The Best RV Heaters for Winter Camping in 2020

If you go winter RV camping on a regular basis, an RV heater is a wise investment.

Of course, most RVs have a built-in furnace, but an electric or propane space heater supplements that heat (or acts as an emergency backup), especially when camping in very cold weather. Or, maybe, you prefer to run a portable heater as your sole way of heating your RV while boondocking.

Whatever your reasoning behind adding a portable heater to your RV camping checklist, know that not all models perform the same. It’s important to buy a heater for your RV that best suits your individual RV camping needs.

Here’s exactly what you need to know to buy the best RV heater for cold weather camping.

Index

  1. Best RV Heaters
  2. Types of RV Heaters
  3. RV Heater Buyer’s Guide
  4. Safety Tips
  5. RV Heater Alternatives

The Best RV Heaters for 2020

After reviewing a wide selection of the best portable RV heaters, we’ve rounded down your options to just 7 of the very best. Our choices reflect each model’s ease of use, heat output, efficiency, portability, and durability.

Here are our choices for the 7 best RV heaters for 2020:

1.     Mr. Heater Portable Buddy

Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater

$127.00  in stock
Buy Now
Rei.com
as of December 5, 2019 10:32 pm

The Portable Buddy is the mid-level offering from Mr. Heater, perhaps our favorite portable propane heater manufacturer.

This heater is one of the most popular options to use in RVs and campers as well as tents, shops, garages, and pretty much anywhere else you need to heat.

The Portable Buddy is relatively lightweight at just over 10 pounds. A built-in handle makes it easy to transport. It runs off propane and has a heat output of 4,000 BTUs to 9,000 BTUs, depending on the setting. It’s quite efficient and is capable of heating spaces around 225 square feet. It has an automatic tip-over shut-off switch and an oxygen depletion sensor.

What We Like:

  • Almost 100% Efficient
  • High Heat Output (Up to 9,000 BTUs)
  • Built-In Safety Features

What We Don’t Like:

  • Only Two Heat Settings (High & Low)

2.     Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater

Lasko Ceramic Space Heater

$27.99  in stock
14 new from $27.99
Free shipping
Buy Now
Amazon.com
as of December 11, 2019 7:34 pm

This Lasko portable heater is our top-ranked electric heater for RV camping.

Not only is this RV heater extremely portable thanks to its lightweight and compact design, but it’s also very efficient. It weighs just 3.5 pounds total.  

The Lasko 754200 is notable for its 1,500-watt ceramic element. It boasts 11 different heat settings to achieve the exact temperature you prefer. Plus, the 3 fan settings enable you to better fine-tune the heating action. It comes with built-in safety features like a cool-touch exterior and overheat protection.

What We Like:

  • Lightweight
  • 11 Heat Settings (+ 3 Fan Settings)
  • Heats Very Quickly

What We Don’t Like:

  • No Tip-Over Safety Switch

3.     Mr. Heater Little Buddy

Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater

$89.00  in stock
Buy Now
Rei.com
as of December 5, 2019 10:32 pm

The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a powerful portable heater in a small package.

The propane-powered heater is ideal for RVs thanks to its small size, efficient heating, and multiple built-in safety features.

The Little Buddy produces 3,800 BTUs and has a single heat setting. Although we prefer higher heat output and more adjustability, this is more than enough for radiant heat. This Mr. Heater device has a built-in oxygen depletion sensor and automatic tip-over shut-off switch. It weighs just 5.85 pounds (not including the required propane canister).

What We Like:

  • Lightweight
  • Simple Design
  • Built-In Safety Features

What We Don’t Like:

  • Not as Powerful as Other Propane Heaters

4.     Camco Olympian Wave 8 Catalytic Heater

Camco Olympian Wave 8 Catalytic Heater

$319.49  in stock
21 new from $319.49
4 used from $293.93
Free shipping
Buy Now
Amazon.com
as of December 11, 2019 7:34 pm

Camco does it yet again with another fantastic catalytic heater in the Camco 57351 Olympian Wave 8 Catalytic Heater.

This RV heater is unique in that it can be used as a portable space heater. Or, you can install it on a wall or cabinet in your RV for more permanent usage.

Do note that wave heaters, like this one, require low pressure gas to operate. Incredible efficiency (around 99.9% fuel efficiency) makes this one of the most cost-effective options available now. The Camco Olympian is also notable for its fully adjustable heat settings with a maximum 8,000 BTUs per hour. It comes with an automatic safety shut-off valve.

What We Like:

  • Extremely Efficient  
  • Can Be Portable or Wall-Mounted
  • Nearly Silent Operation

What We Don’t Like:

  • Expensive

5.     Mr. Heater Big Buddy

Mr. Heater Big Buddy Heater

$130.31  in stock
1 new from $130.31
2 used from $119.89
Free shipping
Buy Now
Amazon.com
as of December 11, 2019 7:34 pm

The Big Buddy is Mr. Heater’s largest and most powerful offering when it comes to RV propane heaters.

