Best Tent Heater – 3 Safe Camping Heaters Reviewed

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A tent heater is an essential piece of gear for four-season camping.

Camping can be a great way to get back to basics – but that doesn’t mean that you should go without certain essentials. Most camping enthusiasts would agree that keeping warm is particularly important, especially if you are camping anywhere with typically low temperatures or during winter.

A tent heater provides a fantastic opportunity to keep your tent warm throughout the night. But which camping heaters provide the best experience? To help you decide, we have looked thoroughly into three of the best tent heaters. All these models make use of either propane or electricity as the fuel for heating. See which comes out on top?

Want to know which is best straight off? Our comparison table below reveals all.

ProductProduct ImageHeat OutputRatingPrice
Mr Heater MH9BX Buddy9000 BTU5 Star RatingCHECK PRICE
Mr Heater Little Buddy3800 BTU3.5 Star RatingCHECK PRICE
Zodi Outback Gear X-4040000 BTU4 Star RatingCHECK PRICE

 

Only reviews of safe tent heaters for camping

In terms of safety, we specifically want to cover burning propane in an indoor space. Propane can be safely burned indoors using an appliance rated for indoor use. Like the 2 Mr Heater products we’ve reviewed below.

Regardless, any product that uses propane or butane as the fuel source requires ventilation. When propane burns it produces nitrogen, water vapor and carbon dioxide. If the space is unventilated with limited oxygen then dangerous carbon monoxide can be produced. Simply ensuring that air can flow in and out of the tent will ensure more complete combustion of the fuel source and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Plus any carbon monoxide that is produced will be able to escape.

For complete safety use a camping heater that’s fueled with propane in conjunction with a carbon monoxide detector.

On to the reviews.

1. Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy – Portable camping heater, light and safe, the best on test here

  • Approved for both indoor and outdoor use
  • Nearly 100% efficient
  • Piezo ignition
  • Clean-burning propane heater for camping
  • Accidental tip-over Auto-shut-off for improved safety

This is a quick and reliable camping heater with a special focus on safety – making it particularly proficient for families. Its auto-shut-off function kicks in if it is knocked over or if it detects too little oxygen. This causes the flame to go out while the thermocouple shuts off the main gas supply to the catalytic burner, neat.

Perfect for a family tent

It’s also easy to use, lightweight, and approved for all kinds of indoor use, making it perfect for a tent. It will heat any tent, RV or garage in a matter of minutes. Particularly useful for families is the fact that it has a very small size when folded away. However, if you’re using it at 7,000 feet above sea level, it might switch off, so it’s not suitable for every single camping trip, or the more adventurous out there.

Check out the brief video below courtesy of MDPrepper and see why campers and preppers alike rate the Mr Heater Buddy.

 

With this heater, you will find that it works efficiently and quickly enough to be able to sit in even a large tent at night with only a light jacket on. The safety of the product ensures that you won’t worry about sleeping with it on, either – peace of mind you won’t get with every tent warmer.

Option to connect to a larger fuel supply

A 1lb disposable propane canister fits directly in the unit as with the Little Buddy model below. However, for longer camps, the swivel out regulator allows you to connect to a larger remote gas supply with the addition of a hose and fuel filter.

Pros

  • Highly efficient and heats up to 225 square feet
  • Very safe to use and to leave on overnight
  • Suitable for both indoor and outdoor use
  • Perfect even for large tents
  • Fast to heat up portable tent heater
  • No sound
  • No smell

Cons

  • Not suitable for all conditions, such as extremely high altitudes
  • Very large tents and indoor spaces might need something a little more heavy-duty
  • Requires a separate hose and fuel filter if using with a larger propane tank

Product conclusion

Overall, the Buddy is a reliable and handy little heater. It’s ideal for shorter camping trips and family tents. You won’t want it if you’re trekking up the side of a mountain, but for most situations, it is a perfectly efficient and cost-effective heating solution. One of the best value for money options you are going to come across.

 

2. Mr. Heater F215100 MH4B Little Buddy – Efficient and powerful portable heater for camping but for shorter periods only

  • Only 7 pounds – extremely lightweight
  • Relatively safe
  • Easy to use with simple on/off function
  • Heats up to 95 square feet – fast

Another in the Mr. Heater range, this too is a relatively safe and reliable little heater which will be suitable for a range of occasions. It is on the smaller side, at only 3800 BTU, but for its size, it packs a punch. Using indoor-safe propane according to the manufacturer it can easily heat up to 95 square feet – not bad for its apparent size.

