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Updated Feb 16, 2023 10:11 AM
The best propane heaters can keep you warm, whether you’re in the woods or the woodshop. By connecting to a propane fuel source––be it a portable one-pound canister or a 100-pound tank––propane heaters emit warmth by burning the gas and projecting the resulting heat. Some units rely on metal reflectors, while others produce radiant heat that travels through the air like the sun’s rays. Fans help circulate the warmth in forced-air units. They also serve as emergency equipment in the event of a power outage.
Propane heaters can be small, portable burners that sit atop camping canisters, or they can be larger standup units that create a warm ambiance on your patio or deck. Many people prefer them to kerosene heaters, which are cheaper to operate but require use and storage of kerosene. Some vent-free propane heaters, which are safe for indoor use, mount directly to your wall. Propane heaters burn very efficiently, but they still can emit carbon monoxide if there’s an incomplete burn caused by a lack of oxygen in a space that isn’t ventilated. That also means they can be dangerous, even when approved for indoor use. Many of the best propane heaters feature oxygen depletion sensors that will automatically shut off the unit when the oxygen levels in the room dip too low.
Clearly, there is a lot to consider when shopping for the best propane heaters. But hopefully we can ignite your search and guide it in the right direction for your needs.
How We Chose The Best Propane Heaters
As outdoorsmen and women, we often find ourselves using heaters to stay warm. Whether on a winter ski trip to a remote cabin or hanging on the patio during the cool fall months—staying warm is not only critical for safety, but also for enjoyment. After spending a lot of time outside and around heaters we’ve come to focus on some key components when selecting a quality propane heater. We based our picks on the following criteria:
• BTUs: How powerful is the heater?
• Rate of fuel consumption: How fast does the heater burn fuel?
• Square footage of space the propane heater can warm: What size area can the heater warm?
• Size: How large is the heater and how much room do you need to use it?
• Weight: How heavy is the heater and is it portable?
• Mounting options: Can the heater be mounted on a wall or accessory?
• Safety precautions: Does the heater have automatic shutoffs that can be triggered in response to the heater tipping, or low oxygen levels?
The Best Propane Heaters: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Mr. Heater 4,000-9000 BTU Portable Buddy
Why It Made The Cut: With small touches like a fold-up handle and a swivel regulator that lets you choose between different-size fuel tanks, this portable propane heater also packs a lot of heating power.
- Weight: 9 pounds
- Product Dimensions: 7.7-inch (L) x 15-inch (H) x 13.4-inch (W)
- BTUs: Up to 9,000
- Automatic shutoff if unit tips, gets too hot, detects low oxygen, or pilot light goes out
- Easy-grip handle
- Safe for indoor use
- Works with one-pound propane canister
- May shut off above 7,000 feet
- Reviewers report very sensitive sensors
You don’t need to carry a pistol to pack heat. This lightweight portable propane heater will work for the campsite, garage, or small cabin. Two settings pump out radiant heat at either 4,000 or 9,000 BTUs, capable of warming a space up to 225 square feet. Tilt and oxygen sensors help make this safe for indoor use. And a common 1-pound camping canister is all the propane you need. The portable propane heater will burn for 2.5 hours on full blast or 5.5 hours on the lower setting before you have to change tanks.
Best for a House: Dyna-Glo 30,000 BTU Liquid Propane Blue Flame Heater
Why It Made The Cut: The efficient blue-flame, 30,000 BTU system can heat spaces of 1,000 square feet, with a thermostat that puts you in control of the temperature.
- Weight: 27.6 pounds
- Product Dimensions: 28.07″ W x 10.51″ D x 24.09″ H
- Heat Settings: 5
- Easy to install
- Circulates heat efficiently
- Oxygen depletion sensor ensures safe use
- Adjustable temperature control
- Requires 100-pound propane tank
By convecting heat, which uses the density difference between hot and cold air to produce a constant flow, this Dyna-Glo propane heater offers an efficient output of 30,000 BTUs, and is capable of heating a 1,000-square-foot room. The vent-free system is made for indoor use, and the temperature dial lets you easily adjust the heat. Mount it to your wall, or stand it on legs (the leg mounts are sold separately). You can also connect this propane heater to your home’s natural gas line.
