Official Test Results: Five Ways to Heat a Tent

llamalander

Active member
I have been impressed with the mattress heater while fall camping in the back of my truck.

Mine is pinned to a mattress topper, under a sheet and a large down comforter. It's powered from a 95AH house battery that is only recharged with the alternator right now. Apart from turning it on, no set-up or takedown is required and I don't notice it in the bed, which is a big plus.
My shell is un-insulated, but probably not as big as a RTT with about 3 1/2' of headroom & a fair amount of glass.
Sometimes I have turned the pad on fairly low (2 or 3 out of 7) while driving, other times I've forgotten and run it off the house battery, but either way I'v ended up unplugging it within a few hours because i'm too warm.
While I think it is rated at around 75w an hour, I suspect it uses less on the lower settings, but I have no measurements. I could have it on all night with my little battery and recoup the power driving the next day. If I could do that with solar, all the better, but in winter i'm driving between where I camp and play. If not I would count on the small generator I have, but that has never been required-

I have only been out in high 20 deg weather so far, but I'm actually interested in using the setup for winter camping once I can find a system to reliably dry my gear at the end of each day. While I have woken to frozen condensation on the inside of the windows, the cold air is not really a bother if the bed is warm.
Having good sleeping gear means a little supplemental warmth can go a long way. Being equipped to sleep with no heat source seems like the only way to pack, even a mylar blanket can make a big difference if your pad is well insulated and the wind is off of you. Starting from there, using a battery to provide a small but noticeable amount of heat doesn't seem inefficient.
Basically, while electric resistance heating is not in the same league as gas-powered, it is still worth seeing if you can meet your comfort requirements with it. If you already have a dual-battery setup the mattress warmer seems like a good way to get more out of that investment.
 
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MANUCHAO

Aventurero
@MattJ I think of you place the heater as close to the RTT as possible you probably get better results with the Propex unit...
Here is a pic of mine set up temps dropped down to the 15ºF and it was really nice and warm in out tent...
20171229_182248~3.jpg

In the pic you can see the heater at hose length from the tent... the hoses enter the RTT and the door need to be better sealed.

Still i get plenty heat and have had to set the thermostat to outs lowest setting...
Thanks for posting your findings... that must of been a lot of work....
 

Johnrunberg

Adventurer
Karl at West Ventures has the US distributoin for propex and can help. Except for a Espar there really isn't a better option.
 

Outside somewhere

Overland certified public figure brand ambassador
Really wanted the propex setup to make cold season camping more tolerable. After the same complaint from everyone that has one, having to create the return hose thing - at a 2k price tag I moved on. Just seems like for that much it's something that would be part of their self described "kit" I find a big buddy with the 20# outside the tent but inside a compartment on the trailer with a (going to sound funny) low voltage pet cage heating pad around it keeps me nice and toasty down to 30* And I can get around three days out of a tank with conservative use. Total investment big buddy 110, fuel filter 15, hose 25, tank 40 (refills 15) heating pad 50.
 

Dozer Dan

Observer
You should take the mattress heater for an actual spin one night. I use one and I swear by it. I've introduced several people to these and everyone has loved them.
I goes without saying though that they will not heat the tent, they will only heat the mattress. You will still have to suck it up and use warm blankets. You can keep your clothes in the bed so that the clothes stay warm overnight. That way it's no biggie getting dressed in the morning.
I really like this because it adds comfort. I don't like to rely on any system, so I still have enough blankets to keep me warm but I still like a bit of luxury.
Personally I think it's a bit mad to strive towards heating a tent all night. If you want to sleep in a heated space you need to look at insulating that space first, think teardrop trailer.
I've a relatively small 4x4 so I try to avoid carrying extra stuff unless required.
 

spressomon

Expedition Leader
Used a mattress pad heater in our then Maggiolina back in '08 and it worked great. Then installed same in our then Kimberley Kamper Sports RV and ditto experience. We just used it to pre-heat the bedding for 60-90 minutes ... made a big difference. Then when getting up in the morning we'd fire up the Webasto for heated air.
 

calicamper

Expedition Leader
I’ve never heated a tent while camping. But hot rocks wrapped in newspaper in the sleeping bag done that. Though the best method is a hot little thing cohabiting the sleeping bag.
 

