Just because the days have gotten shorter and the temperatures are getting a bit more arctic doesn’t mean you have to pack away your tent and call it a wrap on the summer camping season. While many people choose to stay indoors during the winter months, camping in the spring, fall, and winter can be a great way to enjoy the beauty of nature without the crowds or bugs.
But, when you camp out in the off season, you have to be ready for those colder temperatures. While you can invest in a good sleeping bag and some solid insulating weather jackets, these might not always be enough to keep you warm in the dead of winter. The answer? One of the best camping heaters.
Of course, we understand how tricky it is to find the best heater for tent camping with all of the great options on the market today. So, to help you get started, we've put together the ultimate guide to the best portable camping heaters, complete with reviews of all of the top models and advice on choosing the right one for your needs.
Let’s get started!
3,000 – 9,000 BTU
4,000 – 18,000 BTU
If you spend enough time camping in the off season, at some point, you'll experience a freezing night. While a cold night is nothing to worry about when you’re in the comfort of your own home, when you sleep out under the stars or in a tent, a cold night can be incredibly uncomfortable or even dangerous.
That being said, a winter sleeping bag, four-season tent, and some warm jackets can only do so much. If you really want to get cozy and toasty warm while camping in the winter months, you’ll need a camping heater.
Why do you need a camping heater, you might ask? Well, here are some of the main benefits of having one on your next trip:
Here are our reviews of the best gas and propane heaters:
With the ability to pump out an impressive 4,000 – 9,000 BTU of thermal energy, the Mr. Heater F232000 Buddy is out top pick for the best camping heater around. Designed specifically for use both indoors and outdoors, the Mr. Heater Buddy is one of the most versatile camping heaters in our line up.
The Mr. Heater Buddy even comes chock full of safety features, such as an auto shut off function if the device gets tipped over. Or, if the pilot light goes out, the Mr. Heater Buddy will automatically shut off to protect you from dangerous gas fumes.
When connected to a standard 1 pound propane tank, the Mr. Heater Buddy can run for three hours at the maximum BTU output, so it's pretty darn efficient. Plus, it has a fold-down handle for easy transport between your car and your tent.
Oh, and with a built-in Piezo igniter and two heat settings, it’s easy to get the Mr. Heater Buddy up and running to warm your tent in no time flat, which is why it’s our top pick as the best heater for car camping.
If you won’t settle for anything other than a super toasty tent at night, the Mr. Heater Big Buddy is your go-to camping heater. As one of the best heaters for car camping, the Mr. Heater Big Buddy can put out an impressive 4,000 to 18,000 BTUs and is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.
One of the best parts about the Mr. Heater Big Buddy is that the device is easily customizable to meet your heating needs. With three different heat levels – high, medium, and low – you can be more efficient with your fuel use by heating your tent up only to your desired comfort level.
No good tent heater would be complete without a plethora of safety features, however, and the Mr. Heater Big Buddy doesn’t let us down in this regard. With an auto shut off system that cuts out the heat if the device is tipped over or detects low oxygen levels in your tent, you can enjoy your camping trip without worrying about your heater.
An easy-carry handle makes transporting the hefty Big Buddy a breeze, too, while a built-in blower fan helps circulate heat around your tent. The Mr. Heater Big Buddy even has a built-in Piezo ignitor and a heavy-duty safety wire guard for durability and protection. What's not to love?
Small and compact, the Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater is a no-frills warmth machine that’s designed for use outdoors. One of the best portable camping heaters around, this device from Texsport is made out of durable stainless steel so it can come along on all of your adventures.
The heater itself has an on/off control knob and can provide warmth with up to nearly 3,000 BTUs, which is pretty impressive when you consider the device’s small size. An auto shut off the valve immediately turns off the gas supply if the flame goes out to protect you from dangerous carbon monoxide build-up.
Plus, the Texport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater has an oversized plastic base to help increase the device’s stability in the backcountry. With a steel reflector and safety grid, as well as a steel carry handle, this heater is ready for whatever life throws at it.
If you want all the benefits of a propane camping heater without the dangers of an open flame, the Camco Olympian Wave-3 just might be for you. The Camco Olympian Wave-3 is one of the best catalytic heaters for camping thanks to its simple design and effective heating power.
This heater can be adjusted to provide anywhere from 1,600 to 3,000 BTU, which makes it great for use in your tent. The device’s wave heaters are highly effective while maintaining relatively portable for camping purposes.
The Camco Olympian Wave-3 has a safety shut-off valve that stops fuel from leaking through when the device isn’t producing heat to protect you from dangerous chemicals. Plus, the Camco Olympian Wave-3’s Piezo electric sparker can last for up to 20,000 uses, so you don’t have to worry about durability with this heater.
