A tent heater can be a great way of extending your outdoor trips into cooler weather; whether you're camping, hunting or ice fishing a portable heater can really take the edge off.
Mr Heater Little Buddy comes out on top in this article as it is probably the most useful general purpose heater of its kind. It's very reasonably priced, very portable and very effective at heating small spaces.
But the article also delves into a bunch of other options for more specific use cases; like if you want an electric power supply or butane, or if you need to heat a bigger space, or if you need a more portable heater...
Running off propane, the Mr Heater Little Buddy pumps out 3,800 BTU. It weighs just 5lbs and it relatively small. It has an auto-shut-off if tipped. ($$$)
This heater has some the best safety features of of the ones I looked at. It’s rated safe for indoor use and will automatically shut off if tipped or if it detects low oxygen.
It has a porcelain coated heating surface to radiate heat to a wide area. The unit uses standard 16.4 ounce propane cylinders for convenience and a built-in ignition for ease of lighting.
The unit includes a base to hold the cylinder for increased stability. It’s also reasonably priced and doesn’t require electricity to run. Although it is a larger than some of the other propane heaters, safety trumps size IMO.
There’s not a lot wrong with it except it can be difficult to light in extreme cold. The safety sensors can make it difficult to keep the unit lit if it is bumped and it can have trouble staying lit in windy conditions. It can burn through propane pretty quick too, especially when on full blast so that's definitely something to bear in mind.
The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a really solid choice for a tent heater. The two safety shut offs, for oxygen depletion and tip over, make this unit safe for use in an enclosed space such as a tent.
It is best if used in stationery situations out of the wind. Best for short blasts of heat rather than extended use. I've written a much longer review of the Mr Heater Little Buddy here...
If it's a bit too big and bulky for your liking, you should think about the Texsport Propane Heater as a smaller, lighter alternative.
The Honeywell Surround Heater is available in two versions: manual and digital. It uses an electrical power supply with an output of 1500 watts and generates a maximum of 5180 BTUs.
In addition, it’s portable with a weight of only 3 pounds and dimensions of 8 by 8 by 11.5 inches. Safety features include cool-touch plastic housing, overheat prevention shut-off, and 360-degree tip-over protection.
The Honeywell offers considerable output and is configured to evenly and efficiently distribute heat. The heater can be placed in the middle of a tent and provides 360-degree heat for your tent (surprising, given the name right!). However, you’ll have to make sure you have access to electrical power to use it.
The 360 Surround heater is surprisingly easy to use without being too noisy whilst on. There’s plenty of safety features to protect both the device and users, such as automatic shut-off when it falls or becomes too hot, and cool-to-the-touch housing.
The LCD on the digital version allows you to effortlessly adjust the heat settings, which is important because your tent’s size may differ from trip to trip.
If you've got an electric hookup and want to take the edge off a slightly chilly morning or evening, it's a solid buy. Also, the aesthetically pleasing design means you can use this heater at home when you’re not camping!
Little Buddy Heater in Tent
The Little Buddy is specifically designed for use in enclosed spaces. In fact, if you use it outdoors, it may keep shutting off as it's buffeted by the wind. So it's intended to be used in enclosed porches, cabins, fishing huts, trailers, vans and, yes, tents.
The important thing to remember is to clear (and keep clear) 2 feet of space directly in front of the heater. That way if it does fall over, the hot element is less likely to ignite anything. For this reason, it's probably best to only use the heater in larger tent (I'd say a 3 man tent is the smallest size) because you need to have that clearance.
It's also important to have some ventilation. I wouldn't, for example, completely lock my tent down so there's no airflow (not that you'd want to do that anyway, for condensation reasons). The manufacturer recommends always having a minumum 2" x 2" vent while the heater is running. Without ventilation, there's a risk of carbon monoxide buildup. And nobody wants that.
So in short, if you want to use the Little Buddy in a tent, go for it! Just make sure the tent is big enough to accommodate two feet of clear space in front of the heater and that you've got a 4sq inch vent!
Weight: 3 pounds
Auto Shut Off: Yes
The Texsport Sportmate heater works well to take the chill off in small spaces. It uses a standard 16.4 ounce propane tank for convenience and portability. The auto shut off is an important safety feature in case the unit gets knocked over. The steel reflector disk allows the heat to radiate in a four to six foot radius. The regulator valve adjusts to control the heat output for comfort.
The Less Good
The Sportmate heater lacks a self-igniter and can be tricky to light. You must hold the gas flow button down for as long as 30 seconds after lighting to allow the unit to stay lit. In windy conditions, the unit has trouble staying lit. The outside casing of the unit can get very hot while in use.
A Great Choice If…
The Texsport Sportmate heater is a good choice for small spaces with good ventilation such as golf carts or deer blinds. It is best used when there is little or no wind.
Pros - Adjustable heat output, Uses standard 16.4 ounce propane tank, Auto shut off
Cons - Hard to light, Blows out in wind, Casing gets hot
The Tooluxe is a ceramic burner that uses standard butane gas cartridges as a power source. This ensures the heater remains portable, with a total weight of 5.4 pounds. For safety when using it in your tent, the device has a pressure sensing shut-off feature.
