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Electric Heater for Sleeping in Truck?


Original Post
claytown · · Boulder, CO · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 1,197

I have a truck with a raised topper and a bed in the back. It's been a great way to camp and is really flexible so I don't want to get a camper insert or a pull-behind. The only problem is that I haven't found a way to heat it at night for winter camping. My wife tends to get sick after a few days of breathing cold air while camping so I want to try to heat the back.

I've seen the Mr Heater Little Buddy (propane catalytic heater), which seems like it might work, but the thing goes through a green can of propane in 6 hours and since the truck bed is such a small space to heat, I bet I'd have to turn the thing off after a couple of minutes.

Does anyone know of an electric heater that might work? I figure with an electric heater, it could have a thermostat and auto-on/off to keep the temp within a range all night. I know most of these wouldn't work with a car battery (need too much power) but maybe someone has found something that works? Or maybe someone knows of some propane option with a thermostat or on/off cycle that can be set?

I found these but not sure if any of them would work or not.

ebay.com/gds/Top-8-12-Volt-…

Thanks in advance!

Tyson Anderson · · SLC, UT · Joined May 2007 · Points: 120

Of all the heaters listed on your link only one of them has power consumption specs listed but let's assume they are all similar and draw 180 watts. 180 watts at 12v is using 15 amps. If you are just running it off your starting battery lets assume it has a 60 amp hour capacity. One of these small heaters would fully deplete your battery in 4 hours. Not only that but a starting battery isn't designed to be fully depleted so you would actually ruin it pretty quickly.

If you were to install an aux battery in your truck you could have deep cycle batteries that are designed to be fully drained and have a larger capacity. I have two golf cart batteries in my van and combined they give me 220 amp hours at 12V when fully charged. Even with this much battery you would deplete them in only 14 hours and then would have a hard time charging them back up for the next night unless you did a lot of driving.

Propane is the way to go here...electric heaters draw a ton of power. I use a catalytic heater and it works great. Just remember to crack a window. If you want a heater with a thermostat look up propex or webasto. I'd love one of these but don't want to spend $800+ for it.

claytown · · Boulder, CO · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 1,197

Thanks for all of the info Tyson! That's a huge help. Do you happen to know anything about the Mr Heater Little Buddy? The $800 heater is a bit more than I was planning. My concern with propane (besides fire hazard in a confined space) is that it will heat up the whole area in about 3 minutes and then I'll have to turn it off... and that game will go on every 30 minutes or hour all night long. Am I way off base? Do you have any other recommendations for me?

Thanks again!

Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,764
Tyson Anderson wrote:Of all the heaters listed on your link only one of them has power consumption specs listed but let's assume they are all similar and draw 180 watts. 180 watts at 12v is using 15 amps. If you are just running it off your starting battery lets assume it has a 60 amp hour capacity. One of these small heaters would fully deplete your battery in 4 hours. Not only that but a starting battery isn't designed to be fully depleted so you would actually ruin it pretty quickly. If you were to install an aux battery in your truck you could have deep cycle batteries that are designed to be fully drained and have a larger capacity. I have two golf cart batteries in my van and combined they give me 220 amp hours at 12V when fully charged. Even with this much battery you would deplete them in only 14 hours and then would have a hard time charging them back up for the next night unless you did a lot of driving. Propane is the way to go here...electric heaters draw a ton of power. I use a catalytic heater and it works great. Just remember to crack a window. If you want a heater with a thermostat look up propex or webasto. I'd love one of these but don't want to spend $800+ for it.
I used the catalytic converter propane heater once... was totally sketched. With the window cracked of course... but still I had a hard time thinking that the cracked window didn't just defeat the purpose of heating. Like all the heat is escaping out the window as fast as the little propane heater could produce it. That being said they do throw off a bunch of heat.
Cor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 1,460

Insulate everything possible...
Get a little detector (gas, co2,etc) if concerned...
Coleman propane heater (the little round unit with catalytic head.)
These would run for 8 hrs on one green can.
That was on high too.
We were sketched at first, but after not being killed for many of nights it's all good, right?! ;)
It does get hot, so hang it in a good spot, with maybe a metal sheet mounted above so the topper doesn't get too hot in that one spot.
We closed the Windows also, as a truck bed leaks so much air anyway... And these heaters are advertised to heat in tents, etc.. (Or at least they were when we bought ours years ago!)

Hope that helps a bit.
Cheers!

claytown · · Boulder, CO · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 1,197

Thanks Cor. Yeah the propane catalytic certainly seems like the way to go for efficiency but I have two main concerns.

1) 8 hours run time isn't even one full night so I'd be going through propane like crazy (since I haven't found any of these with a thermostat to cycle it off/on as needed)

2) friends that have used a mr heater (bigger one than the little buddy) in their van said that the thing put out so much heat that they would turn it on for a few minutes before bed, then shut it off and that was it. I guess this sort of negates the previous point, but I also don't want to have to wake up every couple of hours to turn the heater on for 10 minutes.

It seems like if I were to go this route, like you mention, I'd have to insulate the topper better for sure. It also seems like if it were to run all night I would want to skip the 1 lb canisters and use a tank and hose (keep the tank outside) but I wonder if that's even possible.

Also, FYI, I just looked up this product and it's no longer available anywhere (nor are any other coleman heaters) so I assume they are done with camping heaters. Seems like the Mr Heater Little Buddy is the option if I'm going to go this route. Looks like I have more research to do.

Thanks!

