How to Choose the Right Tent Heater
Tent heaters should have excellent safety features. There is no getting around this. Although many tents are coated with a flame-retardant coating, they can still be flammable on some parts. Even if you’re camping in a cold or wet environment, a heater without safety features can always be hazardous. The last thing you want to happen is for your gear or your tent to catch fire with you inside of it. Don’t negotiate with safety features.
The size of your tent heater is going to mostly depend on the size of your tent for a couple of different reasons. For one, you don’t want a heater that is taking up precious space in your tent. Shelters are already compact as it is, and if you have more than one person sleeping in it, that makes space more valuable than gold.
In general, tent heaters are made small for the reason we just stated, but they still come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Make sure you get one that will fit snugly in your tent. If you’re backpacking, make sure you get a size that can fit snugly with your gear.
Don’t mistake the size of the heater for the heat output (which we discuss in a section below). Just because it’s big doesn’t mean it’s automatically suited for a big tent and vice-versa.
Just as heaters come in different sizes, they come in different weights also. The weight of the heater isn’t a big deal if you’re RV camping or car camping. If you’re backpacking, you’ll probably want a smaller, lighter heater.
If you think that heat is heat, think again. The two main types of technology in portable heaters are convection heating (fan-based) and radiant heating. Convection heating, which manufacturers sometimes print as fan heaters on boxes, are excellent for evenly heating a small space for a long time.
Radiant heaters basically “radiate” the heat in one direction and one area. In other words, it will keep that one area nice and toasty, but once you move away from that area, it’s cold (think about sitting in front of a fireplace). Radiant heaters tend to reach much higher temperatures than convection heaters. Both heater types can keep you warm in a tent, but if you have a large tent, a convection heater may be a better choice.
There are three principal power sources for heaters: electric, gas, and battery-operated. Each type of heater has its advantages and disadvantages, making them suitable for different types of camping situations.
Electric heaters tend to be the easiest to deal with. You don’t have to worry about running out of fuel, and they also have the most safety features. However, they also tend to be the most expensive types of heaters. These are great heaters for any camping where you have a source of electricity.
Gas heaters tend to provide the highest heating temperatures. Although they tend to be inexpensive, you’ll probably be investing in a lot of fuel, so they aren’t as economical in the long run. They also don’t have some of the safety features that electric heaters have. These types of heaters are best for frigid environments such as the mountains or the arctic. You’ll also want to make sure your tent has proper ventilation to reduce the smell of gas.
Battery-powered heaters are the most mobile and versatile heaters out of the three types. They can either come with rechargeable batteries, or you may have to purchase batteries to go in them (make sure you buy enough to last the duration of your trip). The disadvantage is that battery-powered heaters aren’t as powerful as the other two types, so these heaters may not be suitable for icy environments.
Depending on what type of heater you have, power consumption may or may not be a big deal. If you have a gas heater, it’s imperative to note the power consumption. As described above, these heaters use a lot of fuel so you’ll need to know how much fuel will last you through your camping trip.
The same goes for battery-operated heaters. You need to know how long the batteries will last and how many batteries you’ll need. The power consumption of electric heaters only becomes an issue if you’re using a generator.
We’ve touched on this a little bit in a few sections above. The heat output of a heater is crucial because you want to make sure it’s going to warm your whole tent, or conversely, you want to make sure it’s not going to over warm your small tent.
The size of the heater doesn’t necessarily dictate the heat output. It’s a combination of fuel source, technology, and quality. Each heater’s instructions will tell you how many square feet the heater will heat, so make sure you know your tent’s size when looking at heat output.
In the case of electric heaters, heat output is given in a measurement called watts. Most portable heaters have a maximum wattage of 1500. In general, the amount of space that can be heated by a heater is going to be the wattage divided by ten. This means a 1500-watt heater is suitable for heating up to 150 square feet. Of course, this is assuming that you’ve hooked the heater up to a standard power source of 120 volts (most are).
For gas heaters, the heat output is measured in BTU’s (British thermal units). Most portable heaters have a maximum BTU rating of 5,100. Like electric heaters, this rating is suitable for heating up to almost 150 square feet.
