Are you looking for one of the 5 best camping heaters perfect for camping? Even in the summer, camping trips can have cold nights that require a heater to help you stay warm inside a tent or RV.
However, running a heater in a confined space increases the chance of accidental fire or carbon monoxide poisoning if you don’t buy a model with built-in safety features. A camping heater also needs to be durable to last through many seasons of adventures.
To help you stay safe and warm while camping during any season, we test and rate the most popular camping heaters and detail the top five in this guide. Please read to the end to learn what essential features to look for when shopping for a camping heater, and see our reviews of the top five best portable camping heater models.
Nothing ruins a camping or backpacking trip faster than a cold snap that leaves you shivering in your tent or recreational vehicle, so check out our favorite portable heaters for camping below!
- Important Camping Heater Features
- 5 Best Camping Heaters
- Camping Heater Wrap Up
Important Camping Heater Features
The 5 best camping heaters vary in size, power source, heat output, safety components, and price. It’s smart to know the differences in these features and think about how well they will work with your camping style before making a final purchasing decision.
Here are the things to consider when looking at camping heater models:
Size and Weight
The best camping heater will be small enough to pack and carry on your trip easily yet large enough to generate enough heat to keep the occupants inside your tent or recreational vehicle warm.
Loading up a bulky, heavy portable heater will take up room in your vehicle, leaving less room for other supplies. In addition, carrying and moving a heavy or sizeable portable heater around your campsite will strain your arms and back.
The size also matters regarding how much floor space the unit will take up during use. So, it’s crucial always to check the fine print to learn much room the manufacturer suggests you leave around the heater to ensure it doesn’t burn nearby objects or fabric.
You may find a compact model, but it requires an 18-inch buffer around the unit for safety. Unfortunately, this safety zone means you’re giving up around 9-square feet of floor space, which is huge inside a tent.
Heat Source and Output
Camping heaters create heat using these different elements:
- Ceramic plates attached to metal coils
- Metal plates or coils with a fan to disperse heat
- Infrared – the element emits electromagnetic waves that heat objects in its path
- Radiating – oil heats inside a tube and emits heat
- Panels – radiates heat from an electrical current off flat sides
Some heating elements require electricity to work, while others can run off liquid fuel.
For heat output, most camping experts agree that a heater should produce a minimum of 3,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) of heat to warm up a small tent, travel trailer, or motorhome. A camping heater should range from 5,000 to 10,000 BTUs for a larger RV or tent to keep occupants warm.
How the 5 Best Camping Heaters Operate
Most portable camping heaters are electric or run off propane, butane, or kerosene liquid fuel.
Electricity is the safest, cleanest, and easiest way to run a heater, but it’s not always available at campsites or during power outages.
Of all the liquid fuel (gas) camping heater options, finding a unit that runs off propane is the best choice. Propane burns clean and will last longer than butane or kerosene by weight.
Stability and Overall Quality
A quality camping heater will have a stable base or legs to prevent it from falling over during use, leading to nearby items getting scorched or catching fire.
The materials that make up the camping heater should be durable to withstand the abuse it will receive on trips and during storage. Metal components should resist rust and corrosion and be thick enough not to break or dent if you drop the heater or bang it around during transport.
Adjustable Heat Level
Look for a camping heater with a temperature control knob and at least two heat settings. Another great feature is a thermostat that automatically shuts the unit on and off.
A unit with a single setting will undoubtedly work, especially in emergencies, but not being able to turn the heat level down once you warm your tent or RV to a comfortable level will require turning the unit off to avoid cooking.
You’ll want to ensure a camping heater is efficient and will operate for a long time before it runs out of power.
Electric heaters are the best for longevity if you have a 110-volt outlet nearby. A generator can run an electric heater if you’re camping off-grid, but the generator will eventually run out of gas or propane, which you must consider.
For a cord-free unit, propane is the most efficient of any gas-powered heater for camping. Most propane heaters average a run-time of 5 hours on a one-pound cylinder.
Never buy a camping heater without basic safety features such as:
- Auto shut-off for tip-overs, electrical shorts, low fuel, or overheating
- Metal cage or barrier to prevent touching hot components
- Oxygen-depletion sensor
Look for certified tent-safe camping heaters that consider the close quarters and proximity to fabrics and superior burn efficiency that reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
It’s vital to ventilate a tent or RV while running any gas heaters. When organic fuel is burning in an enclosed space and begins to run out of oxygen, soot and carbon monoxide rise to dangerous levels quickly.
5 Best Camping Heaters
1. Mr. Heater MH9BX Portable Buddy
Max BTUs: 9,000
Power Source: Propane (1-pound canister)
Max Run Time: 5.6 hours
Size: 13.4 x 15 x 8.3 inches
Weight: 9.3 lbs
The Mr. Heater MH9BX Portable Buddy is a top seller in the camping crowd for a reason.
First, the unit is compact and features a rugged housing and wire guard to protect users from damage or burns. The flip-up handle makes it easy to move around the campsite, and the piezo ignition reliably starts the heater without stress.
