We all know the feeling – you’re out on a family camping trip, lying awake in your sleeping bag in the middle of the night shivering. You’re wearing all of the layers you have and you’re still cold! Apparently, the extra money you paid for that “warmer” sleeping bag didn’t pay off. Maybe you should have spent the money on a tent heater instead? Wait..are tent heaters even safe to use inside a tent?
The simple answer is, yes, a tent heater that is specifically designed for use inside a tent is, indeed, safe for use in a tent, or similar confined space, provided that you follow the manufacturer’s specifications.
That being said, many people are concerned that tent heaters are dangerous. It might, at first, seem unsafe to have a heat source inside your flammable tent, but this may not be the case. When it comes to the safety of tent heaters, it all depends on what model you buy and how you use it.
Let’s take a look at how these nifty devices work and uncover the truth once and for all.
So, Are Tent Heaters Safe for Camping
If you’re the type of dedicated camper that won’t let some snow or cold weather keep you indoors, you probably understand the struggle of tossing and turning in your sleeping bag as you shiver and try to get warm. After a high-quality tent and sleeping bag, a tent heater is the next best option for keeping you warm at night.
But are they safe to use?
Any heating device that you might use in to heat your tent poses some sort of risk. For the most part, a poorly made or improperly operated tent heater can be dangerous because it can cause a fire hazard or a suffocation hazard.
Any heating source, if it comes in contact with flammable objects, could cause a fire. Especially with tent heaters that rely on actual flames to create heat, this danger is very real. Even with electric tent heaters, the amount of heat given off from the tent heater could cause a sleeping bag or tent fly to catch on fire.
The more likely danger, however with a propane heater is not a fire, but rather suffocation. In propane-powered tent heaters, carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases are a byproduct of the burning of fuel. When in an enclosed space, like a tent, carbon monoxide levels can quickly become toxic and cause serious illness or death.
How Do You Know If a Tent Heater is Safe
While knowing that a tent heater could cause a fire or release toxic gases could easily turn you off of the idea of owning a tent heater, that was not our intention. Rather, it is important to know what the dangers of a tent heater are so that you can be sure to use it properly.
That being said, choosing a safe tent heater can be difficult to do. Before buying a tent heater, consider these safety tips:
1. Understand the difference between propane and electric
Generally speaking, tent heaters rely on either propane gas or electricity to create the warmth we crave on a cold night under the stars. Both types of heaters offer different benefits and disadvantages that are worth understanding.
First things first, propane heaters allow you to heat your tent in the absence of an electric hookup, which is great in primitive campsites. This versatility does come at a price, though, which is a higher risk of fires and toxic gases, though many modern tent heaters have a number of safety features to combat this.
Electric heaters, on the other hand, don’t emit any toxic gases and have a lower risk of fire, but they can still happen. However, electric heaters generally require some sort of electric hookup to run, which could be impossible to find, based on where you’re camping.
2. Only buy tent-safe heaters
This safety tip is non-negotiable. Only heaters that are specifically designed for use inside a tent should ever be used in your tent. This is because tent-specific heaters are designed for use inside a confined space and have additional safety features to prevent catastrophe.
3. Position your tent heater properly
Most modern propane tent heaters and all-electric heaters don’t actually create a flame – rather propane heaters rely on the chemical process involved in a catalytic conversion to create warmth. But, even these catalytic heaters and electric heaters can cause a fire.
Tent heaters can get really hot, so any flammable objects in close contact with them (think spare clothes, sleeping bags, and tents) can catch on fire. Before you use it, be sure to position your heater so that it’s not likely to come in contact with anything during the night. You’ll also want to position it so that you or someone else can’t accidentally knock it over.
4. Ensure proper ventilation
If you choose to use a propane heater, you must ensure that your tent is properly ventilated. In an enclosed space, the carbon monoxide and other gases released by a propane heater or open flame can quickly reach toxic levels and cause serious illness or death by preventing the proper absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream.
Before you use a propane tent heater, ensure that there is sufficient ventilation within your tent. There should always be a place for toxic gases to escape the tent, which simultaneously allows fresh air to enter.
You can help ensure proper ventilation by making sure that there is airflow under the tent fly and into the tent body. In windless conditions, you may even need to leave the tent zipper open by six inches or so to allow for some air movement.
My Recommended Tent Heater
If you’re looking for a good portable heater that’s safe for using inside of your tent, I highly recommend checking out the Mr. Heater Big Buddy. I’ve owned my unit for several years now and couldn’t be happier with it.
It’ small, lightweight, and easily heats my 8-person cabin style tent. I live in Florida, so I do most of my camping in the winter months when the mosquitoes and other bugs aren’t so bad, so this thing gets its fair share of use during the winter months.
While I realize our winters here in Florida are not exactly what the rest of the country would call cold, it does routinely dip into the 30s during the winter months.
I can honestly say that I have not once been cold when I’ve been using my Big Buddy!
If you would like to see more reviews and to check out the price of the Mr. Heater Big Buddy, you can check it out on Amazon.
Ultimately, a heater that is specifically designed for use in a tent is safe for camping when operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Both electric and propane heaters pose some element of danger, but with proper use and solid attention to detail and safety protocols, you can effectively minimize the risk involved with operating a tent heater and reap its innumerable benefits.