Best Tent Heater for Cold Weather Camping

If you are in a rush and need to know the best tent heater available, I would recommend the Mr Heater Portable Propane Heater (4-9,000 BTUs).

To help you enjoy more camping trips in spite of cold weather, I have put together some tips to help you pick the best tent heater and reviewed five that I believe rank highest for quality and value. If you are anything like me, you will want to extend your camping excursions into the cooler months, possibly even into the winter season, or perhaps start them earlier in the spring when the snow hasn’t quite melted.  

Best Tent Heaters Reviewed in this Article

green tent in front of pines covered in snow

Finding the Right Camping Heater

Types of Heaters

Camping heaters can be grouped into two classes: gas and electric. 

Gas heaters are heaters that generally run on propane or butane. While butane burns more efficiently than propane, it does not function as well as a fuel in temperatures below freezing. At temperatures well below freezing, you may find that both propane and butane heaters do not light as easily, but this is due to the temperature of the gas. Propane tends to be more dependable in the cold. Additionally, propane is more common, and even though butane will usually be cheaper, I would recommend choosing a propane heater [2]. 

You might also consider buying a kerosene heater, but compared to propane, kerosene will be more expensive and is typically not sold in pressurized form, which makes it harder to store.

Electric camping heaters will be easy to find, but remember that the campsite will need to have a power source. If you plan to car camp, it is possible to use the battery power from your vehicle, but this may require additional equipment such as a power inverter

By the way, what is a BTU?

If you didn’t already know, “BTU” stands for “British Thermal Unit.” In short, a BTU tells you how much heat is produced during a specific amount of time. Without getting into the details, most small space heaters will produce between 2,500 and 5,000 BTUs, which will do the trick for a typical cold-weather camping excursion.

green tent in snow

Design

Stability

Since you will be using the tent heater while camping, you should make sure that the heater will be stable on uneven ground. Most heaters will come with a built in safety switch that turns off the heating mechanism when the heater is tilted or tipped over. I would definitely think twice before purchasing a heater without a safety switch! Still, even with a safety, the tent floor can wrinkle and shift causing the heater to tip, or you might find that you are likely to bump the heater given the confined space. For these reasons, I would suggest you find a heater with a stable base.

Portability

Camping heaters should allow for some degree of portability to and from the campsite. A heavy heater will be cumbersome, and you should take into account the fuel you will have to carry. Of course, an electric heater will not need fuel as long as power is available, but you may need to take an extension cord with you. Or, depending on the duration of your trip, you might need to take several propane canisters so that you have enough. 

Tent heaters should also come with a handle for carrying, or even a carry bag. You will most likely have a lot of other gear with you, so it’s important to plan how you will transport the heater to your campsite. 

Efficiency

The efficiency of a tent heater will come down to two basic concepts of heat transfer: convection and radiation. 

Heaters that radiate only will depend on shape for projecting heat. Some camping heaters are made with concave, aluminum dishes that reflect heat in one direction, similar to a flashlight. Others use a round, exposed shape that radiates heat in 360 degrees. These heaters will not need any moving parts or batteries.

While all heaters will radiate to a small extent, some also employ convection to project their heat. These heaters will usually use a fan to blow heated air throughout the tent. Heaters with fans may be more efficient at spreading warmth, but unfortunately, the fan will require an additional power source, such as a battery or power cord. 

campfire in the winter overlooking a frozen lake

Versatility

The best camping heaters will come with additional features that make the heater more convenient to use. This should go without saying, but you will want to find a heater that offers multiple settings, such as high, medium, and low. Having the ability to adjust the heat setting on your heater will add comfort and control to your camping experience. 

It might also be practical to have a heater that can point in different directions. For a heater with a fan, it should come with the ability to blow at different angles, or have the option to oscillate. For heaters without fans, they should come with the option of projecting up or down, or at differing angles.

Some manufacturers have even designed their heaters with a cool setting, so that they can be used during the summer. 

Safety

No matter which heater you choose, safety should be first priority. Given the close quarters associated with tent camping, it’s of paramount importance that heaters contain certain safety features to prevent fire or toxic air. 

Most heaters come with a safety switch that will turn the heater off automatically if it is tipped from the upright position. This could be a simple button on the bottom, or something more ingenious. 

