Camping in cold weather can be quite a challenge, but with the right gear, it’s totally doable. One question that often comes up is whether using heaters in a tent is safe. To answer that, we did some research and found that it can be safe if you choose the right type of heater and follow certain precautions.

While there’s always a bit of risk involved, we discovered that the safest options are electric heaters with proper safety features or catalytic heaters that are CSA 4.98 or ANSI Z21.103 certified. Additionally, it’s important to place the heater far from the tent walls, clothing, and bedding, and to only use it when you’re awake. This way, we can enjoy our winter camping adventures without worrying too much about safety issues.

Which Heaters Can Be Safely Used in a Tent?

Electric vs. Gas Heaters: Pros and Cons

There are benefits and downsides to both electric and gas heaters when it comes to tent use. Here’s a quick overview:

Electric Heaters:

  • Pros:
    • Consumes little oxygen
    • No need for propane or other fuel tanks
    • No storing combustible propane
    • Doesn’t produce carbon monoxide
    • No leakage of propane gas
  • Cons:
    • Requires an electrical outlet
    • Needs a heavy-duty extension cord
    • High energy consumption
    • Fire hazard related to heat source
    • Risk of fire if tipped over

Gas Heaters:

  • Pros:
    • Portable and usable without electricity
    • Provides efficient heat
    • No need for batteries
  • Cons:
    • Potential carbon monoxide risk
    • Oxygen depletion risk in enclosed spaces
    • Fire hazard related to heat source
    • Risk of tipping over

CSA 4.98 Or ANSI Z21.103 Certified Gas Heaters

When looking for a suitable gas heater for tents, opt for one that follows CSA 4.98 or ANSI Z21.103 (or stricter) certifications. These certifications ensure oxygen depletion sensors (ODS) and provide shutoff features when oxygen levels are dangerously low.

Catalytic/Radiant Heaters: Safe Options

Mr. Heater’s indoor-rated radiant heaters, like the Portable Buddy Heater, follow the ANSI Z21.103 certification and are popular choices for safe tent heating. However, it’s crucial to confirm that your catalytic or radiant heater abides by CSA 4.98 or ANSI Z21.103 standards to prevent potential hazards.

Essential features to look for in a catalytic heater are:

  • ODS (oxygen depletion sensor)
  • Tip-over shutoff feature

Electric Heaters: Keeping the Tent Warm

Electric space heaters can make your tent cozy and comfortable, but they come with certain precautions:

In conclusion, finding a safe heater for tent use comes down to proper research, adherence to appropriate certifications, and strict safety measures.

Heaters to Avoid in Tents

Be Cautious With All Heaters

It’s important to underline that any heater can potentially be deadly. Over time, certain heaters have been recalled due to safety concerns or accidents. Being safe with heaters requires diligence and research.

Heaters with Flammable Fuels

Heaters that burn substances for heat should not be used within a small, confined space unless there’s a chimney attached. Some canvas tents come equipped with flues specifically designed for wood-burning stoves, which helps prevent smoke buildup inside the tent. For regular tents, avoid using heaters relying on flames for heating—aside from the pilot lights needed for catalytic heaters.

Gas-Powered Lanterns

Never use gas-powered lanterns to heat your tent. Indoor heaters are designed with specific safety features, which gas lanterns lack.

Oil-Filled Heaters

Oil-filled heaters are electric-powered radiators filled with oil, which acts as a heat buffer without burning off. While they have some advantages, such as not getting too hot on the outside and not producing carbon monoxide, there are two key issues when using them in tents:

  • Tents have ventilation holes, which allow the warm air from convection heaters to escape, reducing their effectiveness. Radiant-style heaters are generally better for tents because of this.
  • Oil-filled heaters must be completely upright for safe usage. Uneven ground, common in camping environments, poses a major safety hazard. If not completely upright, oil can leak from the element and catch fire—a dangerous scenario inside a tent.

That said, if your tent is spacious and can accommodate a level surface for an oil-filled heater, it might be a viable option.

Secondhand or Vintage Gas Heaters

Old or used gas heaters may not comply with modern safety standards, making them risky to use in tents. Many recalled heaters are still sold at garage sales and may pose carbon monoxide or design risks. Newer heaters are more likely to meet updated safety standards.

Combination Radiant Heaters and Cookers

Some radiant heaters, like the Mr. Heater F242300, can double as cooking devices. However, these are clearly marked as “outdoor use only” because they lack the automatic shut-off technology for low-oxygen situations. Be wary of using such heaters inside a tent.

Examples of Tent Heater Incidents

The Bernzomatic Heater Tragedy

Unfortunately, 47 people lost their lives due to the Bernzomatic heaters with model numbers TX900 and TX900A. The company even offered a $250 reward for returning these dangerous heaters. It’s important to note that these heaters can still be found being sold at garage sales long after the recall.

Coleman Powermate Incident

A tragic case reported the loss of two lives when using a Coleman Powermate and a Coleman propane lantern in a tent. Even though the Powermate is discontinued, it can still be found being sold second-hand. Be careful, as using such heaters can be very risky.