Best for Small Cabins: Mr. Heater Vent-Free 30,000 BTU Radiant Propane Heater
Why It Made The Cut: For a small cabin, this vent-free propane heater is a safe choice because it features dual oxygen depletion sensors and a two-step connection process that will prevent incorrect installation.
- Weight: 39 pounds
- Product Dimensions: 13.25-inch (L) x 31-inch (W) x 28.37-inch (H)
- Fuel Consumption: 1.389 pounds/hour
- Safety sensors
- Leg and wall mounts included
- Runs on a common 20-pound propane tank
- Won’t operate above 4,500 feet
- Safety sensors can seem overly sensitive
Producing radiant heat, this vent-free propane heater can warm up to 1,000 feet of space––in bigger spaces it’s designed to supplement another heat source. Wall or stand mounting gives you the option of portability, and the turn knob lets you dial up the right level of warmth. Perhaps most importantly, oxygen depletion sensors give you peace of mind that the heater is operating safely.
Best Patio Heater: AZ Patio Heaters Hiland Pyramid Propane Heater
Why It Made The Cut: With a quartz glass tube heating element and 40,000 BTUs of power, this patio heater looks as hot as it feels.
- Weight: 65 pounds
- Height: 91 inches
- Output: 40,000 BTUs
- 360 degrees of heat
- Uses standard 20-pound propane tank
- Temperature and tilt safety measures
- Less than 10 hours of usage per tank
- Costs nearly $500
A patio heater is as much about the ambiance as it is about warmth, and this propane unit provides plenty of both. This pyramid propane heater can pump out 40,000 BTUs of heat, which means it’s capable of providing 360 degrees of warmth around a 10-square-foot area. The 20-pound tank tucks away nicely in the bottom compartment, which is covered in a hammered silver finish. Sensors will automatically shut the heater off if it starts to fail or gets too warm. And wheels allow you to easily move the propane heater from one location to another.
Best for High Altitude: Camco Olympian Wave Propane Heater
Why It Made The Cut: While many of the best propane heaters stop working at elevation, this catalytic propane heater keeps pumping out warmth above 7,000 feet, and produces only CO2 and water as byproducts.
- Weight: 1.52 pounds
- Product Dimensions: 14.5-inch (L) x 11.75-inch (W) x 4.88-inch (H)
- BTUs: Up to 3,000
- Works at elevation
- Piezo automatic starter
- No fan means no noise
- Only heats up to 100 square feet
- Must be used in vented or open areas
Requiring no open flame and producing only water and CO2 as waste, this propane catalytic heater works in any vented environment––including above 7,000 feet. There’s no fan to blow the heat, which limits the warmable space to 100 square feet. This also means the high-altitude propane heater operates very quietly. The automatic push-button ignition is made to last 20,000 starts, and an automatic shutoff will be triggered if the unit detects a leak, making it both easy and safe to use.
Things to Consider Before Buying The Best Propane Heaters
Here’s what to consider when shopping for the best propane heater:
What type of propane heater are you looking for?
Propane heaters can be small enough to fit into the cupholder of a golf cart or sit atop a picnic table, or they can be larger permanent units that mount onto a wall. Patio heaters stand tall and give off heat in every direction, while portable outdoor heaters are ideal for boats or hunting blinds. Some propane heaters have forced-air systems that use fans to blast hot air produced by burning propane, while radiant propane heaters have elements that give off heat much like the sun and use reflectors to help guide the warmth. Convection heaters circulate air through heating elements, taking advantage of the density differences between hot and cold air to keep the heater constantly energized. Convection heaters are typically the most energy efficient, but they can also be more expensive. Many patio units or portable propane heaters use radiant heat, warming you much like the flames of a campfire.