At just 16.7 pounds (not including the propane canister), this propane heater is actually quite small while still packing a big punch. Its maximum heat output is 18,000 BTUs per hour, although it does have two additional lower settings (4,000 BTUs on low and 9,000 BTUs on medium).

The Mr. Heater Big Buddy is one of the safest heaters for RVing. It has an automatic tip-over shut-off switch and oxygen depletion sensor. Of course, as a propane heater, it’s important to properly ventilate your RV while it’s in use. This heater is designed to heat spaces up to 450 square feet so rest assured that it will keep your RV toasty warm.

What We Like:

  • High Heat Output
  • Three Heat Settings
  • Built-In Safety Features

What We Don’t Like:

  • Not as Adjustable as Other Models

6.     Dr. Infrared Portable Space Heater

Dr Infrared Heater Portable Space Heater

$109.99  in stock
10 new from $99.99
12 used from $101.19
Free shipping
Buy Now
Amazon.com
as of December 11, 2019 7:34 pm

The Dr. Infrared Portable Space Heater is an efficient RV heater in a stylish package.

This electric heater is unique in that it utilizes infrared heat. Basically, this type of heat warms objects instead of the air surrounding it. Notable about this style of heating is that the heater itself doesn’t get hot or even warm except for the small fan section. Thanks to this and the sturdy design, this is one of the best RV heaters for those with children or pets.

This Dr. Infrared heater is also unique because it comes with a built-in thermostat. Simply put, you’re able to set the heater to keep your RV at a specific temperature. Most other heaters for RVs don’t have this function. This heater produces a maximum 1,500 watts but is fully adjustable for heating at lower temperatures.

What We Like:

  • Fully Adjustable
  • Built-In Thermostat
  • Safe, Sturdy Design

What We Don’t Like:

  • Takes Up More Space Than Other Models

7.     DeLonghi Radiator Space Heater

DeLonghi Oil-Filled Radiator Heater

$98.00  in stock
3 new from $98.00
Free shipping
Buy Now
Amazon.com
as of December 11, 2019 7:34 pm

DeLonghi sells an extensive line of radiator space heaters but their TRH0715 is one of the best for RVing.

This oil-filled radiator heater is efficient. Of course, it’s powerful too. It has a high maximum heat output of 5,120 BTUs thanks to its 1,500 watts of power. It’s fully adjustable to achieve the exact temperature you prefer in your RV.

As one of the best heaters for RVs, the heater is relatively compact. Several built-in safety features like a thermal shutoff and antifreeze setting give you peace of mind. The heater is designed for spaces up to 250 square feet.

What We Like:

  • 1,500-Watts
  • Multiple Heat Settings
  • Adjustable Thermostat

What We Don’t Like:

  • Relatively Noisy Operation

Types of RV Heaters

Portable Space Heater

Other than built-in heaters, like RV furnaces, you have two main types of portable models to choose from: electric heaters and propane heaters. Here’s the low-down on each type:

Electric Space Heater

An electric space heater requires electricity from your RV to run. Several types are available, including ceramic heaters, infrared heaters, and oil-filled heaters.

Although electric RV heaters require you to be connected to shore power, run off your battery, or have another power source, they are easy to use and effective. They are great when you’re at an RV park or a campground with electric hookups, but fall somewhat short when it comes to barebones camping, such as boondocking.  

Propane Space Heater

Gas-powered space heaters usually run on propane. These propane RV heaters are quite efficient. In fact, they’re often cheaper to run than electric heaters. The catch is that you need a steady supply of propane to run them.

Other than the need to resupply fuel, the main gripe people have with propane heaters are potential safety issues. However, the best indoor models are quite safe to use, especially when coupled with ventilation (crack a window) and a carbon monoxide detector. Propane RV heaters are typically your best bet if dry camping is your forte.


RV Heater Buyer’s Guide

RV in Redwoods

There isn’t a single RV heater that’s best for everyone. Instead, the best model for you depends on your individual needs and preferences. Here are a few of the most important considerations:

Type of RV

Consider the size and type of RV you own before buying an RV heater. Naturally, a larger RV requires a more powerful heater (unless you only want to heat a closed off space). Also, think about your RV’s pre-installed furnace or heater. For example, some trailers, like pop-up campers, don’t come with any built-in heating source whatsoever.

Expected Weather

RV camping in very cold weather warrants a more robust heater. This is especially true if you’re staying somewhere without shore power. For cold-weather boondocking, a powerful emergency heater is a must. Camping in milder weather, however, might only require a small RV heater with an equally small heat output.