Simple reliable operation

The operation is simple enough. Simply press the ignition and hold until the pilot light is stable, usually within 10 seconds though the manufacturer advises this can be up to 30. The heat soon follows.

Accidental tip-over and low-oxygen sensors make the unit fairly safe for most users despite the large head. However, we feel it’s lacking the extra security of the larger MH9BX.

Lasts for up to 6 hours

It can last a little over 6 hours at full blast using a 1lb propane tank – not bad, but not quite the length of time of some of the more heavy-duty options out there. High and low settings would also be handy rather than a single setting.

As for heating up 95 square feet, yeah sure it can but you might not have a lot of propane left once it does. This would be best combined with smaller tents only, perhaps up to a 3 person tent maximum.

You should also remember that the Mr Heater options in these reviews don’t incorporate any kind of fan, unlike with say a ceramic heater option. Of course, you’ll need a power outlet for that type of heater. The heat here is circulated via the natural rise of warm air and the fall of cooler air.

Best for smaller spaces in less challenging conditions

If you are going on a weekend camping trip, or you want to heat up a camper van or truck, this just might be your perfect option. But it is unlikely to be able to cut it for more extreme winter conditions, or longer periods. However, it does heat up a lot of space, but not for quite as long as some of your other options.

You might also have some trouble feeling confident leaving this one burning in the night; it has safety features, but they’re not the most effective you’ll ever see. Just making the plastic tank base that little bit bigger would be a good start.

This is highly portable and cheap, this constitutes a useful little emergency heater – when all else has failed. Watch the brief video below to see how easy it is to set up and operate the Little Buddy.

 

Pros

  • Packs a punch for its size
  • Highly portable camping heater
  • Cheap for its power
  • Smell-free
  • Continuous use for up to 6 hours
  • Heats a large area for its size
  • Safe for ventilated indoor spaces
  • Doesn’t require a separate hose or fuel filter

Cons

  • Not the most effective, or the quickest to heat up a large area
  • Safety could be better; families or those with kids might be a little worried
  • Tank base could be a little bigger to reduce the chance of it falling over
  • Missing a high/low setting

Product conclusion

If you are looking for an emergency heater when others fail, this could be a great option. The Little Buddy is cheap, it’s light, and it does the job – but not quite as effectively as many other heaters for tents out there.

It’s approved for indoor and tent usage, although not for motorized vehicles, so it’s not always going to be your go-to. It packs a punch, however, and can heat a large area – but you might not feel safe leaving it on overnight. Not the best for a longer camping trip, but acceptable as a just in case alternative.

 

3. Zodi Outback Gear X-40 – The safest tent warmer option but it comes at a cost

  • Safe for all enclosures
  • Positive pressure features
  • High-output
  • Compact and easy to use

At the complete other end of the scale, you have this beauty. Compared to the previous Mr. Heater options, this is an especially rugged and effective hot vent tent heater, the kind that will make you feel a lot safer on any trip. It is rated as being safe for all types of enclosures.

The Zodi requires a 12-volt power source

The Zodi is easy and fast to set up and heats up even larger spaces relatively quickly. It does, however, require something that the other heaters being reviewed do not – to be connected to a 12-volt power source. For some users, this could pose a problem.

Some might also find that it is a bit bulkier than others to transport but when in use at least the main unit is outside of your tent only the two hoses go in and out of the tent. It is lightweight, yes, but the shape of it is a little awkward to transport. In smaller tents, you might prefer to go for the Mr. Heater MH4B. But for larger tents or more serious adventures, this is one of your best choices.

The safest option

It also happens to be one of the safest, so you won’t need to worry about leaving it on overnight. You can also adjust the heat quite well using the valve on the propane tank, whereas with other heaters this adjustment isn’t quite so accurate.

