Although I am fan of camping, I am not a fan of the cold.
I use an insulated sleeping bag and pillow to keep my body warm and fill in a few more layers of clothing.
So, it was with some trepidation that I considered the use of a tent heater. There was something seemingly wrong with the concept.
But is it possible to use a camping tent heater safely?
It is possible to use a camping tent heater safely if you take precautions and the manufacturers safety instructions are followed explicitly. You should not use a camping tent heater whilst you are asleep. A carbon monoxide detector should also be used with a tent heater.
Whether my concern was for smoke inhalation or the mixture of intense heat and the canvas that had me worried, or maybe a combination of the two, I was keen to find out whether it was possible to use a heater in a tent safely.
Why is a Heater Deemed as Safe to Use in a Tent – How do they work?
You can use a heater in a camping tent. It is what they are made for after all.
How tent heaters work
You need to follow the instructions in full to stay safe but camping tent heaters have been deemed as safe to use – which is why they can be sold on the open market – if you take the proper precautions.
Most tent heaters are run by small 1-pound tanks of propane gas. The gas often burns through a single flame to heat the direct area.
You will often find that a 1-pound tank will be consumed in around 2 hours, depending on the heat setting you have your heater.
Why a tent heater is deemed safe to use
Each manufacturer and model will have different features, so you will need to check the heater you wish to purchase has all these included as standard, but here are the ways a tent heater is safe to use:
- Automatic switch off if oxygen levels are too low – this is to prevent carbon monoxide being released
- Automatic switch off if the heater falls or tips over – to prevent the open flame from touching the tent, or any flammable material inside the tent
The Dangers Associated with a Camping Tent Heater
There are some tips outlined in this post of some ways to improve the safety of using a heater inside the tent.
Carbon Monoxide Dangers
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and invisible gas but is toxic and extremely poisonous to humans.
It is very important NOT to sleep with a camping heater on!
It should be noted that the CPSC website (Consumer Product Safety Commission) explicitly state that camping tent heaters should not be used whilst you are sleeping.
If oxygen levels inside the tent are low, the tent heater will stop producing carbon dioxide, and produce carbon monoxide instead, which is poisonous.
Tent heaters should have an automatic oxygen detector so that if oxygen levels drop too low, the heater will switch off.
I recommend you purchase a carbon monoxide detector to be used alongside your tent heater at all times.
Risk of Tipping Over
Stand the Heater on a Metallic or non-Flammable Base
As most tent heaters run on propane it means there will be an exposed flame. This of course has risks.
Top Tip: Make sure your tent heater is stood on a metallic (like a large oven or BBQ tray) or non-flammable base. This means if it were to tip over, there is not a chance of the exposed flame catching the floor or sides of the tent.
Best Camping Tent Heaters Compared
|Tip Over Switch Off
|Low Oxygen Detector
|Mr Heat Buddy
|Texsport Outdoor Heater
|Campy Gear Heater and Stove
|DeWalt Portable Heater
|Aikoper Space Heater
|Auzkin Small Space Heater
Camping Tent Heater Options:
In this post we have talked a lot about propane tent heaters, as these are very common and amongst the most popular heaters sold, but there are other options.
Here is a run through of the different tent heaters available, and the differences between them:
Propane Powered Camping Tent Heaters
Propane tent heaters have for a long time been the heater of choice for campers, but times are changing. We are seeing a surge in the number of electric powered heaters being purchased.
This is undoubtable due to the potential risks of a propane heater, such as carbon monoxide poisoning and an exposed flame inside the tent.
Propane heaters though certainly are sold in their thousands every year, so they are not necessarily to be avoided altogether.
They are often run by small 1-pound or 2-pound propane gas cannisters, which last between 2-4 hours depending on the settings you use, and the model you choose.
The gas is lit, and the exposed flame heats up the direct area around the heater.
Electric Powered Tent Heaters
Electric heaters are considered to be the safer option. No propane gas or any other fuel will need to be used, and therefore no risk of carbon monoxide.
These will still become very hot and should be placed clear of any flammable material – so you will still need to take precautions.
Many top brands have safety features built in such as an auto-off anti-tip over feature and overheating protection.
As these are electric you will of course need a power source, so you will need to book a camping pitch with electric hookup.
Which are more expensive – Electric Tent Heaters or Propane Tent Heaters?
Surprisingly, considering the associated risks and continued cost for propane gas, we have found that the propane tent heaters are more expensive than the electric heaters.
By comparison electric heaters can be purchased for $40-$70 whereas the propane gas heaters can range from $50-$250.
How to use a Heater in a Tent
How you use your heater will depend on whether you have a propane gas heater or an electric heater.
How to use a Propane Heater – Step by Step Guide
- Read through, and understand, all the safety and operating instructions of your propane heater before you start to use
- Switch the heater to the ‘Off’ setting
- Open the compartment with the gas novel, and screw in your 1-pound propane gas tank
- Although larger propane tanks can be used with an extension hose these are NOT SUITABLE for indoor use or use within a tent. You must only use a 1-pound tank indoors
- Make sure nothing flammable is anywhere near the vicinity of the heater
- Switch the dial to ‘Pilot’ to feed and light the propane gas to a single flame
- Adjust the heat settings depending on your requirements
How to use an Electric Heater – Step by Step Guide
- Switch the heater to the ‘Off’ setting
- Connect the electric heater to the camping electric hooking point
- Stand the heater on a smooth flat surface
- Turn the heater on and adjust to the desired heat setting
- Do not place anything on top of the heater whilst it is switched on or cooling down
Carbon Monoxide Detector Safety when Camping with a Heater
If you plan to use a heater inside your tent, I strongly advise you to purchase a carbon monoxide detector to use alongside your heater – even if your heater has a carbon monoxide cut-off and detection included.
Safety is paramount!
A battery operation carbon monoxide detector can be purchased for around $15-$30. They are not expensive but the difference they can make you could not put a price on.
A gas heater can produce carbon monoxide in the wrong conditions, especially in a small, confided space, such as a tent, or at high altitudes.
Carbon monoxide is toxic and poisonous to both humans and animals. It is also invisible and odorless, which means you can’t see or smell it, but the affects are very real.
Almost all heaters designed to be used within the confides of a tent should have safety features to prevent carbon monoxide being released, but machines can fail. Parts can fail.
The carbon monoxide detector is a safety back to alert you at a time you need.
Other Ways to Stay Warm in a Tent at Night
I love the outdoor lifestyle.
We are planning to go traveling with a couple of friends this winter and will be camping in different campsites, mostly in the Western U.S.
It will be cold. Very cold!
If you don’t like the tent heater options, there are plenty of other ways you can stay warm whilst you’re camping instead.
Here are some recommendations for keeping warm in the harshest weather conditions down to -30F.
You are unlikely to go camping in those extreme temperatures, but if these tricks and hacks work for extreme weather camping, then they should work great for ‘milder’ temperatures between 20F-40F.
- Stay Dry – take as many changes of clothes as you can, but staying dry is one of the best ways of staying warm
- Extra Layers of Clothing
- Increase ‘Fatty’ Food Intake
- Hot food and drink
- Keep moving your fingers and toes to increase circulation
- Hand Warmers
- Water bottle
- Camp Fire
- Insulation mat under your sleeping bag to keep off the floor
- Choose a low temperature ‘Comfort’ sleeping bag rating
Here is a great video, (courtesy of Rei) to walk you through even more suggestions to keep warm in your tent: