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Camping is a great way to get close to nature, a much-needed respite from the age of mobile phones and other electronics. It’s an outdoor activity that you can enjoy with your family, friends, and loved ones.
But being close to nature also means you’re exposed to unpredictable weather changes, temperature levels in particular. And it’s hard to enjoy the experience when you’re freezing your butt off.
For a toasty time in the woods, by the beach, or in the mountains, what you need is a small propane tent heater.
Why use a propane tent heater for camping?
To stay cozy while camping, you can choose between electric and gas heaters. Gas heaters run on either propane or butane, two of the safest gases that are available as fuel.
Propane heaters are powered by burning liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). As it burns, this fuel source releases heat either through convection heat, which warms the air of the room or enclosed space, or through radiant heat, which heats surfaces or objects.
A propane camping heater is a more common choice because propane is more affordable than butane. It produces more heat than electric ones and it can heat large areas quickly. It’s also significantly more portable as it doesn’t need power sockets.
Are propane heaters safe for camping?
Yes, but only if your propane tent heater comes with built-in safety features and that you practice safe use of the heater.
Although propane burns efficiently and is cleaner than most gases, it can still emit carbon monoxide which can lead to poisoning or even death. It’s worth investing in units that have these safety features:
- Oxygen depletion sensors with automatic shut-off
- Carbon monoxide monitor
- Tip-over protection system or tilt sensors
- Overheating safety feature
- Leak sensors
Aside from these features, it’s vital to follow proper directions when using a propane tent heater. Make sure you’re using a tent-safe propane heater. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, turn off the gas supply properly.
Stay vigilant for leaks and ensure that your tent is well-ventilated and that emission doesn’t exceed the flow of fresh air. It’s also best to place the heater on a level surface so it won’t tip over.
Finally, it’s recommended to turn off your propane camping heater before you go to sleep. Carbon monoxide is a “silent killer” because it is odorless, colorless, and undetectable without sensors. Unless your heater has an auto shut-off timer, it’s best to turn it off entirely before you doze off or if you’re leaving your tent for any length of time.
Not all propane tent heaters are created equal. The internet offers many choices but here are our favorites:
- Overall best small propane tent heater: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy
- Best propane heater for small tents: Mr. Heater Little Buddy
- Best propane heater for big tents: Mr. Heater Hunting Buddy
- Most value-for-money tent heater: Campy Gear Chubby 2-in-1 Portable Propane Heater & Stove
- Best lightweight propane tent heater: Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater
Time to get to know your options better. Let’s get right to it!
Best small propane tent heaters for camping
Overall best small propane tent heater
Mr. Heater is probably the most well-known brand of tent heaters. The F232000 MH9BX Portable Buddy can produce 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) with can last for three to six hours and heat up to 222 square feet of space. That’s more than enough for a regular camping tent!
With a heavy-duty design, this small and portable propane heater for camping is made to last. It’s also made for safe indoor and outdoor use. If it tips over, loses its pilot light, or detects low levels of oxygen, it will automatically shut off.
This propane camping heater has a one-click piezo sparking mechanism and an adjustable heat knob. Plus, its swivel-out regulator lets you connect to different sizes of fuel tanks.
- 4,000–9,000 BTUs for 225 square feet of space
- Runs for three hours on low and up to six hours on high
- Piezo ignition, swivel-out regulator, and adjustable heat knob
- Auto shut-off upon tip-over or low oxygen detection
- Heavy-duty wire guard and easy-grip handle
Best propane heater for small tents
Another propane tent heater from Mr. Heater, the F215100 MH4B Little Buddy is one of the smallest and lightest heaters in the market. With a heat output of 3,800 BTUs, it can heat up to 95 square feet of space so it’s ideal for small tents.
Albeit small, this indoor and tent-safe propane heater can run for up to 5.6 hours. And like other Mr. Heater variants, it automatically shuts off when it detects low oxygen levels or when it’s tilted or tipped over.
The heater’s head stands on a straight pole, set at a 45-degree angle to ensure heat fills the entire tent. It’s super easy to operate, too, as it has a simple on/off push button. You won’t be able to adjust the heat but for something portable, quiet, and affordable, this provides great value.
- 3,800 BTUs for 95 square feet
- Run time of 5.6 hours
- Automatic low oxygen and tip-over shut-off system
- Easy on/off push-button start
- 45-degree heating angle
Best propane heater for big tents
For larger areas, Mr. Heater MH12B Hunting Buddy’s 6,000 to 12,000 BTUs output is the best option. This impressive propane tent heater can heat up to 300 square feet for 1.3 hours on high setting and 3.5 hours on low.
Ideal for camping and hunting blinds, this compact propane heater features a quiet start electronic ignition and a knob for setting heat levels. It can run on a 1lb. propane cylinder or be directly connected to a gas supply via its swivel regulator.
Like all Mr. Heater products, it comes with safety features. It shuts off immediately when the oxygen level in the area is depleted and when it’s accidentally knocked over. It is a bit bulky but thanks to its ergonomic handle, you can still transport it with ease.