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MattJ

Adventurer
Thanks everyone for the continued input. A couple more updates from the OP:

1) I am still waiting for one more tubing component for the Propex system to arrive in the mail. I thought I received the final component today, but it was the wrong product, so I have to ship it back and try again. Once I have everything, I will post detailed photos of all the parts and assembly process for the two insulated circulation hoses that the Propex requires. Below are some photos of other options that I found when researching the best way to build the hoses. I decided that neither is a good option. One is too expensive and the other is too fragile (not meant to be used outdoors, packed and set up multiple times). The intake and exhaust openings on the Propex are 60mm, so 2.5-inches is a good enough fit with products available in the U.S.

2) Next time I am camping in the cold, I will plan to give the mattress heater another try. It will require me to change my current sleeping gear a bit (since I currently use a sleeping bag and Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite pad). But it might be the only option that works in the massive annex to my Tepui tent for overnight warmth.

3) I agree the "heating a tent" approach is a bit of a crazy quest. Especially since tents aren't designed to be heated and have no heat-retention capability. But it's been a very interesting challenge to work on, and I did have good success pumping warm air into the Tepui tent with the Propex when I finally got it set up. I keep telling myself that someday I can use the Propex to heat other things (small cabin, fishing shelter, teardrop trailer) so I can recover some of the huge cost by using it for something besides my roof top tent.
 
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cactusjk

Explorer
Now we need someone to do the same research for heating a teardrop!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

SoCal Tom

Explorer
Now we need someone to do the same research for heating a teardrop!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Honestly, the best TD heating method I've seen is this one.
http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=54&t=62327&start=15

The short version is using a water heater ( either built in, or instant type) with a thermostat and a very quiet pump and a pc Case fan and a heat exchanger to warm up the interior. The install is easiest with a built in water heater, but its been done with a camp chef triton style using an external resevoir.
The electric mattress warmers are also very popular for pre-heating the bedding.
Tom
 

MattJ

Adventurer
Some slight progress on the Mr. Heater Buddy set up while I wait for Propex parts to arrive. I bought at 12v fan with a directional vent that will blow the heat from the Buddy away from the ceiling directly above. I need to figure out a simple quick-mount bracket for it. Or I might just use zip ties. I have a 12v outlet hub with a 25-ft cord that powers the LED light strips and other accessories.





 

MattJ

Adventurer
Just saw a sheet on sale at REI that will fit my sleeping pad. I will buy it and try it with the mattress heating pad (the heating pad is made to be pinned to the bedding).



 

jacobconroy

Hillbilly of Leisure
I kid you not...I was sitting here reading this thread, and the UPS guy dropped of my parts for my Propex halfway through. I've been using a Propex without a return line this year. Doesn't work in the winter time. Each time the heater cycles it blows cold air into the tent before and after burning propane. I bought a 10 foot section of 60 mm hose and some vent fittings that I intend to permanently mount through the cloth part of my RTT. I'll post some pics when done. Let's hope it works. Once I work that out, I'll move on to insulating the return and supply somehow.

I will agree though. Nothing beats a Propex. Condensation inside a tent sucks. Warm, forced air doesn't cause condensation, and in fact dries out any condensation. Ever bring a wet RTT home after a trip? All you have to do is set it up in the driveway and hook up the Propex for a couple of hours. Dry as a bone and ready to pack up. :)

In my case, I bought a used box to install a Propex H2000 in. All together it was about a grand for a portable Propex with warranty (and all associated parts). I honestly wouldn't have spent 2K.
 
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