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Camping Heater Guide - Stay Warm and Comfortable in and Outside your Tent with the Right Fuel

Updated on November 10, 2010

When you are out camping the conditions can change very rapidly. It could be beautiful and sunny one minute and then you are caught in a rainstorm the next. To prepare yourself for sudden changes in temperature and also make getting out of your camping beds that much easier, bringing along a camping heater can make all the difference.

Camping Heater
Camping Heater

The Obvious Question

So why don’t I just light a fire? A camping heater may not have crossed a lot of people’s minds as the thought of going camping is synonymous with sitting by a warm and comforting campfire. The reality is that it isn’t always possible to have a fire. Your local council or national park may have a fire ban imposed in that area or during the time of your trip. A fire ban usually coincides with very hot and dry conditions where high winds prevail, hence in the interests of safety having a traditional fire isn’t allowed.

Another common problem is the rain. As anyone who has ever tried to make a fire knows wet wood doesn’t make the best fuel. It may be that the area you are in has just been subjected to a downpour or you have been caught in your tent or fishing bivvy for much longer than you would like and are looking for some extra warmth. 

In Case of Emergency

A good camping heater can be a lifesaver in an emergency. Many of the most serious camping accidents and fatalities stem from very simple and preventable conditions like dehydration, over exposure and hypothermia. If you are camping in very cold climates or need to get your body temperature up both quickly and in a gentle controlled manner then your camping heater is a quick and immediate source of heat. Particularly if you are moving campsites or just setting up camp at the end of your days trek, a camp heater can guard against unforeseen circumstances like wet wood, or little or no fuel if you are camping on a beach or rocky outcrop.

Although not recommended by the manufactures the heater can also be used to warm your food or drink. If you are camping in the snow then you can integrate the heater as part of your camping cooking supplies to help melt down snow for water. A good thermal mug can then keep that water from re-freezing. You should never eat snow as it will bring your temperature down and use up precious energy.

Propane Camp Heaters

The most powerful camp heaters are powered by propane. Propane camp heaters work in the same way as your gas heater at home although almost every component is much smaller. A big consideration is how long you are going to be out camping for as you will need to bring along enough fuel for the length of your trip. Propane though not overly expensive, does mean that you are going to have to carry along the bottles so be prepared for some heavy lifting if your campsite isn’t easily reachable by car.

Most propane heaters are designed to fit onto a standard disposable propane cylinder and depending on both the size of the cylinder and the heat output you heater will work anywhere from an hour on a 1lb cylinder to over 7 or 8 on you conventional (14.1 -16.4 oz) barbeque propane cylinder. All it takes is the push of a button once it’s attached and you have a warm tent, additionally the propane tank can also be used to fuel your camping shower and camp stove so the extra weight may well be worth it.

The Key Is Saftey

Your basic heater will be a heating element and a reflector. Some portable camping heaters will have an exposed flame though these are generally for use outdoors only. Basic heaters are commonly missing an array of features which not only makes them less practical but also not as safe. If you are in the market for yours then make sure to keep an eye out for the following;

• You want your heater to be certified for use indoors - This in itself will mean that most of the features below will already be included. 

• Auto Shut-off feature – This feature will turn off the heater if it should get knocked over, extremely important as the inside of your tent is often crowded with items and makes moving around freely more difficult.

• Push button ignition – it is safer to have a dedicated ignition (often battery powered) so that you don’t need an open flame. An open flame can be your biggest enemy inside a tent as the tent materials and almost all camping equipment from the tent itself and your backpack down to your sleeping bag liners are very susceptible to fire and you could melt a nice hole in your tent quite quickly or do even worse.

• Oxygen Depletion sensor – If you are going to use it indoors then you need to make sure that there is adequate ventilation. Gas and Fire can be a terrible combination when out of control. This feature will make sure that you don’t enter into a competition to breath against your own equipment.

Camping Heater/Stove
Camping Heater/Stove


If you are still not sold over the idea of having dedicated camping heaters for tents then consider taking along something that is more adaptable like a heater/cooker combination. This is essentially a camping heater which can be tilted 90 degrees. Because it can be used for cooking also these devices will have variable heat settings and are made to work with small 1lb cylinders also. The plus side is that you will be carrying one piece of equipment for 2 functions these units are small enough to fit inside a mini backpack, though the drawback is that these models tend to be made exclusively for use outside.

Your camping heater may be a luxury item if you are taking a short trip or it can be an essential if you are establishing a base camp. Regardless of what kind of camping trip you are planning on, be sure purchase carefully and familiarise yourself with the manual. Do your research on the different models available in the market as price isn’t really the most important consideration. Keep the above points in mind as you do your shopping and you will end up with something both practical and safe.


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