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 Candlelight or placing the tent over a cooled fire is outdated!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
Portable Buddy Heater is an example of a heater that is the best in various fields: it is one of the 5 Best Sellers 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 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 to learn more helpful tips on using it in a camping tent.
Mr. Heater F232000: 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, 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?
«Awesome! I had to use it 2 out of the 4 nights and it sure heated up our tent fast. (Coleman 10' x 14' cabin tent). The only downfall is the amount of propane it uses. I would suggest getting the adapter and using a big propane tank if you think you will need it most of the night. I use a lot of propane - a 1lb. propane tank lasted me about 4-5 hours on low setting».
«It's been over a month and this unit has approximately 140hrs of use so far. Although it rarely drops below 35 degrees in my area, I prefer to work in shorts & t-shirt. It keeps the 1200 cu ft room at 80+ degrees on the 'low' setting. The 5-gallon tank was good for about 110hrs at the low setting. The cost break down came to about 20 cents an hour.».
«I think 69 dollars is a good price and it kept a 15 x 20 canvas cabin (15 ft high at top arch) into low 50's wihile on low setting (about 4 hours run on one @ 1lb canister disposable propane) while outside in mid to high 30's. appreciated the tilt/fall protection and oxygen protection built into the unit».
Mr. Heater F215100: Check the current price
Mr. Heater Portable Big Buddy Propane Heater - The Camping Tent Heater Up To 400 Sq Ft
Big Buddy Heater with 18000 BTU 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?
«I have used this mr.heater for two winter season now in an area of about 500 sq. ft., in my garage. It works well, I use the 20lb cylinders with a long hose. The fan that comes with the heater is ok. I have bumped it a few times and it turns off as advertised. I like the three settings of low, med, and high. That helps to regulate the heat and save fuel».
«I used it when we were without power during an ice storm. It was great and kept our den 70 degrees while the rest of the house was 40».
Mr. Heater Propane Heater: 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's 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.
Texsport Propane Heater: 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 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.
Zodi Outback Gear: 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
How to Use Propane Tent Heater: Safety Rules
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 work under your supervision.
- 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.
- 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 your things and travel gear directly on it.
- 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.
Battery Operated Tent Heater | Alternatives
There are, in fact, no options in this regard since most of the electric heaters require either a car nearby or a portable battery, which is cumbrously weighty and runs down pretty quickly. Besides, you’ll have to carry it around without it bringing any value. If you’re still considering these options, then you might look into the following products.
The first is the 12-volt Car Electric Blanket, which’s made of tarpaulin and insulation cotton, and has to be plugged into a car or portable power supply.
Another one is the 12-volt Elevens 3-in-1 Battery Powered Down Blanket, which is battery operated; is made of rip-stop nylon shell and filled with duck down. There are 3 heat settings for better customization, multi-purpose 15000mAh power bank, which can both jumpstart your vehicle or charge your mobile devices. Besides, you’re getting AC Adapter and DC charger in the package.
Otherwise, you can consider purchasing flameless Portable Gas Catalytic Heater, which is based on an advanced catalytic technology, would work 7 hours on 1 lb propane cylinder, and deliver up to 3,000 BTU. You can place the heater by the tent to feel more comfortable during the night out camping.
Another option, which can be directly placed into a sleeping bag, is HotHands Body Warmers. These are essentially air-activated heat packs made of iron powder, activated charcoal, and wood fiber. They would warm up in 15 to 30 minutes after shaking. The packs are reusable, so as soon as the warmth subsides, expose the packs to the air and shake it again. Moreover, a single shake will deliver up to 12 hours of heat, so you don’t have to wake up in your tent to shake it continuously since they’re good for the whole night.
If you’re looking into purchasing reliable portable solar generators for your tent, then we can give a few of the following recommendations:
Tent Portable Solar Generator Kit from Wegner, which is essentially a rechargeable and replaceable battery solar generator system with solar panels. It has multiple outports, like 6-watt 6V solar panel, 9Ah 3.7V battery, 2 USB 5V DC Output for other devices, and 4 Ports 3.7 V output for LED light. It’s relatively lightweight and can be charged by either solar energy or AC power.
Another option is Renogy Phoenix Portable Generator kit, which is specifically designed for mobile, off-grid applications. It combines highly efficient 20W monocrystalline solar panels but can be expanded to 100W with additional PVs. Just as the previously described option, the generator can be charged by solar energy, AC or car power. It also comes with a 16Ah Li-ion(NMC) battery. However, unlike its counterpart, it costs roughly 500 dollars, but according to positive customer feedback, it’s worth all the money.
We’ve also found an ambitious Kickstarter campaign forportable battery-powered blanketsby Rumple, which promised to be almost groundbreaking in terms of portable camping bedding.
Unfortunately, though, the blanket has not seen a mass production as of yet, although the backers of the project received their items and were generally pleased with its performance. The production of the blankets for the backers was complete as long ago as in September 2017.
But the Rumple doesn’t have the item in their product list, meaning there were obviously problems with the technology, which has not yet proved its stability and durability.