Gas consumption is an impressive 100 grams per hour, and the output is 4400 BTU. This efficient performance has ensured the heater gets CE Certification.
The Tooluxe was made to be used by emergency services and those going into extreme conditions where heat is needed, but energy supplies are scarce. This heater is one of the only products on the market that can serve this particular customer segment. Even though you may not endeavor to visit the parts of our world with extreme climates, you can still benefit from this device.
The portability of the heater is incredible. This product can provide hours upon hours of heat without needing a replacement cartridge, ensuring you can go on long trips with a single cartridge. The aesthetics aren’t for everyone, and only people who care about the function of products would be overly impressed by this heater.
A CE certified product is always a great buy. This means that an independent body has verified the product’s manufacturing standards and the information published about it. This should reassure any potential customer who’s having some doubts about this product.
The product is portable and the butane power source may be ideal for many campers because the cartridges are probably the same ones as you'll be using for your camping grill.
Weight: 9.5 pounds
BTU: 4000 – 9000
Auto Shut Off: Yes
This Mr. Heater propane heater puts out a large amount of heat and attaches to a standard 16.4 ounce propane heater for convenience. It has important safety features and will shut off if it detects low oxygen, is tipped over, or if the pilot light goes out. It features a built-it ignitor for easy lighting.
The Less Good
This unit is heavy, so it is best used for car camping. The unit may not work at altitudes above 7000 feet. The high BTU output make it too hot for use in a small tent area.
A Great Choice If…
This Mr. Heater unit is great for use in large tents or enclosed areas. It is best used for car camping at elevations below 7000 feet.
Pros - Safety shut off valves, Built-in ignitor, High BTU output
Cons - Heavy, Shuts off above 7000 feet
The MyHeat Personal Ceramic electric heater has a power output of 200 watts and emits 682 BTUs. It’s lightweight and compact, with a height of 6.1 inches and a weight of 1.6 pounds.
Despite the low purchasing price, Lasko offers an impressive three-year limited warranty on this product. They also include built-in safety features, such as overheat protection and a cool-touch exterior.
Very few heaters at this price point offer the quality that’s evident in this one from Lasko. That's because great attention to detail has gone into designing this product. It’s not meant to heat entire rooms but would work well in small, cosy tent spaces where only a sleeping bag could fit. The low output provides a gentle heat that’s suitable in such environments.
The adjustable settings and low power modes ensure the device is energy efficient and easy to use. You will, however, need an electricity supply to power it.
A robust casing is featured in the product, which protects the durable ceramic heating element from damage. In addition, the casing is designed to be welcoming and fun; it doesn’t feature the utilitarian aesthetics you’d see from most camping heaters.
A budget-friendly alternative to the plethora of rugged-looking tent heaters on the market. It offers more opportunities to express one’s personality through the various colors available when purchasing.
What to Consider When Buying a Tent Heater
Using a heater inside a tent can be risky if you don’t take care. Safety should be your number one concern when buying a tent heater. Thinking about how you camp, where you camp, and what kind of tent you use before buying a heater will influence your decision on what heater is best for you. (You might also consider how else you could stay warm, such as using a 4-season tent or a winter sleeping bag). There are two basic types of heaters – electric or fuel burning.
Gas Tent Heaters
Gas tent heaters use either butane or, more commonly, propane. Propane tent heaters are generally lightweight and portable and use fuel you are likely already carrying for use in your camp stove, which is great. (If you are backpacking, it’s up to you to decide if the convenience of the tent heater is worth the extra weight but if you’re just going a few miles it might be worthwhile).
The biggest risk associated with burning gas in a tent is the depletion of oxygen which means you risk carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. So it’s worth using the following tips to reduce the chances of any problems:
Make sure that there is adequate ventilation in the tent by opening the tent flaps or lifting the rain cover.
If you want to use a heater indoors, make sure you buy one that has safety shut offs so the heater stops running if it tips over or if the unit senses oxygen depletion.
Take a dedicated CO alarm with you.
Electric Tent Heaters
Because there is no open flame or oxygen-burning fuel, electric tent heaters are generally safer to use in a tent than gas burning heaters. The greatest disadvantage to these heaters is that they require electricity. This limits their use to developed campsites with electrical hookups. Furthermore, because they are generally heavier than their gas burning counterparts, they are better suited to car camping and I wouldn't feel comfortable using one in anything smaller than a 3 person tent).
General Safety Advice for Using Tent Heater
Never place a heater directly on the tent floor; use a stable base that is not flammable such as a flat stone or fire-resistant mat.
Never place a heater where it might block the tent exit in case of an accident; ideally heaters should be used in tents with more than one exit.
Never leave a tent heater running when unattended or when you are asleep.
Never use a tent heater inside a small tent; limit the use to a vestibule or a porch. Your tent should always be large enough so that the heater can be positioned in a clear area away from any flammable materials.
Always ensure the heater is not touching any flammable material.
It’s up to you to decide whether or not to use a tent heater. But do make sure you reduce the risks by using some common sense.