The arrival of cold weather doesn’t have to put the kibosh on camping if you have one of the best tent heaters to keep you toasty for winter camping. But before you venture out with your camping tent and sleeping bag, consider the particulars about your camping preferences and location to help decide whether an electric, propane, or butane heater will keep you the warmest.
Read on for key shopping considerations and to find out why the following models are among the best tent heaters available for winter camping—so you can enjoy cozy warmth on your next camping trip.
- BEST OVERALL: Mr. Heater MH9BX Buddy Indoor Portable Propane Heater
- BEST BUDGET: ISILER 1500W Portable Indoor Heater
- BEST BUTANE: Campy Gear 2 in 1 Portable Propane Heater & Stove
- BEST ELECTRIC: Vornado Velocity 3R Whole Room Space Heater
- BEST SMALL: Mr. Heater MH4B Little Buddy Indoor Safe Propane Heater
- ALSO CONSIDER: COSTWAY 15,000 BTU Propane Tank Top Heater
Types of Tent Heaters
Campers have the choice between electric and gas heaters, the key differences coming down to how they run, heating capacity, safety, and convenience. Consider the features below to determine which power source is right for you and your portable tent heater.
The main advantage of gas tent heaters is that they produce more heat compared to other types. These portable, non-electric heaters run on either butane or propane, two of the safest gases available as fuel.
- Propane heaters are powered by burning liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a clean, efficient fuel. Portable propane tanks connect to the heater, upon which an igniter or a match creates a spark to jump-start the burning of gas. Although propane burns cleaner than most gases, it does release a small amount of carbon monoxide. A tank top portable propane heater is a good
- Butane heaters are fueled by burning liquified butane gas. Like propane heaters, a spark activates heat production, with the gas stored in a small canister. While it’s not as heat efficient compared to propane, butane releases less carbon monoxide. Between the two fuels, butane costs more.
Gas heaters should be used only in ventilated tents since airflow helps manage carbon monoxide levels. With these heaters, it’s important to check the hose regularly for leaks; pay attention to any whistling or hissing noises, which indicate that gas is escaping from a leak in the hose.
An electric heater is typically much safer than using gas, however, this type of camping heater is rare because a corded electric heater requires a direct connection to a power source, like a generator, and a battery-powered electric heater relies on the runtime of the battery to provide heat. Once the battery runs out of energy, the camping tent heater needs to be recharged, which is difficult without an active power source, so users inevitably run into the same problem.
However, some electric tent heaters for camping can be charged with solar panels. If the user has an existing gas generator or solar panels that can be connected to a power bank, using an electric heater is possible. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of hoops to jump through to use an electric heater, so many manufacturers don’t offer an electric portable heater for camping.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Tent Heater
In addition to power options, keep the following factors and features in mind when shopping for a tent heater.
Size and Weight
Some camping trips require a lot of gear, so an overly large or heavy tent heater can be inconvenient. The same goes for brief hiking and backpacking trips when you don’t want to carry much. Portable tent heaters weigh as little as 1 pound up to 15 pounds or more.
Typically, the size of the tent heater correlates to the amount of heat the unit produces. Tents that accommodate four or more people require heaters similar in size to those used in a garage or workshop. One- or two-person tents can get sufficiently toasty with compact heaters that resemble desk lamps.
Tent heater manufacturers often state the maximum square footage a heater can warm up effectively. Propane and butane models are rated by British Thermal Units (BTUs), which measure heat output per hour. Depending on tent size, most campers look for a gas heater that puts out between 2,500 to 5,000 BTUs per hour.
Electric heaters measure heat output in watts for corded products and volts for battery-powered heaters. The higher the wattage or voltage, the more powerful the heat output. A typical wattage range would be about 750 to 1,500 watts, while voltage has a narrow range of 5 to 20 volts.
Both gas and battery-powered tent heaters have a limited runtime that can impact their ability to provide continuous warmth in cold weather. The runtime of a gas tent heater refers to the amount of time it takes the heater to burn through a full tank of propane or butane. Due to the varying fuel tank sizes, the runtime of a gas tent heater ranges widely from just one hour to 48 hours.
Cordless tent heaters are rare because they don’t have a very long runtime (one to four hours) before the battery needs to be recharged, which makes them a poor choice for heating a whole tent. However, smaller battery-powered heaters are suitable to use as a personal heating device to keep your hands warm or provide a little extra heat at the camp table.
