Camping Tent Heaters – Find the Right Portable Electric or Catalytic Heater

Some hardcore winter campers brag they can stay warm in a tent during frigid weather by just burning a candle in a can with holes punched in the top. The rest of us, however, may want the comfort of a tent heater to take the bite out of cold weather.

Tent heaters have been around for a long time, but older models that operated on propane or campground electricity could be hazardous because, if they tipped over, they could start a fire. Safety improvements have been made to newer models.

One of the best new electric heaters is the Confined Space Tent Heater, made by Allegro Industries. Originally designed for work tents, it also can be used by campers. More expensive than other models, the heater comes with a long cord so it can be plugged in outside the tent. It can raise the temperature of any work tent to 50 degrees.

Catalytic heaters aren’t a new technology, but traditionally they have been too heavy and large for camping. Now, manufacturers are offering smaller models of these heaters for camping.

They are safer than other types of heaters because they use a flameless technology that doesn’t produce large amounts of carbon monoxide, which can be very dangerous in enclosed spaces. Some catalytic heaters also operate very quietly without a fan.

Tent heaters are best used to heat up a tent before going to bed or in the morning after waking up. Some manufacturers recommend placing the heater on top of a cooler when it is operating to keep the heater off the tent’s fabric floor. They also recommend using heaters only in tents designed for six people or more.

Even the new catalytic heaters should not be used when campers are sleeping. While asleep, campers may roll over and their skin could make contact with the heater, which can cause burns. They also may be slower to realize that the heater has started a fire.

Although catalytic heaters are safer, they can start a fire if they come in contact with combustible material and will cause burns if someone touches the heating element. Adequate ventilation must be provided and flammable materials should be kept at least two feet away from the heater. All tent heaters also emit some level of carbon monoxide.

Campers also should remove the propane cylinder before transporting a tent heater and should not use camp stoves or lanterns to heat tents.

Coleman, the well-known manufacturer of camping and recreational equipment, now offers several types of catalytic propane heaters created specifically for camping and other recreational pursuits.

The Coleman BlackCat, designed for enclosed areas like tents, features electronic ignition and a high-low temperature setting, puts out 3,000 BTU’s and provides up to six hours of heat with a 16.4-ounce fuel cylinder. The PowerCat produces the same amount of warmth, but also has a battery-operated fan to circulate the heated air.

The SportCat is more suited to lightweight camping than the other two models because it’s much smaller and weighs less than the 3.75-pound BlackCat. It provides 1,500 BTU’s for 14 hours on a single fuel container. With an AC adapter, the ProCat works on electricity if it’s available.

Another option is the GolfCat, designed for heating golf carts but usable in a tent. It also operates with 3,000 BTU’s and provides up to seven hours of heat on a 16.4-ounce cylinder.

Other manufacturers have worked to make non-catalytic heaters safer than in the past.

Mr. Heater makes several models of tent heaters, including the portable LP gas heater, which has an automatic shutoff for the pilot light to prevent explosions when too much oxygen is present. The lightweight heater also can be used at home and mounted on a wall. Other Mr. Heater models produce up to 9,000 BTU’s.

For larger wall tents often used by groups of hunters, wood-burning stoves are available with chimneys that vent noxious gases to the outside. Some of these stoves are collapsible, which makes them very portable.

If used properly, tent heaters can extend the camping season in the fall by taking the chill out of that cold morning air. They also provide much better heat than a candle in a can.