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: Portable Electric Space Heater with Thermostat
- BEST FOR SMALL TENTS: Mr. Heater MH4B Little Indoor Safe Propane Heater
- BEST FOR LARGE TENTS: Mr. Heater F274800 Portable Propane Heater
- BEST BUTANE: Campy Gear 2 in 1 Portable Propane Heater & Stove
- BEST ELECTRIC: Vornado Velocity 3R Whole Room Space Heater
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: Texsport Portable Outdoor 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 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 choice for keeping large tents warm or to heat up the campsite without having to make a fire.
- 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.
Tips for Buying and 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.
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.
Those seeking an inexpensive yet reliable tent heater can invest in this bargain option that doubles as a fan in hot weather. The corded electric heater has three different settings, including fan, low heat, and high heat. At low heat, the heater operates at 750 watts, but switching to high heat doubles the wattage to 1,500 watts.
For easy, hands-free function, just set the thermostat to the desired temperature from 0 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit and it will automatically cycle on and off to maintain the temperature. Just keep in mind that this heater is powered by electricity, so it needs a direct connection through the 6-foot cord to an available power bank or generator.
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.
For bitterly cold temperatures or large tents, Mr. Heater’s Big Buddy is a formidable choice. It has an output of 4,000, 9,000, or 18,000 BTUs per hour and runs off two 1-pound propane gas cylinders. It also has a built-in fan, which runs off four D batteries, to optimally distribute heat throughout tents as large as 450 square feet. Control the heat with a convenient single knob that switches to a low, medium, or high setting.
The Big Buddy also has critical safety features, such as an automatic shutoff for accidental tip-overs or when low oxygen levels are detected. While it’s a more powerful heater, it’s a bit on the hefty side at 16 pounds. Be sure to use it in a tent with adequate airflow to flush out carbon monoxide.
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.
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.
With a burn rate of up to 2,890 BTUs, this propane model is a solid cold-weather companion, capable of heating up to a four-person tent. Even with that power, it weighs only 1 pound and breaks down into three pieces (heating coils, base, and tank)—so it’s easy to store with the rest of your camping gear.
The compact heater features an auto-shutoff when the pilot light goes out and has a large paddle foot base for stability. Its heating coils are encased by an aluminum reflector to disperse heat and a metal safety grid to prevent skin contact. You can connect this propane heater to a 14.1-ounce or 16.4-ounce fuel cylinder.
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.
FAQs About Your New Tent Heater
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.
Encroaching cold weather makes most people shiver just thinking about it, but for those who enjoy spending time outdoors all year and in all weather, cold weather camping can be a blast. 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.
Consider whether propane, butane, or electricity is the best choice for the tent heater you purchase, keeping in mind that both propane and butane give off fumes, so the tent needs to be well ventilated. Electric heaters, on the other hand, require an available source of electricity for constant operation or to charge the batteries. For very cold weather, opt for a powerful propane tent heater because they typically have the highest heat output of the three fuel types.