In case you’re low on time, the best tent heater is Buddy by Mr. Heater.
Four-season tents, thick sleeping bags, warm winter coats… I’m not just rambling, all these things share one common purpose. They let us enjoy the great outdoors year-round, even when Jack Frost comes around.
But, winter camping can get tough. The temperatures plummet, and your teeth start chattering.
That’s why nothing is more essential to wintertime camping than a quality tent heater. It can be the difference between freezing your butt off and getting a good night’s sleep.
Best Tent Heater: Our Top Recommendations
- Buddy by Mr. Heater (Best Tent Heater Overall)
- Little Buddy by Mr. Heater (Best For Solo Campers And Backpackers)
- Comfort Zone 1500 Watt Compact Utility Heater (Best For Campers On A Budget)
- Texsport Portable Propane Heater (Best For Camping In Milder Temperatures)
- Neiko Emergency Camping Heater (Best For Smaller Families)
- GiveBest Roll Portable Electric Space Heater (Best Electric Camping Tent Heater)
- Martin Portable Outdoor Heater (Best Small Propane Tent Heater)
Mr. Heater – Buddy
Let me tell you why I think the Buddy heater is better than the Little Buddy though. Does the Little Buddy have a longer running time? Yes, but there are still other factors that play into the Buddy’s favor.
First of all, Buddy has a higher BTU (British Thermal Unit) rating at 9 000 versus the Little Buddy’s 4 000.
When things get really cold, that extra heat output will pay off. It’s only a few bucks more than the Little Buddy anyway, so why not get the Buddy instead?
It’s got tons of great features, such as the automatic shutoff if you accidentally tip it over. The shape of the Buddy also makes it less likely that you’ll tip it over in the first place. It’s wider than the Little Buddy and has a more stable center of gravity.
Lastly, the Buddy will run for three hours, even on max settings. That’s more than enough time for you to pass out after a long day of hiking.
- High heat output at 9 000 BTU will keep you warm no matter where you are.
- Three-hour runtime on max settings means you can get nice and toasty.
- The stable shape prevents tipping and works on all kinds of terrains.
- Automatic shutoff in case of an emergency helps you stay safe.
- Works well with smaller tents and larger tents. Just adjust the heat level and enjoy yourself.
- A bit more expensive than the Little Buddy.
- Slightly more cumbersome, but still extremely easy to carry.
Best for: super cold weather campers who need a high heat output to warm them up.
Mr. Heater – Little Buddy
While I would rank the Little Buddy lower than the Buddy (due to its shape and lower heat output), it’s still an excellent choice for camping. It’s a little cheaper than the larger unit, making it a viable option for those who are short on cash and need a budget variant.
(By the way, if you’re looking for a 4-season tent that won’t break the bank, click here.)
It also comes with the best feature of the Buddy, which is the automatic shutoff.
The redeeming feature of the Little Buddy is its lengthy runtime. It can run for around six hours straight (more if you drop the settings). This will help you stay warm all night long.
The Little Buddy also weighs less and is more portable than the Buddy. This makes it a stellar choice for campers who like to travel light or don’t have a lot of room in their pack.
- Cheaper than Buddy, but with the same Mr. Heater quality I’ve grown to love.
- Longer runtime (since it’s smaller and outputs less heat).
- Super lightweight and portable, making it a solid choice for those on the road.
- The flashlight-like grip allows you to point the heater right at your body.
- A low oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch help prevent emergency situations.
- Unfortunately, the Little Buddy has a lower heat output than the Buddy.
- Its shape might not be the best for uneven terrain.
Best for: solo campers who are trying to travel light, save a buck, and don’t anticipate unusually frigid conditions.
Comfort Zone – 1500 Watt Compact Utility Heater
Let me start by saying that I absolutely love the look of this tent heater. It looks like something out of a science fiction series. In fact, my boys and I had a debate on whether it hails from Star Trek or Star Wars (Spock forever).
Beyond the futuristic design that this tent heater brings to the table, you’ll also find that it performs quite well. You can choose from three settings depending on how cold you are. It even has a fan-only mode, meaning you won’t have to buy a separate tent fan.
While this heater is indeed cheaper than the Buddy, it doesn’t give off as much heat. This could pose a problem if you plan on camping in super cold areas.