Built to pump out lots of heat in a tiny package, the Mr. Heater Little Buddy wins our award as the best portable camping heater. The Little Buddy is designed to warm up areas up to 95 square feet in area, which is perfect for even the largest of tents.
With a 45 degree heating angle and up to 3,800 BTU courtesy of an easily attachable 1 pound propane tank, the Little Buddy can keep you warm without taking up the whole tent. Perfect for warming small spaces, the Little Buddy has an integrated handle that’s awesome for transporting as well as an 8-inch diameter that can fit in the smallest of spaces.
Oh, and with a single button, the Little Buddy’s integrated Piezo lighter can quickly start the heater, so you don't have to wait for warmth. If that wasn't enough, the Mr. Heater Little buddy has a plethora of safety features, such as an accidental tip-over shut off sensor and automatic low oxygen shut off system, so you don’t have to worry about your heater while camping.
The Martin Portable Gas Catalytic Heater is an excellent option for anyone that needs flameless heat in a small package. As the best catalytic portable heater for camping, this device from Martin can produce up to 3,000 BTU of warmth with ease for up to seven hours on just a single one pound propane canister.
The catalytic heating technology in this heater is some of the most advanced on the market today, offering super-efficient warmth with minimal effort. The best part about the Martin Portable Gas Catalytic Heater? It’s so small and compact you can use it anywhere.
Perfect for small tents where you want a bit of extra heat without the hassle of a traditional gas heater, the Martin Portable Gas Catalytic Heater is a great way to stay warm during those colder winter months.
Here are our reviews of the best electric heaters:
When it comes to warming up a tent on a cold winter night, there aren’t many better options than the Andily Space Heater. The best electric heater in our review, this compact space heater comes with three heating modes – high (1500 watts), low (750 watts), and fan only.
The Andily Space Heater features a ceramic heating element, which quickly heats up to provide you with maximum comfort in the winter months. Plus, this heater has a thermostat setting that allows you to set a given temperature for your environment, eliminating the need to finagle with the controls constantly.
If that wasn’t enough, the Andily Space Heater even has an automatic overheating control system that’s designed to shut off whenever the unit is in danger of overheating. The device also has an automatic tip-over switch that shuts it off if the heater gets knocked over to protect you from burns, which helps make it our choice as the best electric heater for tent camping.
If you just can’t wait for warmth while camping, the Portable Ceramic Space Heater might be for you. This compact electric heater can pump out 1500 watts of heat with three easy-to-control settings: high, low, and fan only. Plus, the Portable Ceramic Space Heater has a built-in thermostat to make it easy to customize your tent’s warmth to your individual needs.
The best part about the Portable Ceramic Space Heater? It features a 90-degree oscillating mechanism to allow you to easily heat an entire space evenly, without cold spots. The Portable Ceramic Space Heater even has safety precautions built-in, with overheating and tip-over automatic switch-off functions for your protection.
Thanks to the Portable Ceramic Space Heater’s integrated carry handles, it’s easy to take with you on your next camping trip. With a design this awesome, it’s hard to find a reason not to take the Portable Ceramic Heater with you into the woods.
Easily the smallest and most compact heater in our review, the Brightown Ceramic Space Heater is an excellent option for anyone that just needs a hint of extra warmth during the colder months. This miniature-sized electric ceramic space heater is awesome for heating a small amount of personal space, especially on cool mornings, where you just need that little extra encouragement to get you out of your sleeping bag.
At just over a pound in weight, the Brightown Ceramic Space Heater is small and compact enough for any journey. Plus, it’s super quiet and has an automatic shut off function if it gets tipped over.
At just 250 watts, this heater isn’t exactly a warming superhero, but it does get the job done in an energy efficient manner. It’s also super affordable, so it’s a great piece of gear to pack with you in the shoulder seasons.
Although camping heaters are, for the most part, pretty simple to use, they’re not exactly the easiest thing to buy, especially if you’re picky about quality When it comes to selecting the right camping heater, there are quite a few things you ought to look out for. Here’s what to keep in mind:
Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice when buying a camping heater is that there are many different kinds of fuel sources for these devices. This might seem like a minor aspect of a camping heater, but the type of fuel that your device uses can have a huge impact on your experience on a cold night.
In the world of camping heaters, we can split up the fuel types into two distinct categories: electricity and propane/gas.
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As the name suggests, electric camping heaters run on, well, electricity. The main advantage of an electric heater is that it has no open flame, which helps reduce the risk of a fire in a tent. Of course, it’s still possible for an electric heater to start a fire, but it’s much less likely than it would be with a heater with an open flame. But, electric heaters are known to be less reliable than gas heaters, especially if you’re using a battery-powered model as these can run out on longer trips.
