How do you heat a campervan in the winter?
Depending on where you live and normally travel, a campervan heater may not be something you naturally think of when you first get your van. And yet finding the right one is crucial if you’re thinking of doing any travel where it will be chilly, or even freezing!
Even if it’s freezing outside you can still be as snug as a bug inside when you have the best campervan heater for your space. And I don’t mean needing to wear three shirts, umpteen blankets and 10 pairs of socks on your hands and feet!
Choose the right camper van heater and you’ll be able to enjoy coming in from the outdoors without feeling like you need to be dressed up to combat the cold inside the van, too.
If you buy the right portable heater you get to extend your camping season beyond the popular and busy spring and summer months and experience places in their equally interesting in the autumn and winters months.
Keep in mind how important insulating a campervan properly is for warmth and comfort and avoiding mildew and other cold related issues.
Our campervan heater Top Picks at a glance
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Caution! Keep Carbon Monoxide out of your campervan
More than anything, We want you to be safe. All heating systems, portable or not, involve some level of risk and the fact is that unfortunate accidents involving camping heaters do sometimes happen.
So we’re recommending a next level safety mindset when it comes to your campervan heating system.
This means adding common sense and additional safety measures that go above and beyond what the manufacturer of your heater has created.
So here are the MUST FOLLOW RULES of heating your campervan.
- Many portable heaters include automatic shut off for Carbon Monoxide levels. That’s great, but we suggest adding a separate, Carbon Monoxide detector (battery powered or 12 volt, with Propane detector is that’s your heat source) in your campervan that will wake you if CO gets too high. Here are some options:
- Many heater also include automatic shut off if tipped over. Make sure your heater is on a stable surface that won’t allow it to tip, and turn it off when driving.
- What’s just as crucial as Carbon Monoxide alert system? Ventilation! This starts with open windows that provide cross ventilation and includes a roof vent with a fan massively increases safety with regard to this issue.
- Many items in your tiny fun space are potentially flammable. You must keep such items a safe distance from the business end of your heater. Make sure that clothing, papers, plastics, blankets… are at a safe distance from heating elements and any other parts that get hot. Keep in mind that heat rises, so a flammable item hanging a few feet above a heater could get much
- hotter than something located 18 inches in front of the heater.
Campervan Fire Extinguishers
Of course you need fire extinguishers within reach at all times in your campervan. I suggest keeping one within a few steps of your fire pit, cooking area, stove, gas lantern… Any source of flame.
Please take a minute to read our campervan fire safety guide and many other details about this important campervan safety gear.
Do you need a heater in a campervan?
When it comes to portable heating, there are a pile of options. Finding the right campervan heating gear for your van build is vital to successful van travel.
When you get a portable heater, some of the things you may be looking for are:
- A better quality of sleep, because you’re not sleeping in an icebox, or using 8 sleeping bags!
- You’ll be cozy throughout the night.
- Increased area of travel, including ski resorts and the colder states and regions.
- Ability to simply relax in the warmth of your van or tent at any time.
- Knowing you’re returning to somewhere warm when you come back from a hike, a day’s skiing, mountain bike riding, or other outdoor activity.
- Your furry travel companions (um… both pets and humans) will love you even more for providing a warm space.
What is the best campervan heater?
Before you start your search for the best campervan heater for your unique situation, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a preferred fuel source for your heater?
- How much heat will you need to feel warm?
- Will you have easy access to the fuel?
- Is the fuel available at a reasonable price at your starting location and locations along the way, or can you carry enough for your journey?
- What options do you definitely need? A safety cut-off is a must have.
- How many BTU’s does the heater put out?
- How big is the heater? There is usually a trade-off between size and heating ability – the bigger the unit the more heat it can generate.
- If you’re also using a tent remember most are made from nylon or polyester and are not really insulated so the tent needs a more powerful heater compared to a well-insulated van.
Campervan Heater Fuel Options
Electric campervan heaters can have high and consistent heat output. It’s certainly the safest fuel and there are a wide variety of models to choose from.
