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Heaters Inside Tents (Safety and Risks Explained)

heaters inside tents

Camping is fun year-round, but it can certainly get cold at night or in the winter, making the trip less enjoyable. For many people, the automatic solution to a cold tent is a heater. Although this is definitely a natural solution, is it a safe one?

Are heaters safe inside of tents? Generally, electric heaters and a catalytic heater with CSA 4.98 certification are safe, but they don’t come without any risks. Additionally, where you place the heater and when you use it will affect its safety hazards.

To find out more about using a heater safely inside tents, read on. We cover everything ranging from which heaters to use, safety risks, and more. Let’s get started.

Are Heaters Safe Inside of Tents?

First and foremost, we need to say that any heater you select comes with a slight safety risk. Given that heaters emit heat and sometimes require electricity, fire or burns can happen, especially if you don’t use the heater safely or correctly. For this reason, no heater comes without any risks.

With that out of the way, some heaters are safer than others. By selecting a heater with generally low safety risks, the chances of catching anything on fire or burning yourself go down dramatically. More so, knowing when to use heaters and how to place them within the tent will increase their safety too.

We will cover all of these points in more detail later in this article.

Safety Hazards

There are a variety of safety hazards that can be applied to any heater, even heaters with several safety features. Below is a list of some of the most prevalent safety hazards present in all heater types:

  • Oxygen Depletion: Oxygen depletion is a real danger for gas heaters, even those with an oxygen depletion sensor. If your tent does not have proper ventilation, the gas heater can deplete the area of oxygen.
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Like oxygen depletion, carbon monoxide poisoning is an issue for gas heaters.
  • Fire: Both electric and gas heaters can start a fire. Because heaters emit heat, they can set the tent, clothes, or any other surrounding materials on fire. Even heaters with tip-over features can pose a danger.
  • Ambient Heat: Ambient heat is an issue for both electric and gas heaters. Ambient heat is whenever heat leaks through the heater. This can potentially ruin your tent or set it on fire since tents are typically made of synthetic materials that melt.

What Heaters Are Safe Inside a Tent?

When beginning your journey for finding the best heater for your tent, there will be two types of heaters to choose from: electric and gas. Both types of heaters come with their own advantages and disadvantages. It is important to evaluate both to determine which heater is best for your needs.

Electric

Electric heaters need an electric source to heat your tent. These are great options if you have some sort of outlet because it doesn’t consume oxygen, tends to have more safety features, saves you money, and doesn’t produce carbon monoxide. All around, electric heaters are generally safer than gas options, but they are less convenient in a camping setting.

This electric heater by OPOLAR is an excellent choice if you are looking for an electric heater for your tent. It’s safe, heats quickly, offers an adjustable thermostat, has an emergency shut off if it overhears, and is very quiet while in use.

Pros

  • Low chance of oxygen depletion
  • Does not produce carbon monoxide
  • Does not need propane or fuel for heat

Cons

  • Requires an electrical outlet
  • Requires an extension cord
  • Eats a lot of power

Gas

Unlike electric heaters, gas heaters need propane or some other fuel type for the energy to produce heat. These heater options tend to be more convenient in camping settings, but they pose slightly more safety risks than electric heaters. You can opt for a catalytic or radiant gas heater, which is incredibly safe for tents.

The Outdoors
The Outdoors

If you prefer a gas heater, then we recommend this propane heater by Mr. Heater. It’s safe for indoor use, has a safety shut off if tipped over, and will heat your tent up quickly and safely.

Pros

  • Portable
  • Heats a lot of space
  • Does not require an outlet

Cons

  • Potential carbon monoxide risk
  • Potential oxygen depletion risk
  • Requires propane or fuel for heat

Using an Electric Heater in Your Tent

Even though electric heaters come with some safety risks, they are generally safer than gas heaters. Their main downside is that they require electricity for heat. When you are camping, it can be hard to find an outlet or the needed electricity to power your electric heater. If you know you will be camping with access to electricity, here are some electric heaters to select:

1. Fan Blown Heaters

Fan blown heaters are incredibly popular in a variety of settings. You will likely recognize them as soon as we start describing them. A fan blown heater uses metal with electricity passing through it. This electricity creates a heating element. Using a fan, air is blown from the heating element towards the area around the heater.

These heaters are great because they can get really warm fast and are easy to find. The downside is that their heating elements get incredibly hot. If they tip over or objects are placed on top of the heater, materials can easily catch on fire.

2. Halogen Heaters

Halogen heaters are better for small spaces because they warm the area directly in front of them, but warm air is not pushed out. As soon as you turn off the halogen heater, the tent and surrounding space will become cold again.

Much like a fan blown heater, the front of a halogen heater will get incredibly hot, although the sides are likely to remain cool. This means that the front can easily catch materials on fire. On top of the safety risk, these heaters are less advantageous simply because they don’t have the same amount of heating power as other small heaters.