Warranties are something that tends to get overlooked. Sometimes even the most trusted brands can put out a faulty piece of equipment. You’ll want to make sure your heater comes with a good warranty that is straightforward and easy to use. Don’t be fooled when a manufacturer says, “lifetime warranty.” These usually come with some restrictions (often noted by the word limited in front of lifetime) and you will probably want to know what those restrictions are in advance. Try to aim for at least a one-year warranty.
The Best Tent Heaters – The Results
Honeywell HHF360V: Best Budget Tent HeaterSaleHoneywell HHF360V 360-Degree Fan Forced Surround Heater
- ENERGY EFFICIENT HEAT: Providing 360 all around warmth, this portable…
- EASY TO USE: Delivering enhanced safety features & easily controlled…
- INCREASE YOUR COMFORT: Using portable heaters in your home can help…
- SMART SAVINGS: Portable heaters are a smart and easy way to add warmth to…
- HONEYWELL QUALITY: Help improve heating & energy savings in your home,…
The Honeywell is a great little heater that is round and has 360-degree tip-over protection. This also means that it provides 360-degree heat rather than just having heat radiate from one direction. We also like the fact that it has a stay-cool handle and overheating protection. At 1500 watts, this portable electric heater is an excellent option for heating up just about any tent.
Another feature we were impressed with was the versatility of temperature control. It has a low setting and high setting for temperature and a thermostat to further refine temperature control. This means you’ll be more likely to get your tent at the perfect temperature than others without this feature.
- Dimensions: 8″ x 8″ x 11.5″
- Weight: 3 lbs.
- Power Source: Electric
- Warranty: Limited 3 year
- The heater is made with a stay-cool housing so you can touch it wherever you want.
- It has a good length warranty.
- It has a timer option for automatic shut off.
- It shouldn’t be near the tent’s fabric. It could damage any coating that’s on the inside of the shelter due to the 360-degree heating.
- It’s a noisy heater.Bottom-Line: This is an all-around safe heater with excellent output. It also happens to be in the lower price ranges, so it’s a win-win situation.
Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater
Best Tent HeaterMr. Heater F274830 MH18BRV Big Buddy Grey Indoor-Safe Portable RV Propane Heater (4,000 , 9,000 and 18,000 BTU)
- 4, 000- to 18, 000-BTU radiant heater for spaces up to 450 square feet….
- When operating the heater at altitudes over 7, 000 FT above sea level the…
- Auto shut-off if tipped over, if pilot light goes out, or if detects low…
- Low, medium and high heat level control knob for steady temperatures;…
- THE USE OF UN-AUTHORIZED ACCESSORIES/ATTACHMENTS WITH THIS HEATER ARE…
This is easily one of the most impressive portable heaters we’ve ever seen. The first thing we liked about this portable radiant gas heater is that you adjust it to different BTU ratings starting from 4,000 up to 18,000. This means you could theoretically heat an entire campsite rather than just one tent.
Uniquely, this heater uses all three power types as well as both heater technologies. It is a gas-powered radiant heater, but it also has a built-in optional fan so that you can combine radiant and convection heating. The fan runs by either 4 D-size batteries or by electricity.
This heater has the same safety features as the Honeywell heater, but besides it also has an oxygen depletion system (ODS). Unfortunately, this also means that the heater won’t work at elevation levels of 7,000 feet or more, so it may not be suitable for mountaineering.
- Dimensions: 12″ x 19″
- Weight: 17 lbs.
- Power Source: Gas, Electric, Battery
- Warranty: Limited 1 year
- The versatility of this heater makes it suitable for just about any tent type or size.
- The heater comes in different colors.
- It’s effortless to light the pilot with a single-control start knob.
- At 17 lbs., it’s a large heater.
- It’s restricted in Massachusetts and all of Canada.Bottom-Line: This heater is suitable for any type of general camping situation except for mountaineering/backpacking (because of the weight and size). It’s a bit pricey, but you can’t go wrong with this one.
