The Best Catalytic Tent Heaters for Winter Camping Review

Catalytic  heater in tent

Catalytic Camping Tent Heaters

When campers talk about tent heaters the first question is usually; “What is a catalytic heater?” And the next is; “Are catalytic heaters safe in tents?”

The first answer is that a catalytic heater is a flameless heater that uses a chemical reaction, instead of a flame, to produce heat, and the second is that yes they are safe to use in a camping tent and they do not produce any dangerous carbon monoxide. There is no flame or fire.

What is a catalytic heater and how does it work?

Catalytic camping tent heaters use a propane fuel, (many use the same propane bottle as your camp stove and lanterns), but they don’t heat with a flame. They use a chemical reaction between the propane and a a platinum surfaced heating element.

The propane mixes with oxygen in the air, and when this mixture hits the platinum surface it produces a chemical reaction that produces heat. No fumes, no dangerous CO2, and no open flames. That, and the lack of fumes and gases are why a catalytic heater is a safe choice to use in an enclosed camping tent.

Yes, Catalytic Heaters ARE SAFE to Use in Camping Tents
But always follow the manufacturers cautions and use guidelines

Mr Heater Little Buddy 3000 BTU catalytic heater
Small Tent Heater
Radiant only

Mr Heater Buddy 18000 BTU catalytic heater
Large Tent Heater
Radiant with fan

The catalytic tent heaters, pictured above, show the typical set-up — a camping propane bottle provides a source of propane that interacts with the platinum-coated heating element on top. The resulting chemical reaction produces a radiant heat source to heat your tent. The model on the left, Coleman’s “Little Buddy” provides radiant heat for small tents, and the model on the right has a higher BTU capacity and contains a fan that runs on batteries to increase the heat flow for larger tents.

What to consider when choosing a catalytic camping heater

  1. The first and most important question is what will you be heating – a 2-man tent, or a larger cabin or family tent.
    • A model like the Mr. Heater Little Buddy, (above), is great for a small 2-man tent, or a larger tent if you only want to keep the temperature above freezing. But if you want “toasty” heat in a larger tent, then you want to consider a more powerful heater with a fan, like the Mr. Heater Buddy 18000 BTU heater on the right.
  2. The type of fuel used is an important consideration. All heaters don’t use the same type of propane, or bottle. Some use a liquid propane, and some use proprietary propane bottles. (you should try to avoid any camping equipment that uses “proprietary” fuel or fuel bottles)
    • A catalytic heater that uses the same propane bottles as your other camp gear is the best choice because it doesn’t require buying, (and packing, and toting), separate fuel bottles.
  3. How will you be using your heater.
    • If you will only be using a heater to take the chill off before you climb in your tent, or when you first wake up, then any of the basic heaters will work. But if you are planning to use the heater to maintain a warmth in the tent, then heat output, safety features, and fuel usage are important features to check out.


A great addition to your winter camping gear

I am a life-long Coleman gear fan, and this heater worked as expected. There is a reason Coleman is the industry leader for camping gear like this – their gear is reliable, well-made, and works like it is supposed to without any fuss. But when it came to catalytic heaters – the Mr. Heater models, despite the cute name – won the battle hands-down.

I took the “Little Buddy” on a weekend camping trip to Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest for this review. It was cold! So it was easy to get excited about a climbing into a warm tent at bedtime.

There were only two of us in a 2-man Eureka Basecamp tent, and we have the gear to sleep snugly without a heater, but the Little Buddy heater did a great job. It didn’t heat-up the tent like a bedroom, (it isn’t intended to), but for a small tent like ours, its heat output was just right to get rid of the chill. We put it in the tent about 30 minutes before turning in for the night, and when we climbed in it was a pleasant surprise to feel the warmed air as I climbed into my sleeping bag.

You will definitely need a higher output heater for larger tents, but for small tents like our Eureka, this heater did the job – just as expected..

*Note: The Amazon links below are my own Amazon affiliate links – which I only use to recommend good-quality camping gear and equipment.

Mr Heater “Little Buddy” 3800 BTU catalytic tent heater Video FREE shipping
Not only do you get the security of dealing with the largest and most trusted online marketplace, and discount prices – now you also get FREE shipping. Keep that “shipping” money in your wallet.



• Mr Heater “Little Buddy” 3800 BTU catalytic tent heater

You can read all the tech specs using the Amazon links from the images, but here are the basics:

  • 3800 BTU Output.
  • Runs up to 5.5 hours one one 16.oz propane bottle.
  • Comes with Low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off and, 2-year Warranty
★★★★ Top Pick for small areas
Price range: Sugg. Retail: $89.99 – $99.99
Amazon price: $65.15
amazon price details button



The Mr. Heater “Big Buddy” 4000-9000-18000 Catalytic Tent Heater
For Larger Tents and Toastier Warmth

This is the heater you want for your 4-man or family tents. With the higher BTU output and fan-assist your tent can almost be as toasty as your bedroom. Safety is also a primary feature of this tent heater. It comes with a good protective guard over the heating element and Low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off features. It also uses two propane bottles for its higher heat output.


You can read all the tech specs using the Amazon links from the images, but here are the basics:

  • 4,000 to 18,000-BTU radiant heater for spaces up to 300 square feet. Approved for indoor/outdoor use; clean-burning; nearly 100-percent efficient.
  • Hi-Med-Low heat settings
  • Comes with Low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off and, 2-year Warranty
★★★★ Top Pick for larger tents
Price range: Sugg. Retail: $149.99 – $169.99
Amazon price: $125.60
amazon price details button



Don’t waste time with Top 10 or Best for 2020 Tent Heaters Lists

Many sites are promoting “Top 10 Best Tent Heaters” or “Best Tent Heaters for 2020” lists, but I can save you some time. Not all the tent heaters in those lists are safe catalytic heaters, and almost none will have the dependable performance of the Coleman Mr. Heater line of tent heaters.

We only reviewed one non-Coleman brand heater and it performed so poorly we didn’t publish the review and won’t name it. I am a Coleman fan for a reason—their camping equipment works as advertized.

But, if you want to see all catalytic tent heaters available on Amazon, just click the image below. But be sure you are looking at catalytic heaters. Not all that are shown are true safe catalytic heaters.

Catalytic Camping Tent Heaters


There are other things you can do to stay warm in your tent too. And most of them are just basic cold weather camping tips that we have learned through experience. You can see our list of tips below:


More Cold Weather Camping Guides:


Here are a few more pieces of camp light related camping gear:


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