Some heaters come with the ability to detect oxygen levels, and they will shut off if the oxygen density within the tent is too low. This feature is intended to guard against the accumulation of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide – two byproducts of combustion. If a tent is not properly ventilated, oxygen within the tent will be replaced by one or both of these gases, thus making the air toxic to breathe. Unfortunately, this feature can become counter-productive when camping at high altitudes where the air is naturally thinner. 

Cost

And of course, the price of a tent heater will factor into your purchase. As always, I recommend choosing the product that will provide you with the greatest value. The value of a heater will depend on how and where you intend to use it, as well as on your comfort level with the cold. Whatever your preferences, there are plenty of camping heaters available to meet your needs for a good price. 

person looking out from inside a red tent with feet in the snow

5 of the Best Tent Heaters Reviewed

Mr Heater Portable Propane Heater (4-9,000 BTUs)

Many people have found this heater to be extremely practical for tent camping, with one of the only major complaints being that it has only two heat settings: Hi and Lo. Aside from this, however, users report that this heater is comfortable to carry and not too heavy. The handle fits well in the hand and folds down when not needed.

Also, this heater comes with many safety features, including a shut-off switch when the heater tips over. The manufacturer also incorporated a sensor that detects low oxygen levels, and it is set to turn off at altitudes above 7,000 feet. Many people who have used it like this feature, but some have said that it is too sensitive. And if the pilot light accidentally goes out, the propane will shut off. 

One major downside of this heater is that there is no way to circulate heat, and since heat rises, some users have resorted to using small fans to blow the heat down from the tent peak. Also, a 1 lb. canister of propane will not last a full night if left to burn on low, but this problem can be solved with the adapter extension which is sold separately. Many people have said that they love the swiveling canister connector because it makes hookup so easy. 

This heater produces between 4,000 and 9,000 BTUs, which is more than enough for the average-sized tent.

Pros

  • swivel connection is very useful when attaching a canister
  • adaptor for larger propane tank available but sold separately
  • 4000-9000 BTUs
  • Easy to carry, with folding handle
  • Low-oxygen shut-off sensor
  • Tip shut-off
  • Pilot light shut-off
  • Easy to light and does not require matches

Cons

  • Only two settings
  • no way to circulate heat (heat rises up)
  • 1 lb. canister will not last a whole night
  • Oxygen sensor too sensitive
  • pilot light is exposed and can blow out easily

Mr Heater Portable Little Buddy (3,800 BTUs)

A smaller version of the Mr. Heater Portable Propane Heater, the Little Buddy offers many of the same great features. This heater comes in two pieces: the heating mechanism, which sits on the top of a propane canister, and the base, which slips onto the bottom of a canister for stability. The heater comes with a handle on top, and while it is a convenient feature, some users have reported that the base does not grip the canister well and occasionally falls off when the heater is moved. Additionally, some users have noted how top-heavy the heater can be, especially when the canister is nearly empty. 

Many people like the low oxygen detector, which automatically shuts off the heater if the area is not well-ventilated. Also, since the base is separate from the heating unit, the manufacturer created a switch that shuts-off the heater when it is tipped past 45 degrees from vertical. Customers report that these safety features work extremely well, and in some cases, almost too well, as the heater has been known to shut off just from being bumped or moved. 

Most people agree that the heater lights easily, but in some cases it requires a strong grip or the use of two hands. Unfortunately, it does not come with a fan, and the upward angle of the heater is not adjustable, which tends to make the heat rise faster than if it were pointed straight out. Additionally, the majority of users wish that this heater came with more than one heat setting. However, if you are looking for a cheaper and smaller alternative to the Mr. Heater Buddy, the Little Buddy is a convenient option. 

3800 BTUs

Pros

  • convenient handle for easy carry
  • tip switch, shut-off past 45 degrees
  • “oxygen depletion system”
  • easy to light
  • cheaper than Buddy version

Cons

  • only one heat setting
  • points at an upward angle (non-adjustable)
  • top heavy, especially when porpane canister near empty
  • base could be larger for more stability
  • no way to circulate the heat
  • start button may require two hands to push
  • base does not grip canister

Texsport Sportsmate Portable Propane Heater (3,000 BTUs)

Many people like the Texsport Sportsmate for its convenient, portable design. This heater comes with a stable, paddle-foot base that fits around the bottom of a propane canister, but customers have also commented on the included cup holder adapter, which allows the heater to sit in the cup holder of your ATV, golf-cart, or camping cooler. If you are planning to use this heater outside, windy conditions may cause the flame to blow out, but it will heat a small tent quite well. 