The heaters can range from small to large with a high output. There is no risk from carbon monoxide poisoning when you use a portable electric heater.
Flammability of nearby and overhead objects, as well as tipping over are important concerns.
Twelve volt heaters are available (see below), or you can plug a 110 volt heater into a suitable inverter, or connect to shore power when available.
Either way, it’s important to understand your available power source and the amount of power required to run your heating unit.
You will require a utility type power source to ensure that a high btu electric heater will last through a cold night.
Another option to help stay warm over night, or for keeping a passenger extra warm during a drive is an electric blanket.
Diesel fired heaters for campervans
How does a diesel heater work in a campervan?
Diesel heaters pull fuel from the main diesel tank in the campervan. A heat exchange unit is heated by the diesel powered flame.
The house battery is used to light the heater and power the blower fan to circulate the warm air coming off of the heat exchanger.
If you have a larger van such as a Sprinter or other high roof vehicle we would recommend a permanently installed heater. The currently available diesel systems are some of the most efficient and safe permanent installations you can get.
Propane campervan heater
Campervan Heaters fueled by propane are more expensive than electric heaters. However, unlike electric heaters they don’t dry the air out and they don’t need electricity to operate.
There is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in badly ventilated areas. However, propane heaters can be bought that monitor oxygen levels and switch off if levels dip. Additionally, you should install a carbon monoxide monitor separately.
There may also be a risk of tipping the heater over. Again, the manufacturers are now incorporating cut-off switches so that if the heater tips over the fuel to the heater cuts off automatically.
Many propane heaters can be used with both disposable and refillable tanks. The costs of the refills and disposable cylinders should be considered, especially if you’re visiting much colder regions.
The other useful point about using propane is that it is used as a fuel for other camping equipment and disposable tanks and refill stations are available almost everywhere.
One important consideration of propane heaters is that you’ll need to keep lines and burners clean.
Here’s a link to some very serious Propane gas info that you’ll find useful for choosing a Propane campervan heater.
Butane campervan heater
Perhaps the simplest and least expensive option, butane heaters for campervans are available in a range of prices and styles.
The pressurized butane cans are widely available and very easy to install. As with any gas heater, Carbon Monoxide is a concern.
There are many brands available and the fuel, like propane, is available almost everywhere. Again, like propane, the cost of disposable cylinders can add up. Unlike propane, there are no refillable options.
Kerosene campervan heater
Kerosene is an oil and has the highest output of the gas options. It has been estimated that kerosene’s burning efficiency is around 90%, compared to gas’s 77% and electric’s 31% efficiency so from a cost viewpoint kerosene is very effective.
Kerosene heaters don’t require electricity and can be used inside provided there is enough ventilation and the right safety features are in place.
Just like any other open flame heater you should ensure your heater has tip over cut-off and an overheating cut-off switch.
The main reason kerosene isn’t used more is that while it’s widely available it can’t be purchased in the small unit that propane can and so is less portable.
Kerosene being a liquid gas that needs to be poured into heaters, any minor spill can result in a strong, lingering smell that can permeate belongings.
Small wood burning cylinder or box stoves are available, though they’re usually meant for permanent installation in larger vans, with a stove pipe.
I’m only mentioning it here because you could carry one in your vehicle and set-up in your tent (also with a stove pipe). You’d have to carry firewood or have access to wood fuel on your trip.
Still, they are probably the most pleasant heating source and can make for a very cozy van.
Wood burning stoves meant for enclosed spaces must be of the sealed type to avoid, you guessed it, Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
The best campervan heaters we’ve found
Campervan Heater Recap
- Extend your travel time into colder months and regions to get the most out of your campervan
- Use CAUTION! when choosing and using campervan heaters
- Using a gas or wood burning campervan heaters? Get a CO Alarm for your van
- Campervan heaters allow you and your travel companions to relax and enjoy the experience of travel in colder months
- Carefully consider the best fuel and heater type for your situation and needs