The Best Tent Heaters for Winter Camping

A tent heater will help keep you warm while winter camping.

Although a quality winter camping tent and cold-weather sleeping bag are most important, sometimes they’re just not enough for the most frigid camping conditions.

If you’re struggling to stay warm, then a tent heater needs to be next on your list of winter camping gear.

Designed specifically for use inside of tents, the best tent heaters are efficient, completely portable, and safe to use in a confined space.

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

Index

  1. Benefits 
  2. Best Tent Heaters
  3. Buying Guide
  4. How to Use
  5. Alternative Options

Why You Need a Tent Heater

A lot of campers fail to even consider a tent heater when camping in the winter.

They’ll invest hundreds of dollars in a quality 4-season tent, temperature-appropriate winter sleeping bag, and well-insulated winter hiking boots. They’ll pack long underwear, a warm jacket, wool socks, gloves, and a beanie. But they fail to consider an additional heating source.

Here are the top benefits of a tent heater:

1.     Keep You Warm

The main benefit of a tent heater is obvious: it adds extra warmth.

Unlike a sleeping bag which simply provides extra warmth through insulation, a camping heater actually generates its own heat, enough to efficiently warm a 200 to 400 square foot area (much larger than a camping tent).

Better yet, you can usually control the heating output to easily adjust the temperature (/heat output).

2.     Lightweight & Portable

The best winter camping heaters are actually portable heaters.

They’re designed with easy transportation in mind. Not only are they cordless (typically battery-powered electric or propane), but they are lightweight and many come with a built-in carry handle.

Although the majority of winter tent heaters are still too heavy/bulky for use as a backpacking heater, they’re a great option for most other campers.

3.     Safe & Efficient

The best tent heaters have built-in safety features.

Most common are wire guards, overheating protection, a tip-over switch (automatically turns the heater off if it tips over), and an automatic cut-off. Some propane models also include a built-in carbon monoxide/dioxide detector.

The best tent heaters are also very efficient. They provide plenty of heat without a large drain on the fuel source.

However, not every winter camper needs a tent heater.

For example, most backpackers and mountaineers don’t want to pack the extra weight. Or maybe your winters are mild enough where extra sleeping clothes and a temperature-appropriate sleeping bag provide more than enough warmth.

But for campers that aren’t concerned with a little extra weight, a tent heater is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Heck, you don’t have to only use your tent heater in the winter. I bring mine along to use in the spring and fall as well.

Anytime the temperatures dip, even just slightly, the option of firing up your tent heater for a little additional warmth is much appreciated, in my opinion.

Best Tent Heater Reviews

There are dozens of tent heaters on the market. The sheer number of options can be overwhelming.

To make the selection process easier for you, we’ve done some of the legwork ourselves by reviewing some of the best tent heaters on the market to narrow down your options to only the very best of the best.

Here are five of the best tent heaters for winter camping:

1.     Best Overall: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater comes out on top in our ranking of the best portable heaters for camping.

Not only is Mr. Heater a reputable brand with a long history of creating top-quality products, but this particular model clocks in at a very reasonable price point.

The Portable Buddy Heater uses propane to radiant between 4,000 and 9,000 BTUs per hour, more than enough to stay warm while camping. You can even buy a hose to attach it to a larger propane canister.

This model is reasonably lightweight at just over 10 pounds. It comes with a built-in carry handle to make transportation and portability even more convenient.

Most importantly, this tent heater is very safe. It has a built-in oxygen depletion sensor and an automatic tip-over shutoff switch.

What We Like:

  • Multiple safety sensors
  • Produces between 4,000 and 9,000 BTUs
  • Durable, efficient, and convenient

What We Don’t Like:

  • No high-limit safety turnoff switch

2.     Best Butane: Tooluze Butane Camping Heater

The Tooluze Butane Camping Heater favors butane over propane as a fuel source.

It boasts an ultra-portable design, a number of built-in safety features, and a powerful heating element that will heat your tent in minutes.

