Relaxing by a fire in the comfort of your own home while enjoying a hot cup of tea and deep into the grips of a well-written story is an awesome way to spend a fall or winter evening. But, as the months roll on and the nights get longer, the desire to get outdoors rears its head. For those who love the outdoors and are forced to spend more time indoors than you’d like, after a while, it feels like the walls start closing in on you.
As Fall sets in and the weather changes, bringing long nights, cold rain and cold weather, it’s easy to put camping on the “back burner.” Camping in the offseason requires a little more gear and clothing, however, that doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be done.
One of the most important benefits of modern technology is the advent of heating and air conditioning. In the colder months of the year, weekends camping can be cold and uncomfortable if you’re not properly prepared. Heating your campsite and potentially your tent using the best portable heater gives cold weather camping trips a little slice of sunshine (the warm part) on a rainy day.
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What are portable camping heaters?
Portable camping heaters are heaters that you use to provide heat around the campsite throughout the day or in your tent at night. They’re easy to use, small, compact, and convenient.
They can be set up around the campsite to keep you warm during the day before the campfire gets going and certain models (not all) may be used to heat your tent while you fall asleep or get ready in the morning.
Tent heaters can be broken down into two categories:
Electric heaters are the safest option but they require a power outlet to operate. Gas portable heaters take propane fuel, however, they also release carbon monoxide which is a byproduct of burning gas and is deadly in confined spaces.
Benefits of portable heaters (space heaters)
Portable heaters are a great way to provide an artificial source of heat while camping. There are a number of reasons to consider adding a portable heater to your Fall and Winter camping gear.
1. Effective at heating a small space
To state the obvious, it’s a proven and effective way to heat a small space in a short amount of time. There are also clear and present dangers with gas heaters that we’ll touch on later, however, they efficiently heat a small space.
2. Relatively inexpensive to purchase
They are relatively inexpensive to purchase. There are exceptions to every rule and you can find heaters that cost an arm and a leg, but for the most part, they are affordable.
3. Easy to set up
There is little to no installation required to set up a portable heater for camping, they come as a complete unit and the only thing they require is a fuel source. With gas heaters, you may have to spin on a propane tank, but if you’ve opened a plastic water bottle before, you’ll be fine.
4. Small and compact
Portable heaters are small and compact, making them extremely easy to pack around the campsite. They are not much bigger than the size of a small cooler and fit into the trunk of any car. The packable size means they’ll easily fit in with your gear and considering that you don’t need beach towels or summer toys, it shouldn’t be a problem finding space for a heater.
5. Can be used to dry wet gear
There is nothing worse than getting your gear wet, except for having to put your wet gear on the next day. Even if you don’t use it to heat your tent, you can always use the heater to dry wet gear. Keep all heaters at least 3 feet away from your gear while you enjoy a game of cards or a good book and let the heater do the dirty work.
6. Easy to use
Certain electric models come with a remote control and other models have a switch or knob. A propane tank means you may have to change the bottle every now and then but that’s as simple as spinning a bottle. Both are extremely simple to operate and easy to use.
Dangers of using a portable heater
Portable heaters are super convenient, however, when not used properly they can be extremely dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) space heaters account for 43% of home heating fires and 5 out of 6 home fire deaths.
Lorraine Carli, vice president of NFPA’s Outreach and Advocacy division says, “Space heaters can be effective tools for providing added warmth at home, but it’s critical that people follow basic precautions to ensure that they’re used safely.”
Needless to say, a healthy amount of precaution and knowledge are required to safely use a portable space heater.
These heaters should be placed at least 3 feet from anything that can burn and should never be left on while you sleep. Children and pets should also be kept a safe distance away from any and all space heaters.
Safety rules for operating a portable heater:
- Have a 3-foot rule from a portable heater
- Always use the proper type of fuel
- Never use a gas heater in an enclosed space unless it’s properly vented
- Only use a heavy gauge extension cord
- Choose a model with a built-in timer
- Never run a portable heater overnight
- Never leave it unattended
- Bring a carbon monoxide monitor if you use a gas heater indoors
The Best Portable Camping Heater Reviews
We put together a list of the best portable electric and gas powered camping heaters that offer a good balance of warmth and safety.
Mr. Heater Indoor-Safe Portable Propane Radiant Heater
Mr. Heater MH9BX is a propane-fueled radiant space heater. The propane bottle attaches to the side of the heater and folds into the body of the heating unit. There are two settings and the low setting will run for about 6 hours while the high setting runs for around 3 hours.
There’s an auto shutoff valve that turns the heater off when it’s tipped over, detects low oxygen levels, or the pilot light goes out. It’s safe to use indoors, so you can use it in the tent in the morning or before you go to bed at night. The safety features and the fact you can use it safely indoors make this heater a good option for heating your campsite or tent in cold weather.
Keep in mind that burning propane in an enclosed space produces carbon monoxide, so you should always use it with care and have a carbon monoxide sensor on hand.
