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Is It Safe To Use A Catalytic Heater In A Tent? (4 Tips To Stay Toasty!)

Is It Safe To Use A Catalytic Heater In A Tent? (4 Tips To Stay Toasty!)

If you’re an avid camper, you’ll know how staying warm at night is key to a comfortable trip. Whilst you might be able to keep yourself toasty around the campfire, when it comes to bedding down in your tent, you might need some extra thermal support when the temperature drops. A catalytic heater will kick out some decent heat, but is it safe to use a catalytic heater in a tent?

Generally, it’s safe to use a catalytic heater in a tent. Because they rely on a chemical reaction to heat a metal plate, rather than an open flame, they can be used in a tent. Make sure to keep it away from flammable material, provide adequate ventilation and always turn it off before going to sleep. They don’t produce carbon monoxide, so are inherently safer than other types of heaters if used correctly.

What Is A Catalytic Heater and How Does It Work?

A catalytic heater differs from other types of heaters in the way it generates heat. Rather than using an open flame or an electric current, a catalytic heater works by making use of a chemical reaction in the heating process. There are 3 main components to this; firstly, a catalyst such as a metal plate which is heated up, secondly, a fuel source such as propane gas, and finally, oxygen. These three components combine to provide a potent heat source.

What Are The Benefits Of Using A Catalytic Heater?

Minimised Risk Of Co2 Poisoning

The potential for carbon monoxide poisoning when using a heater in an enclosed space should always be a top consideration, as without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide build up can be deadly. 

Unlike other types of gas fired heaters, catalytic heaters emit minimal amounts of carbon monoxide. That said, there are a couple of considerations to make before making a purchase. 

Firstly, make sure that your heater conforms to CSA 4.98 which certifies that the unit emits a minimal amount of carbon monoxide, making them safe for use, providing safety measures are observed. Secondly, always ensure that you provide a lot of ventilation when the heater is in use, and always make sure to switch off the heater before going to sleep.

No Open Flame, No Fire Hazard

One major benefit of using a catalytic heater – and probably the factor that makes them so suitable for use within tents – is the fact that they don’t rely on an open flame. This significantly reduces the fire risk associated with using a catalytic heater in a tent.

More Efficient

One drawback of using a heater which requires fuel to run is the need to replenish your fuel supply every so often. Therefore, getting the most efficient heater is vital to keeping the cost down, especially if you’re an avid camper or are likely to use the heater regularly.

Thankfully, catalytic heaters are some of the most efficient units on the market today, especially compared to traditional propane fired heaters, so it’ll not only be the heater that gives you warmth, but also the knowledge that your wallet isn’t taking too much of a hit.

Lasts Longer

As a result of using less fuel, a catalytic heater also gives a longer burn time compared to other gas fired types. They also require less oxygen from the environment in order to run,

Catalytic Heaters – What To Be Aware Of

As with any heater, there are some safety considerations and best practices to observe, and catalytic heaters are no different. By following the below guidelines, you should be confident that your heater is being used in a safe and efficient manner:

Always Follow Manufacturers Instructions

Your heater should come with a set of instructions. Make sure to read through them and familiarise yourself with the different functions of the unit, safety requirements and recommendations from the manufacturer. There is often information contained within which allows for optimal fuel efficiency, so it pays to leaf through the manual prior to firing it up for the first time.

Go for Models with Added Protection

Many catalytic heaters now come with safety features in-built, but it’s still worth checking to ensure you’re getting the maximum protection from your unit.

Tip-over shut off protection will do just that – if the unit tips over for whatever reason, which in a tent environment is not unlikely – the unit will shut down the fuel supply and prevent any fire risk.

Equally as important is an oxygen depletion sensor, which monitors the oxygen level and shuts down the heater should the oxygen levels drop to a critical level to avoid suffocation.

Keep the Heater Away from Combustible Materials

It goes without saying – but you should always make sure that the area occupied by the heater is clear of combustible materials, or anything for that matter. Blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, plastics or other flammable items should be removed prior to the unit being switched on. A tent is a higher risk environment for this kind of issue so make sure to observe this safety tip as a priority. It is a good idea to elevate the heater on a sturdy, non-flammable surface, rather than placing it on the tent floor.

