Best Tent Heaters for Camping: Propane vs Electric Heaters

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on May 2, 2024

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When the weather turns chilly and overnight temperatures get cold, there are options for staying warm in a tent while still enjoying the outdoors. One of the best ways to still enjoy winter camping (or fall and spring camping) is to use a tent heater! Bringing along a small, portable tent heater can make a huge difference in your outdoor adventure without taking much time or effort on your part. But there is so much information out there, especially concerning propane vs. electric tent heaters for camping and which one to choose.

This article takes our expertise from camping in cold weather, the pros and cons of both electric and propane tent heaters, and some of our personal recommendations so you end up with the best tent heater for your specific application and needs.

By the way, this is a rather large article. If you are looking for a more specific and detailed section in this article, the table of contents will take you exactly where you need to go, use that if you need to jump to a specific section.

Best Tent Heaters of 2023

Propane and electric heaters both have their pros and cons, but depending on your needs and how camp one could be a clear cut winner for you. That being said, regardless of which one you choose, all the tent heaters we recommend are highly rated and have worked very well for us. Below you will find a comparison chart for propane vs electric heaters, our top picks in both categories, and full reviews on each heater.

Propane vs Electric Tent Heater

Propane Tent Heater

Heats a tent more efficiently
Can run for longer periods of time with the proper amount of propane canisters
No concerns about a needing electricity
Risks carbon monoxide poisoning (even if it’s unlikely to happen)
You must carry propane canisters and fuel

Electric Tent Heater

Clean byproducts ensures safe use indoors
Lots of options for different sizes and wattages
Works best with electric hookups, difficult to use with a battery or solar panel
Uses lots of power to run
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Since there are 2 main sources of fuel for tent heaters, we have separated each of our selections into this table for you.

Quick Summary: Our Top Picks for Propane Camping Heaters
IMAGE PRODUCT
Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater
  • Oxygen depletion sensor and tip-over safety shutoff
  • Uses 1lb. fuel canisters that are readily available
  • Rated as indoor safe
VIEW BEST PRICE →
Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater
  • Better for small spaces
  • Uses 1lb. fuel canisters that are readily available
  • Quality tent heater that’s reliable
VIEW BEST PRICE →
Ignik 2-in-1 Propane Heater Stove
  • Doubles as a cast iron stove
  • Has anti-tipping kill switch
  • Has Tip-Over safety shutoff
VIEW BEST PRICE →
Campy Gear Wiry 2-in-1 Portable Propane Heater & Stove
  • Highest maximum output of BTUs per hour from this list
  • 2-in-1 stove and heater
  • Has Tip-Over safety shutoff
VIEW ON AMAZON →
Quick Summary: Our Top Picks for Electric Tent Heaters
IMAGE PRODUCT
Dreo Portable Electric Heater
  • Affordable price
  • Well thought out features
  • Oscillates
VIEW ON AMAZON →
GiveBest 1500w Electric Portable Heater
  • Auto-off for overheating and accidental tip-over
  • Option for a cool air fan
  • Made of flame-retardant materials
VIEW ON AMAZON →
G-Ocean 34″ Tower Heater
  • Good for larger spaces
  • Comes with a remote
  • Oscillates
VIEW ON AMAZON →
Trustech 1500W Infrared Space Heater
  • Uses radiant heat
  • Most efficient tent heater on this list
  • Includes remote control
VIEW ON AMAZON →
Brightown 400W Mini Ceramic Space Heater
  • Most affordable tent heater on this list
  • Great for small spaces
  • Uses less watts
VIEW ON AMAZON →
Lasko Compact 200W
  • Great for super small spaces
  • Simple and effective
  • Best for use with a battery
VIEW ON AMAZON →

*These links are sponsored and may earn us a small commission. Thank you for your support

Propane Tent Heater

Propane heaters are quite popular, but not all of them are rated as safe for indoor use. This will be the main factor to look for in your search for a tent heater that runs on propane. These tent heaters are specifically selected because they are intended for use indoors, and they have built-in safety features that help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and any issues with the unit tipping over. If the Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) detects a drop in oxygen content in the air, or if the unit senses it’s been tipped over, the product will automatically turn off.

Despite these safety features there’s always risks associated with using these gas heaters indoors. The scariest risk is carbon monoxide poisoning, which has a low probability of happening but is still a present risk. This is why a lot of people stay away from gas tent heaters, but it’s possible to use them safely. Following these 3 rules will help decrease the risk of something happening.