It was actually a bit difficult to compare the heat output as this heater’s output is listed in watts, while Mr. Heater’s is listed in BTU.
After converting the two values, I saw that the BTU output of the Comfort Zone sits at around 5 000 BTU compared to the Buddy’s 9 000 BTU. That’s a pretty significant reduction, but the Comfort Zone still has a higher output than the Little Buddy. If you’re camping in temperate areas anyway, then it shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Overall, the Comfort Zone is a solid choice at an affordable price that would work well on most camping trips. Just be wary of its lower heat output if you plan on camping in below freezing temperatures, as it may not be up to par in such a scenario.
- Amazing aesthetic and clean design make this heater easy to use.
- Three heat settings, so you can adjust the temperature.
- The fan-only mode gives you air circulation, even if you don’t want heat.
- Affordable pricing, so anyone can add this to their gear list.
- It’s got a lower output than the Buddy by Mr. Heater. This might not be the best for super cold temperatures.
Best for: budget campers who’ll be sticking to milder temperatures.
Texsport – Portable Propane Heater
While the price is lower, safety is still prioritized in its design. Like the Buddy units, it’s got the automatic shutoff feature if you accidentally tip it over.
However, I’m a firm believer in the rule that you get what you pay for. It definitely comes into play here. While the price point of the Texsport is more economical, the BTU output is significantly lower as well. The highest setting doesn’t even hit 2 900 BTU, which poses an issue in subzero conditions.
That being said, it still provides excellent value for the price if you just need a standard heater and won’t be heading to a northern campsite. You’d be better off with a Mr. Heater model if you’re expecting frigid temperatures though.
- Affordable pricing, making this an option that’s available to everyone.
- Automatic shutoff, letting you rest easy at night.
- This package comes with two units, so you can position your radiators around you for a “surround sound” effect.
- BTU output is way lower than any Mr. Heater model.
- Comfort Zone’s heater is around the same price but has about double the BTU output.
Best for: those looking to go camping on a budget in warmer areas.
Neiko – Emergency Camping Heater
When I first saw this ceramic heater, it gave me an apocalyptic vibe, kind of like Fallout. (Yes, I may be “old,” but I still love Bethesda games!) The metallic red design is like a throwback to the 50s when household innovation was at its peak.
Sadly, while the aesthetic of this unit is stunning, it wasn’t exactly designed for overnight use. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll work just fine if you’re trying to stay warm before heading to bed. But, you won’t be able to use it as a nighttime companion since a full can will only last two hours.
There have been some concerns that it might emit carbon monoxide since it wasn’t designed for indoor use. It’s a good idea to keep it right outside your tent rather than inside, because you’d rather be safe than sorry.
Much like the Texsport, this isn’t built for fighting frigid snowstorms, since its BTU output is only 700. Nothing spectacular in terms of performance, but it definitely has a pretty look to it.
- Retro (Fallout 4) design looks cool next to any tent, new or old.
- The metal housing is sturdy and reliable – it won’t break.
- Its robust frame makes it useful on any terrain or even in the snow.
- It can be carried and used anywhere thanks to the handles.
- Short runtime and low BTU make this unsuitable for subzero temperatures.
- Potential carbon monoxide threat.
Best for: campers who prioritize style over function, and don’t need that much heat.
GiveBest Roll Portable Electric Space Heater
That’s why I was so excited to find this electric space heater – it doubles both as a tent fan and as a heater (…a fan heater? A heater fan? I’ll get back to you on that).
The controls are remarkably simple – it only has three settings: fan, 750W, and 1 500W. If you translate 1 500W to BTUs, it turns that this compact heater packs quite a punch – it generates over 5 000 BTUs!
Despite being an electric heater (and thus a lot safer than gas ones) it’s still jam-packed with safety features such as automatic shut-off and tip-over prevention.
- It doubles as a heater AND a fan, meaning you can use it during both the summer and winter.
- Despite being small, it provides an impressive 5 100 BTUs – more than enough to heat up most tents.
- Like most electric heaters, it’s affordable (even for people on a budget).
- An adjustable thermostat means you can always maintain a comfortable temperature without lifting a finger.
- Built-in safety mechanisms (automatic shut-off and tip-over prevention) make it super safe to use.
- Like all electric heaters, it requires an electric cord to use.
Best for: campers seeking a strong and affordable electric tent heater.
