Best Portable Propane Heater For Camping

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Camping in the winter can be a magical experience. It could even become a hobby for people who live in the colder states’ frosty lakeshores or snowy woods. Roughing it up for a few days and letting off steam brings a rare refreshment feeling and general fulfillment.

The problem – the weather! For all its perks, camping in the middle of winter exposes you and mates to extreme cold that’s not healthy for your wellbeing. It always means that you need to pack a reliable heater on your trip and hope it withstands the harsh conditions.

Portable propane heaters are the heating choice for many winter campers. Though slightly more expensive than electric heaters, a small propane heater offers unmatched flexibility.

You can take the heater with you anywhere you go. As long as you’ve packed enough fuel, you’re guaranteed exceptional and reliable comfort.

If you’re still in doubt, this guide elaborates why portable propane heaters make the best heating choice for camping tents and after that discusses how to pick the right heater for your camping trip. We also cover safety tips to stay out of harm’s way.

Before we get to the discussion, though, the following are eight of the best portable propane heaters to consider for your camping trip;

Why you Need a Heater for Camping

Maybe we should start by discussing why you need a heater on your camping trip. Why not just brave the cold like the experienced camper you are?

The short answer is – it can be horrible for your health. For people who go camping in the winter, temperatures inside the tent can drop below 30°F. This isn’t very healthy.

“It’s safe to be outside if temperatures are 32°F or higher,” says David A. Greuner, MD, FACS, co-founder and director at NYC Surgical. “Once temperatures fall between 31°F and 13°F, you must take breaks from the cold approximately every 20-30 minutes for health reasons.” He also says that you should remain inside whenever the temperature drops below 13°F.

Extremely cold weather can cause a medical condition called hypothermia. Hypothermia causes body temperatures to drop to dangerous levels, often preventing the heart, nervous system, and other organs from working normally. It’s why heart attacks are higher in the cold.

Frostbite is another possibility. It occurs when a body part isn’t properly shielded from cold. Initial signs are sore and red skin. However, the cold may gradually penetrate the skin and reach the nerves, muscles, and bones. That’s when frostbite become dangerous

Worse still, warm clothes may not help much once temperatures drop to those dangerous levels. Indeed, clothes would worsen your problems.

“We may try to insulate our bodies with warm clothes that trap in heat,” says Michael Richardson, MD, a Boston-based medical practitioner. “But, when you have to slog through the snow, or we trip in a slushy puddle, the wet clothes can lead to a significant drop in your body temperature.”

Bringing a heater along on your camping trip minimizes your exposure to extreme cold, thus preventing these scary medical conditions.

Benefits of Portable Propane Heater for Camping

Many campers choose portable propane heaters given a choice, and for a good reason. These heaters are reliable and extremely versatile. The following are a few reasons why you too should consider a portable propane heater;

Portability

When you’re out there camping, you want a heating system that you can take tuck away during the day and bring back into the living area when sitting together at night.

Propane heaters for camping are incredibly portable. Often light and equipped with a handle, you can carry the heaters wherever you go and pack them with ease when you don’t need the heat.

Reliability

While electric heaters are another notable alternative when shopping for a camp tent heater, propane is a much better option because of its reliability. Electric heaters are 100% dependent on electric power.

When the power goes out, the heater becomes useless. Considering that winter weather is unpredictable, propane heaters, which don’t need electricity, are a more practical solution.

More Practical than Natural Gas

A few people also choose natural gas heating when camping. But, like electricity, natural gas isn’t very practical when camping. For one, are you even sure there will be gas lines at the camping destination? Secondly, even if there are natural gas lines, the lines’ permanent nature often means that your flexibility is restricted.

No Waste, no Odors

Finally, it’s also possible to compare propane with other fuels such as kerosene. While kerosene heaters are as portable as propane models and perhaps even more powerful (in terms of BTU output per gallon), kerosene produces a characteristic smell that may create an uncomfortable environment in the tent. Propane burns without any foul odors.

Factors to Consider When Using a Propane Heater for Camping

So, assuming that you’re sold – you’ve made up your mind to buy a portable propane heater for your camping trip – the following are vital considerations to help you pick the right heater;

Size (in BTU)

Propane camping heaters come in multiple sizes. How many BTUs do you need for your tent? Experts recommend using the formula: Required BTU = Volume X Temperature Difference x 0.133. Volume is the tent’s volume, while temperature difference is the desired temperature less the prevailing temperature (in Fahrenheit). Typically, for a 350 square foot tent, you need about 2,500 BTU.

Tent Insulation

Some camping tents are insulated; others aren’t. This, too, will affect your choice of a propane heater. Insulated tents don’t lose a lot of heat, thus can survive on comparably a smaller-size heater than a similar-size uninsulated tent. Tents with floor insulation are even more efficient. They preserve most of the heat.

Safety Features

Propane is a flammable fuel. It also burns oxygen, which can result in oxygen depletion. Combine these two issues, and you begin to see the level of risk you’re up against.