- 6,000-12,000 BTUs and up to 300sqft heating area
- 1.8-3.5 running time
- Silent electronic ignition and swivel regulator
- Automatic low oxygen and tip-over shut-off system
- Adjustable heat settings
Most value-for-money propane tent heater
The team behind Campy Gear wanted compact camping equipment that have dual purposes to minimize the stuff needed for an outing. That’s why they designed the Chubby 2-in-1 heater and stove that can keep you fueled and warm whether you’re backpacking, camping, fishing, or hunting.
One of the most versatile small propane heaters for tents, this operates on 110- and 230-gram fuel canisters of butane, isobutane, or propane. It can also be connected to a 1-pound propane tank if you have the right hose. On a full 230g fuel canister, it’ll last you for about 2.5 hours.
With a maximum heat output of 9,000 BTUs and a 360-degree design, this provides sufficient warmth for campers. It also has three stove modes: cook only, heat only, or cook and heat. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have a low oxygen sensor so you’d have to stay vigilant when using it.
- Up to 9,000 BTUs
- 360-degree radiant heating design
- Compatible with 110g and 230g butane, isobutane, or propane fuel canisters or cylinder
- Adjustable flame control for precise cooking
- Three cooking/heating modes for the stove
Best lightweight propane tent heater
Weighing only one pound, this Texsport heater is the lightest propane tent heater on this list. Perfect for cool-weather camping and backpacking, it adjusts up to 2,890 BTUs and works with a 14.1 or 16.4oz cylinder.
This grab-and-go propane camping heater can heat up about 80 square feet of space or a small tent but it doesn’t skip the safety features. It shuts off the fuel if the flame goes out, has a large paddle foot base that ensures it won’t tilt off, and its aluminum reflector has a safety grid.
This tent heater is made of stainless steel, which makes it very durable. Indoor and tent-safe, it can provide sufficient warmth for up to five hours.
- Up to 2,890 BTUs with a heating area of 80sqft.
- Run time of five hours
- Safety valve shuts off fuel if the flame goes out
- Large paddle foot base for stability and safety grid
- Adjustable regulator
At less than two pounds, this no-frills propane tent heater is a great portable companion for your camping, hunting, or fishing trips. It produces up to 3,100 BTUs and can provide warmth for up to seven solid hours.
Martin heater comes with easy-to-use adjustable heat control and a metal dish that helps localize the heat it releases. It’s designed for the standard one-pound propane cylinders and features a convenient carry handle for easy transport.
For safe use, this propane camping heater is equipped with a fuel valve that automatically shuts off if the flame goes out. It also has a large and expandable cylinder base for better stability and a safety grid.
- Produces 2,000-3,100 BTUs for up to seven hours
- Adjustable heat intensities
- Auto shut-off valve
- Works with a 1lb. propane bottle
- Stable cylinder base for greater stability
Capable of producing up to 3,100 BTUs, this simple propane tent heater by Stansport can adequately warm up a small tent not bigger than 85 square feet.
With a 16.4-ounce propane cylinder, this portable heater has three heat levels – low, medium, and high – and can offer warmth for up to six hours. For precise heating, it comes with a metal dish that helps you focus the heat where you want it.
It does fall short on the safety features when compared with others on this list since it doesn’t have an auto-off feature. But this heater has front cage protection and a stable cylinder base for added stability. And for its price, it’s one of the most competitive options out there.
- Up to 3,100 BTUs
- Three-level heat control settings
- 85sqft. heating area
- About six hours run time
- Front cage and stable plastic cylinder base for safety
Another portable propane camping heater for tents, this two-pound Texsport heater has a control knob that adjusts up to 3,000 BTUs and can warm up a tent for about three to five hours depending on the heat setting.
This durable stainless steel burner can use either a 14.1oz or 16.4oz disposable propane fuel cylinder that can be securely placed in a molded plastic cup holder. It has a large paddle foot base made of hard plastic so it won’t easily tip over.
Texsport Sportmate also comes with a valve that shuts off when the flame goes out. Plus, it’s got a safety grid on its reflector to ensure safe and efficient use whether you’re camping or heating your golf cart, or hunting blinds.
- Up to 3,000 BTUs
- Auto shut-off valve turns off if the flame goes out
- Compatible with any 14.1oz or 16.4oz propane cylinder
- Stainless steel reflector with safety grid
- Molded plastic cup holder and large paddle foot base
It may be small and lightweight but the Hiland LP-195C Propane Camping Heater puts out good heat up to 3,000 BTUs. It can run on any standard one-pound propane cylinder and keep you and your tent cozy for about five to six hours.
Campers know how important it is to have durable and safe equipment. This portable tank top heater meets these criteria as it’s made of sturdy steel and aluminum. It has an anti-tilt switch and a wide foot base for added safety.
Furthermore, this propane tent heater is CSA certified, meaning it meets recognized standards for safety or performance. So you can keep warm and stay safe.