As a general rule, electric heaters operate more quietly than gas models. Propane and butane heaters are made up of various moving parts to produce heat, which can create a loud humming sound while in use. Light sleepers may prefer a less-powerful heater, which is usually quieter.
Some manufacturers indicate the decibel (dB) level of the heater so users can determine whether it will be too loud. For reference, 40 dB is about as loud as a quiet library, 60 dB is as loud as a regular conversation, and 90 dB is like having a large truck rumbling past.
Tent heaters are a potential fire hazard when placed too close to tent walls and other flammable surfaces, or if they fall onto the floor of the tent. To address this issue, some tent heaters shut off automatically when the unit overheats or tips over. If you’re shopping for a gas heater, choose a model that powers down automatically when it detects excessive amounts of carbon monoxide in the air.
Our Top Picks
For heat output, safety, convenience, and all-around performance, the picks below are among the best tent heaters available. Consider one of these high-quality electric and gas units to suit your next outdoor adventure.
Mr. Heater’s MH9BX Buddy Indoor Propane Heater is considered one of the best non-electric heaters available. Made from durable steel and strong plastic, this portable propane heater can heat spaces up to 225 square feet at a rate of 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs per hour, which is more than enough for a camping tent. When this heater is set to the highest setting, it can run for up to three hours.
The automatic shutoff will turn off the unit if it gets tipped over, detects low oxygen levels, or the pilot light goes off. The handle is designed to fold down for easy transport, and it has a swivel-out regulator to save space. This model weighs 10.6 pounds. Always consult the manual when operating gas-powered heaters, and use them in a well-ventilated space.
- Power Source: Propane
- Weight: 10.6 pounds
- Heat Output: 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs
- Durable steel and plastic construction
- Heats spaces of 225 square feet
- Automatic shutoff feature
- Built-in handle
- High winds can blow out the pilot light
Those seeking a reliable tent heater that won’t break the bank may want to check out ISILER’s Portable Indoor Heater. This electric heater has a powerful output of 1,500W, which can warm up a 108-square-foot space quickly. It offers full control of the temperature via an adjustable thermostat dial that ranges between 41 degrees to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
This ISILER heater’s safety features include fire-retardant materials, a self-regulator to detect overheating, and a tip-over shutoff if it gets knocked down. At less than 40 ounces, it’s easily portable and won’t take up a lot of room in your tent.
- Power Source: Electric
- Weight: 40 ounces
- Heat Output: 1,500 watts (41 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Heats spaces of up to 108 square feet
- Adjustable thermostat dial
- Fire-retardant construction
- Not compatible with extension cords
- May require a generator for power
- Some users report noisy operation
This Campy Gear heater operates on 110-gram and 230-gram fuel canisters of butane, isobutane, or propane, however, it can also be connected to a 1-pound propane tank with the appropriate hose (not included). It runs for about 2.5 hours on a full 230-gram fuel canister and has a simple dial on the front to increase or decrease the heat output.
The 2-in-1 heater and stove actually have three different modes, including cook only, heat only, and cook & heat mode, giving users a variety of ways to use this impressive little heater. It has a max heat output of about 9,000 BTU and a 360-degree design, so it can sit in the middle of the tent or table and everyone can share the warmth.
- Power Source: Butane, isobutane, and propane
- Weight: 110 grams
- Heat Output: 9,000 BTUs
- Runs for 2.5 hours on full fuel canister
- Easy-to-use control dial
- Also functions as a stove
- 360-degree heat distribution design
Designed with sleek, LED touch controls, this corded electric heater is easy to operate, allowing the user to choose the ideal temperature on the digital thermostat, switch between three different heat settings, and set a timer from one to nine hours. The three heat settings include low (750W), medium (1,125W), and high (1,500W).
The corded electric tent heater has a cool-touch case, so it can be picked up and handled while in operation or just after being used. It is also equipped with an automatic safety shut-off system if the heater tips over to prevent the risk of fire. However, the fan may be too noisy for some people and it would require a generator or another power source to operate at a campsite.
- Power Source: Electric
- Weight: 4.5 pounds
- Heat Output: 750 to 1,500 watts
- LED touch controls
- 3 heat settings included
- Timer provides 1 to 9 hours of heat
- Automatic shut-off feature
- Noisy operation
- Requires a generator for power
The small but powerful Little Buddy, which runs on a disposable 1-pound propane tank cylinder, is rated with an output of 3,800 BTUs—enough to warm up to 95 square feet for as long as 5.6 hours. Its well-designed heater head is set at a 45-degree angle to ensure heat fills the entire tent.