This camping heater is notable for its overall heating efficiency. It utilizes a ceramic burner and butane fuel for 100 grams per hour of gas consumption.

Among this model’s many safety features is a pressure sensing safety shutoff switch. It also has a CE certificate for safety.

This tent heater weighs a hair over 5 pounds. It comes with a built-in carry handle. It’s capable of producing around 3,000 BTUs of heat.

What We Like:

  • Efficient heating
  • Produces around 3,000 BTUs
  • Built-in safety features

What We Don’t Like:

  • Struggles in very cold (below freezing) temperatures

3.     Best on a Budget: Mr. Heater Little Buddy

The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a small, lightweight tent heater that’s not only affordable at less than $100, but will last for years on end.

As one of the best tent heaters for winter camping, this model is notable for its seamless efficiency in even the coldest conditions. It starts up even in very cold weather without a hitch.

This camping heater sits on a solid base. Attached to a 16oz propane canister, it can run for over 5 hours on high heat. Hoses are sold separately to attach the heater to a larger propane tank.

Safety features like an oxygen depletion sensor and automatic tip-over safety switch keep you and your family safe during use.

The heater’s compact and rugged design is reminiscent of Mr. Heater’s larger products. It’s created with durability and longevity in mind.

What We Like:

  • Affordable price
  • Produces around 3,800 BTUs
  • Compact and portable

What We Don’t Like:

No high-limit safety shutoff switch

4.     Best for Outdoors: Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater

The Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater is one of the best outdoor propane heaters on the market.

Note that this camp heater is for outdoor use onlyit’s not rated for safe use inside of your tent. Still, it’s a good option for staying warm around the campsite.

In fact, it works almost as well for cold weather camping as the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater, our number one choice overall. It’s also an extremely affordable option.

The Texsport model is notable for its simple, straightforward design. It’s not exactly a good-looking heater, but every aspect is created with functionality and performance in mind.

This camping heater comes with a stable base that attaches to the bottom of a 16oz propane canister. Then the heating element attaches to the top of the propane canister.

This outdoor heater has a 3000 BTU output. You can direct the heat with the aluminum reflector plate.

What We Like:

  • Affordable price
  • Produces just under 3,000 BTUs
  • Super simple design

What We Don’t Like:

  • Not safe for use inside tents

5.     Best for Large Groups: Zodi Outback Gear X-40 Tent Heater

The Zodi Outback Gear X-40 Tent Heater is undoubtedly the best portable heater for large groups of campers.

While most of the best camp heaters on this list are perfect for between one and four campers, this model is capable of heating large tents, even canvas outfitters tents, as well as outdoor spaces where many people are gathered.

The overall heating power and efficiency come with a very high price tag. But the high price is worth it to many of those that camp on a regular basis, especially those that go winter camping with kids.

This tent heater produces a stunning 40,000 BTUs of heat. It does this with a main heating block/element connected to two metal pipes. One pipe provides the heat while the other stays outside of your tent for the ultimate in ventilation.

A 12-volt power source and propane tank (5 gallon is best) are required for use. Despite the power output of this model, it packs up nicely into a storage bag for easy transportation. You can set it up in just minutes.

What We Like:

  • Very safe design (with a separate pipe for ventilation)
  • Produces up to 40,000 BTUs
  • Packs down into a transportation bag

What We Don’t Like:  

  • Very high price tag

Tent Heater Buying Guide

Now you know the best tent heaters for winter camping. But which model is best for you?

You must consider a number of factors, including fuel type and heat output, to ensure that the winter tent heater you select meets your needs and preferences.

Our tent heater buying guide will help break the choices down.

1.     Fuel Type

There are two main fuel types for portable tent heaters: electric and gas.

Although a corded electric model works okay for RV camping, a battery-powered electric tent heater is usually necessary for tent camping. Unfortunately, your selection of battery-powered heaters is small and most don’t provide a very high heat output.