The simplest version of an electric camping heater is a corded model that you can plug into an outlet at a campground. These corded indoor heaters are ideal for RV camping, where you have hookups to electricity and outlets inside your RV, but are less practical for those of us who like to sleep in tents.
Alternatively, you can get a battery-operated electric heater that has its own power built-in to the device. This means you can take it with you even if you’re going to a campground that doesn’t have hookups, which is the bulk standard for tent sites. Battery-operated heaters tend to be very small and portable, too, which is ideal for tent campers.
However, as you can imagine, battery-operated electric heaters can only run for so long before they run out of juice. Thus, they’re best used on shorter overnight trips, as opposed to a longer multi-day adventure.
If you’re not using an electric campaign heater on your camping trip, the chances are high that you’re using a propane heater. As you might imagine, propane heaters run on pressurized gas, which means they can pump out a lot of heat relatively easily.
In general, propane heaters are widely considered to be the most reliable of the camping heaters because, so long as you have enough propane tanks, you shouldn’t have a problem staying warm at night. As we’ve previously mentioned, however, propane heaters have a major downside, and that’s the fact that they have an open flame, which is what produces heat.
If you’re careful, the open flame of a propane camping heater is no problem, but carelessness can easily spell disaster. Our advice? If you’re going to choose a propane camping heater, just be sure you follow all of the manufacturer’s guidelines and that you stay extra vigilant to prevent it from tipping over or causing a fire.
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If you spend enough time searching for the best camping heater, at some point, you’ll come across the term “catalytic heater.” If you’re confused by this phrase, you’re not alone. Many a camping enthusiast has heard the term catalytic heater and walked away without knowing what they were even looking at.
Simply put, a catalytic heater is a flame-less heat source that uses a catalyzed chemical reaction to produce heat. When you combine a catalyst, gas, and oxygen in the same space, they can actually ignite at an incredibly low temperature, so no flame is needed. The heat production simply continues until there isn’t enough oxygen or fuel in the mixture.
The main advantage of a catalytic heater is that there is no flame. This helps severely reduce the likelihood of a fire, which is ideal. However, the main danger of a catalytic heater is that a gas leakage could cause harmful health effects or even death due to carbon monoxide poisoning, so care is needed to ensure that the heater doesn't tip over or start leaking fuel.
After you determine what kind of fuel source you want for your camping heater, it’s time to figure out how much heat a given device pumps out. While a camping heater might look nice and fancy, if it doesn’t produce a lot of heat, it’s sort of useless.
For the most part, camping heaters measure their heat output in terms of BTUs, or British Thermal Units. If you have no idea what a BTU is, then you’re on par with most other people, so not to worry. Basically, a BTU is the amount of energy that’s needed to raise the temperature of a pound (lb) of water from 39 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
That might seem oddly specific, but we, unfortunately, don’t get to decide units of measure around here. It’s worth noting, however, that BTU is a relatively small amount of heat. For example, in 2018, the United States used 101.3 quadrillion BTUs of energy to heat their homes. A quadrillion is a one followed by 15 zeros. That's a lot of BTUs.
Thankfully, if you’re just looking to heat up a tent at night, you don’t actually need that many BTUs. Due to the small size of a tent, a camping heater with 1,000 to 5,000 BTUs is usually more than enough.
Alternatively, if you want to get an electric tent heater, you’ll have to check out each individual model’s wattage. Unlike gas-powered heaters, electric tent heaters express their heat output in terms of watts, with the standard for smaller heaters being around 1,5000 watts.
Of course, if you tend to get very cold, you can look into more powerful heaters for your next trip. Plus, many of the best portable heaters allow you to adjust their temperatures, and, thus, their BTU or wattage output, so you can customize your camping experience.
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No one wants to spend their hard-earned money on a camping heater only to have it fall apart after a few days of use. Thus, durability is always of the utmost concern when shopping for a camping heater.
That being said, it can be difficult to judge a camping heater’s durability just from looking at the packaging. This is why choosing a camping heater from a reputable brand, even if it means spending a bit more money, is worth it in the long run.
When you’re tent camping, you don’t have oodles of room. Thus, you need to ensure that you get a camping heater that’s not too terribly large, so it doesn’t take up too much space in your tent at night. Plus, the larger the camping heater, the harder it is to pack into a car, so it’s nice to look for something a bit more portable.
Thankfully, there are plenty of smaller camping heater models out there, with some being incredibly portable. Of course, the smaller the heater, the less amount of heat it can pump out, but if you have a small enough tent, this might not really make much of a difference.
