This article will help you learn all about the best portable propane heaters for indoor and outdoor use. We explain and review the different types of heaters, heating technology, features to look for, and top picks for small rooms, jobsites, outdoor activities and more.
While this article is intended for small and portable propane heaters, the concepts apply to the broader range of fuel based space heaters in general.
Here’s a table of contents to help you scroll through:
Why use a portable propane heater?
Propane heaters are a good choice when you need a rugged and reliable source of heat that doesn’t rely on electricity. They come in several different designs; some are safe for outdoor use only and others can be used inside with proper ventilation or vent free designs.
But generally these heaters are best when used in places like your garage or workshop, construction job sites, and during outdoor activities like hunting, ice fishing and camping.
Using propane as your fuel source, certain units will accept smaller cylinders (i.e 1 – 5lbs), while larger higher capacity portable heaters will connect to standard 20lb and larger 100lb tanks. And many heaters will connect to any tank size.
Why are they a good choice in certain settings?
For outdoor activities, high quality propane heaters are a safe and reliable source of heat. Certain designs, such as tank top heating units, operate effectively in harsh and windy conditions. Often, these units are lit by Piezo button igniters and come equipped with variable output settings to adapt to different spaces and conditions.
With indoor spaces, propane heaters offer a cost-effective and energy efficient back up or secondary heat source when power goes out, or as a primary source for RVs, cabins, workshops and more.
Portable Propane Heaters: Types and Technology
When evaluating the best propane heater options, you’ll notice that most models use one of the two main types of heat technology: convective (aka forced air) heat or radiant heat.
Let’s look at the basics of how each technology works before reviewing specific features and models.
Convective propane heaters, often referred to as forced air heaters, blow and circulate warm air. This is helpful when you need to quickly disperse heat into a large enclosed space. The advantage is that the warm air spreads rapidly and the area heats up faster; the disadvantage is that you can also lose this heat faster.
This is because the heat will escape when it is replaced by cold air, which easily happens on a jobsite where doors are frequently opened and closed, or in an area that isn’t exactly air tight.
Radiant heat provides reflective or infrared heat energy to warm the people and objects in its path. This directional source of heat is quieter and more precise than convective heat. Also, radiant heat tends to last longer, as the objects in its path remain heated over time. It is therefore more energy efficient and useful in smaller indoor settings and outdoor applications.
Types of Propane Heaters
There are many different designs and models of propane heating units that rely on either convective or radiant heat. We’ve listed some of the most common types below.
*Please note that you should always check with your local regulations to see if there are any restrictions on the use of certain models.
For example, vent free indoor units are prohibited in California. Also, many portable propane heaters are allowed for outdoor use only in Massachusetts and Canada. Always do your research and check with the manufacturer to confirm compliance.
Portable Radiant Heaters
These are popular models for a variety of outdoor and small indoor settings. One very popular model, mentioned below, is the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy. This heater works well in spaces up to 250 square feet, with precise, long lasting heat and variable output settings of either 4000 or 8000 BTU.
This specific heater can last for several hours on a single 1 pound propane cylinder, making it ideal for on-the-go warmth during outdoor activities.
There are also larger portable radiant heaters with much more BTU output capacity over, 18,000 BTUs/hr, and capable of heating spaces up to 450 square feet, as well as smaller ones that are perfect for hunting, fishing or taking along with you in your golf cart. Such as this one:
Cabinet style propane heaters typically use radiant heat for rugged indoor or outdoor use where you don’t have electricity and need something with longer lasting efficiency and safety
These designs use standard 20lb propane tanks, housed within the heater cabinet (similar to a grill). They are highly portable and work well in spaces up to 450 square feet, lasting up to 72 hours on a single 20lb tank in some cases.
Keep in mind that you must always provide adequate ventilation when using cabinet heater indoors. Follow the manufacturers safety instructions carefully.
Forced Air Heaters
These models are typically used on construction sites, workshops, barns and other large enclosed spaces. These heaters use convective heating to circulate warm air at high CFM outputs (see CFM explanation below).
With a forced air propane heater, you’re looking for a rugged and durable heating unit with adequate BTUs and features like variable controls, height adjustment, carry handles, and safety shut offs for high temperatures and fuel cuts. Lighter weight designs and carrying ability make these highly portable.
Tank Top Propane Heaters
Tank top propane heaters are designed for outdoor use only and connect easily directly to the top of a 20 lb standard propane tank. The heating heads include front safety guards, along with other features such as variable heat settings, tip over safety switches, and manual or piezo ignitions for powerful heating in harsh environments.