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- Heats up to 200 square feet
- Auto shutoff safety valve
- Energy efficient heating element
- Requires propane tank
- Doesn’t operate over 7,000 feet
- Requires a CO2 monitor
Pro-Temp Cabinet Heater
The Pro-Temp Cabinet Heater is an 18,000 BTU heater that comfortably heats up to 450 square feet. It runs off a propane tank and requires a 20 lb propane tank that is included with the heater and sits inside the heater’s case.
There is an ignition switch on top of the heater and comes with three different settings that provide clean, quiet, and efficient heat. It includes an oxygen sensor and a tip over shutoff valve. A heater of this size should not be used to heat a small enclosed space, in fact using a 20 lb propane tank indoors is a fire code violation, but using a 1 lb tank is acceptable.
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- 18,000 BTU’s
- Heats 450 square feet
- Built-in oxygen sensor
- Pilot light tends to go out
- Cannot be used indoors
- Uses a 20 lb propane tank
Mr. Heater Little Buddy
The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a small and compact radiant heater. The entire unit consists of a base, propane tank, and a head unit. All you have to do to assemble it is twist the propane tank into the head unit and then rest it on the base.
There’s an on and off switch that sits on the side of the head unit that’s in a convenient location and easy to use. There’s a safety shutoff system that activates if the heater falls over and an oxygen sensor to sense low levels and automatically shut it down. Propane heaters produce water vapor during operation and 1 full container of propane will produce around 26 ounces of water vapor, this is something to keep in mind when using it in a small space.
Due to the fact that it burns propane a carbon monoxide monitor is absolutely necessary for safe operation indoors.
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- Low-oxygen safety shut-off (ODS) and tip-over safety shut-off
- 4,000 and 9,000 BTU settings
- One bottle lasts 7 hours on low
- Takes 3o seconds to ignite
- Head is not adjustable
- Requires a CO2 monitor
Kloudic Ceramic Space Heater
This is a 600-watt, energy saving portable space heater that begins warming the air in just a couple seconds. It requires a 120-volt power source to operate and when using it for camping you need to bring a heavy gauge extension cord to extend the distance covered. Standard size extension cords that most of us have around the house are not large enough to handle the load a space heater puts on the wiring.
Since this heater uses no gas it can be used indoors without concern of carbon monoxide exposure. There is an automatic shutoff safety feature that prevents it from operating when it has been tipped over and shuts it off when the heating element gets too hot. Its small size (4.6″x 4.6″ x 8.3″) makes it easy to move around and the safety features make it a good camping option when power is available.
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- Electric heat
- No carbon monoxide exposure
- Requires 120-volt power
- Only has a high and low setting
- Requires a power source
Cakie Ceramic Heater
This Cakie Ceramic heater is a compact and lightweight electric heater with a built-in fan that gives you quick and efficient heating. There are 3 settings to choose from: natural wind (fan with no heat), 750W, and 1500W. It comes ready to use out of the box, all you are going to need is a power outlet and heavy gauge extension cord for camping
It weighs 2 pounds and is 9.64″ x 3.93″ x 5.90″ in size with a carrying handle on top. It comes with overheat protection, an automatic tip-over shutoff feature, and the housing is made of flame-resistant material. This portable heater also comes with a 2-year warranty and lifetime customer support.
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- Multiple safety features
- 3 settings (fan, high, low)
- 2-year warranty
- Requires extension cord
- Need a power outlet
- Not made for wet conditions
Frequently asked questions related to portable heaters for camping.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas produced by burning propane, gas, wood, or any other fuel (source).
What is Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
Carbon Monoxide poisoning is illness related to exposure to CO in an underventilated enclosed space (source).
What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
It is difficult to tell if someone has CO poisoning because the symptoms are subtle and similar to other illnesses. The symptoms of CO poisoning are:
Is it safe to use a propane heater inside a tent?
Yes, as long as the necessary precautions are taken to ensure that you do not get Carbon Monoxide poisoning. You should always use a Carbon Monoxide detector anytime that fuel is used indoors to alert you to the presence of CO.
Do I need a Carbon Monoxide monitor when using a portable gas heater indoors?
Absolutely, a Carbon Monoxide detector is a must have if you plan on using a gas-fueled heater indoors.
Can a portable heater start a fire?
Yes, a portable heater can easily start a fire when not used properly. Always keep a portable camping heater at least 3 feet away from clothes, tent walls, wood table, and anything else that may catch on fire.
How long will the heater run on a small propane tank?
It depends on the heater and the setting. On low, a small propane heater will last 7-8 hours and on high it will last 3-4 hours. These times are an approximate estimation, however, actual runtime depends on the heater used.
Is it safe to heat a tent overnight while I am sleeping?
No, you should never leave a heater unattended while you sleep. Even if you take all necessary precautions there is always a chance for something bad to happen. The best time to use your heater inside a tent is in the evening before you go to bed or in the morning while you get ready for the day.
How long does the heater take to cool down?
A couple of minutes on a cold day and up to 10-15 minutes on a warm day.