Electric heater for wimpy vehicle camper

Since most camp sites now have electrical hookups, into which serious wilderness campers plug plasma TV’s, satellite dishes and mainframe computers, I thought I might get a small electric space heater for those cold times when I canoe camp in my van above the arctic circle or in the Himalayas.

It should be small, inexpensive and have some sort of thermostat.

And safe. Can’t have exposed glowing heater elements like the ones in cheap saloons, because I could knock all sorts of things into or onto the heater as I stumble around in the dark in my van: e.g., paddles, foam pads, acetone, raisinets, Christie Brinkley’s orlon sweater, Frank’s hot sauce, trashy novels, toupee, etc., etc.

Any experience or suggestions?

consider a large wooly dog
no fire hazard, but occasional gas risk, depending on what you feed it.

Seriously, if you’re camping at a site with a power post, just get an electric blanket. I use an electric heating pad on my bed at home which enables me to save gas by kicking the set-back thermostat to 50 F overnight. Keeps me toasty whether reading in bed or sleeping.

Small heater
I used a Pelonis Furnace. It is a small ceramic heater that makes alot of heat for the size. They do have thermostats and if knocked over will shut off.

You can find them on Ebay or just do a search on Google and you can find them. They are less than 100 bucks and work great.

Got a cheap heater at Wal-mart…
In 2007, I spent the Winter paddling in Florida. I used my 1985 Dodge 15 passenger van as my base of operations. Took all the seats out, and it was quite roomy. I bought a cheap electric heater at Wal-mart, cost about $30, worked good. I also had a propane heater for when I was away from electricity, like sleeping in rest areas.

The electric heater I got was fairly quiet, I have had others that were noisy, so make sure you get a quiet one.

I also brought along a dorm sized refrigerator, so I wouldn’t have to buy ice every day to cool my food and beer…

A cheap aluminum frame cot from Gander Mountain completed my van camping kit, it was very comfortable.

I’ve used
a little ceramic heater in my 4Runner. Worked great. Hard to think of anything that would put out decent heat that wouldn’t cook anything that touched it. Maybe one of those oil heaters? Used one of those on my houseboat. It heated well and wasn’t scorching hot.


– Last Updated: Oct-14-09 3:57 PM EST –


But if you have a hook-up, the ceramic heater advice is good. Most are thermostatically controlled, and have a tip-over cut-off.


Wait a cotton-pickin’ minoot, Pilgrim!

– Last Updated: Oct-14-09 9:47 AM EST –

Iffin' yer gots Christie Brinkley in yer van... wat in tarnation do yer need a heater fer????


Pelonis is nice
mine stages down as the set temp is approached. However, it never turns completely off. Always uses about 300w of heater whether it needs it or not. (Their logic is to keep minimum heat going so the unit doesn’t have to go back to max to maintain temp. Saves energy, but I just want to take the chill off once in a while.) I bought a line voltage thermostat for a salamander type heater on sale last spring at the local big box store. It is rated high enough amperage to handle the disk heater at max. The Pelonis is pretty quiet in the travel trailer. Now that it shuts completely off it is a good system.

MR. Heater
I hooks up to a propane canister and is supposed to be safe for confined spaces. It is cheap to.

No Heater
that relies on combustion (catalytic or otherwise) should be used without adequate ventilation. I just had a friend die from an improperly vented “Coleman-type” propane cooler in his van. If in doubt, ask your friendly, local fire department. The life you save may just be your own and paddling sucks when you’re dead.

Panel Heaters

I used a small ceramic heater
in my tent at Raystown. Dryed up all that water on the tent floor, too. Easy to regulate, but it doesn’t have a thermostat. It was inexpensive and it’s relatively small.

Second the Pelonis hot-air heater
We keep one in the upstairs bathroom. It’s small, safe, and effective.

The hot air gets rid of condensation, too.

Downside: it’s too noisy for all-night use.

If you can find it…
I have an electric baseboard kind of heater. It’s basically a section of baseboard heater. It’s hard to find the short ones, though (I’ve only see one). Mine is long enough I don’t like to bring it with me, though it works very well for car camping. Just make sure to keep things from contacting the front side.

Sort of…
However the heaters such as the Mr. Buddy portable have a low oxygen sensor that shuts the unit off. This type of propane unit is safe to use indoors; also has a safety shutoff if the unit tips over. The Coleman you referenced definitely is not safe for indoor use.

The OP did specify he was looking for electric heaters; the one pond propane cylinders are only good for three hours or so anyway.

This Lasko gets good reviews
Knew nothing about these heaters when I started the thread, but now I’ve done a little reading.

This Lasko ceramic seems to get mostly good reviews:


One inconsistent thing about this heater and other fan-forced models is that some people say they are too noisy for sleeping while others say they are quiet.

The drying out of clothes, towels, etc. in my van would be another benefit I hadn’t thought of.

why did I think of
an electric blanket???



oxygen depletion not the only danger
The oxygen sensor doesn’t protect against CO poisoning. Not normally an issue with propane, but I think it’s a possibility if it’s not burning right.

it was subliminal
since willowleaf suggested that in the 1st post.

I have that exact heater in your link. I can highly reccommend it. I used it in my SUV tent when I had my teardrop trailer,and inside the teardrop if needed. My Mom is using it now to add heat in her room when the furnace cycles down. T-stat works great,and has fan,and 2 heat settings. Tip over protection too. Been in use for 5 years now. Heated 10’ X 10’ Suv tent to 60 when 32 outside. Just use a heavy extension cord if needed{15 amp rating,12-10 ga}. Draws 12 amps when on fan & high heat setting. Adding a small wired{14ga} extension cord is asking for a fire.