Best Heater For Van Life – Campervan Heating Options

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Van life has become increasingly popular in recent years, offering a sense of freedom and adventure that many find irresistible. It’s no wonder that folks like yourself are drawn to this lifestyle, where you can travel, live, and explore while carrying all your worldly possessions in a cozy, mobile home.

However, living in a van isn’t without its challenges, especially when it comes to staying warm during colder months. This brings us to the burning question: what is the best campervan heater for van life?

There’s a wide range of camper van heater options available on the market, each with its own pros and cons. Some van dwellers opt for lower-cost, portable solutions like the popular Mr. Buddy heaters in their camper van conversion. Though it can be overwhelming to navigate through the multitude of options, you don’t need to worry: we’re here to help!

The truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for camper van heating. Instead, the best solution depends on factors such as your budget, power source, available space, safety considerations, and personal preferences. This article aims to help you evaluate your unique needs and guide you toward selecting the best heater to enjoy van life, even in the chilliest temperatures.

Do You Need a Heater?

So, do you really need a heater for your van life adventure? The answer is yes, especially if you want to stay warm, comfortable, and healthy during those chilly winter months. While insulation, ventilation, windows, and curtains can help regulate the temperature inside your camper van, they alone might not be enough, especially when traveling in cold climates or during the winter season.

For instance, temperatures can drop significantly at night in desert areas, and mountainous regions often experience below-freezing temperatures. In such cases, a heater becomes essential for maintaining a comfortable living space in your van, not to mention providing fuel for your stove. 

Sure, there are alternative ways to keep warm without a camper van heater. Layering clothes, using sleeping bags, or cuddling up with a partner or a pet can provide some warmth. However, these methods may not be sufficient for extreme cold or long-term van living. 

Under the passenger seat is a common area to mount a heater

Buying Guide

When choosing the best heater for van life, it’s essential to consider various criteria to make an informed decision. Let’s explore some of the main factors you should take into account.

Power Source

First, think about the power source of the heater. Is it powered by diesel, gas, propane, or electricity? Evaluate how much fuel or electricity each option consumes and how it aligns with your energy sources and needs.

Installation

Consider the ease of installation for the heater in your camper van. Some heaters require minimal tools and skills, while others might require professional assistance. Keep in mind your own abilities and tools available when making a decision.

Size and Weight

The size and weight of the heater play a vital role in your overall storage and mobility in your van. Opt for a heater that doesn’t take up too much space but still delivers the desired heating performance.

Performance

Performance is crucial when it comes to heating your camper van. Look at how well the heater warms your van and how quickly it achieves the desired temperature. To determine the right heater, consider how many BTUs will be needed for your specific van size and insulation.

Safety

Safety should never be compromised. Choose a heater with safety precautions and features to prevent fire hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning, overheating, and other risks. Make sure to follow all recommended guidelines for usage.

Cost

Finally, factor in the cost of the heater. Consider not only the initial purchase price but also the ongoing operational costs, including fuel or electricity consumption and maintenance.

Remember that different types of heaters come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. So, it’s important to weigh the options based on your needs, preferences, and van setup.

Keep these criteria in mind as you compare and evaluate different heaters. With careful consideration, you’ll find the most suitable and reliable option for your winter van life journey, ensuring that you stay warm, cozy, and safe on your adventures.

Heaters are crucial in snow-capped mountain terrain

Diesel and Gas

Gas or diesel heaters are great options for van life, as they provide dry heat that helps reduce condensation and humidity inside your van. They work by using either diesel or gasoline fuel to create hot air, which is then blown into your van through a duct system. These gas heaters are vented to ensure that the combustion gases are safely expelled outside your van. The fuel can be drawn from your van’s fuel tank directly (gas or diesel) or from a separate tank.

There are several pros and cons to consider when selecting a diesel or gas air heater for your camper van. Some of the pros include their efficiency in fuel consumption, powerful heating capabilities, and permanent installation. However, they can also be noisy, expensive, and complex to install.

Webasto Heater

The Webasto Air Top 2000 STC is a popular choice for gasoline and diesel heaters. With a heat output of 6,800 BTU (2 kW), it can heat up to 225 square feet of space. It allows you to manually adjust temperature and fan speed with a rheostat controller.

Featuring a fuel dosing pump, the Webasto heater efficiently consumes only 0.12 – 0.24 liters of fuel per hour of operation. This heater is a great option for many van lifers seeking a powerful, reliable, and fuel-efficient heating solution.


Espar Heater

The Espar Airtronic B4 is a gasoline heater capable of heating up to 225 square feet with its 13,650 BTU (4 kW) heat output. The Digi-Max controller enables digital adjustments of temperature and fan speed.

Like the Webasto heater, Espar consumes only 0.12 – 0.24 liters of gasoline per hour, thanks to its fuel dosing pump. However, it can be expensive and complex to install and may not work optimally at high altitudes.


Happybuy Heater

The Happybuy 5KW Diesel Air Heater is an affordable and straightforward choice for van life. It provides reliable and efficient heating for small to medium spaces with two heat settings – 3,000 BTU and 5,000 BTU.