- 3,000 BTUs
- Uses 1lb. propane cylinder
- Anti-tilt switch and extractable cylinder base for stability
- Lightweight and ideal for outdoor use
- Durable steel and aluminum build
Last but not least is another dual-purpose propane tent heater from Campy Gear. The Wiry 2-in-1 heater and stove can produce 13,000 BTUs, ideal for heating a larger tent or for longer camping trips.
This propane camping heater has efficient 360-degree radiant heating that can keep you and your camp buddies toasty even in the winter. And since it’s also a stove with adjustable flame control, you can use it to cook your favorite camping meals.
This durable heater can be connected to a 20-pound propane tank through the gas hose that the unit comes with. You can use it with a 16.4oz cylinder but you have to use another hose.
For safe usage, Wiry comes with a tip-over switch that protects it from accidental tilting and an oxygen depletion sensor that shuts off automatically when it detects low levels of oxygen.
- Maximum output of 13,000 BTUs with 360-degree radiant heating
- 42 hours burn time with 20lb. propane tank
- Oxygen depletion switch and tip-over protection
- Durable gas hose and regulator
- Spark ignition
Which BTUs are right for me?
A propane tent heater’s energy or heat output is measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs for short. Propane heaters typically produce anywhere from 2,000 to 40,000 BTUs.
As a general rule, the higher the BTU rating is, the more warmth the heater can provide per hour. This also means it can heat a larger area.
However, if the heater isn’t indoor- or tent-safe and can only be used in a patio or open space, know that the heating area will also diminish as the heat dissipates into the air.
So, when choosing a propane camping heater based on BTU rating, you need to find one that can be used inside a tent and then choose based on the size of your tent. Propane heaters like Mr. Heater Little Buddy and Martin Propane Gas Heater with lower BTUs can heat small tents while Mr. Heater Hunting Buddy and Campy Gear Wiry are great for larger tents.
How do you choose the best propane heater for camping?
Aside from the BTU rating, there are a lot more things to consider when choosing the best propane tent heater for you:
- Heating area: What size area can the heater warm?
- Size and weight: How large is the heater? How big is the propane tank you will need? Is it portable and powerful enough for your tent and the length of the trip?
- Ignition system: Does it use automatic electric starting systems like Piezo? Does it need manual ignition?
- Temperature control: Does it have knobs or adjustable heat levels?
- Safety precautions: Does it have automatic shutoff for low oxygen levels or tip-over? Does it have a safety valve, wire guards, or a wide base? Is it safe for use inside a tent?
Yes, you’ve got a lot of examining and comparing to do when choosing a propane tent heater. It’s an investment in convenience and safety, after all. But we hope our list above gave you a head start.
What features make a propane heater tent-safe?
As mentioned above, having safety features like automatic shut-off is great. A propane tent heater like Mr. Heater Portable Buddy shuts off when it detects low levels of oxygen or when the heater accidentally tilts.
Other heaters like Texsport Sportsmate and Texsport Portable have safety valves that shut off the fuel supply when the flame goes out to prevent a potential fire hazard. Simpler heaters like Stansport should at least have wire guards and a wide cylinder base for stability and safety.
Do keep in mind, however, that even with these safety features in place, you still have to be vigilant, keep your tent well-ventilated, and not leave the heater on while dozing off.
What other types of tent heaters are there?
Not convinced that propane tent heaters are for you? You can consider other options:
- Electric tent heaters: This is typically safer than using gas since it won’t emit carbon monoxide. But this is rarer because well, it requires electricity, which isn’t present in the wild. If you prefer this type of tent heater, you would need a power outlet or another power source like a generator or solar panels.
- Battery-powered tent heaters: These operate the same way as electric heaters, but are more portable since they rely on power banks. Some can also draw power from camping generators.
- Wood-burning stoves: Unless you’re using a very large tent such as an outfitter tent, don’t use a wood-burning stove. This type of tent heater can only be used in large and properly ventilated areas.
Can you also use propane heaters indoors?
Of course, the same caution should apply indoors. Make sure the room is well-ventilated. Do not leave it unattended and certainly don’t leave it on if you intend to sleep soon.
If installing a heater indoors, make sure that it’s on a non-combustible surface and far from combustible materials like curtains, towels, furniture, carpets, etc. Never leave anything flammable on top or beside your heater.
How long do propane heaters last?
This often depends on your tank’s capacity and rate of fuel consumption. But on average, a propane tent heater burns around 2g of gas every minute. A smaller tank will yield a shorter burn time.
Propane tent heaters are typically designed to run for two to eight hours, sometimes more if it’s hooked up to a large-capacity tank.
Do you need ventilation when using a propane heater?
Absolutely! Gas heaters should only be used in well-ventilated tents to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. And even with proper ventilation, having oxygen and carbon monoxide sensors is still advantageous.
Check your tent for vents on the bottom walls or mesh ceilings and windows. These will help release emissions from the tent. For canvas tents that lack vents, an alternative would be to leave a window or the tent door open.
We hope this list of propane tent heaters ignited an urge in you to go camping! With all these options, you can make more amazing memories while camping – and that won’t include frostbite.