Tank top units are outdoor heaters that work well in applications such as ice fishing, tailgating, and other outdoor activities when you need a quick, convenient and wind-proof heat source.
Vent Free Propane Heaters
Vent free propane heaters are more akin to traditional room heating devices and have a sleek design that connects to remote propane tanks.
These units work well in tightly insulated rooms and connect to larger tanks (i.e. 100 lbs). They can be installed as wall units or as stand alone units with base feet attached.
Vent free propane units are good choices for supplemental heating for emergencies or everyday use. These models come in both radiant and convective versions.
Vent free units like this require professional installation to properly and safely operate and connect to external propane storage tanks.
Note: There are many vented propane furnace options that are designed for larger rooms and even whole house heating. Since we are focusing on small and portable units, those models are out of the scope of this article.
What factors should you look at when evaluating a propane heater?
No matter which type of heater you choose, there are several quality, technical and safety features you should look for to determine the best propane heater for your intended use.
Here’s a summary of some of the most important ones.
Where are you going to use the heater?
Decide how and where you intend to use your propane heater. Do you need a regular heater for back-up use in the case of power outage or supplemental small space indoor use?
Here, you can decide if you want to something that produces infrared or radiant heat vs a convective heater. Or will it be a larger indoor open space such as a warehouse, barn or construction site?
In that case, you should look at high capacity forced air units. If it’s just for outdoor use as in tailgating or ice fishing, then you’ll want to something with wind-proof radiant heat and tip over safety shut offs, such as tank top heater or portable radiant unit.
In any case, look at the type of ignition as well (more on this below). If you find a secondary wall or free-standing unit, this may require an electrical ignition, whereas many other indoor/outdoor heating units will come with a Piezo style igniter that doesn’t require an electrical connection.
And many outdoor only heaters will have a manual ignition that require a long stem lighter or long match. Keep all this in mind as you review the details below, as it will help narrow down your buying choices
Specific Properties to look at:
Heating technology (radiant or convective)
We’ve already reviewed the difference between convective and radiant heat. But do not overlook this fundamental aspect of how propane heaters work.
If you want to directional heat with maximum efficiency, look at radiant heaters. If you want to heat larger spaces more quickly and don’t mind a little noise, look at forced air or convective units.
Review the section above for more info or take a look at our overview of types of space heaters to get a better understand on these concepts.
Type of ignition
The type of ignition is very important when it comes to a portable heating unit. That’s why we include it in our specs for each propane heater listed below. Here are the basic options to look for.
Note: Always check the heater’s manual for specific igniting instructions and safety precautions.
Many propane heaters that are designed for rugged outdoor use and maximum portability include Piezo ignitions.
A Piezo igniter uses a spring loaded mechanism that creates an electrical discharge when you press a button, lever or control knob. This means you don’t need electricity or matches to light your heater. It’s a safe, convenient, and (typically) reliable type of igniter.
Forced air flow units and larger propane heating units or furnaces often use an electrical ignition. If you don’t have a source for electricity, this is obviously not ideal. But these tend to be very reliable for jobsite and construction settings.
Manual (i.e. you need fire)
Finally, if you have a basic heating unit (i.e. simple tank top heater) you may need to do it the old fashioned way with a lighter or matches.
ALWAYS LIGHT YOUR HEATER WITH A LONG MATCH or LONG NECK LIGHTER
Before igniting: Check all fittings for leaks. Apply a 50/50 mixture of liquid soap and water to all joints. Bubbles forming indicate a leaking connection. Correct all leaks before proceeding. But NEVER use flames to check for leaks.
You’ll see that all propane heating units provide information about BTU, whether it’s a single BTU measurement or range of BTUs the heater is capable of producing.
We’ll explain what this means and how it applies to selecting the right heater for your space. First, understand that when you see this measurement, it means BTUs per hour (BTU/hr), so it’s really the amount of “heat power” the unit can produce over the course of an hour.
What is a BTU and why do I care?
A British Thermal Unit (BTU) measures the amount of energy required to heat 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit at sea level.
What this means is that a BTU tells how much power the heater will produce over the course of an hour. If you have more power, you can heat more quickly and in larger spaces.
What you need to look then is the room size and conditions you’ll be using the heater in. With a smaller room, you generally need less BTUs. For example, a small portable propane heater designed for use up to 200 square foot spaces will have a setting of around 4000 BTUs per hour. While a larger space of over 400 square feet may have a range up to 18000 BTUs.
But it’s not that simple. For example, if you are heating in higher winds without any sunlight, or in an area that’s not insulated or air-tight or has really high ceilings, you’ll need to compensate with higher BTU output.