Martin Portable Outdoor Heater
Then you might want to check out this portable heater from Martin.
It’s small, yes – but it more than makes up for that with its adjustability. It has a metal dish you can point wherever you want, and simple controls you can use to adjust the temperature to just the way you like it.
Add to the fact that both the heater and its propane bottles are extremely affordable and you can see why this is one of our favorite camping heaters.
However, with only 3 100 BTUs it won’t be of much use in harsh weather conditions. It’s ideal for couples camping in a smaller tent when the weather isn’t too bad though.
- Affordable – great choice for people on a budget.
- The metal dish allows you to focus the heat where you need it the most.
- A handle makes this camping heater easy to carry around.
- Its propane bottles only weigh 1 lb. – making them easy to carry in bulk.
- Comes with an extendable base for extra support, meaning you don’t have to worry about it tipping over.
- Low BTUs make it unsuitable for use in extremely cold weather.
Best for: campers looking for a small and affordable propane tent heater.
Types Of Tent Heaters
When it comes to tent heaters, your choices basically boil down to two main types:
- Electric heaters
- Gas heaters
|Electric heaters||Gas heaters|
When it comes to safety, electric heaters are the best by far. That’s because there are no emissions so you don’t have to worry about inhaling carbon monoxide. They are also a lot quieter and can safely run all night.
On the downside, they need an outlet and a TON of power to run, so you can only use them if your campground can hook you up with an electric power source. (You might try using a battery-powered electric heater, but they are only good for shorter trips since their battery capacity is extremely limited.)
When it comes to safety, electric heaters are best by far.
When it comes to gas heaters, you can pick between propane and butane heaters.
Out of the two, propane is a little better for winter camping since it retains its liquid form in colder climates. However, the easiest way to decide between the two is to take a look at the rest of your gear. Does your stove use butane fuel? Then buy a butane heater, since you can pack just one type of fuel for your trip.
When it comes to gas heaters in general, one of the positives is they don’t require electricity to operate.
This means you can use them whenever you go – even if you camp way off the beaten path. This is especially useful if you’re going camping outside of established campgrounds, since you won’t have a power source nearby. The fuel is also really cheap and they can burn really hot, heating your tent up in no time.
A big negative is that you run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if you’re not careful. That’s why having proper ventilation and taking other precautions is crucial – more on that below.
Another issue that can arise, is without proper tent ventilation, propane heat will cause condensation.
What To Look For In A Tent Heater
Whether or not you’re hungry for one of the heaters listed above, there are some things that you need to consider before you pick a tent heater. Here are a few of the critical details to look at.
Safety should always be your number one priority. It may seem a bit cliché, but you should always focus on how safe a specific tent heater is.
The Mr. Heater units that I listed above are a great example of tent heaters that put safety first.
Yes, they do cost a bit more, but the state-of-the-art safety features are well worth the cost. I know for a fact that the second you tip one of them over, it’ll shut off in an instant, ensuring that nothing catches fire.
Mr. Heater units also shut off if the oxygen supply gets too low, common at altitudes exceeding 7 000 feet. This might not be a concern for people camping in, say… Georgia. But if you’re camping in the Rockies, keep this in mind.
I don’t know about you, but the wellbeing of my boys is worth any price. I highly recommend that you pick a unit with adept safety features. Even if it does leave your wallet feeling a little lighter, safety is crucial.
If you’re going to be using your tent heater overnight, then you should pick a unit that can run for long enough.
Unless you’re a light sleeper, you probably don’t need a heater that runs for an entire night’s sleep. A heater that runs for three hours should be good enough to get you deep into your REM cycle.
Once you’re in REM sleep, you won’t notice it shut off. The temperature in your tent is bound to stay warmer for a few more hours even after it runs out of steam. Cheaping out and going for a unit with a short runtime may seem financially smart, but you’ll regret it when things get too cold.
However, if you feel like you won’t be using the heater that often, then a heater with a shorter runtime may be a smarter choice. Plan accordingly and pick a heater that runs long enough for your needs.
You might not think that the length of the warranty is that important, but you’d be surprised how significant it can be down the line. Therefore, you should get insurance to guarantee that your heater stays in good working order, even after heavy use.
A good warranty does more than protect your investment. It also shows the manufacturer’s confidence in the product.
