Best To Worst: Camping Heaters for Winter Road Trips

By Kyle & Olivia Brady | Founders of Drivin' & Vibin' | We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

Best To Worst: Camping Heaters for Winter Road Trips

Although most people picture camping in the summer, you can actually camp year-round.

Just because the temperature drops doesn’t mean you need to shy away from road trips. But winter camping requires a bit more planning and preparation. You have to stay warm after all.

One of the best ways to stay nice and cozy is camping heaters.

Types of Camping Heaters

The most common types of camping heaters are gas or electric. Gas heaters usually run on propane, whereas electric heaters will plug into a standard outlet for power.

There are several types of electric heaters. You may have infrared heaters, ceramic heaters, or even oil-filled heaters. Sometimes, the heat radiates out from the heater while others have a fan to blow the hot air out into the area.

Radiant heaters are more consistent and quieter. But they may be a bit slower to heat the room than an electric camping heater with a fan. You get some added speed and heat with a fan, but it also draws more power.

Gas heaters are also a popular option. Since gas heaters may have an open flame, you need to be extra cautious when using this type of heater. Make sure you don’t set anything too close or you risk starting a fire. Propane heaters are amazing for boondocking though, since they don’t require any hookups. And in our experience, you can’t beat the heat of a portable propane heater.

Pro Tip: Check out The Best Ways to Heat Your RV in the Winter here.

What To Look For In a Camping Heater

When you are looking for camping heaters, safety should always be at the forefront of your mind. It is important to choose a heater that has built-in safety features such as automatic shut off. For example, your propane heater should shut off if it tips over or the oxygen in the room or tent is depleted.

Another consideration for buying a heater for camping is what kind of power source you want. If you stay at campgrounds with electricity included, an electric heater will save you money.

But if you are a boondocker without access to hookups, a gas heater is the way to go.

Higher BTU space heaters will produce more heat, but they also require a lot of power.

Lastly, you need to consider runtime. If you are using an electric heater, this typically won’t be an issue. As long as you plug the camping heater in, it will provide heat. But propane heaters can burn through gas at different speeds. The longer the runtime, the better.

Camping Heaters Ranked from Best to Worst

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite camping heaters for you to choose from. We’ll start with the absolute best. But before we get started, a quick pro tip: always use carbon monoxide detector with gas heaters.

The monitor will quickly (and loudly) alert you if anything is amiss, potentially saving your life.

Since these are camping heaters, many of them should only be used outdoors! Be sure to read all instructions and safety tips for any heater you purchase.

Mr. Heater MH9BXRV Propane Heater

By far the best camping heater is the Mr. Heater. This heater runs off propane to deliver radiant heat at 4,000-9,000 BTU. As soon as you turn it on, you will notice the room warming up. And since it is a radiator heater, it is virtually silent.

The Mr. Heater is small and portable so you can take it with you wherever you go. It is approved for indoor use and is almost 100% efficient.

It also comes with built-in safety features. The Mr. Heater will automatically shut off if any of the following happen. If you (or your dog) accidentally tip the heater over. If the pilot light goes out. Or if oxygen levels are low.

You can use it with a small propane tank or purchase an adaptor to connect to a 20lb tank. Just make sure you use an approved adaptor so you stay safe.

The Mr. Heater is a bit spendy at around $100, but it is well worth the cost. Plus, it is actually less expensive than some other camping heaters out there.

Texsport Portable Propane Heater

If cost is prohibitive for the Mr. Heater, there is another great option in the Texsport Sportmate portable propane heater. The Sportmate is also smaller than the Mr. Heater, so you can use it in almost any space. It isn’t as warm though with a BTU of up to 3,000.

The Sportmate comes with an auto shut off if the flame goes out. That way you aren’t pumping propane out into the room on accident. It has a large paddle foot base to increase stability and make this heater less likely to tip over.

Finally, the Sportmate has a built-in aluminum reflector safety grid. This ensures safe and efficient operation. This heater should only be used outdoors.

Campy Gear 2-in-1 Heater and Stove

This little camp heater is pretty awesome thanks to its dual purpose. It works as both a heater and a stove. If you’re RV camping, you might not need this (unless you are boondocking). But if you’re tent camping, backpacking, or ice fishing in cold weather, it is a lifesaver.

It also delivers impressive heat! This tiny heater gives up to 13,000 BTU. Much more than any of the other portable heaters on the list. And you can cook on it?! That’s what we call a win-win.

This 2-in-1 is also equipped with safety features. It includes a tip-over switch and oxygen depletion sensors. Together, these features ensure automatic shut off if needed. Campy Gear also provides a satisfaction guarantee and 24-hour customer service. They are committed to your happiness (and warmth!) 

APG Portable Propane/Butane Heater

Last up is the APG portable gas heater. As you can see, we love propane heaters for their superior warmth and efficiency over electric heaters.

The APG is truly portable. It is just 5.9 by 5.5 inches. Small enough to bring along in a backpack. The APG isn’t as efficient or warm as the other heaters on our list. But it is also a fraction of the size, so that isn’t super surprising.

The APG portable heater has an adjustable safety valve to control heating and power. But it doesn’t have some auto shut off features of other camping heaters. We would recommend using this one only when you are awake and monitoring the situation.

Other Trips for Staying Warm While Road Tripping and Camping

If you’re still chilly, even with one of our favorite heaters blasting, here are some other things to try. First, dress in layers. You can always put on more layers to keep you warm. Plus, you’ll save energy by doing this.

While you’re sleeping, you might benefit from a 12v electric blanket. This tiny addition can make a world of difference in how toasty you are.

In fact, we know some people who used just a 12v blanket to car camp every weekend while skiing in the mountains. No other heat source needed. Plus, you can hook it up to solar power and it is perfect even off-grid.

Finally, you can also use a sleeping bag rated for outdoor temperatures. You can find sleeping bags rated to 0 degrees or even subzero temperatures. In the comfort of your RV, this should be enough to keep you plenty warm.

Go Winter Camping, But Stay Warm!

Winter is no reason to not road trip! In fact, it can be one of the best times to get out and enjoy the country.

Everything is much less crowded in the winter. From campgrounds to that killer hike you have your eye on. Before you hit the road in the winter, grab one of these camping heaters to make the experience even better.

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2 comments

  1. Love Mr Buddy heaters.They can heat a fairly large room/area pretty quickly. I use to hang out next to the campfire and let it heat up my tent for about 20-30 minutes and go from warm, to warm. Less than $100 at Wal-Mart or Amazon. Tks

  2. One thing to remember when using any of these propane heaters is condensation – I have a Mr. buddy and it puts out a lot of moisture. Don’t be surprised if you wake up in the morning with frost on the inside of your tent or vehicle, even if you leave a window or flap partially open (which you should do when using one of these heaters for safety).

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