Propane Heater Fire Escapes

There was a tent fire caused by a propane heater, as reported by Iowa State Daily. The good news is that the occupants were able to escape unharmed.

Dyson Hot Recall Event

Even though Dyson claims to have a safer design, some heaters were recalled due to an electrical short. Thankfully, no injuries were reported in this case.

2014’s Carbon Monoxide Deaths

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 13 non-fire carbon monoxide deaths related to portable propane heaters in 2014. This number was higher than the 9 recorded deaths from in-house carbon monoxide poisoning from natural gas. Clearly, portable propane heaters come with their risks, as more people have natural gas in their homes than use portable propane heaters.

Is It Safe to Use a Portable Heater in a Tent?

Most problems with using electric or gas heaters in a tent stem from misuse and unsafe practices. By selecting a heater with the right safety features and following guidelines, we can greatly reduce the risks involved.

One smart way to minimize risk even further is to never leave a heater unattended (including while sleeping). If possible, only use the heater to warm up the tent before going to sleep and after waking up. This approach carries less risk.

We can’t say it’s entirely safe since accidents have occurred. However, we engage in daily risky activities, like driving to work, and it’s all about doing our best to minimize those risks and being aware of our options.

Remember, there are numerous alternatives to heaters worth exploring for staying cozy in a tent. Just make sure to stay safe and informed!

What Are Alternatives to Heating in Your Tent?

Hand Warmers

Hand warmers are a compact and simple method to generate warmth inside your tent. You can use air-activated single-use hand warmers, reusable hand warmers that you can reheat in boiling water, or even electric or catalytic hand warmers that operate on lighter fluid. Though catalytic hand warmers carry certain risks, their small size means the potential dangers are minimal.

Sleeping Bag with a Warm Water Bottle

Special rubber bottles are designed as hot water bottles to keep you warm in bed, but they might not be ideal for camping trips. Instead, a reusable water bottle will work just fine. Simply fill it with almost boiling water and place it in your sleeping bag. We recommend a durable bottle like Nalgene’s wide mouth water bottle, which can withstand hot water temperatures. To prevent leaks, consider placing the bottle in a zip-lock bag before inserting it into your sleeping bag.

Hot Rocks

Heating rocks is a traditional method used long before modern hand warmers and electric heating pads. As you sit around a campfire, simply heat a few rocks until they’re moderately warm, wrap them in sturdy fabric and tuck them into your sleeping bag. Keep in mind the type of rocks you use and avoid overheating them, as this can lead to burns or damage to your camping gear.

Electric Heating Pad or Blanket

For a more luxurious experience, consider using an electric heating pad or blanket when car camping with an available electrical outlet. Just be sure to bring an extension cord and ensure the cords are in good condition, especially if it’s raining.

Tent Rugs

Rugs or thick mats can add extra insulation to your tent’s floor, enhancing overall warmth. However, it’s essential to also use a sleeping pad and sleeping bag for maximum comfort and insulation.

Vapor Barrier Liner (VPL)

A vapor barrier liner for your sleeping bag is a costly, slightly less comfortable, but highly effective option. VPLs prevent moisture from transferring between your body and sleeping bag, which increases the bag’s effectiveness. Additionally, the trapped moisture creates a humid environment, further insulating you from the cold. This might be a viable option for extremely cold temperatures. Keep in mind that using a VPL may cause you to feel sweaty, but it prevents the heat from escaping your body.


We found this information regarding CO emissions from portable propane radiant heaters.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to use a space heater inside a tent?

While using a space heater in a tent can provide warmth and comfort, it’s typically not recommended without taking proper precautions. Ensure you have a heater specifically designed for tent use, including safety features for indoor use such as tip-over and overheat protection.

Which tent heaters are best for cold weather camping?

When selecting a heater for winter camping, consider propane or catalytic heaters specifically designed for tents. These heaters come with additional safety features and are designed for use in confined spaces. Always make sure to read the product specifications and follow safety guidelines.

How can we heat up a tent without electricity?

To warm up a tent without electricity, you can:

  • Use a propane or gas-powered tent heater
  • Light a candle lantern for a small heat source
  • Insulate your tent with blankets, rugs, or reflective thermal blankets
  • Wear warm clothing and use quality sleeping bags rated for low temperatures

Are catalytic heaters a safe option for tents?

When used properly and according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, catalytic heaters can be a safe and effective choice for heating tents. Always ensure proper ventilation to avoid a buildup of harmful gases or fumes and follow safety instructions.

What electric tent heaters come highly recommended?

There are various electric tent heaters available on the market with good reviews. When looking for an electric tent heater, consider factors such as safety features, power output, size, and weight. We suggest checking customer reviews and expert recommendations for guidance in making your choice.

How do we keep our tent cozy and warm during the night?

To maintain warmth inside your tent, you can:

  • Ensure your tent is well-insulated and protected from drafts
  • Use a quality sleeping pad for insulation from the cold ground
  • Wear warm clothing, including hats and socks, to trap body heat
  • Place a hot water bottle or heat pack inside your sleeping bag for added warmth