And conversely, if you have ample sunlight, low winds, tighter enclosures, you’ll need less BTU output than that square footage typically calls for. Take these factors into consideration.
You don’t want to max out your low BTU heater, but you also don’t want to overspend on an unnecessarily high BTU propane heater. That’s why I like to find heaters with variable controls so you can set the BTUs depending on space and conditions.
I found this tool as a helpful starting point to figure out adequate BTUs. But always consult manufacturer and do some research.
Heating Square Footage
Each product we review includes a maximum square footage based on manufacturer’s recommendations. This is a helpful starting point for choosing the right heater, and it directly corresponds to the BTUs per hour rating.
But remember, you should also consider where you will be using it, and if you’ll need need more capacity at times.
What’s the run time on a 1lb or 20lb cylinder tank? This is a crucial question. If you need a long term heating solution, as with a supplemental emergency or back-up heater, than you want a larger tank capacity with longer run time. Heater manuals will tell you how much propane a unit consumes per hour on high or low BTU settings.
This is an estimate of course, as it may vary depending on room size, ventilation, wind, sun, etc. But at least you can roughly calculate how long your tank will last. We include these estimates with each product we mention below.
What size tank does it accept (1#, 20#, and/or 100#)?
Do you need something that will accept a small one pound tank, but also can be used with a standard 20 lb tank? Some heaters connect to 1, 5 and 20 lb propane tanks, while others are only compatible with a single size. Usually 100lbs will be the largest tank that you’ll be able to connect to with a portable propane heater.
Check this out when evaluating your heater. If you need a small, fast, affordable, heater for camping or to take out on your fishing excursion, maybe a 1lb tank is all you’ll need.
What does the CFM measurement mean?
CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. This number matters when you look at forced air flow convective heaters, as it indicates how powerful the air flow is. Simply put, a higher CFM rating indicates more air flow.
Safety Shut Offs
Propane heaters should always have some form of safety shut off. For example, with portable heaters, look for safety features like tip over safety shut offs, safety valves to prevent non ignition fuel discharges, and high temperature sensor shutoffs.
Variable Heat Output
You’ll need to the ability regulate the heating output. So, first, check the BTU range on the device, and then confirm that it has variable output controls. This can be as simple as a control knob that adjust heat from the min to max BTUs, or a series of specific settings. The more custom control you have, the better you can conserve fuel and heat efficiently depending on the space and conditions of use.
The Best (Portable) Propane Heaters
Now that you know what to look for, let’s get down to business.
Here are some of the best portable propane heaters on the market. This list represents many of the types and styles we noted above. So, no matter where or how you plan to use it, there should be a heater in this list that fits the bill.
Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Propane Heater
|Heats Up To||450 Sq. Feet|
|BTUs||4000 / 9000 / 18000|
|Tank Size||2 x 1lb tanks (also attaches to 20 lb tank)|
|Run Time||10.8 hrs (1lb tanks on low) ; 108 hrs (20 lb tank on low)|
|Safety Mechanisms||Tip over shut-off; Low oxygen shut off|
|Available on Amazon||Buy Now|
Why we like it:
This radiant heating model has variable heat output controls, a patented swivel regulator, and comfortable carry features.
It’s indoor safe (except for Massachusetts and Canada) and can be used with either 2x1lb propane tanks, or a standard 20lb tank.
It’s a workhorse propane heater that’s good for outdoor events, such as hiking, fishing camping, as well as workshops, construction and more.
What’s not so great
The Mr. Heater Big Buddy heater does not include a fan. It’s a radiant heater, so the heat does not blow around the room, but it does get toasty, so a fan can be a nice thing to have around.
Note: If you’re looking for something even more portable, check out The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy.
It has the same radiant heat technology and overall quality features as the big buddy, but it is designed for smaller spaces (up to 225 sq feet).
It comes with a carrying case that has a padded shoulder strap – perfect for taking along on a camping or hunting trip. And, although it’s smaller, it still attaches to a 20 lb propane tank when you need a longer run time.
The Camco Olympian Wave 3
|Heats Up To||130 Sq. Feet|
|BTUs||1100 - 3000|
|Tank Size||20lb or 100lb tank (read manual for specifics)|
|Estimated Run Time||300 hrs (20lb tank on low) ; 160 hrs (20 lb tank on high)|
|Safety Mechanisms||Safety valve to prevent non ignition fuel discharge|
|Available on Amazon||Buy Now|
The Camco Olympian Wave 3 is an efficient and quiet catalytic heater designed for spaces up to 130 square feet.