Style of Camping

As mentioned above, a big consideration when buying an RV heater is if you usually camp with or without RV hookups. Having utilities close at hand makes an RV electric heater a more practical choice while many dry campers prefer a fuel-powered portable heater instead.

Comfort Level

How warm do you like it, anyways? If you love to be toasty warm inside your RV, a more powerful heater is a must. If you just want to stave off the chill and are fine throwing on a sweater and wrapping a blanket around your legs, you probably don’t need something quite as powerful.

Your Budget

Quality RV heaters range in price for as little as $25 to well over $100. Not only should you shop for a heater within your budget, but you should make sure that this heater is powerful enough for your needs. Don’t buy a heater just because it’s cheap if it’s not the right model for you!


How to Safely Use an RV Heater

RV Camping in Snow

Both propane heaters and electric heaters can be safely used inside your RV. But it’s essential to use them correctly and safely to prevent dangerous accidents. Both types of RV heaters can be dangerous if used incorrectly.

Here are the most important RV heater safety tips:

1.     Buy a Model with Safety Features

The best RV heaters come with built-in safety features. Most important is an automatic tip-over shut-off switch. Other common safety features include a pressure-sensing shut-off switch, oxygen depletion sensor, and high-limit shut-off switch.

2.     Keep Flammable Items Away

Ensure that your heater is well away from flammable objects. Take care not to let the heater touch blankets, clothing, and other hazardous objects, whether your heater is electric or propane.

3.     Place on a Sturdy Surface

Always place your RV heater on a flat, stable surface to reduce the chances of tipping. And, never use your space heater while the vehicle is in motion.

4.     Be Cautious Around Children and Pets

Keep an eye on children and pets while the heater is in use. This limits the possibility that the heater will be knocked over while in use. And, if it is knocked over, you’ll be quicker to place it back upright.

5.     Don’t Use at Night

Personally, I prefer not to use space heaters in my RV overnight. Although many electric and propane models are safe for overnight use, I prefer to use them to heat my space before bedtime then curl up in a warm blanket through the night. Then I turn the heater back on to reheat the space in the morning.

6.     Use Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Maintain the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your RV. These devices are pivotal to keeping you safe while using an RV heater. Check the batteries and test your detectors regularly.

7.     Never Use a Damaged RV Heater

It’s better to spend a night in the cold than risk a fire. Damaged heaters, especially electric models with frayed cords, are apt to start a fire. Never use a damaged RV heater. Buy a new model or repair the broken device first.  


RV Heater Alternatives

Couple Wrapped in Blanket Outdoors

A portable space heater is not always the best way to heat an RV in winter. Other effective options include:

Factory Heater

Most RVs come with a factory-installed heater. Depending on the model, this can be an effective way to heat your RV.

  • Direct Discharge – Most common in older RVs, this type of RV furnace blows hot air directly from the faceplate.
  • Ducted Discharge – Increasingly common on newer RVs, this type of RV furnace blows air through ducts on the walls or ceilings of the RV rather than through the unit itself.  

Many RV furnaces use a combination of electricity and propane to run. You often must be plugged in to utilities hookups to use these effectively.

Of course, it is possible to run your RV furnace for short periods of time while dry camping by relying on your battery system and propane fuel reserves. Another option is to invest in a portable power station (such as a generator) or solar panels for RV camping.

RV Share has an excellent guide on how to replace an RV furnace.

RV Wood Stove

Wood stoves are increasingly popular in RVs and trailers. Despite the fact that they use a wood-burning fire to heat your RV, the newest models are extremely safe. Although installation can be a little tricky, it really doesn’t get much better than listening to a wood stove crackle as your RV stays toasty warm in even the coldest weather. The Kimberly Wood Stove is one of the best wood stoves for RVs and other small spaces.

Electric Blanket

Sure, it’s not actually an RV heater, but an electric blanket is an effective way to stay warm in your RV this winter. Use yours to supplement the heat from your RV furnace or your RV heater on the coldest nights. Of course, regular old blankets, extra layers, and other winter camping hacks will also help you stay warmer. 


What Do You Think?

Now that you know my favorite RV heaters for winter camping, I want to turn things over to you for a moment…

How do you keep your RV warm in cold weather? Does your strategy differ when staying at a campground with hookups versus dry camping? Do you currently own a portable RV heater or do you rely fully on your built-in RV furnace?

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

1 COMMENT

  1. Totally agree to be prepared to augment the RV heater with a portable heater.

    My wife and I rented a renovated Airstream located on a ranch in Dallas, TX area last January. While there wasn’t snow, it was in the low 30s.

    The first night, we only had the internal heater and about froze. The next day, we found out the fake fireplace had a heater that we could turn on.

    It was much warmer.

    If you’re going to RV camp in the winter, I’d definitely look into getting an extra heater as a backup.

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