Often, regardless of the season, camping can be cold, which means you are probably considering bringing some sort of camping heater with you. There are a few different camping heaters to choose from, but some are safer than others. In the past, gas heaters have had trouble because they worked by full combustion. Now, gas heaters use a different method.
So, are gas camping heaters safe?
When used properly, gas heaters for camping are safe. In order to safely use a gas camping heater, you will need to be aware of how to keep CO2 emissions under control as well as some other safety issue, such as tip over risk and safe distance to have between your heater and your gear or tent.
Below, you will find some different options for gas heaters, as well as the safety measures you should take, and the pros and cons of using a gas heater compared to other types of heaters in an enclosed space while camping.
Options for Gas Heaters
Based on research, the best gas-powered heater on the market is Mr. Heater portable heaters. This brand has really honed its technology to make a super safe camping heater. Their Portable Radiant Heater can heat up to 225 square feet!
In terms of safety, the Radiant heater is designed to shut off automatically if it is accidentally left on too long, and it will also shut off if the pilot light goes out or if the heater detects low levels of oxygen in the tent. So, you really don’t have to worry that much with this model.
The Radiant is designed so that you can easily attach small jugs of propane, and the fuel should last for about four hours when the heater is on low. You can also buy larger containers of propane, but you will need some extra tools to attach it to the heater.
Mr. Heater has a couple of different options, but specifically, if you are looking for a smaller heater, you could try the Little Buddy. It heats either a one-person tent or a small two-person tent. Its range is about 95 square feet.
Since this heater is so small (it stands on the small propane tank), it has an automatic shut off if it were to tip over in the night. It has the same auto shut off feature as the bigger model, and the same low oxygen sensor. Plus, it should stay powered for about five and a half hours.
All in all, with the Mr. Heater brand, you should be able to expect the same safety features regardless of model. They are safe and reliable, and you should feel confident in your purchase.
Another option is the Texas Portable Outdoor Propane Heater. It is made of metal, it is skinny, and it stands up on its own. Though made of metal, it has an aluminum reflector that is covered with a safety grid to prevent burning, and the safety valve will shut off in case of any unexpected flames. It should last about five hours.
The Camco Olympian Wave-6 heats 230 square feet of space. It is designed so that if any propane leaks out, though it is unlikely, it will automatically shut off. This heater is good for backcountry camping because it has an automatic starter that helps it last up to 20,000 starts.
And though there are many, many different options, the last I’ll list here is the Texsport Sportsmate Portable Propane Heater. This one is so light—about 3 pounds—again, perfect for a backcountry trip.
The Texsport has a safety grid that surrounds the heating element, similar to the Texas Portable heater. And it also automatically shuts off if the pilot light goes out. Best of all, on a low setting, it should last for about eight hours.
So, as you can tell, the safety measures these days for gas heaters are really well thought out. If you buy the right one, your heater will know when to shut off and has built-in precautions. If you see the same safety precautions on other models not listed in this section, you should feel confident with your purchase.
Make sure the heater says it will work in tents. There are some gas heaters that work for camping, but not in enclosed spaces. So, you can still use them, but you will have to ventilate your tent, which could be counterproductive if you are camping in the winter.
Safety Measures You Should Take
The stoves listed above are some of the most highly rated stoves out there, but if you feel like you still want to look around because of price or convenience or whatever the case may be, think about the following before, and in some cases after, you purchase:
Be sure to read the packaging, so you know the proper uses for the heater. Some heaters work indoors, but not in tents, and that is a super important distinction. If you are using your heater for camping, make sure it works specifically for camping.
Read and become accustomed to the specific safety features of your heater. If the heater says, “outdoor use only,” it means you should never use it in a camper, tent, or garage, even though you might think of camping as outdoor use.
Make sure you are aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning—nausea, dizziness, headache, etc.—so that you know if something might be up. If you feel any of these symptoms coming on, turn off the heater and move out into the open air.
Even though your heater is made for camping, you should not leave it on while you are sleeping. If you choose the Mr. Heater Radiant heater, it will turn off after a certain amount of time but try not to rely on that feature. Make sure the heater is not in a position where it could be dangerous.
It may seem obvious, but make sure the size of the heater is small enough to fit in your tent, so you avoid heating any of your equipment by being too close.
Since camping in a tent doesn’t necessarily give you the flattest of floors, make sure that the heater you choose will be able to stand on its own. And if not, think of some ideas to make the floor more level. Best case scenario, you will be able to pick a heater that has an automatic tilt shut off, like the Mr. Heater Little Buddy option.
And, in order to stay safe in a slightly different way, make sure you have enough propane to fuel the heater for your own trip. It is better to have more than you need rather than less.
Pros and Cons of the Safety of Gas Vs. Electric
Electric heaters usually require plugins, so unless you are at a campground with outlets—usually an RV campground—it is a safer bet for your survival to carry a gas heater with you. Plus, if you don’t have an outlet, you would have to bring a generator, which would compromise the weight you can carry when camping.
Even if you are staying in a campground with power, you run the risk of the campground randomly running out of power. While this does not happen often, it is something to consider, because these power outages are actually more likely to occur in bad weather.
Electric heaters are usually cheaper though, and still just as safe if the weather isn’t going to be a huge issue on your trip. As long as you have a backup generator (which, of course, adds more weight to your trip) and keep flammable objects far away, you should be okay.
That being said, gas heaters are a lot safer than they used to be. They now use catalytic combustion instead of full-on combustion, which means that the heat is emitted through infrared rays. As long as you have enough propane and keep the heater on a flat surface, the gas heater is a perfectly safe, and maybe the best, option.
Safety Features You Should Always Look For
So, as a recap, when purchasing a gas heater, look for these safety measures.
• Look for a tip-over switch. Honestly, so many different things can happen while camping, and with light heaters, they can easily fall over. You want the heater to switch off when it tips, so nothing around you catches fire.
• Auto shut off. The heater should be able to turn off by itself after a certain amount of time, so if you accidentally leave it on while you are sleeping, it won’t be a hazard.
• Overheat protection. There are some heat protectors you can buy if you plan on having your heater on for a long time. An extra safety measure for an already safe heater never hurt anyone.
• Follow instructions. This seems obvious, but too often, we are quick to throw the instructions to the side. Make sure you really know your heater and how to operate it. It will save your life!
So, as you can tell, gas heaters are perfectly safe, but that safety is dependent on your knowledge and care of the heater. Once you know exactly what you are doing, you should be able to camp and sleep in peace—and warmth.