This is a directional radiant heater that warms up the people, objects and floor in its pathway. That means these objects heat up first, without losing heat energy to the surrounding air. The objects retain the warmth, holding it for longer and emitting the warmth to the air around them.
The Wave 3 is recommended for smaller indoor spaces, making it perfect for camping, RVs, and boats. It can be used as a wall mounted heater, but is portable as well for indoor or even outdoor use. You can buy additional base legs to make the heater free-standing. You can also purchase an additional dust cover for either portable or wall mounted use. It also comes with a 6′ long connection hose.
The Wave series from Camco gets high marks as an effective and easy to use heater with supreme efficiency for long term heating needs when you’re out on the road.
Note: Read the full manual before operating, including venting requirements.
The Remington REM-60V-GFA-O Forced Air Propane Heater
|Heats Up To||1500 Sq. Feet|
|Tank Size||20lb (read manual for specifics)|
|Estimated Run Time||10.5 hrs (20lb tank on low)|
|Safety Mechanisms||High temp auto shut-off; flame out fuel thermo couple|
|Available on Amazon||Buy Now|
When it comes to a forced air heating machine for your job-site, we’re not looking for something fancy. Just a durable, compact and powerful blower to quickly heat up the air when working in harsh conditions.
The Remington 60V forced air heater gets the job done. It’s a heavy-duty steel constructed fan heater with a 300 CFM air flow capacity and 60000 BTU output that makes it capable of heating up a 1500 square foot space.
What that means is that this convective model, along with other higher BTU versions in the same product line, will quickly fill a large enclosed space with warm air.
It’s simple to operate, easy to carry and height adjust, and great for construction, warehouses, garages and more.
What to keep in mind
Since this is a forced air model, it will need to keep working hard to maintain warmth in a room. If you introduce cold air to the space, you’ll lose the heat quickly. And you will need a standard 120V power outlet to power it.
Mr. Heater 540 Tank Top Heater
|Heats Up To||1500 Sq. Feet|
|Ignition Type||Manual (Long stem lighter recommended)|
|Tank Size||20lb or 100lb tanks|
|Estimated Run Time||9.5 hrs (20lb tank on high); 14 hrs (20lb tank on high setting)|
|Safety Mechanisms||Tip over shut-off mechanism; safety shut-off valve|
|Available on Amazon||Buy Now|
Tank top heaters provide a simple and reliable heat source for outdoor heating applications. You simply attach and connect to a 20lb propane tank and adjust the heat to your needs.
The Mr. Heater 540 is simply a better, multi-directional version of these standard tank top styles.
First, the 540 is a single head that provides a full radius of heat. So, unlike other single, double, or triple head versions, you don’t need to constantly adjust the heads. Yet the attachment arm does rotate 180 degrees if necessary.
It provides 45000 BTUs of radiant heating capacity. You can mount it to a 20 or 100lb tank and get 14 hours of run time on a 30000 BTU setting.
Keep in mind that you need to light this one; there is no Piezo igniter. So always make sure you have a long neck lighter to ignite it. You can easily light it by sticking the stem of the lighter through a hole in the base of the reflector.
The Mr. Heater 540 tank top heater is a great choice for concentrated warmth on a jobsite, camping trips, or while tailgating.
Dyna-Glo RMC-LPC25DG Convection Heater
|Heats Up To||600 Sq. Feet|
|BTUs||15000 - 25000|
|Tank Size||20lb or 100lb tanks|
|Estimated Run Time||28 hrs on low; 23 hours on high.|
|Safety Mechanisms||Flame out safety shut-off|
|Available on Amazon||Buy Now|
If you’re looking for a basic convection heater to heat a space up to 600 square feet, this Dyna-Glo convection heater is an option trusted and used by many.
It’s a simple design that projects 360 degrees of heat at outputs of 15000 – 25000 BTUs.
This portable propane heater is rated for indoor or outdoor use. If you plan to use it indoors, keep in mind that you need at least 2.5 square feet of ventilation, and the heater must be located at least 6 feet from the propane tank.
Also, as with any fuel based indoor heater, it is highly recommended to have a working Carbon Monoxide detector in place when this is in use.
Things to keep in mind:
Read the manual, available here, and pay close attention to all safety instructions before use. This heater gets hot to the touch. So, you’ll definitely know it’s working, but you also want to be careful around it. Where gloves as a safety precaution.
It comes with a 10 ft long hose and connects with a standard regulator to a 20lb propane tank.
Bottom line with this one: Keeping all the safety precautions in mind (as you always should), this thing works and will definitely get you nice and toasty.