While we would all love to buy gear without worrying about our bank accounts, the reality is that many of us have a budget to work with, so we need to be conscientious about the price of our camping heaters. The good news is that there are plenty of affordable camping heaters out there. Just keep in mind that the cheaper the heater, the less heat it can pump out, and the more likely you are to have durability issues, so we recommend mid-range products at a minimum.
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At this point, you probably understand that camping heaters, while awesome, can be a safety risk. Especially if you use a heater with an open flame, you have a high risk of a fire inside your tent (not good). Alternatively, you can have a dangerous gas leak or even melt some of your synthetic nylon gear by leaving it too close to a heater.
So, before you head out into the woods for your next winter camping trip, here are some tent heater safety tips:
While there are plenty of space heaters available in today’s market, only some of them are actually labeled for use inside a tent. Fittingly, these are called “tent-safe” heaters or will be rated as an indoor heater for use inside a small, enclosed area.
Although you may be tempted to get a different heater, likely due to its lower price, outdoor heaters and those not rated for use inside a small area can be dangerous on a camping trip. Our tip? Check out top brands, like Mr. Heater and Coleman, who put their heaters through rigorous safety testing in small spaces to ensure that they’re good for use in your tent.
Although technically electric heaters are less efficient than propane heaters when it comes to actual fuel consumption, electric heaters are generally safer for use in a tent than a propane model. Since electric heaters don’t have an open flame, they are less of a fire hazard inside a tent. Of course, you can certainly still start a fire with an electric camping heater, but it’s less likely.
Whenever possible, if you choose to go with a gas-powered heater, it’s best to opt for a catalytic heater. Since catalytic heaters don’t have an open flame, you’re less likely to start a fire in your tent. However, catalytic heaters and regular propane heaters can both leak gas, so you’ll need to be cautious when using them.
If you’re going to use a gas-powered heater, it’s a good idea to bring a small carbon monoxide alarm with you. These devices are relatively inexpensive, small, and lightweight. Plus, they’re designed to save your life during a gas leak. So, get a carbon monoxide alarm and place it near your heater while camping.
All heaters can get very hot when they’re on (that’s the point!), so you need to use them carefully to avoid burning yourself, melting your gear, or causing a fire. The trick? Proper positioning.
The best place to put your heater is on a very flat surface inside your tent, where you can’t tip it over. It’s a good idea to place a camping heater on top of a baking pan to protect the floor of your tent from melting and to give your heater a nice, stable platform.
The best heaters will come with a variety of safety features that are designed to protect you if something should go wrong. The most popular safety feature is an automatic turn-off sensor that cuts off the energy source to the heater if it tips over.
This is a great added safety feature, but it’s essential to keep in mind that when a heater tips over, the front of it is still very hot, so it can still burn you or melt your gear. So, while these safety features are pretty awesome, don’t let them be a reason to slack off on properly positioning your device.
Especially if you’re going to use a gas-powered heater inside your tent, you need to ensure that your living space is exceptionally well ventilated. As we’ve mentioned, these heaters can accidentally leak gas, which can expose you to the toxic fumes of carbon monoxide with no warning.
While a carbon monoxide alarm is a good back up safety system, keeping your tent well-ventilated will reduce the likelihood of this happening in the first place. Plus, it helps prevent condensation from building up in your tent and getting your sleeping bag all wet, which is never fun.
While many people think that they can keep their tent heater running at night, it’s not a great idea. Since an unattended tent heater can easily tip over, start a fire, or leak gas, it seems like too much of a gamble to leave one running while you sleep.
A better idea is to run your tent heater for thirty minutes or so before you go to bed. If you're already cozied up in your sleeping bag, you can use that time to read and enjoy some quiet time before turning the heater off and going to sleep. Then, when you wake up in the morning, you can turn it on for a bit before getting out of your sleeping bag, so your tent is toasty warm.
Setting up a tent heater is all about finding the right place in your tent for it to pump out the maximum amount of warmth. Generally, you want to look for a very flat place, so there’s little risk of the tent heater tipping over. Placing a tent heater on a baking tray can help provide some extra sturdiness to the device to help keep it upright.
Then you’ll want to ensure that your tent is well ventilated, so there’s enough airflow to prevent any dangerous gas build-up. Once that’s ensured, you can go ahead and turn on your tent heater and enjoy the warmth!
At the end of the day, you’re probably only going to bring one camping heater with you on your next trip. If we had to choose just one of these great heaters in our review to bring with us into the woods in the winter, we’d have to choose the Mr. Heater Buddy F232000 for its great combination of value, heat output, and portability. What’s not to love?
Since the age of 10, Tim, a writer at Outdoor With J, has enjoyed camping in the great outdoors. Although he loves the peace and quiet of the outdoors, he also likes his creature comforts. Tim’s mission is to make camping a fun and comfortable experience for all. You can find more about him here
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