The portable Little Buddy has a simple on/off switch and comes with low oxygen and tip-over protection. As with all gas heaters, use it only in a well-ventilated tent.
- Power Source: Propane
- Weight: 5 pounds
- Heat Output: 3,800 BTUs
- Warms spaces of up to 95 square feet
- Runs for 5.6 hours
- Built-in tip-over protection
- Only suitable in well ventilated tents
- Limited durability
The COSTWAY tank top tent heater doesn’t just run on propane, it is actually designed to be mounted right on the top of a 20-pound propane tank. It has three heat settings including low (9,000 BTUs), medium (13,000 BTUs), and high (15,000 BTUs), and can operate on the high heat setting for up to 28 hours with a full 20-pound propane tank.
This propane tent heater is made with an important tip-over safety switch to help reduce fire hazards. The safety switch automatically turns off the gas flow to the heater, which extinguishes the flame but also prevents the build-up of harmful gas. However, users will need to use a match or barbecue lighter to light the tent heater through the ignition hole to be as safe as possible.
- Power Source: Propane
- Weight: 2.5 pounds
- Heat Output: 9,000 to 15,000 BTUs
- Suitable for large tents
- 3 heat settings included
- Runs for over 28 hours on a full tank
- Tip-over safety switch
- Expensive price point
- Matches or barbecue lighter required
The Mr. Heater tent heater is an excellent propane-fueled pick for adventurers since it weighs 10 pounds, a durable steel and plastic construction, and emits 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs of heat. For those in need of an electric heater, consider the ISILER tent heater, which comes with 1,500 watts of power that produces 41 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and heats spaces of up to 108 square feet.
How We Chose the Best Tent Heater
When the sun goes down and the temperature drops even further, a tent heater can help you sleep comfortably throughout the night and wake up nice and warm. We researched product specifications and consumer reviews to gauge the best tent heaters for each respective category, and discovered that the best models have ample heat distribution, lightweight constructions, long runtimes, and added special features.
Most models are powered by propane, butane, or electricity, each type offering ample heat distribution. While electric options emit 700 to 1,500 watts of heat (roughly 95 degrees Fahrenheit), propane and butane heaters emit 2,890 to 9,000 BTUs for large or small tent sizes. As these heaters are meant for portability, most picks weigh between 1 and 10 pounds and either have small constructions or can be disassembled while on the move.
The tent heaters in the above list can also run for 1 to 28 hours depending on how long you need the heat, and some designs are constructed with 360-degree heat distribution, tip-over protection, and automatic shutoff. But, keep in mind that both propane and butane give off fumes, so the tent needs to be well ventilated while you use models with this fuel source.
Tips for Using a Tent Heater
When used safely and correctly, tent heaters are an excellent piece of camping gear that allows outdoor enthusiasts to pursue their passions in cold weather. Follow these essential tips when buying and using a tent heater.
- Consider a tent heater that shuts off automatically when it tips over, overheats, or detects low oxygen levels.
- Gas heaters should be used only in tents with proper ventilation. Consider having a carbon monoxide detector on hand to monitor oxygen levels.
- Always keep heaters at least 3 feet from tent walls, sleeping bags, fabrics, and other flammable surfaces.
- Carefully read the user manual of any tent heater for specific manufacturer safety tips and recommended uses.
If you still have concerns about tent heaters and their different features, read on for answers to some common questions.
Q: How many BTUs should I look for in a tent heater?
For cold weather camping in 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above, opt for a heater with at least 2,500 to 5,000 BTUs or more. To calculate how many BTUs you need, use this formula: tent volume (length x width x height) x temperature difference (current outside air temperature – desired inside temperature) x 0.133 = required BTU/hour.
Q: How do you properly set up a tent heater?
Always keep a tent heater upright, at least 3 feet from flammable surfaces, and as directed in the user manual.
Q: Do you need ventilation when using a propane heater?
When using any gas-burning heater, ventilation is essential to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Q: How do you keep a tent warm without electricity?
A gas or propane heater can keep a tent warm without access to an electrical outlet. Battery-powered heaters that work with solar panels and chargers are also available.