This heater does not come with a fan, but the steel reflector helps to direct heat outward. Some users have reported that this reflector gets extremely hot, so make sure you have plenty of clearance around the heater. As a safety precaution, this heater does have an automatic shut-off valve in case the flame goes out, and a wire grid will prevent most things from making contact with the heat screen. 

People like that this heater is cheaper than much of the competition and simple to use. You will need to bring matches or a lighter to light it, however. It comes with low, medium, and high settings, but some users have reported that it only burns in the high setting. Aside from this being a possible design flaw, it could be the result of the propane being too cold and not flowing as well. For keeping your tent warm in cold weather, this heater offers an affordable option.

3000 BTUs

Pros

  • paddle foot base for extra stability
  • includes cup holder adapter, for placing propane tank in cup holders of atv, golf carts, or even the top of your cooler
  • auto shut-off valve
  • steel reflector
  • wire grid protector
  • cheaper than much of the competition

Cons

  • small and not the best for windy conditions
  • requires matches or lighter
  • steel reflector gets very hot
  • tends to burn only on high setting
  • No tip over switch off

Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater (2,890 BTUs)

A similar heater to the Sportsmate, this heater projects heat well due to the design of the round, aluminum reflector, and the safety grid is designed to keep objects from making contact with the burner. Users have reported that it heats small rooms and tents very well, and it is also good outside. The design of the head helps to protect the flame from wind, but unfortunately, the head is not adjustable and angles upward. 

This heater contains an auto shut-off valve in case the flame goes out, and customers report that the reflector cools off quickly when it is turned off. It does not come with an ignition switch, but requires the use of matches or a lighter. 

The base is stable and includes paddle-shaped feet that can be folded away when not in use. Some users have said that the base does not always fit snug around the propane canister, so it might fall off when you pick it up. Also, the heater does not include a safety switch if it accidentally tips over.

One of the cheapest portable camping heaters available, this heater presents a similar design to the Mr. Heater Little Buddy

2890 BTUs

Pros

  • heat shield cools quickly
  • auto shut-off valve
  • projects a lot of heat

Cons

  • requires matches
  • no tip over switch off
  • not adjustable positions

Trustech Electric 2-in-1 Cooling Fan & Heater (5,000 BTUs)

If you have access to a power outlet, or you don’t mind finding a campsite with a power hookup, this small space heater offers a convenient alternative to gas-fueled heaters. Several customers have commented on how much they like its compact size and built-handle. Additionally, many have noted the stability of the base and the convenience of having adjustable positions. 

This heater comes with an automatic shut-off switch in case the heater overheats or tips over. Many people enjoy using this heater in both the winter and summer, as it comes with both heating and cooling settings, and a fan for circulation. Unfortunately, the heater only has high and low settings, and some users have reported that the high setting could be higher. 

Users have noted that the heater is quiet while running, but it occasionally gives off a bad odor when initially starting up. It comes with a six-foot cord and two-prong plug, and the majority of customers say that it heats a small tent or room quickly and efficiently. As an added bonus, this heater is ETL certified, meaning that it is compliant with published industry standards in North America. 

5000 BTUs/h

Pros

  • heating and cooling settings
  • built in fan for air circulation
  • stable base with three positions
  • built in handle for moving or carrying
  • quiet
  • auto shut-off for overheating
  • auto shut-off when tipped
  • compact size
  • 6 foot cord
  • ETL certified

Cons

  • requires electric power source
  • occasionally has a bad odor when initially turned on
  • only two heat settings, high and low

So that’s it!

If you are still having trouble deciding which heater to choose, I recommend the Mr Heater Portable Propane Heater (4-9,000 BTUs) for its clever engineering, practical design, dependability, and efficiency – all of which come at a great price. And it has a great reputation, to boot!

If you have experience with any other heaters, or want to know more about the ones I have reviewed here, please leave a comment below! You can also check out some of my tips for beginning campers in my post How to Plan a Backpacking Trip. Check it out!

Sources:
  1. “Power inverter.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. October 21, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_inverter
  2. “Propane vs. Butane.” Texas Propane: Propane for All Your Needs. October 8, 2015. http://blog.texaspropane.com/propane-vs-butane/
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