We love the heat output, the efficient design to hold the propane canister, and the safety features that make you feel very comfortable using it inside a tent. In addition, the heater operates at up to 7,000 feet in altitude, meaning you can camp just about anywhere.
- Auto shut-off for tip-overs, low oxygen, or loss of pilot light
- Two heat settings
- Swivel-out regulator for easy connection of LP canister
- Heats up to 225 square feet
- Impact-resistant housing
2. DeWalt DXH12B Portable Radiant Heater
Max BTUs: 12,000
Power Source: Propane (dual 1-pound canisters)
Max Run Time: 13 hours
Size: 10.5 x 15.75 x 14 inches
Weight: 14 lbs
The DeWalt DXH12B is a powerful, super rugged, indoor-safe camping heater that uses a radiant heating element to keep chilly temps at bay.
Having a higher BTU rating and a high-speed fan blowing the warm air means the space heats quickly, so everyone stays comfortable. The unit is heavier than other camping heaters, which means it’s not ideal for backpacking to a campsite, but the weight makes it very stable and hard to knock over.
We all agree that the most impressive feature of this model is the ability of the 20V DeWalt rechargeable battery to power the fan, along with a bright LED lightbar and three USB ports so you can charge your devices. This feature reduces the need to bring other accessories, streamlining your packing.
- Low oxygen sensor and thermoelectric safety valve
- Three heat settings
- Dual tank capacity
- Heats up to 1,700 square feet
- Electronic ignition and carry handle
- Certified indoor safe
- 20V Max or FlexVolt battery pack runs USB ports, fan, and light
3. Martin Portable Gas Catalytic Heater
Max BTUs: 3,000
Power Source: Propane (1-pound canister)
Max Run Time: 7 hours
Size: 11 x 11.2 x 15.4 inches
Weight: 4.5 lbs
The Martin Portable Gas Catalytic Heater is a small, yet powerful model that is super-efficient (99.98%) and delivers flameless warmth to take the chill out of small tents or camping trailers.
The lightweight heater has convenient foldable legs, so it stores compactly but opens to form a tripod stand that keeps the heating element off the ground when in use. You can twist the knobs to independently lock the legs in any position, which is ideal for stability on uneven ground.
We like how well the radiant heat warmed up the inside of the tent without annoying condensation forming, which is typical for propane heaters. Also, the perforated metal guard keeps objects and fingers away from the heating element better than an open grate, which is a nice touch.
- Auto shut-off for low fuel
- Two heat settings with the adjustable thermostat dial
- Foldable legs
- Bright color is easy to see
- Electric ignition
4. Kovea Cupid KH-1203 Portable Heater
Max BTUs: 3,333
Power Source: Butane (8-ounce canister)
Max Run Time: 6 hours
Size: 10.5 x 7 x 5.5 inches
Weight: 3 lbs
The Kovea Cupid Portable Heater is very light and compact, making it the perfect option for backpacking or car camping as well as for smaller tents and teardrop or pop-up RVs or truck campers.
The ceramic heating plate radiates a consistent level of warmth, and the folding legs allow flexible positioning. The front grate provides a layer of protection, but the heat level from this unit is gentle, so you can hang out closer to it while on without burning up.
We really like how this portable heater comes with a hard carry case, making it much easier to pack and protect the unit during transport. In addition, use at higher altitudes is consistent, providing more flexibility in your cold-weather camping destinations.
- Auto shut-off for low fuel
- Two heat settings
- Push ignition
- Folding carry handle
- Durable housing and includes a hard carry case
5. STANLEY ST-222A-120 Electric Heater
Power Source: Electricity
Max Run Time: Indefinite on-shore power
Size: 8.5 x 5 x 10 inches
Weight: 3.78 lbs
The STANLEY ST-222A-120 Heater is a top pick if you want the convenience, affordability, and extra safety an electric heater provides. If you mainly camp at locations that offer shore power, you can’t beat the ease of this durable unit.
The heater is small and light yet powerful enough to quickly warm a tent or camper. You can set it and automatically maintain a comfortable temperature with the adjustable thermostat and two heat settings. The inclusion of a fan-only option increases ease of use during other seasons, increasing its value.
We love not having to worry about ventilation or falling asleep, as this electric camping heater produces no carbon dioxide. In addition, a switch will activate the shut-off feature if you bump or tip the heater over, which provides peace of mind when trying to maneuver around in tight quarters.
- Auto shut-off for tip-overs or bumps
- Two heat settings or fan only
- Industrial-grade construction
- Heats up to 165 square feet
- Integrated carry handle
- Power indicator light
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Camping Heater Wrap Up
Camping and RVing are more comfortable when you can ward off cold temperatures with a quality portable heater that is compact, safe, and efficient.
Whether you love to backpack into the wilderness, tent at campgrounds, or park your RV at a private campground, having a small heater is extremely convenient to warm your space quickly and efficiently, even if your recreational vehicle has a furnace.
We stand behind our camping heaters selections above. These heaters may be small, but they deliver on heat output and convenient features that make camping more fun. We hope you give them a look and find a model that perfectly fits your camping style and needs!
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-- John Muir