Gas tent heaters are far more common. Propane and butane are most popular. Most serious winter campers prefer a propane tent heater.

In addition to their lower heat output, electric models are prone to run out of power on multiple night trips. Although they’re more reliable, propane models are a little more difficult to use than electric tent heaters.

2.     Heat Output

The second most important consideration is heat output.

Heat output relates, as the term implies, to the amount of heat the heater can produce. It’s most often measured in BTU (British thermal unit).

Because of the small size of a camping tent, you don’t need a very powerful heater to stay warm. 1,000 to 5,000 BTUs is more than enough for most winter campers.

The best portable heaters are temperature adjustable. The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater, for example, radiates between 4,000 and 9,000 BTUs depending on the setting.

This tent heat calculator will help you determine how many BTUs you need for your winter tent.

3.     Size & Portability

The size of your tent heater is dictated by its fuel type and heat output.

Campers with limited space should look into smaller models that are easier to transport and fit into smaller tents.

4.     Durability

Durability is one of the top factors to look for in any camping equipment – not just a tent heater.

Your camping heater must be able to stand up to all of the abuse that the outdoors can throw at it. You don’t want it crapping out halfway through a camping trip.

Unfortunately, durability is difficult to judge just from looking at specs. That’s why reading user reviews (and, possibly, buying a model from a reputable brand) is so important.

5.     Brand Reputation

Although there are some fantastic new and up-and-coming outdoor brands, it’s usually best to buy a device like a tent heater from a reputable manufacturer.

Not only does this increase the likelihood that your tent heater will work well for a long time, but it also makes the customer service process much easier. Many top brands also offer amazing warranties on outdoor gear.

Some of the most reputable brands in the world of tent heaters are Mr. Heater and Coleman.

Although an understanding of these main factors/features is important to the selection process, just as important is understanding your own winter camping needs.

Most importantly, you need to consider the size of your tent, the average number of campers, the average length of stay, the distance from your vehicle to the tent, and the severity of the cold weather you expect.

All of these factors directly affect the size, fuel type, and heat output of the winter heater that will make you most satisfied.

How to Safely Use a Tent Heater

Safely heating a tent is of utmost importance.

Before you use your new heater to warm up your tent for winter camping, it’s important that you know exactly how to safely heat a tent.

Here are the most important tent heater safety tips:

1.     Electric is Safest

The best propane tent heaters have a lot of safety features.

Among these are electric ignition (no matches required) and built-in carbon monoxide/dioxide detector. Even still, it’s very important to properly ventilate your tent while the heater is in use.

An electric tent heater arguably offers more peace of mind. Though not necessarily safer, they don’t emit any CO2 and therefore don’t require as much ventilation.

2.     Always Buy Tent-Safe

Never buy a heater for a tent that’s not rated for indoor use in a small area.

All of the top outdoor heater brands like Mr. Heater and Coleman have been extensively safety tested in small areas, including tents.

In particular, look for a catalytic heater. These are propane tent heaters that do not create an actual flame.

3.     Proper Positioning

Even camp heaters that don’t produce a flame get very hot during use.

So, make sure that your heater is well away from any potentially flammable objects like the sides of your tent, sleeping bags, and so on.

I position my tent heater on top of a baking pan to protect the floor. In very cold weather, running a heater in a tent will create condensation. The baking pan serves the dual purpose of collecting this moisture.

Make certain that your heater is solidly positioned to reduce the risk of tipping. Though the best tent heaters automatically turn off if they tip over, the front of the heater is still very hot.

That’s why I place a heavy layer of canvas in front of the heater. This material is much more fire resistant than the synthetic materials used in tents. It gives you enough time to safely reposition the heater.

4.     Remember to Ventilate

As mentioned above, ventilation is incredibly important when using a propane tent heater.

Ventilation ensures that any carbon monoxide/dioxide the heater produces is able to leave the tent. It also allows fresh air to enter the tent.