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,346

Electric heaters absolutely guzzle electricity. You would need a bank of about four deep cycle 80AH batteries and a high output alternator to charge them. That 180W heater probably wont do much to keep you warm in extreme cold. Most space heaters are 1500W. An electric heater for a house in an air exchanger is typically no less than 5000W.

The propane heaters are much more efficient, but there are health effects in question with them. You have to crack a window to let the carbon monoxide out, and even then I question how effective that really is. I would add a carbon monoxide and propane detector. Never use a propane element in your car while sleeping without a propane detector (you're not supposed to use them while sleeping period). People have died when the heating element went out and the car flooded with propane.

Mikecease · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 10

Camco Wave Catalytic Heaters are much better than the little buddy heaters and are set up to be hooked to a large propane bottle. Little buddy heaters also will not function at very high altitudes where the Camco will work to at least 10,000 feet.

Cor · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 1,460

One problem with the tank outside at night in those super cold temps is that the regulator can freeze up a bit. This hampers the flow of gas. I don't know if it's a issue with such a small has flow to begin with, or not... I do know it was an issue trying to do a turkey fry outside at night / super cold.
We fixed this by taping ha d warmers to the regulator! :)

Also to note... You can buy a small adaptor, and refill green cans from a big grill sized tank. They never seem to refill the whole way, but it keeps you only having to deal with the little one during the night.

Brandon Alke · · Helena MT. · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 10

The MR. Heater will work fine. I have used one for years in MT and never had a problem with it. Get a hose, crack the windows or heat up the camper and shut it off. Get the hose made at any propane refill outfit, They will make you one of any length you want. Ask for the best valve available on the hose that connects to the tank, and you'll never have a problem with it freezing. Small 5-7 gallon tanks last a long time and are easy store. The tanks are more expensive but worth it IMO. Get a carbon monoxide detector, cheap and a must have just to be safe.

claytown · · Boulder, CO · Joined Sep 2006 · Points: 1,197

Thanks everyone! I ordered a little buddy and hose to hook to a 20lb tank. Will be testing over the thanksgiving holiday. I'll let you all know how it works out!

Cheers

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Justin Nyberg wrote:

Guys, how about the obvious: Invest in a really good sleeping bag. They won't start a fire or kill you by CO poisoning. The Gear Institute tested the best ones for extreme temps (0-14F, which is colder than your truck bed will ever get). Here's what they recommend: https://gearinstitute.com/hiking/sleeping-bags/best-winter-sleeping-bags/


^^^^

Spam.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 137
Cor wrote: One problem with the tank outside at night in those super cold temps is that the regulator can freeze up a bit. This hampers the flow of gas. I don't know if it's a issue with such a small has flow to begin with, or not...

It is an issue, I've had this problem with a Buddy Heater where it froze up and wouldn't start. A few minutes inside the sleeping bag with a human fixed the problem.

It shouldn't need to be said, but the heater was off while it was in my sleeping bag.

I go to a winter camping festival where a lot of people use this system. I have a carbon monoxide detector and it has never gone off (my tent probably isn't airtight enough) but other people in more airtight structures have had them go off. So I think having a CO detector is a good idea.

climbing coastie · · Wasilla, AK · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 90

You could look into Wabesto or Espar heaters. Not cheep, but low power consumption and a thermostat that keeps everything at a set temp. 

DrRockso · · Red River Gorge, KY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 359
Idaho Ian · · Pocatello, ID · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 5

The regular size Mr Buddy heater has worked great in my truckbed. We typically run it for 15-20 min before bed, then tuck in for the night. In the morning it gets run for a couple minutes again and that's it. Little green tanks last several days or more with this use. 

I can only remember one night, at -10 F outside when I had to turn it on mid-night to stay warm. 

Scott O · · Anchorage · Joined Mar 2010 · Points: 70
Wendy Miller · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2018 · Points: 0

I know this is crazy - but what about running a gas generator outside a vehicle through the night
(amazon.com/WEN-56180-1800-W…;ie=UTF8&qid=1541714213&sr=8-2&keywords=mini+generator&dpID=51f1jSJK9lL&preST=_SX300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch - this one says that it runs for 7.5 hours off of 1.1 gal of gas, which is all I'd need),
and having one of your average thermostat triggered space heaters plugged into it.
That way it regulates the heat without you having to monitor it, and there's nothing running inside the vehicle that causes harmful emissions. I'm hoping to do the same thing and really don't want to have to worry about chemicals, flames, or waking up to monitor something.

F loyd · · Kennewick, WA · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 361

Eat beans during the day so you can naturally heat your truck at night!

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Wendy Miller wrote: I know this is crazy - but what about running a gas generator outside a vehicle through the night
(amazon.com/WEN-56180-1800-W…;ie=UTF8&qid=1541714213&sr=8-2&keywords=mini+generator&dpID=51f1jSJK9lL&preST=_SX300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch - this one says that it runs for 7.5 hours off of 1.1 gal of gas, which is all I'd need),
and having one of your average thermostat triggered space heaters plugged into it.
That way it regulates the heat without you having to monitor it, and there's nothing running inside the vehicle that causes harmful emissions. I'm hoping to do the same thing and really don't want to have to worry about chemicals, flames, or waking up to monitor something.

Just be kind to any neighbors. Even the quiet generators are loud at 2 in the morning. 

Briggs Lazalde · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0
Marc801 C wrote:

Just be kind to any neighbors. Even the quiet generators are loud at 2 in the morning. 

Better yet be really kind and they might let you sleep on their couch

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

General Climbing
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