This heater can be connected to a 10L fuel tank or your van’s fuel tank. It comes with an LCD thermostat monitor and remote control for ease of use. With similar fuel efficiency to its counterparts, consuming 0.12 – 0.24 liters of diesel per hour, the Happybuy heater is perfect for van lifers looking for a simple and powerful heating option. Check out our full guide on Chinese diesel heaters.


Propane

These heaters use propane gas from portable propane tanks or bottles to create heat that warms up your van’s interior. There are two main types of propane heaters: catalytic and forced-air. Catalytic heaters use a chemical reaction between propane and oxygen to generate heat without the use of a flame. On the other hand, forced-air heaters employ a fan to circulate hot air throughout your van.

Before diving in, let’s evaluate the pros and cons of propane heaters. On the upside, if you’re already using propane for other reasons (such as a stove), you already have the fuel source installed. Not to mention, propane heaters are powerful and can heat up your van quickly and effectively. However, these heaters have some drawbacks as well – they can be inefficient and propane heaters require a lot of fuel compared to other types of heaters. Moreover, they can also pose potential fire and carbon monoxide hazards, particularly if unvented or not used properly.

Propex HS2000 Furnace

Known to be compact and quiet, this heater is perfect for living van life, providing a consistent and safe source of heat for small to large spaces. It has a heat output of 6,500 BTU which is enough to heat up 300 square feet. The heater connects directly to a propane tank with a regulator and hose that come with the kit; alternatively, you can connect it to your van’s propane system with an optional adapter.

You’ll appreciate the thermostat that comes with the heater, allowing you to manually regulate temperature levels. However, bear in mind that this heater does not include a remote control, but you can wire it to a switch or timer if you prefer. The Propex HS2000 Furnace incorporates a fan that draws fresh air from the outside, which in turn, heats the air inside your van via two vents. Propane furnaces are efficient at using propane, consuming only 0.5 lbs per hour of operation.

The Propex HS2000 Furnace offers van lifers a reliable and simple option for heating their living space. It efficiently provides clean heat to keep you cozy and dry in cold weather, while also minimizing noise and space consumption.


Electric

Electric heaters use electricity from your battery, solar panels, shore power, or generator to create heat. There are various types of electric heaters available, such as ceramic, infrared, oil-filled, and fan heaters, each with its own mechanism and design to produce heat. These space heaters are easy to use and are a popular option for van life.

When considering electrical heaters for your van, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Some advantages of electric heaters are:

  • Safety: They have no fire or carbon monoxide risk, as long as they are used with proper wiring and fuses.
  • Cleanliness: They have no emissions or odors, unlike fuel-based heaters.
  • Quiet operation: They are generally silent or very low-noise when running.
  • Adjustability: They have various settings and features to control the temperature and fan speed.

However, there are also some disadvantages to electric heaters:

  • Power consumption: They use a lot of electricity compared to other types of heaters, which can deplete your battery or solar power quickly.
  • Heating capacity: They may not be able to heat up your van sufficiently or evenly, especially in very cold weather.
  • Dependence on external power sources: They rely on external power sources, such as shore power or generators, which may not be available or convenient.

Honeywell HCE200W UberHeat Ceramic Heater

This heater provides a steady and safe source of heat for small spaces, making it an ideal choice for van life. With its two heat settings (900 watts and 1500 watts), the Honeywell heater can warm up to 150 square feet of space. It connects directly to a power outlet or to your van’s power system with an optional inverter. Safety features include a tip-over switch and overheat protection.


Lasko CD09250 Ceramic Adjustable Thermostat Heater

This versatile heater offers three heat settings (900 watts, 1500 watts, and fan only) and can also heat up to 150 square feet of space. Like the Honeywell heater, the Lasko heater connects to a power outlet or your van’s power system with an optional inverter. It features overheat protection and a cool-touch exterior for added safety.

In addition to a small electric heater, a 12V electric blanket can be a useful and energy-efficient alternative for keeping you warm during van life. These blankets plug directly into your van’s 12V outlet and use significantly less electricity than traditional heaters, making them ideal for conserving your power resources.


Portable

Portable heaters, as the name suggests, are heaters that aren’t permanently installed in your van and can be easily moved around or stored away. These heaters can be powered by various sources, such as propane or electricity.

One major advantage of portable van heaters is their flexibility, giving you more options and freedom to choose where and how to heat your van. However, they do have some downsides, such as requiring more effort and attention to set up and use compared to permanent heaters. They can also pose more safety hazards like tipping over or spilling fuel. Additionally, portable heaters may not heat your van as effectively or for as long as permanent ones.

Mr Buddy Heater

This heater is well-known and loved in the van life community. It’s propane-powered, easy to use, and offers a steady source of heat for small to medium-sized spaces. The Mr. Buddy Heater has two heat settings: 4,000 BTU and 9,000 BTU, giving you control over the warmth in your van. It can heat up to 225 square feet of space, making it a great option for most van builds.

Connecting the heater to your fuel source is a breeze. You can hook it up to a 1 lb propane cylinder included with the unit or to your van’s propane system using an optional hose and filter. Although it doesn’t come with a thermostat monitor, the simple dial knob allows you to adjust the temperature manually.