To ensure safety, first off, make sure to have an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). Some propane heaters have built-in ODS systems that cut off the gas supply if dangerously low oxygen levels are detected. Secondly, only buy a unit with tip-over and overheating protection.

Physical Size and Weight

Depending on your camping destination, the physical size and weight of the heater may also prove decisive. For longer trips that involve intense hiking, you want to minimize weight as much as possible. A compact heater also makes more sense. One that’s too large may take up valuable space in the tent. No one wants that.

Noise Output

The good news is that portable propane heaters don’t make a lot of noise. However, you still need to consider how much sound it outputs. A hissing sound that’s too loud will impact conversations inside the tent. Popping sounds are also negatively impacting. Some heaters have fans, which may produce even more noise. You want to avoid these models.

Durability

Finally, a camping heater must be a durable heater. Considering the rugged nature of camping conditions, you want a tough unit made from metallic parts.

Otherwise, the heater will break down into small pieces on the first fall. For greater peace of mind, ensure that the unit is backed by a warranty in case of mechanical malfunction.

Safety When Using a Propane Heater in a Tent

The first step here is buying the right heater for camping. Not all heaters are designed for camping. Specifically, not all propane heaters are ideal for camping. Make sure you’re getting a unit clearly marked as a camping tent heater.

On the same note, don’t bring one of the garage heaters you use at home on your camping trip. Even if that garage heater is safe for indoor use, it may not be tent-safe. The following are other vital safety tips to keep in mind;

  • An ODS is a must: Combustion of propane consumes a lot of oxygen, which could leave your tent short. The heater must have a built-in oxygen depletion sensor that automatically shuts of gas supply to the burner if dangerously low oxygen levels are detected.
  • Tip-over shutoff: This is another must-have. The tank is a small, confined space. There’s always the risk of someone knocking over the heater, creating increased gas leak and fire risk. A tip-over function cuts off the gas supply in case of tip over.
  • Ensure plenty of ventilation: Ventilation may usually compromise insulation. But, safety takes precedence. Therefore, ventilation is a must. Guying out the tent fly as much as possible is one way of ensuring maximum ventilation as it keeps tent windows open.
  • Never leave the heater on as you sleep: This is a massive mistake. Something could catch fire, or the heater might tip over, creating significant risk. So, before you go to sleep, make sure that the unit is turned off.
  • Store the fuel tank properly: The propane tank is best stored outside the tent. We’ve already mentioned that you must never sleep with a propane heater running. Switch it off and carry the gas cylinder outside. The same applies during the day when you don’t need heating. Carry the gas cylinder outside.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Alternative Solutions for Tent Heating?

The list is endless. Pretty much every energy source that can be used in home heating is usable in tent heating. The only outright exception is wood stoves. Never use wood for tent heating. Just as importantly, whichever type of fuel you choose, make sure the heater is rated for camping tent use.

Are Propane Heaters Safe in a Tent?

Yes, generally. Propane heater manufacturers have gone to great lengths to ensure that heaters designed for tent use are safe. However, you must make sure that the model you’re buying is tent-safe. Secondly, you have a responsibility to use the heater safely throughout your camping.

How Cold is Too Cold for Tent Camping?

Many health experts agree that temperatures below 32°F are not ideal for the well-being of humans. If you decide to camp in such cold temperatures, anyway, take steps to keep yourself as warm as possible. Also, don’t stay out there too long. Temperatures below 13°F are considered dangerous. You’re strongly advised against camping in such cold weather.

Portable Propane Heater For Camping

1. Mr. Heater MH12B Hunting Buddy Portable Space Heater

The Mr. Heater MH12B is the most popular portable propane heater in North America, and for a good reason. This 12,000 BTU heater that works at 6,000 BTU (LOW setting) is a powerful heater designed for medium-sized spaces up to 300 square feet. It also features electric ignition for convenient start-up and multiple safety controls.

You’ll also love that the unit, which uses a one-pound disposable tank, can be adapted to use a larger 20LB cylinder with the purchase of a single hose and filter. An oxygen depletion sensor and (ODS) and accidental tip-over shutoff valve ensure complete safety during use.

The heater measures 10.25 x 15.5 x 15.5 inches and weighs about 9.0 pounds. It comes with a 1-year warranty.

Pros

  • Powerful 12,000 BTU output
  • Safe for indoor use
  • Built-in ODS sensor
  • Swivel regulator 
  • One-year warranty

Cons

  • Manual knob control
  • The grille gets a bit hot

2. Mr. Heater MH18B Propane Heater

Another on-the-money portable propane heater that suits camping applications, the model MH18B, is an 18,000 BTU heater designed for spaces up to 450 square feet.

You can adjust the heat output to only 4,000 BTU (LOW setting) for smaller applications. It’s also an extremely lightweight unit, with an ergonomic carry handle for effortless mobility.