  1. Always monitor them, never leaving them unattended
  2. Don’t put them in an enclosed space, so you should always provide proper ventilation in your tent
  3. Never sleep with it running.

Related Post: Check out this article if you would like some more in-depth reading about how to safely use a propane heater in a tent.

The 4 Best Propane Camping Heaters

Here are our picks for the best propane camping heaters this year:

Editor’s Choice – Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater

best propane camping heater for winter camping

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater is our top choice for the best tent heater for camping because of the quality construction and the easy availability of the propane fuel canisters it uses. It’s a radiant propane heater that is rated as indoor safe, so you can use it in a tent if you follow the proper steps. The propane canister is a 1lb. canister that is easily purchased at your local sporting goods store or even Wal-Mart. It can run for up to 5.4 hours on one canister, or you can adapt it to use a remote gas supply by purchasing a hose and filter.

Plus, it’s ideal for small spaces due to its oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) and accidental tip-over safety shutoff. If the oxygen content in the air gets too low or if the unit tips over, it automatically shuts off. This allows you to use it with peace of mind knowing your safety isn’t compromised. It’s easy to light using a Piezo sparking mechanism, has high and low heat settings (4,000 – 9,000 BTUs per hour), and is easily carried with its top handle.

Specifications

  • 10.6 pounds
  • 4,000 – 9,000 BTUs per hour
  • Good for spaces up to 225 sq. ft.
  • ODS for carbon monoxide detection
  • Tip-Over Safety Shutoff
  • Piezo ignition

Pros

  • ODS and tip-over safety shutoff
  • Uses 1lb. fuel canisters that are readily available
  • Rated as indoor safe
  • Best tent heater that uses propane

Cons

  • Heaviest heater on our list
  • Uses one canister of fuel per 6 hours

Best Heater for Small Tents – Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater

propane heater for winter camping

This Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater is a miniature version of our editor’s choice is a great option if you need a smaller or lighter portable heater. With a maximum output of 3,800 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour, it heats up to 95 square feet, which may be a better option for smaller tents or above freezing temperatures. Like its larger counterpart, this heater includes an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) and accidental tip-over safety shutoff, but it weighs almost half as much. It connects to a traditional 1lb. propane canister, which is typically easily available in stores like Walmart and sports stores. It also uses a Piezo sparking mechanism for easy ignition, and is rated as indoor-safe.

Specifications

  • 5.85 pounds
  • 3,800 BTUs Per Hr
  • Good for spaces up to 95 sq. ft.
  • ODS
  • Tip-Over Safety Shutoff
  • Piezo ignition

Pros

  • Better for small spaces
  • Uses 1lb. fuel canisters that are readily available
  • Quality tent heater that’s reliable

Cons

  • Very top heavy and more susceptible to falling over
  • Least amount of BTUs per hour on our list

Best 2-in-1 Heater: Ignik 2-in-1 Propane Heater Stove

This Ignik propane heater is actually a 2-in-1 heater and stove, meaning you can cook on the top of it with a cast iron skillet and be a 5-star camp chef while also using it to warm your camp. It’s designed to look like a classic lantern, but instead uses propane to put out anywhere from 4,000 -10,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour.

While it’s a great multi-purpose heater and stove, it does not have an ODS, and should not be used in enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation, a carbon monoxide detector, and continuous monitoring. That being said, it would be great for warming yourself before getting into the tent, and just generally have a great heat source around camp. It does have a kill-switch that triggers when the device is tipped over or if the pilot light goes out. This heater connects to a traditional propane tank using the included 2ft hose.

About the Brand

Ignik is a smaller company with big goals that is part of 1% For the Planet, meaning they donate 1% of their sales to fight climate change in the Arctic.

Specifications

  • 8.25 pounds
  • 4,000 – 10,000 BTUs per hour
  • Tip-Over Safety Shutoff
  • Piezo ignition
  • Doubles as a stove

Pros

  • Doubles as a cast iron stove
  • Has anti-tipping kill switch

Cons

  • Large size takes up space in your tent
  • No ODS

Best on Amazon – Campy Gear Wiry 2-in-1 Portable Propane Heater & Stove

This Campy Gear heater is also a 2-in-1 heater and stove but it has two big differences – there is an ODS built in and it outputs 13,000 BTUs per hour (the highest on our list). That ODS is the biggest necessity when it comes to running propane indoors, and it’s something that’s seen on the popular Mr. Buddy heaters above. That being said, this Campy Gear heater requires a 20 lb. propane tank, which can be a pro or con depending on the type of camping you’re doing. We don’t have a large propane canister like that (e.g., tent camping), but someone who RVs may prefer that over the 1lb canisters from the local store.

