If you’re tired of camping in the cold, a catalytic heater might be the perfect choice for your tent!
Generally speaking, catalytic heaters are safe to use in tents if you have lots of ventilation. They don’t make use of actual fire, and are designed to be used in close quarters. That said, it is still important to take safety precautions with them, such as never sleeping while using them, giving them plenty of space, keeping other objects away from them and making use of proper ventilation in your tent.
Learning more about how these heaters work is a great first step in solving problems with camping in the cold. Carry on, and you’ll discover what makes catalytic heaters different from other options and how you can use one in your tent safely!
UPDATE: I did a whole bunch of tests with heaters in a tent to see if they were safe:
You can see details about it in my YouTube video, here:
What is a Catalytic Heater?
A catalytic heater is the ideal solution when you need to be warmed up, but don’t want to use fire to do it. Rather than fire or coals, a catalytic heater makes use of chemical reactions in order to create heat within a space.
Because they don’t require the use of a flame, these kinds of heaters are typically used when fire cannot be. In some cases, fire can be hazardous. That might include workspaces with a number of flammable materials or gasses, or within flammable spaces themselves, like your tent!
With the help of a catalytic heater, your fire risk is lower. On top of that, if the heater is in good condition, carbon monoxide typically aren’t an issue for these kinds of heaters, assuming they are used within all the safety guidelines. A defective heater or one used in non-ideal conditions can be very dangerous.
If you’re anything like me, there are few things you enjoy more than the smell of a campfire. However, most of us know that the fire should really stay outside of the tent. In addition to that, it should always be put out before you go to bed.
Unfortunately, that tends to mean that you’re stuck in a cold tent at night with only a sleeping bag to keep you warm. It’s not always enough to keep everyone cozy, especially if you’re camping in 40-degree weather! For more tips on staying comfortable when you’re camping in the cold, take a look at our article on the topic here!
If you’re concerned about safety about heaters in tents, check out our post on the subject here.
How Do Catalytic Heaters Work?
Before purchasing a catalytic heater, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how they work. The more you know, the easier it will be to stay safe and get your tent nice and cozy.
As previously mentioned, these heaters make use of chemicals in the heating process, rather than fire. Often, this includes three factors: a catalyst, oxygen, and some kind of fuel. That fuel can often be something like propane or natural gas. The catalyst itself tends to be some kind of plate that can be reheated. It may also be coated with platinum for better results.
What is important to keep in mind is that most of the time, certified indoor heaters (the most important certification being the ANSI Z21.103-2017, “UNVENTED PORTABLE TYPE GAS CAMP HEATERS FOR INDOOR AND OUTDOOR USE” certification are designed to produce as little carbon monoxide as possible. However, using a heater in any space that is enclosed can come with unique dangers. It’s only natural that carbon monoxide is something you might worry about when using a heater in a small, enclosed tent.
I tested this personally with a carbon monoxide detector with the Martin CH3 catalytic heater. Even though the CH3 is not certified for indoor use, I wanted to test the carbon monoxide output and compare it with other certified portable heaters.
Gas propane-powered heaters are dangerous. Carbon monoxide and fire hazards are the top two reasons. Make sure you find a heater with the ANSI Z21.103-2017 certification as this ensures that the most important safety measures are present. No matter what kind of heater you use, it’s best to follow all of the recommended safety precautions, including making sure your tent is well-ventilated. Even the safest certified heaters produce carbon monoxide. I’ve tested this.
It’s always wise to double-check the safety tips for any catalytic heater you’re interested in. Contact the manufacturer to ensure it won’t create carbon monoxide in your tent.
As always, don’t sleep with your heater running in your tent–many things can go wrong, so it’s best to warm up your tent before you sleep and turn on your heater as needed while you’re awake.
Once you find the right heater, you’ll be able to enjoy efficient heating while you sleep. The cost of fueling these heaters is often decently low, so your wallet is sure to be pleased.
How To Use a Catalytic Heater in a Tent?