I’ve found that products with a short warranty (or even no warranty at all) are more likely to break down. A short warranty shows that even the manufacturer doesn’t have faith in its durability.
As with any piece of camping equipment, you should factor in the unit’s weight before making your choice. When you’re at the store, poundage doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, it definitely comes into play later on when you’re hiking towards your campsite.
While weight is a priority, the shape also comes into play. A bulkier heater might actually feel more natural to use thanks to a solid, stable design and comfortable handles.
Rather than just lifting the heater up, try holding it in one hand for a minute and see if it causes any strain. Be sure to stretch your arms out all the way.
This is the test I do whenever picking out new gear since it helps me gauge the weight and get an idea of just how much it’ll hinder me in my travels.
Even if you end up using a scale, it’d still pay off to try my method out. It helps you feel how significant the weight of a specific item is so that you can decide if it’s too much to carry or not.
How To Safely Use A Tent Heater
Using a tent heater can be perfectly safe – as long as you follow all the safety guidelines (and choose the right heater).
So what makes for a safe tent heater?
Here are a few of the most important things to pay attention to.
Proper Placement Is Vital
Before you do anything else, make sure that you’ve positioned the heater well.
What does that mean?
For starters, make sure your heater isn’t touching the walls of your tent. In fact, make sure it’s a fair distance from them since it doesn’t have to be touching them to set them on fire. Putting it in the center of your tent might always not be practical, so try to position it in a way where it’s going to warm you up while still being far away from anything it might accidentally set fire to.
This applies to what’s under your heater, too. If your heater already comes with a stand that’s fine, but avoid putting your heater on a makeshift stand like a box or a crate, since those can catch fire pretty easily.
Finally, be sure to clear out any leaves or branches you find lying around, unless you want an impromptu campfire inside your tent.
Choose The Heater With These Features
My father always told me that you can never be too safe.
Apparently, a lot of heater manufacturers agree with his advice, since most newer models come with some pretty nifty safety features.
Out of those, I’d have to say that the most important ones are definitely:
- Automatic shut off systems
- Tip-over prevention
- Carbon monoxide detection
So they’ll automatically shut off if and when your oxygen levels get too low, if your heater falls over, or if there’s too much carbon monoxide present. What’s not to love about that?
Ventilation, Ventilation, Ventilation
This ties in with the “prevent death by poisoning” stuff I mentioned earlier.
You simply must have proper ventilation in place and good airflow, so carbon monoxide can exit the tent.
This is less true with electric heaters, but if you’re using a gas heater this is an absolute must.
And you needn’t worry – you won’t freeze to death. Propane heaters are more than capable of keeping your entire tent blazing hot even if you have several windows open.
Does burning propane in a tent create condensation?
Yes, if your tent is not properly ventilated, a propane heater will cause condensation in your tent. Propane reacts with oxygen and forms water, carbon dioxide and heat. So yes, propane heat creates excess water vapor.
However, it’s not just propane…ANY heat source can cause condensation in your tent as well.
“When warm air contacts a cold surface, condensation can happen. You see this effect in a mug of cold beer on a hot day. The same thing can happen in a tent” – REI.com – How to prevent condensation in a tent
So no matter your heat source, you should ensure that it is well ventilated to minimize condensation.
Switch It Off Before Going To Bed
While there are ways to sleep while the heater is running all night long (see the video below), I still wouldn’t recommend it. Please take every precaution when using a propane heater!
You can do it using an electric heater, but it’s still really not worth the risk.
Just buy a quality sleeping bag and a decent four-season tent and you won’t freeze your behind off while you’re cold weather camping.
Since every heater is different and there is no way I could cover every safety measure, be sure to follow any additional guidelines recommended by the manufacturer.
After all, they are the ones that made the heater, so they’ll be able to tell you precisely how to use it in the safest way possible.
When it comes to tent heaters, there’s no shortage of options to choose from. But, there are only a few that I’d deem worthy of your cash. The seven options listed here all have something unique about them in their own right, and will all provide you with a comfy camping experience.
That being said, I’d have to give the win to Mr. Heater Buddy, only because it has the highest output. The #1 purpose of investing money into a heater is so that it can keep you warm no matter how cold things get, and the Buddy does just that. The safety features are the icing on the cake, keeping you safe no matter what happens.