Pros

  • Highly durable and dependable
  • Quick to set up
  • A particularly safe and clean option
  • No dangerous fumes
  • Great for more serious expeditions, larger tents and longer times
  • Great value for money
  • Forced air circulates the heat evenly unlike with the propane alternatives

Cons

  • Too bulky for smaller spaces
  • Although good value for what it provides, it is a pricey upfront cost
  • Requires 12-volt power, which might not be suitable for everyone

Product conclusion

The Zodi tent heater is a high-priced, but high-functioning, heater – and not one for the faint-hearted. Given the cost, you will need to be a serious regular camper to feel the need for this. But if you do think this is the kind of heater you should be going for, you won’t be disappointed.

It provides fast, safe forced-clean air after a setup which only takes a few minutes, and it is the kind of heater you can leave on all night without fear. However, you’ll need that 12-volt power source, which is enough to put a lot of people off. A great option for serious expeditions or group trips but a little overkill for most family camping trips.

 

The Verdict: The Best Tent Heater For Camping is…

Overall, the Mr. Heater MH9BX has to be your best camping heater option for general use. It is a heater you can use anywhere, is fast to set up and heats quickly and for large indoor areas. It also incorporates some great safety features. All this, and it is still on the lower end of the price range.

The Zodi might well offer considerably more power, but that is a power source that you have to provide yourself – and it is going to cost you a lot more upfront anyway.

The MH9BX is the only one of the three which will be just as adept for the weekend trip away as for more serious situations – and you are bound to feel that the price tag is fair. Whether it’s a tent, shed or for use as a hunting blind heater, it’s easily the best option of the three here.

Either of the Mr Heater models is a good replacement for those of you who were fond of the Coleman catalytic heater models that used to be popular. The Sportcat and the Blackcat were both good but don’t seem to be available from any of the big stores anymore.

Do you have any experience of these or any other camping heaters for tents? If so we’d love to hear your opinion via the comments below.

Camping Heater Buying Advice

Mr Heater Buddy sat in the entrance of the tent

You’ve read the reviews but before you choose to decide what’s best for your needs by considering the following 3 factors.

Fuel Type

There are two main fuel types for tent heaters, electric and gas. Both have their pros and cons.

Electric models are great if you’re on an established campground with an electric hookup. In that respect, they also have an endless supply of fuel.

If you want to go off-grid though they’re not the best option. A battery-powered unit might work for a short period, but the heat output is low. A gas-powered model with a 1lb canister will work anywhere and the heat output can be much higher.

Also, if you’re a light sleeper an electric unit that blows hot air across an element is also noisy in comparison to a gas model. So, if you’re on a hunt and using it as a deer blind heater then the noise could be a disadvantage.

Heat Output

The heat output of a heating appliance is usually measured in BTU’s (British Thermal Unit). The higher the figure the more heat the unit can pump out.

Most camping tents aren’t that big so a heater than can produce 2000-6000 BTU’s should be adequate. Of course, if it can produce more then you’ll likely have more flexibility and control of the environment.

If you want to get technical use a heat calculator to work out exactly what heat output, you need for the space you want to warm.

Size & Portability

If you’re considering a tent heater you’ll likely be car camping as opposed to backpacking. Size, therefore, might not be a huge consideration other than to ensure there’s enough heat output. The Mr Heater units, for example, are much smaller than the likes of the Zodi with it’s 40,000 BTU output.

6 Comments

  1. The Mr. Heater, Portable Buddy DOES NOT detect carbon monoxide (or even carbon dioxide). It only detects lack of oxygen. The mechanism by which it does this is that there is a tiny gas flame, positioned under a thermocouple. Lack of oxygen causes the flame to go out and the thermocouple shuts off the main has supply to the catalytic burner.

  2. You state: “Too bulky for smaller spaces” for the Zodi. Not sure you are clear on the concept. The heater unit goes outside and the hoses go in and out of the tent. So, it takes up *less* room in a tent.

    The fact that the combustion and exhaust both happen outside is what makes it safe….. none of that is happening in the tent. One hose is sucking air from the tent and the other is returning the same air (heated) to the tent after it runs through the heat exchanger. All of the exhaust is vented out the top….. never coming into contact with the air coming from and going to the tent.

    • Dean Anderson says:

      I get the concept Brian but I perhaps didn’t word the review quite so well. Given your input I’ve revised things slightly. Many thanks Brian.

  3. Both of the buddy heaters you reviewed have the same safety features, none of which can detect Carbon Monoxide. They both only have tip-over sensors and low oxygen sensors. When using them inside, always keep a CO sensor nearby!

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