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. But before you venture out with your camping tent, 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 to learn what to look for in a tent heater—and to find out why the following models are among the best available—so you can continue to enjoy the great outdoors in cold weather.
- BEST OVERALL: OPOLAR Ceramic Space Heater with Thermostat
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: ISILER 1500W Portable Indoor Heater
- BEST ELECTRIC: AUZKIN Portable Ceramic Oscillating Heater
- BEST PROPANE: Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater
- BEST BUTANE: Neiko Camping Emergency Butane Heater
Types of Tent Heaters
The differences in tent heaters come down to how they run and operate. The two main varieties 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. Propane heaters are 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 with a built-in automatic shutoff, which detects when too much carbon monoxide is in the air and shuts down the unit to maintain safe oxygen levels.
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 is also rated in BTUs, and it comes in small, portable canisters that are easily portable. While butane burns cleaner and releases less carbon monoxide into the air than propane, pay attention to safety just as with propane. Use a butane heater only in a well-ventilated space and in conjunction with safety features that detect 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 not always viable when camping in the wilderness instead of 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 when placed too close to tent walls or other flammable surfaces or if they fall onto the floor of the tent. When shopping, 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 to produce heat, 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, which 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 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
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 cold-weather camping adventures.
This powerful 1500W ceramic electric space heater by OPOLAR is a quality option that heats even large tents quickly and easily. It features a high and low heat mode, plus a fan to circulate the hot air. This heater has a thermostat to help maintain the desired ambient temperature.
This model automatically shuts off if tipped over or if it begins to overheat. And its quiet operation is a definite plus: The OPOLAR runs at only 50dB, which is equivalent to soft speech or an electric fan.
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 1500W, 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.
This electric heater by AZUKIN boasts an impressive 1-second heating capability that can heat up to a 400-square-foot tent very quickly. Its 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. It also has a safety system that turns off the machine when tipped over or if it gets too hot. At 2.86 pounds, it’s lightweight and compact, making it a practical, portable unit.
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. 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. It heats up to a four-person tent.
The heating coils are encased by a safety aluminum reflector to disperse heat and a metal safety grid to prevent skin contact, and it features an auto shutoff when the pilot light goes out. This heater should be used only in well-ventilated spaces.
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 energy-efficient than other gas-burning heaters on the market. It’s rated at 4,000 BTUs/hour and can heat a large 10-feet-by-12-feet tent efficiently. This machine has a built-in pressure sensor that shuts off when tipped. 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 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 propane or butane gas heater can be a convenient way to keep a tent warm without electricity.