Are the BTUs right for you?
A propane heater’s energy output is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), and propane heaters can span from roughly 3,000 BTUs to more than 40,000. Generally speaking, the higher the BTU count, the more warmth a propane heater is capable of producing, and thus the larger the area that it can heat. However, powerful patio heaters have tens of thousands of BTUs, but they are not safe for indoor use, so the area of warmth is diminished as the heat dissipates in the open air.
What size of propane tank will you need?
Propane heaters are not one-tank-size-fits-all. Some units require connections to large 100-gallon tanks, while smaller portable propane heaters can attach to 1-pound canisters. Many of the best propane heaters can connect to a common 20-pound gas-grill propane tank.
Beyond the size of the fuel tank, it’s important to pay attention to a propane heater’s burn rate. Some propane heaters will drain a 20-pound tank in less than 10 hours, while others can stretch that by several hours. If you need more sustained heat rather than more powerful heat, the latter option may be right for you.
What is the ignition system?
Most of the best propane heaters feature automatic electric starting systems that allow you to press a button to ignite the heating element. But some models require manual ignition. Automatic Piezo starters work by placing a crystal between two metal plates. When you push the button, you move the crystal, allowing the charged plates to spark. Such systems are designed to last for more than 20,000 starts. Manual ignition will work as long as you have matches or a lighter, and propane in the tank.
Can you turn up the heat?
Being able to dial the temperature up or down is important both for comfort and fuel conservation. Some propane heaters have specific settings that let you select your exact BTU output, while others work more like an unmarked dial on a gas stove.
What safety measures are in place?
While propane is an efficient source of energy, burning it can produce potentially dangerous carbon monoxide if combustion is incomplete due to low oxygen levels or a malfunctioning unit. (The state of California bans indoor vent-free units). But the best propane heaters are equipped with oxygen depletion systems that will automatically turn the heater off when nearby oxygen levels are too low. Other propane heaters will turn off if a leak is detected, preventing you from flooding an enclosed space with propane. Other units have tilt sensors that shut off before the heater falls. Such safety measures are critical if you plan to heat an indoor space, though some sensors can be too sensitive for some user’s tastes.
Q: How much do propane heaters cost?
Propane heaters cost anywhere from $50 for portable units to more than $500 for standup heaters suited for the patio.
Q: What propane heaters are safe to use indoors?
Propane heaters that are vent-free are safe to use indoors. Such units pull oxygen from the room and emit heat and carbon dioxide. This heating process is extremely efficient, but it can be dangerous if there is not an adequate supply of oxygen in the area. That results in incomplete burning, which results in carbon monoxide emissions. Many of the best propane heaters feature oxygen depletion sensors that will shut the unit off as soon as oxygen levels in the room are too low, or if the pilot light goes out. Properly installed carbon monoxide detectors in your home can also help keep you safe.
Q: Do propane heaters work?
Propane heaters absolutely work. Ignition, either through an electric starter or a match, reacts with flowing propane gas to produce radiant or blowable heat. The best propane heaters can warm outdoor spaces or can even be used to heat homes of more than 1,000 square feet.
Q: Does propane get too old to use?
No, propane does not get too old to use. As long as your tank is completely air-tight, propane fuel has no expiration date. Tanks, however, may be compromised after more than a decade. Look for signs of deterioration such as rust or corrosion.
Final Thoughts on the Best Propane Heaters
The best propane heaters will keep you warm—or warm enough—so you can stay comfortable. When putting together this list of propane heaters we wanted to break down our choices depending on the situation and use. The six different categories above cover a wide range of situations from the Hiland Pyramid Propane Heater for the patio to the Mr. Heater Vent-Free 30,000 BTU for small cabins. Whichever choice you decide to go with, make sure to follow the instructions and only use your heater in areas that are safe to do so.