Ventilation also helps reduce the amount of condensation created by using the tent heater.

5.     Turn Off at Night

A lot of campers leave their portable tent heaters running at night.

Personally, I turn mine off before going to sleep. I use it to heat the tent up while I’m getting ready for bed. But by the time I’m in my sleeping bag, it’s warm enough to turn off. Then I’ll turn it on again when I wake up.

You’ll be surprised at how much heat your tent heater will produce in just a few minutes!

Remember that using a tent heater for winter camping does have its inherent dangers. But following these safety tips, and buying a model with built-in safety features, makes it very safe to use one of these devices.

Tent Heater Alternatives

A tent heater is just one of many ways to generate additional warmth while camping or backpacking in winter.

A candle lantern, camping stove, or chemical heat packs might work better, depending on your individual winter camping needs.

Here’s what you need to know about these three tent heater alternative options:

1.     Candle Lantern

A candle lantern is a great tent heater substitute for backpackers, mountaineers, and others with limited space for equipment.

While they don’t provide nearly as much heat as a portable heater, they do provide a little extra warmth. A candle lantern in a small tent can generate 5 to 10 degrees of warmth.

A candle lantern also provides a nice ambiance. They’re sort of like a miniature campfire – perfect to watch inside your tent when it’s too cold to build a campfire outside.

Most models have a real candle with a small flame inside a glass protective case. Always make sure to put the candle out before you go to sleep.

The UCO Original Candle Lantern works great for winter camping.

2.     Camping Wood Stove

If weight and size truly don’t matter (i.e. you have a truck or a permanent campsite), then a portable wood stove for camping is a fantastic alternative to a tent heater.

The Camp Chef Camping Stove is the one of the top models. But don’t use it inside a normal family camping tent – you’ll need a canvas outfitters tent designed for use with a wood stove.

Not only does a wood stove for camping give off a ton of heat, but it also lends itself as a makeshift camping kitchen.

Check out our complete camping food list for meal ideas you can make on your wood camp stove.

3.     Chemical Heat Packs

A chemical heat pack, like HotHands Hand Warmers, won’t heat up your tent, but they do provide a little extra warmth against your body on very cold nights.

Put these hand warmers inside your sleeping bag with you for a safe and efficient way to warm up. Most single-use models provide between 10 and 15 hours of warmth.

Reusable models, like Hot to Go Reusable Heat Packs, are another option. Boil these in hot water and they work much the same as single-use chemical heat packs.

Final Thoughts

A tent heater is one of the easiest ways to make winter camping more enjoyable.

Although a number of fantastic models are available, it’s hard to argue with any of those from Mr. Heater.

The brand is notable for its strong reputation as well as the quality and durability of all of its products. Their portable heaters are the most popular models in North America for camping, worksites, sporting events, and more.

That’s why the Mr. Heater Portable Propane Heater is our number one choice for the best winter tent heater (and best portable heater overall).

The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a close runner-up for those that prefer a smaller, even more portable tent heater for roughly half the price.

Let Us Know What You Think

Now, I’d like to hear from you.

Which tent heaters have you used in the past? Is there a particular model that you swear by for winter camping? What other winter camping tricks do you use to stay warm besides a portable heater?

Let me know in the comments below!

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3 COMMENTS

  1. You do mention that one should only use catalytic, and avoid an open propane burner, however, the texsport propane heater is 2nd on your list. That thing would kill the occupants of a tent very quickly. I would never recommend sticking one of those in a tent, even to pre-heat before bed.

    • Thank you for pointing that out Daniel! We’ve updated the post to reflect that the Texsport Heater works well for around the campsite, but shouldn’t be used inside of a tent.

  2. Very interesting article for me! As much as I like camping, I prefer doing it when the weather is good and trying to avoid camping in winter! I`m a little bit scared to use tent heaters, but you gave me a material to think about! Thanks, Jake!

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