Specifications

  • 7.83 pounds
  • up to 13,000 BTUs
  • ODS
  • Tip-Over Safety Shutoff
  • Piezo ignition
  • Doubles as a stove

Pros

  • Highest maximum output of BTUs per hour from this list
  • 2-in-1 stove and heater

Cons

  • 20lbs propane tank needed, which could be a pro or con depending on your camping setup

Thing to Consider When Choosing the Best Propane Tent Heater for Camping

While these heaters are generally pretty similar (they all have Piezo ignition, a good amount of BTUs, general portability, etc.), there’s a few factors to take into consideration when picking the right one for you and your situation. The main ones are the presence/lack of an ODS, the type of fuel connection you prefer, and the size of the area you intend on heating compared to the BTU output of the tent heater.

Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS)

When it comes to camping and using propane and butane heaters indoors, there’s a single tent heater safety feature that you should take the most into consideration and that’s the presence of an ODS. An ODS is designed to shut off the fuel source when it detects that oxygen levels are getting too low, which can mean the difference between life and death when it comes to sleeping with a tent heater. Three of the four heaters on this list have an ODS built in, but not all of them. If a heater doesn’t have the appropriate safety features, then it shouldn’t be used inside.

Fuel Connection

The next biggest factor is where the fuel comes from. All the heaters on this list use propane, but two use a small 1lb canister and the other two require a 20 lb canister that connects to the attached hose. There’s pros and cons to both methods, but it really comes down to space and availability. For tent campers like us, we don’t carry a large propane tank and don’t plan on doing so in the future. However, if you travel with an RV, van, or trailer, you may already carry a propane tank. While the smaller tanks are more portable, they also need to be replaced much more frequently compared to the large canister. If you opt for a butane heater, keep in mind that it will be more difficult to find fuel depending on your location.

Heating Area vs. BTUs

Next thing to consider is the size of the space you intend on heating. A small two-person tent may get too hot with something like a 2-in-1 or full size Mr. Buddy Heater, while something larger like an 8-person tent or RV may require something larger. If you plan on regularly using it outdoors as well, you’ll want something that offers a higher BTU output (aka heat output) and smaller spaces will need something wither lower BTUs and/or “low” settings.

Electric Tent Heater

An electric heater uses either ceramic or infrared coils to produce heat. Ceramic electric heaters will often be paired with a small interior fan to circulate the warmed air, while an infrared electric heater will radiate their heat without the help of a fan. They are both intended for either indoor or outdoor use, and put off little to no pollutants. Although they are small, they require large amounts of electricity.

The main obstacle when it comes to an electric heater while camping is a power source. One of the best ways to power an electric heater is to use a portable power bank to make a battery powered heater for camping. Add on a solar panel to make a solar heater for camping and you can get heat while running on clean electricity. The simplest power source is if you regularly camp with an electric hookup, but not everyone does, especially if you’re tent camping.

6 Best Electric Space Heaters for Camping

Here are our top picks for the best electric and battery powered heaters for camping:

Editor’s Choice – Dreo Portable Electric Heater

This Dreo indoor portable heater is one of the highest rated on Amazon, with a whopping 7,000+ reviews and a 4.5 star rating. It’s the second smallest camping tent heater on this list, but it’s mighty with 1500 watts, a 70° oscillation, 3 different heat settings, a fan only mode, and an adjustable digital thermostat so you can set your ideal temperature. It’s also equipped with safety features for overheating (will automatically shut off if it reaches 122°F), accidental tip-over (an alarm will sound), 12 hour timer, and it’s cold to the touch despite the warm heating element inside. Plus, there’s a detachable filter that’s easy to clean and it’s made of flame-retardant materials.

Specifications

  • Watts: 1000-1500W
  • BTUs: 5118 BTU per hr/ft/degreeF
  • Dimensions: 5.51″D x 6.69″W x 10.31″H
  • Heating Method: ceramic with fan
  • Recommended square footage: 200 sq. ft.