The Mr Buddy Heater uses a ceramic element that heats up quickly and evenly. A built-in fan then distributes the warm air throughout your van. Safety features are aplenty, with overheat protection, a cool-touch exterior, an oxygen depletion sensor, and a tip-over switch to keep you and your van safe.

In summary, the Mr. Buddy heater is a reliable and simple option for van lifers searching for a portable heater. It provides cozy warmth, saves you space, and uses energy efficiently, making it a great addition to your van life setup.


Alternatives to Using a Heater

You may consider alternatives to using a heater if you want to save money, energy, space, or hassle. In this section, we’ll discuss some methods and strategies that can help you stay warm and cozy.

Insulation is key when it comes to retaining heat inside your van. Adding insulation materials to your van walls, floor, ceiling, and windows can help prevent heat loss.

Ventilation is also important, as opening vents or windows slightly can help reduce condensation and moisture in your van, improving air quality.

Want a warmer atmosphere? Try hanging curtains or shades over your windows to block out the cold air. Wearing layers of warm clothes, socks, hats, and gloves can also help you stay warm without turning on a heater.

Boiling hot water for water bottles can help keep you warm

When it comes to sleeping in your van, consider using sleeping bags rated for low temperatures to ensure a comfortable, warm rest. You can also make use of hot water bottles by filling them with boiling water and placing them under your blankets or near your feet for quick warmth.

Lastly, don’t forget about the power of body heat. Cuddling with a partner or a pet can help you share warmth and create a cozy environment. 

Safety

Safety is a top priority when utilizing a heater in your van, as heaters can pose various risks to your health and property if not used properly or carefully. Some common risks associated with heaters include fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, overheating, burns, and electric shocks. But, with the right knowledge and precautions, you can stay warm without worrying about safety hazards.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to set up your heater system correctly. If you’re not confident in your abilities to do so, consider hiring a professional to ensure everything is up to code. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when operating and maintaining your van’s heating system to avoid potential safety hazards.

One serious concern when using any fuel-burning heater is the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. To protect yourself from this invisible and odorless gas, you should set up a quality carbon monoxide detector in your van. This device will warn you if CO levels become dangerous, allowing you to act quickly and prevent harm.

Fire hazards are another concern when using heaters in your van. Ensure that your heater is placed on a stable and flat surface, far away from any flammable materials, such as curtains, upholstery, or bedding. Look for safety features like a tip-over switch, which will automatically turn off the heater if it gets knocked over, and overheat protection, which prevents the device from reaching dangerously high temperatures.

Van life can be really cozy with a heater in winter, if done safely

Noise can be another major factor when choosing a heater for your van life. Some heaters can be quite loud, making it harder to sleep, have a conversation, or simply relax. Opt for a quieter model if noise is a concern for you.

A safety timer can also be helpful, as it will automatically shut off the heater after a predetermined amount of time. This is especially useful if you’re prone to falling asleep with the heater on, as it reduces the risk of accidents.

Lastly, if you’re using a propane heater, it’s crucial to keep an eye on low oxygen levels, as propane heaters consume oxygen during combustion. Make sure to have a gas detector in your van, as well as proper ventilation, to avoid the risk of asphyxiation.

By paying attention to these safety precautions and prioritizing the safety features in your choice of heater, you can enjoy a warm and comfortable van life experience without compromising your well-being.

Our Verdict

After thoroughly reviewing various types of heaters for van life, we have identified the best options for each category: diesel/gas, propane, portable, and electric heaters. Choosing the best campervan heater can be daunting. Here’s what we recommend for heating your van during your camping adventures:

Diesel/Gas Heaters: Webasto Air Top 2000 and Espar are top choices if you’re looking for a powerful, dry, and cozy heating system. These heaters provide high heat output, ranging from cozy to intense while consuming low energy and providing efficient heating. However, keep in mind that they can be difficult to install and are noisy during startup.

Propane Heaters: The Propex HS2000 Furnace is a high-quality propane heater that I installed in my own van for my travels. I spent time in below-freezing temperatures with several feet of snow outside but stayed toasty warm inside my van.

Portable Heaters: Mr. Buddy heaters are an excellent option for those seeking a portable, efficient, and inexpensive heating solution. They’re safe to use and work well at high altitudes. Their ease of use and versatility make them suitable for various van locations and sizes.

Electric Heaters: Honeywell and Lasko electric heaters are highly recommended for those who prioritize energy efficiency and low energy consumption. These compact and lightweight heaters provide adequate heat for well-insulated vans with insulated window covers. Keep in mind that, with a lower BTU, these heaters may not be suitable for extremely cold temperatures or poorly insulated vans.

When choosing the right heater for your van, it’s essential to consider the specific needs of your van life adventure. Each option has its pros and cons, but understanding your requirements for heat output, power source, price, and ease of use will help you make an informed decision. Happy camping!

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AUTHOR

Robert Johnson is the founder of Van Simply. He spent eight months traveling full time in his converted camper van and takes frequent shorter trips to explore the world. He enjoys taking his van on surf trips, visiting national parks, and meeting up with the wonderful people he has met on his travels.

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