When you’re setting up your tent, you’ll want to make sure that it’s large enough for a catalytic heater to work well. Generally speaking, it’s not typically ideal to try to use in a small, 2-person tent. Even if it can heat the area properly, chances are something will be too close to the heater, which creates a risk for fire.
For the many heaters I’ve tested, they demand around 3 feet of clearance from the top of the heater and 2 feet on the sides of the heater. In a small tent, you’ll be pushing that 3 feet of clearance from the top.
Furthermore, in a small tent, it gets REALLY hot with a heater. While there technically might be enough room for the heater, there certainly isn’t enough room for the heater and for you to lie down in it.
Instead, provide a larger tent with plenty of space to keep the heater away from flammable objects. It’s also a wise idea to keep the heater away from the floor and ceiling for the most part. If you get a heater that is designed to hang from the ceiling, make sure to check the ceiling in that area regularly to make sure it isn’t getting too hot.
If you need a new tent to house your heater or happen to be new to car camping, then you might want to learn about your tent options! To learn all about the ideal costs of purchasing a tent, take a look at our article on how much you should spend on a tent.
Additionally, place the heater somewhere it can get some ventilation. It doesn’t need to be a big, open window or door. Just a normal vent will typically do. Any catalytic heater you purchase will likely come with instructions that let you know how much ventilation is needed.
For example, the Buddy Portable Heater (this isn’t a catalytic heater, but the same principle applies) states:
This heater requires a minimum vent area of 9 square inches, example 3” x 3” opening) at the ceiling and at floor level for adequate ventilation during operation.
Buddy Heater Manual
It may also be a good idea to heat up the tent before you go to bed and turn off the heater when you go to bed. This just helps to keep things safer while you are asleep. For the most part, it should be enough to keep you comfortable through the night.
Safety Tips For Using a Catalytic Heater in a Tent
Safety is extremely important to pay attention to while you’re using a catalytic heater in your tent. While these heaters are much safer than other methods, they still require some awareness to be used safely.
Before using your catalytic heater, consider these safety tips:
- Read the instructions for the catalytic heater you choose carefully. They will inform you of the specific guidelines needed to stay both warm and safe.
- If you need to, contact the manufacturer of the heater you purchase, or visit their website. Through those means, you’ll be able to find fantastic safety tips that are created for the exact heater you own.
- Make sure that the heater has plenty of space. While it doesn’t use fire itself, these heaters can get quite hot. This also applies to anything that is kept near them. As a result, you’ll want to make sure things like bedding, tent floors and ceilings, clothing and other materials are kept away from it. Provide it something safe to sit on so that it won’t damage the tent floor, like a cooler.
- Provide ventilation for the heater. While some only produce trace amounts of carbon monoxide, others, or defective units can produce a dangerous amount. Typically it isn’t too much of an issue, but providing an opening somewhere near the heater can be very helpful in keeping you safe.
- When you aren’t using the heater, make sure it is turned off completely. As with anything that is capable of starting a fire, catalytic heaters are best used with supervision. Falling asleep while a heater is running can be dangerous as you can shuffle and move around, or if the unit is malfunctioning and producing carbon monoxide (perhaps due to a dusty heater surface), then you could be in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not fall asleep with a heater in your tent.
- If you’re extremely concerned about carbon monoxide, opt for a heater that includes a special sensor. These sensors are capable of measuring the depletion of oxygen within the space and can shut down the heater when the depletion levels are too high. This may not protect you if the O2 sensor malfunctions. Again, it’s best to not fall asleep with the heater running.
- As with other electronics, you’ll want to avoid getting it wet. Make sure to keep it away from spaces that might get wet due to leakage from the tent, or high amounts of perspiration.
The right catalytic heater will work wonders for keeping you comfortable. However, you may find that a heater isn’t all you need to stay comfortable while car camping. For the best tips on making car camping comfortable for everyone involved, check out our article on the subject here!
I tested the Martin CH3, which is a catalytic heater. You can find it on Amazon, here, or you can see more info about it in our article about the best heaters to use in a tent, here.