Two swivel regulators give you the ability to adapt the heater to use a 20-lb propane tank instead of the standard 1-lb disposable cylinder – all you need to purchase a single hose and filter. An oxygen depletion sensor is built into the heater for safety reasons. The unit also features an anti-tip-over shutoff.

At about 16 x 11 x 12 inches and weighs just 16.3 pounds, the unit is easy to pack for your camping trip. The simple, single control start knob makes your work very easy.

Pros

  • Powerful 4,000-18,000 BTU
  • Ideal for up to 450 square feet
  • Low-Med-High heat settings
  • Rated indoor-safe
  • Multiple safety features

Cons

  • Manual controls
  • The housing gets a bit hot

3. Mr. Heater MH4B Massachusetts/Canada Portable LP Heater

You’ll notice that the above two heaters (both from Mr. Heater) are a bit on the higher end with regard to heat output, especially for camping. If you want a smaller model from the same manufacturer and with the same quality performance, the modest model MH4B would be an excellent option.

Rated at 3,800 BTU, it’s small but still powerful enough for most camping needs. It also runs on a disposable 1-lb propane cylinder. Make sure to carry several of these on your trip.

The unit is effective over spaces up to 95 square feet and takes up very little space, thanks to an ergonomic base. An integrated handle makes it easy to carry the heater from one place to the next.

The MH4B is equipped with a push-and-hold ignition button for easy and fast ignition and features multiple safety features, including a tip-over switch and oxygen depletion sensor. It measures 10 x 9.7 x 12 inches and weighs about 2.0 pounds.

Pros

  • Oxygen depletion sensor built-in
  • One-button ignition
  • Quiet, clean, odor-free
  • Ergonomic stand included
  • 1-year warranty

Cons

  • Manual controls
  • Best for small spaces

4. Stansport Model 195 Portable Outdoor Propane Infrared Radiant Heater

This next model from Stansport is one of the smallest portable heaters for camping. At just 8.8 x 5.5 x 5.5 inches and weighing less than 1.9 pounds, it’s not only easy to pack but also takes up very little space on your camping truck and within the tent.

A couple of things that stand out about the heater include the substantial 3,100 BTU output, which is more than sufficient for the standard camping tent. A metal dish helps focus the heat where you need it most, while a front cage protects you from burns.

The heater has four heat settings (off, low, medium, and high) and uses matchless ignition. A stable plastic base with fold-out feet and a convenient carry handle round off the list of features.

Pros 

  • Up to 3,100 BTU
  • 4-step temperature controls
  • Ergonomic carry handle
  • Stable plastic base included

Cons 

  • Strictly for outdoor use

5. Hiland LP-195C Portable Tank Top Propane Camping Heater

The extremely portable LP-195C heater from Hiland is a 3,000 BTU unit constructed from steel and aluminum for maximum durability. It’s a variable control heater with multiple heat settings. Adjust the heat output as necessary to meet your heating needs.

The unit uses a disposable 1-lb propane cylinder and comes with an extractable base for stability. You can detach the base when storing the heater. An anti-tip-over switch means there’s nothing to worry about, even if the heater tilts or tips over.

The heater installs with great ease, even though some assembly is required. It measures 12 x 12 x 19.25 inches and weighs just 1.45 pounds. Remember that this heater is strictly marked for outdoor use. Don’t use it inside the house.

Pros

  • Durable aluminum-steel construction
  • Extremely portable at just 1.45 lb.
  • Anti-tip-over protection
  • CSA certified

Cons

  • Not for indoor use
  • A plastic base is always a risk

6. Camco Olympian Wave 3LP Portable Gas Catalytic Heater

The Camco Olympian RV Wave-3 LP gas catalytic heater is an adjustable heater that generates 3,000 BTU at the maximum output but can be adjusted to fit smaller applications as necessary.

It operates on low-pressure gas and is the only product on this list that can be wall-mounted. You can also use it as a portable unit.

It doesn’t need a battery to operate and doesn’t connect to electric outlets either. It’s also impressively quiet, with the absence of a fan, meaning you don’t have to worry about rousing dust either. In general, catalytic heating is also way more efficient. This particular model is about 99.8% efficient.

The built-in piezoelectric ignition system makes starting the heat a breeze and is designed to last 20,000 starts. This heater measures 12.7 x 30.48 x 38.1 cm and weighs 3.13 kg.

Pros

  • Reliable 3,000 BTU output
  • Very efficient (at 99.8%)
  • Can be wall-mounted
  • Safety shutoff valve

Cons 

  • Not very aesthetically pleasing
  • It’s a bit heavy for camping use

Wrap Up

Camping in the wild winter is an exhilarating experience – something a lot of people love. However, be warned of the dangers of overexposure to extremely cold weather. Frostbite and hyperthermia are real possibilities.

Getting a portable propane heater for your trip can alleviate some of these worries. The best part? Small propane heaters are easily available and very affordable!