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Well thought out features
  • Oscillates

Cons

  • Doesn’t shut off for tip-over

Amazon’s Favorite – GiveBest 1500w Electric Portable Heater

This GiveBest electric space heater is a close second behind our Editor’s Choice and happens to be Amazon’s Choice. Just like the Dreo above, this heater has multiple heat levels, a cool air fan, and safety features for overheating and tip-over. It is also made of flame-retardant materials, and has a thermostat where you can set you comfort temperature for the product to maintain. The main difference is that this unit does not oscillate, has a manual thermostat instead of digital, and it only has 2 heat settings instead of 3. On the other hand, it does have an auto-off for tip over, where the Dreo only has an alarm for tip-over.

Specifications

  • Watts: 750-1500W
  • Dimensions: 7.9″D x 6.2″W x 10.2″H
  • Heating Method: ceramic with forced air
  • Recommended Square Footage: 200 sq. ft.

Pros

  • Auto-off for overheating and accidental tip-over
  • Option for a cool air fan
  • Made of flame-retardant materials

Cons

  • Doesn’t oscillate
  • 2 heat levels instead of 3

For Large Tents – G-Ocean 34″ Tower Heater

This taller, oscillating heater from G-Ocean is built for bigger spaces, and it’s 34″ tall to accommodate the extra square footage. It has a 70° oscillating setting, 2 heat modes, a fan only setting, 12 hour timer, and an intelligent adjustable thermostat to maintain a stable temperature in your space. For safety, this heater is equipped with an auto shut-off for overheating and tip-over.

Specifications

  • Watts: 1500W
  • Dimensions: 12.4″W x 34.5″H
  • Heating Method: ceramic with forced air
  • Square Footage: 200-320 sq. ft.

Pros

  • Good for larger spaces
  • Comes with a remote
  • Oscillates
  • 12 hr timer

Cons

  • Newer product with limited customer reviews

Outdoor or Indoor – Trustech 1500W Infrared Space Heater

This Trustech Infrared Space Heater is the only infrared heater on our list, and it’s built for use indoors or outdoors. It heats using carbon fiber gold-coated tubes to deliver fast and efficient (saves 40-60% electricity) heating. The remote control is included, so you can control the heater from anywhere in the vicinity, and it provides instant heat within 3 seconds. While it doesn’t have an auto shut-off for accidental tip-over, it was engineered with a larger base to help prevent any tipping. It does have an auto-off for overheating and a 24 hour timer.

Specifications

  • Watts: 500/1000/1500W
  • Dimensions: 7.34″D x 13.38″W x 35.92″H
  • Heating Method: radiant

Pros

  • Uses radiant heat
  • Most efficient tent heater on this list
  • Includes remote control

Cons

  • Most expensive camping tent heater on this list

Most Affordable – Brightown 400W Mini Ceramic Space Heater

This Brightown mini heater is perfect for small spaces around 100 square feet, and offers simple usability and portability. At only 400 watts, it uses less power than the other heaters above while still being able to heat a tent or small room. It does include the safety features for overheat protection and tip-over switch for an automatic shut off if it detects any errors. Plus, it’s the most affordable product on our list!

Specifications

  • Watts: 400W
  • Dimensions: 6.3″D x 3.15″W x 6.3″H
  • Heating Method: ceramic
  • Square Footage: 100 sq. ft.

Pros

  • Most affordable tent heater on this list
  • Great for small spaces
  • Uses less watts

Cons

  • No multiple heat settings

Best Miniature – Lasko Compact 200W

propane vs. electric heaters for camping

This miniature Lasko 200w heater is what we recommended for use in combination with a portable power station and solar panel to create either a solar powered heater or battery powered heater. This is because of it’s exceptionally low wattage compared to the other heaters on this list, so it’s able to run for longer on a battery unit. Plus, it’s quite affordable while putting out a decent amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units). While it’s great for being simple and efficient, it does lack major safety features like the above heaters and should be used with caution and constant monitoring.

Specifications

  • Watts: 200W
  • BTUs: 628 BTU
  • Dimensions: 4″D x 4″W x 6.1″H
  • Heating Method: ceramic with fan
  • Recommended square footage: 50 sq. ft.

Pros

  • Great for super small spaces
  • Simple and effective
  • Best for use with a battery

Cons

  • Does not have auto-off for overheating or tip-over

Thing to Consider When Shopping for an Electric Tent Heater

Ceramic vs. Infrared

Both ceramic and infrared electric heaters are efficient methods of heating commonly seen in household products. While ceramic is cheaper and more common, infrared is more expensive and tends to be less common. There’s pros and cons to each so it really comes down to price point and the type of tent heater you want.

Ceramic heaters typically run on fans paired with a ceramic heating element. This means you could need to regularly clean a filter or fan to prevent the build up of dust and debris inside the unit. It also means there will be slightly more noise since there will be the sound of the mechanical fan running. Ceramic heaters typically are instantly cool after being turned off and maintain a cooler heating element.

Infrared heaters have a mostly silent operation since they don’t require fans for spreading the heat. This could also mean lower maintenance, since you don’t have to worry about cleaning the moving parts. Perhaps one of the main benefits of infrared heaters is that they are much more energy efficient and use significantly less power than a similar ceramic tent heater.

Both types offer almost instant heat (typically within 3 seconds), and can direct the heat in one direction or use an oscillating motion to heat a larger space more efficiently. Both types of heaters covered in this article are easily portable with a handle, and take up very little space.

Size of Interior Space

The above heaters vary greatly in the size and wattage, and therefore are intended to heat different size spaces. Because tents are inherently small, most of the above heaters would work well and some might even be too large. You should take into consideration the size of your tent or camper, and choose an appropriately sized tent heater for the situation which you intend on using it the most.

Electricity Availability

When talking about a tent heater that runs of electricity, you obviously need to consider the electricity needs in order to properly run the unit. Most of the heaters on this list require about 1500 watts, while some of the smaller ones can run on 200-400 watts. If you have a battery or portable power station, one of the smaller ones would be best suited for that situation. If you have an electric hookup, you would need to look at what voltage it offers, compare that to what you will have hooked up to it, and see approximately what is leftover for use.

Our Opinion

Because of the risk associated with propane heaters, we can definitely see an argument for not using this setup while camping. That being said, there are plenty of precautions you can take that would make using a gas tent heater more safe. After all, there are several great products that are rated as “safe for indoor use” and that is their intended use.

If the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is too great for your liking, you could consider looking into other options. While a tent heater that runs on electricity may seem like a great idea, it may not always be efficient enough and you could be left with a powerless and tent heater quite often. Just make sure you have something with enough power to run the tent heater for the amount of time you’re imagining.

Alternatives for Tent Heaters

If you’re concerned about using a gas heater in a tent, there are other ways to keep warm you can check out this post: how to stay warm in a tent and properly insulating your tent against the cold.

When it really comes down to it, the best thing you could possibly do to stay warm during fall/winter/spring camping trips is buy the proper gear. A warm sleeping bag, a sleeping pad or cot with a high R-value, extra blankets, winter clothing, and a 4-season tent are must-haves for cold weather camping. Sleeping bags should have a comfort rating that is at least 15 degrees lower than you’re expecting, and you could also pair it with a sleeping bag liner to add even more warmth.

There are also some great options for heated camping gear or even heating a tent with a candle.

FAQ

How do I keep my tent warm while camping?

While there are several ways you can stay warm by layering up and using a high R-value sleeping setup, one of the best methods is to use a tent heater fueled by propane. Built in safety mechanisms make it safe for use indoors, while the unit will produce enough heat to keep your space warm.

What is the best heater to use in a tent?

Our top choice for best tent heater for camping is the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater. It is well made, has all the required safety features, and puts off lots of heat! Plus, it’s portable and starts at a reasonable cost.

What kind of heaters are safe to use in a tent?

Both electric heaters and propane heaters can be safe to use in a tent if they have the proper safety mechanisms like an oxygen depletion sensor and a tip-over safety shutoff. These safety features can be found in heaters like the Mr. Heater Buddy heater and the Campy Gear Wiry 2-in-1.

Can you use an electric heater in a tent?

Yes, it’s possible to use an electric heater in a tent if it has the proper safety mechanisms and you constantly monitor it. That being said, electric heaters inherently require an electric hookup or generator, and run best when plugged into a wall outlet versus using battery or solar power.

What kind of heaters are safe for tents?

While electric heaters are the most safe option for heating a tent, they aren’t always possible because they require enough electricity to run, such as a wall outlet or electrical hookup. The next best option is an indoor safe propane tent heater, such as a Mr. Buddy Heater, or a candle heater.

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers.

Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me.

When I'm not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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