Keep the Heater Covered when Not in Use

Dust build up within the unit when not in use can present a risk when the heater is fired back up. Covering the unit when not in use will keep dust from settling on the catalytic plate, reducing efficiency and increasing the risk of carbon monoxide production. It’s still worth checking the unit and blowing away any dust prior to use, even if it’s been covered in the meantime.

Ensure Adequate Ventilation

Catalytic heaters do require a certain amount of oxygen to run. Keeping the tent well ventilated by opening the tent door flap a little will achieve this without compromising the heater’s ability to keep the tent warm.

Catalytic heaters only produce trace amounts of carbon monoxide, but a defective or older unit has the potential to produce greater concentrations of this potentially deadly gas. A dusty heater could also increase the potential for carbon monoxide output, as mentioned above.

Never go to sleep with a heater running. Not only does this vastly increase the risk of fire as you toss and turn in your sleeping bag – potentially covering the heater – it also exposes you to inhalation of any carbon monoxide present in the space. Always make sure to turn the heater off completely before you go to sleep.

Which Catalytic Heater Is Best For A Tent?

When looking for a catalytic heater for your next camping trip, it’s important to consider the size of your tent first. In reality, you should avoid using a catalytic heater in a small tent. This is due to the inherent fire risk associated with the heater being so close to the fabric of the tent and its contents in such a small environment.

One manufacturer with a good range of catalytic heaters is Camco. Their Olympian Wave range is equipped with safety shut off valves which are a key feature for anyone planning on using it within a tent. They are also silent, so can be used without ruining the chilled out vibe of your camping trip.

Are Coleman Catalytic Heaters Safe?

Coleman is another trusted and respected brand in the outdoor sphere, and their range of catalytic heaters are of good quality. However, Coleman no longer manufactures their range of catalytic heaters, following calls to include a carbon monoxide sensor within their units, to bring them up to industry standards. 

With most types of catalytic heater, practically no carbon monoxide is produced during use, however if the unit becomes defective or if there is a build up of dust on the catalyst, the risk for carbon monoxide production is greatly increased.

Make sure the heater is in the middle of the tent, avoiding tent walls and sleeping bags. Most Coleman heaters come equipped with a heat shield which should be in place prior to lighting the unit. Always use a lighter to ignite the heater, rather than matches, to reduce the risk of fire from a match which has not fully extinguished.

How Long Will A Coleman Catalytic Heater Last?

As the catalyst within a catalytic heater is not consumed during the heating process, it should – in theory – last forever. However, that may be a tad optimistic. Generally speaking, a lifespan of 15 years is expected, due to their lack of moving parts.

In terms of burn time, a 1500 BTU heater such as the Coleman CatSport will burn through a 1lb propane cylinder in around 14 hours.

Do Coleman Catalytic Heaters Produce Carbon Monoxide?

Coleman catalytic heaters produce only trace amounts of carbon monoxide, making them suitable for use within camping tents. Make sure to follow manufacturer’s guidelines and keep your heater free of dust particles in order to minimise the risk of carbon monoxide emission.

Can A Catalytic Heater Start A Fire?

Generally, catalytic heaters present a lower risk of fire than traditional open flame heaters, or even electric ones. However, in enclosed spaces such as within tents, the risk is greater due to the potential for the unit to come into contact with surrounding material such as sleeping bags, clothing, and the walls of the tent itself. By staying vigilant and removing any hazardous materials from around the heater, you can minimise the risks.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article has given you a good idea of whether a catalytic heater is the right choice for your next camping trip. While it may offer you a serious boost in warmth in the evening, it’s certainly no substitute for proper tent insulation. You should also make sure that you bring your camping essentials along with you to make sure you have a comfortable night under the stars.

If you’re looking for other expert camping advice – we’ve got you covered. Check out our how to guides and beginner info to take your outdoor knowledge to the next level.