater suitable for a workshop or camping. No wonder it is so popular, read over 2000 customers’ reviews on Amazon.com to learn more helpful tips on using it in a camping tent.
Price: ~$62.2 Check the current price
The best seller is followed by two related items, Little Buddy and Big Buddy. These buddies are so cool that they require separate overviews!
Mr. Heater F215100 MH4B Little Buddy 3800-BTU Indoor Safe Propane Heater, Medium - Portable Heater For A Small Tent Up To 100 Sq Ft
The smallest Buddy is Little Buddy. It is a bit more affordable than the best seller; it costs ~$59.95 and has fixed 3800 BTU output. Just like other devices of this line, it is equipped with piezo-ignition, low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off for safety. It is powered only by 1lb propane tanks, but this is rather an advantage if you’re looking for a truly portable and tiny tent heater without standard bulky fuel tanks. One tank will be enough for 5-7 hours.
What is this small heater good for? It will do for low-energy heating of a small tent up to 100 sq ft or an ice fishing tent. It will be perfect for use in spring and autumn, but it is not really suitable for very harsh winters as you’ll need something more powerful. The buyers complain of difficulties with turning the device on (some have to hold the button for too long). But overall this is a good option if you have a good tent and a sturdy sleeping bag and you just want the tent temperature to be 15º F warmer than outside.What do buyers say?
Price: ~$59.95 Check the current price
Mr. Heater Portable Big Buddy Propane Heater - The Camping Tent Heater Up To 400 Sq Ft
Big Buddy Heater with 18 000 BTU for ~$154.99 is the most powerful Buddy. In this case, we can safely say that this device will warm any tent up to 400 sq. ft. even in winter! This is facilitated by the presence of blower fan, which accelerates the warm air in the tent. Such a powerful Buddy is suitable not only for tents, but also for garages, workshops, cabins, fishing shanties, truck caps etc. Its rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars is a valid proof of its usefulness.
Other than being equipped with all the safety features built in all of the Buddies, this heater is the most stable and most cumbersome of the three. The manufacturer points out that it can be used even for home heating (!),as an emergency measure in case of power failure, which is this heater’s competitive edge over other devices of the line.
Big Buddy can be powered from two 1lb tanks, and from 5, 10 or 20 lb propane tanks (you will also need to purchase a suitable hose and filter so the gas valves do not clog). In the former case the tank will last for ~ 7 hours of heating at low settings.
Judging by the reviews, 400 sq ft is not the limit, Big Buddy will be able to heat 500 sq ft within half an hour. Bear in mind that on the contrary, you shouldn’t use such a powerful tool to heat cramped tents or premises: it will be too hot. In general, the heater is very good and justifies its price. Read customer reviews to learn more.What do buyers say?
Price: ~$154.99 Check the current price
After dealing with Buddies, let’s move on to no less interesting propane camping heaters: the first will help you stay warm while you're camping outdoors, and the second one has a different design and will warm you even while you sleep in a tent. Also you can use big buddy and buddy as a portable garage heaters.
Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater – A Cut-Rate Outdoor Heater For Camping, Hunting, And Cool Weather Outdoor Activities
“Great portable heater to take camping” – that’s how experienced users refer to this propane heater. It costs ~$35.99 and is the cheapest and tiniest one in this review. Its output reaches up to 2890 BTU and there is an auto shut-off safety feature. It uses 16.4 oz or 14.1 oz disposable propane cans which last for about 5 hours at lower temperatures.
Some use it as a tent heater, but the manufacturer is positioning it as best outdoor heater, pointing out the great danger of poisonous propane emissions. No indoor or a ground tent use is permitted as the heater should be located well vented area for safety reasons.
Still, this heater is really capable of doing a good job of being your personal propane heater for outdoor activities while camping, fishing or deer hunting. Many people also use it in golf cars as a car heaters, ice fishing tents, hinting blinds, but in this case you should be very careful and certainly not to sleep when it is on.
Price: ~$35.99 Check the current price
Zodi Outback Gear X-40 Hot Vent Tent Heater, Black - An Expensive, but the Safest Camping Tent Heater
The three words to characterize Zodi Hot Vent Tent Heater for ~$700 are expensive, powerful and safe. This is a heater for all types of enclosures and tents. It consists of a heating block with an output up to 40000 BTU and two metal pipes. One of them is a 12 V fan which fits in the tent to warm it up, and the other one remains outdoors and removes propane combustion emission.
Such design allows you not to worry about CO2 accumulation caused by the fuel combustion. Once you turn such a device on at night, you’ll have a warm and safe sleep. Its great power will also be suitable for industrial use and safe warming of large tents reaching 1000 sq ft.
The device uses a 5 lb propane tank to work. Such output will last for 7-8 hours. Yes, the price might seem to be skyrocketing (hence the low popularity of the gadget), but if you stay in a tent camp or often go on camping trips, especially with kids, you’ll hardly imagine a better and safer tent heater.
Price: ~$700 Check the current price
Indoor Use In Tents /Outdoor Use
Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy
1lb/20 lb propane tank
Mr. Heater F215100 MH4B Little Buddy
1lb propane tank
Mr. Heater Portable Big Buddy
1lb/5 lb/10 lb/20 lb propane tank
Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater
up to 2890 BTU
1lb propane tank
Zodi Outback Gear X-40 Hot Vent Tent Heater, Black
up to 40000 BTU
The main block with CO2 emission pipe is to be outdoors, a fan pipe can be inside the tent
5lb propane tank
7 Propane Tent Heaters Safety Tips
Your safety is above all, so below we’ll list the most important rules and tips for safe use of propane tent heaters:
- Read the manual carefully! Apart from the information on assembling and connecting the fuel tanks, it clearly states, whether it is possible to use a propane heater inside the tent, or whether it is intended only for outdoors conditions.
- When you turn on such a heater in the tent, provide for quality ventilation, don’t fasten the tent to the end or open the window. The outflow of air is required if you do not want to be poisoned by carbon monoxide, which is inevitably emitted from the combustion of propane. Even if your device has safety features auto shut-off when the oxygen level drops, stick to common sense! Once you feel slightest headache or breathlessness switch off the device and leave the tent.
- Install the heater on straight and hard surface. It shouldn’t stand crooked, near the wall or flammable surfaces.
- Don’t leave the heater on for too long or near kids or pets without attention.
- Don’t use the heater when you sleep in the tent, it should only work under your supervision. Ideally, heat up the tent to the required temperature before you go to sleep, turn it off at night and back on once you wake up. The only exception to this routine are outdoor heaters such as Zodi Outback Gear X-40 Hot Vent Tent Heater which could remain on at night.
- Only use a tent heater for its intended purpose, i.e. heating the tent. Do not cook on the device’s protective metal grid; do not dry it your things and travel gear directly on it.
- Here’s an extreme tip: if you realize that there is not enough propane for your entire hike, leave the heater at the minimum temperature. In this way the gas will run out slower. Of course, it won’t be too hot in the tent, but at least the temperature will be stable and above the outside temperature.