Cold weather doesn’t have to put the kibosh on your camping trip if you have a tent heater to keep you toasty. But before you venture out with your camping tent, consider the particulars of your preferences and where you intend to set up camp in order to decide whether an electric, propane, or butane model would best suit your needs. Read on to learn what to look for in a tent heater, and to find out why the following models rank among the best tent heat options available!
- BEST ELECTRIC: AUZKIN Portable Electric Oscillating Heater
- BEST PROPANE: Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane
- BEST BUTANE: Neiko Camping Emergency Butane Heater
Types of Tent Heaters
The main differences in tent heaters are in how they run and operate. The two main types are electric heaters, which plug into a power source, and gas heaters, which run on either propane or butane gas.
The caveat about propane and butane is that when they burn, both release carbon monoxide, which can be deadly. Since propane and butane tent heaters release only small amounts of carbon monoxide, they are generally considered safe. However, camping with a carbon monoxide alarm is a wise precautionary measure when using any gas-burning tent heater. Also be sure to follow all manufacturers’ instructions and the safety practices outlined in the “Tips for Buying and Using a Tent Heater” section below.
Because they don’t release any noxious fumes into the air, electric tent heaters are some of the safest options. They typically range from 500W to 1500W in power and require a campsite with an electrical hookup or a portable generator.
Propane tent heaters produce heat 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.
The heating output of a propane unit is rated in British Thermal Units (BTUs), which measure heat output per hour. Although the size of the tent is a factor, in general, most campers look for a propane tent heater that puts out between 2,500 to 5,000 BTUs per hour.
Although propane burns cleaner than most gases, it does release a small amount of carbon monoxide. Be sure to choose a propane heater that automatically shuts off when it detects too much carbon monoxide in the air.
Manually check the heater’s hose for gas leaks regularly to ensure gas is flowing into the heater as it should. Listen closely for any whistling or hissing noises, which indicate that gas is escaping from a leak in the hose. Use a gas-powered heater only in a properly ventilated tent, with windows and any vents open to allow fresh air.
When burned, butane gas creates heat. Butane’s heat output is also rated in BTUs, and the gas comes in small, portable canisters that are easily portable. While butane burns more cleanly and releases less carbon monoxide into the air than propane, you must pay careful attention to safety when using a butane heater, just as with a propane unit. Butane heaters must be used only in well-ventilated spaces, ideally in conjunction with a device capable of detecting carbon monoxide.
What to Consider When Buying a Tent Heater
In addition to power options, keep the following factors and features in mind when shopping for a tent heater.
Camp location plays a significant role in determining which tent heater is optimal for you. Electric heaters are ultimately the safest, but these are not always viable when camping in the wilderness as opposed to a campground with on-site electric capabilities. For backcountry campers, a gas-operated, portable tent heater may be the best option. Gas can be purchased in small, lightweight canisters that are easy to pack and disposable or refillable.
Tent heaters produce a lot of heat, making them a potential fire hazard. Consider only those tent heaters that automatically shut off if the unit tips over.
Size and Weight
Camping requires lots of gear, so an overly large or heavy tent heater can be inconvenient. Fortunately, quite a few smaller, lighter options are on the market that should fit your space capacity and needs. Typically, the size of the tent heater correlates to the amount of heat the unit produces. A bigger tent probably requires a larger, more powerful heater, while a small tent should heat up nicely with a more compact heater.
As a general rule, electric heaters operate more quietly than gas heaters. Both propane- and butane-powered heaters are made up of various moving parts, such as a vent and a burner, which can create a loud humming sound while in use. Light sleepers should choose a less-powerful electric heater, as this type of tent heater is usually quieter.
Tips for Buying and Using a Tent Heater
When used safely and correctly, tent heaters are an excellent piece of camping gear that allow outdoor enthusiasts to pursue their passions in cold weather. Follow these essential tips when buying and using a tent heater.
- Buy a tent heater that shuts off automatically when it tips over, overheats, or detects low oxygen levels.
- Use a gas-operated tent heater only in a well-ventilated tent. Consider having a carbon monoxide detector on hand to monitor oxygen levels.
- Always keep heaters at least three 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
Keeping all these differences in tent heaters and essential usage tips in mind, consider these quality options when shopping for the best tent heater for your next adventure.
This electric heater by AZUKIN boasts an impressive 1-second heating capability that can heat tents as large as 400 square feet quite quickly. The heater’s vent disperses warmth evenly via a 45-degree rotation system to better reach all corners of the tent.
The built-in fan works at a whisper-quiet audible level of only 45dB. The AZUKIN also has a safety system that turns off the machine automatically if it is tipped over or gets too hot. At 2.86 pounds, this is a lightweight and compact tent heater, as practical as it is portable.
Designed to conveniently hook up to two different fuel cylinders and burn at a rate of 2,890 BTUs, this portable propane heater by Texsport is a solid cold-weather companion, suitable for use in well-ventilated areas.
It can connect to a 14.1-ounce or 16.4-ounce disposable propane fuel cylinder and has a large paddle foot base for stability. Its size and construction make for easy transport and storage, as it breaks down into three pieces: base, tank, and heating coils.
The heating coils are encased by a safety aluminum reflector to disperse heat and a metal safety grid to prevent skin contact, and the unit features an auto shutoff when the pilot light goes out.
Powered by butane gas cartridges that are smaller and typically more affordable than propane, Neiko’s ceramic heater portable heater weighs only 5.5 pounds. It consumes gas at a rate of 100 grams per hour, which is more efficient than many other gas-burning heaters on the market. It’s rated at 4,000 BTUs/hour and can heat a large tent efficiently. This machine has a built-in pressure sensor that automatically shuts the unit off it is tipped over. Just be sure to properly ventilate your tent or space when using a butane heater and consult the manufacturer’s recommendations.
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 three feet from flammable surfaces, and be sure to use the heater only 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 propane or butane gas heater can be a convenient way to keep a tent warm without electricity.