3. Infrared Heaters

Infrared heaters are safety use and considered one of the most powerful heating options. Since they work by radiation, they can work in a vacuum, and they don’t get as hot to the touch. Still, they produce a lot of heat so you can stay warm.

When using infrared heaters, it is imperative to be careful when you are looking at the heater. The radiation used in this heater can hurt your eyes.

How to Use Electric Heaters Safely

No matter what electric heater you select, you must be careful when using it. Electric heaters are normally safer than gas options, but they come with their own safety risks because of their electrical power source. Here are some tips for using electric heaters safely within your tent:

  • Do not place your electric heater too close to other items in your tent. As a rule of thumb, all electric heaters should be at least four feet away from other fabrics and items. Read your heater’s directions for more specific guidelines based on your model.
  • Do not expose your electric heater to water. Water conducts electricity, meaning you can easily get electrocuted. Given that camping is outdoors, be careful when using electric heaters on rainy or snowy days.
  • Select an electric heater with an automatic shut off tip feature. This feature will turn off the heating element if the heater tips over. Though this feature will not guarantee that the electric heater doesn’t cause fire, it can significantly reduce the risk.
  • Select an electric heater with a timer. A shut off timer can help you fall asleep warm and cozy while remaining safe when you sleep. Most shut off features will turn off the heater after an hour of use.

Using a Gas Heater in Your Tent

Gas heaters use propane or another fuel as energy for the heat. These heaters are generally considered less safe than electric heaters, but they’re way more convenient.

Still, a gas heater with a CSA 4.98 certification is considered one of the safest heaters you can use in a tent, gas or electric. Here is everything you should know about using a gas heater in your tent:

1. CSA 4.98 Certified Gas Heaters

CSA stands for the Canadian Standards Association. This organization created a 4.98 certification that ensures gas-powered heaters come with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). This sensor allows the gas heater to shut off whenever the oxygen levels get to a dangerous low. If you are using a gas heater, select a CSA 4.98 certified option for maximum protection.

2. Catalytic/Radiant Heaters

The safest gas heater to use is the catalytic or radiant heater. However, any catalytic heater without CSA 4.98 certification can be incredibly dangerous since these heaters can make the breathing environment deadly.

When selecting a catalytic heater, there are a couple of features you absolutely must look for. The first is a CSA 4.98 rating. This rating will ensure that your gas heater comes with an ODS, preventing the environment from being too low in oxygen.

Another feature to look out for is tip detection. Just like with electric heaters, many gas heaters today will turn off whenever they are tipped over. Make sure your gas heater comes with this function to prevent it from running if it is knocked over.

How to Use Electric Heaters Safely

Just as there are specific safety rules to keep in mind when using an electric heater, there are some safety tips specific for gas heaters too. Here are the most important safety tips to keep in mind when using a gas heater:

  • Do not place the gas heater too close to any fabric or flammable item. Once again, a rule of thumb should be 4 feet, but read your user manual to find out exactly how far away your gas heater should be from other items.
  • Purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector. Even if your heater comes with its own carbon monoxide detector, it is better to be safe than sorry. Though having two separate detectors may seem like overkill, it may be the difference between life or death.
  • Only use a gas heater when you have proper ventilation. Ensure no windows are obstructed and utilize the tent fly appropriately. This will keep the air more breathable while the heater is in use.

Heaters to Avoid Using in a Tent

Now that we have looked at what heaters you can use safely in a tent, let’s talk about the heaters you should avoid. Although all heaters pose a safety risk to you and your tent, some are more dangerous than others. Here are the most important heater types to avoid within your tent:

1. Combustion-Based Heaters

Combustion space heaters burn some type of substance for heat. These types of heaters are terrible within a tent because there is not enough ventilation to get rid of the smoke. Although some canvas tents come with a flue for stoves, it is best to avoid any combustion-based heater inside a regular tent.

2. Gas-Powered Lanterns

Do not use gas-powered lanterns or any other device that uses gas for lighting purposes within your tent. These devices provide great lighting whenever you are outdoors, but they do not come with the safety features needed for heat inside a tent. Leave these devices outside and don’t use them as a heat source.

3. Oil-Filled Heaters

Oil-filled heaters are a type of electric-powered radiator. They are filled with oil, which acts as a heat buffer. In other words, the oil is not burned off. They don’t produce carbon monoxide and produce heat using convection, not conduction.

Although this heating source is great within homes, you certainly shouldn’t use them within a tent. Because of how tents are designed with ventilation, oil-filled heaters will not provide much heat. Not to mention, they can be scarily dangerous if they tip over. If not use completely upright, the oil can burn and cause a fire very quickly.

4. Radiant Heaters or Cookers

Above, we talked about how radiant heaters with CSA certification are super safe. It is important to mention that certain radiant heaters are incredibly unsafe. These heaters will not come a with CSA 4.98 certification.