Mr. Heater Little BuddyMr. Heater F215100 MH4B Little Buddy 3800-BTU Indoor Safe Propane Heater, Medium
- Indoor-safe portable propane heater for rooms up to 95 square feet. THIS…
- Continuous odor-free, 45-degree heating angle. Maximum Elevation (Ft) 7000…
- Simple on/off buttons; uses 1-pound disposable propane cylinder (not…
- Low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off for…
- Recommended for emergency heat, tents, campers, workshops, job sites,…
Okay backpackers, if you liked the Mr. Heater above, but didn’t like the weight and size, this may be the option for you. The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a great, compact version of the Big Buddy and has the same safety features, including the ODS.
The difference is that it has slightly fewer options than the Big Buddy. This one only goes from 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs. It only uses radiant heat and gas for power. It’s suitable for spaces up to 95 square feet. Considering these features, these are perfectly suitable for a backpack camping situation.
- Dimensions: 11″ x 11″
- Weight: 5.8 lbs.
- Power Source: Gas
- Warranty: Limited 1 year
- It has a cool-to-touch, foldable handle for easy carrying and storage.
- The stand is only 8 inches wide, so it uses little floor space.
- There is a version of the Little Buddy that can be used in Massachusetts and Canada.
- Pressing the start button is hard and requires a good bit of strength.
- It can take a long time to light.Bottom-Line: This is a great portable, compact heater for backpack camping, minimalist camping, or survival camping. It’s small with radiant heat, so it’s only suitable for very small tents.
Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane HeaterTexsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater
- Durable Stainless steel burner
- Individual regulator on/off control knob adjusts burner up to 2, 890 BTUs
- Auto shut off valve shuts off Fuel if flame goes out
- Large fold-away paddle foot plastic base for greater stability
- Aluminum reflector with safety grid
If you want a basic heater without all the controls and choices, this is a great choice. It’s basic, but it provides you with a significant amount of heat output for such a small radiant heater. You have one option–how high you want the heat. It adjusts up to 2,890 BTUs and recommended for no more than 85 square feet of space.
This heater is perfect for backpack camping. At a weight of only two pounds and a size of only a few inches long and wide, you’ll barely notice it’s in or on your bag. However, be careful since it does not come with the tip-over safety feature or a proper stand (you’ll have to make/bring your own, or sit the propane cylinder directly on the ground).
- Dimensions: 17.7″ x 16.1″ x 11.2″
- Weight: 2.2 lbs.
- Power Source: Gas
- It provides an outstanding amount of heat for such a small heater.
- It is straightforward to operate.
- It’s very affordable.
- The manufacturer doesn’t provide warranty information upfront.
- It doesn’t come with a base or stand.Bottom-Line: If you’re looking for a simple, cheap heater, this is a great choice.
Comfort Zone CZ707 Personal Heater FanComfort Zone CZ707 1500 Watt Compact Utility Heater, Gray
- ENERGY EFFICIENT: Reduce your heating bills with this safe and durable…
- 3 POWERFUL SETTINGS: Choose from low and high heat settings on this utility…
- ADJUSTABLE THERMOSTAT: It’s easy to find the perfect temperature and take…
- SAFETY FIRST: This portable utility heater is equipped with power and…
- DURABLE AND PORTABLE: The durable stay-cool metal housing and convenient…
This 1500-watt convection heater looks like a tactical piece of equipment, and it also performs like one. Comfort Zone is a company that hasn’t been around very long, but they are quickly making their place in the portable heaters industry by putting out products that meet the strictest safety standards. This means that unlike the Mr. Heater products, they can be used everywhere, including Canada and Massachusetts.
The heater has an additional safety feature that none of the other heaters in the list have–a high limit thermal fuse. This is slightly different than overheating protection–it’s more like a one-time use fuse that blows when something is wrong with the heater that could start a fire. Once this blows, you’ll have to repair the heater before you can use it again.
- Dimensions: 8 x 6 x 6.8″
- Weight: 3 lbs.
- Power Source: Electric
- The heater has a fan-only setting so you can use it without heat if you want.
- The all-metal construction makes it one of the most durable heaters on the market.
- The all-metal construction makes it hot to touch.Bottom-Line: If you’re looking for something to last you a while, this is a perfect choice. It’s great for even large-sized tents.