Any radiant heater or cooker that is specifically designed for outdoor use will not be suitable to use inside your tent. That is because it will not include safety technology such as ODS or automatic shut off. Only select radiant heaters with the proper certification.

5. Vintage Gas Heaters

Even though a vintage gas heater looks cool, don’t use one within a tent. These gas heaters are not designed with any carbon monoxide prevention features, causing many of them to be recalled. In other words, vintage gas heaters do not have any of the safety standards needed to keep you and your tent safe.

Always opt for the newest or relatively new heater option for your tent. This will ensure that the heater has up-to-date features and standards for safety.

Heater Alternatives to Use Inside a Tent

Are you concerned about the safety risks associated with the heater or not cold enough to purchase a heater for your tent? In that case, there are certainly many heater alternatives to use inside a tent. Most of these alternatives will be way safer while still helping keep you warm. Here are some of the most popular heater alternatives to use inside the tent:

1. Electric Blanket or Heating Pad

If you have an electrical outlet, feel free to bring an electric pad or blanket. These options will definitely keep you warm and pose little safety hazards. Just make sure that you have access to an outlet and do not use the blankets if it is raining for optimal safety.

This portable heated blanket is perfect for tent camping. It offers 5 different heat settings, is water resistant, and also has a built-in usb port.

2. Hand Warmers

Hand warmers are air-activated devices that can help warm up small parts of your body. There are also reusable hand warmers that you can boil or add batteries to. Hand warmers are great because they don’t have many safety risks.

The main downside of hand warmers is that they aren’t the warmest option. Hand warmers are typically small enough to fit in your pocket, meaning they won’t be able to heat the air or your entire body. For maximum results, you might want to put hand warmers throughout your sleeping bag, especially around your feet. This will help give you some warmth in a safer fashion.

3. Heated Water Bottles

You can use a heated water bottle in place of hand warmers. You can buy rubber bottles that were designed with the purpose of warming a bed. If you don’t want to purchase any additional items, you can use a reusable water bottle instead.

All you need is hot water in the bottle. If you are using a flimsy reusable water bottle, make sure you don’t use too hot of water that it melts. Generally, heat the water so that it is almost boiling and then add it to the water bottle.

Once the water bottle is filled with the heated water, put it in your sleeping bag so as to warm your body while you are sleeping. You might want to put a zip lock bag around the water bottle to prevent it from leaking out.

If you are using a water bottle, be extra careful not to burn yourself. Glass water bottles will ensure that the hot water does not warp or damage the bottle, but they can be hotter to the touch. If the water bottle is way too hot, you can add a sleeve or sock around it until it is more comfortable.

4. Tent Rugs or Mats

Many people don’t realize this, but part of what makes a tent so cold is the ground. The ground is incredibly difficult to warm. As you lay in a tent, the coldness from the ground is easily felt, even if you are sleeping in a sleeping bag.

You can add a tent rug to the bottom of your tent to add extra insulation. This extra insulation will make your tent feel warmer. Not to mention, it may make you feel more comfortable since you aren’t sleeping as close to the ground.

We recommend this tent mat by Drymate. It’s a great way to make your tent floor warm and comfortable. It feels like carpet, is waterproof, lightweight, and is easy to roll up and put away.

Other Safety Tips When Using a Heater Inside a Tent

Once again, any heater, no matter the number of safety features, poses a safety risk. Here are some safety tips to remember when using any heater inside a tent, regardless of whether the heater is electric or gas:

  • Clear a lot of space around your heater. Even if there are tipping features or other safety features, any flammable items placed too close to the heat source can catch fire. Do not place flammable items too close to any heater in your tent.
  • Do not run a heater in your tent while you are not present. Even if it is snowing, don’t keep the heater on when you go on a hike or run to the restroom. Only use a heater when you are in the tent, where you are able to keep your eyes on the device.
  • Do not let the heater run while you are sleeping. While you are asleep, you cannot supervise the device. If you like sleeping when it is really warm, opt for a heater with an automatic turn off. This will let you fall asleep in warmth, but the heater will turn off once you are already asleep.
  • Allow your tent to be ventilated. Although gas heaters need more ventilation than electric ones, ventilate your tent to avoid moisture buildup and poor breathing conditions.

Final Thoughts

Camping helps you to connect with your more primitive side and escape from the modern issues that plague our society. Whether it’s a cold night or a cold month, you might want to bring a heater along with you to keep your tent extra warm.

You will have your choice between an electric or gas heater. Electric heaters are typically safer, but they are out of the question for many campers due to an outlet’s need. As a result, many campers fall back on the trusty gas heater.

If you are going with a gas heater, make sure it has a CSA 4.98 certification. This ensures that the gas heater is safe and won’t create dangerous breathing environments. In addition to that, take extra precautions to keep your tent and heater as safe as possible.

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