If you have ever camped in a tent during autumn or even winter, you know the feeling of waking up in a tent that feels a bit moist. This is caused by lack of ventilation in combination with cold tent fabric causing condensation inside the tent. Even during the summer months when you have packed your tent in the rain a few times, the moisture from the air makes it inside the tent causing your mattress and sleeping gear to feel cold and clammy.
in the winter of 2020 we were preparing a December trip to the North cape. We insulated the vehicle, added an engine preheater, bought winter tyres and changed the coolant so it could handle the cold winter nights of the Nord. As temperatures could go down to -30°C, we wanted to make sure we were prepared. We knew that we wanted to have the possibility to sleep in the vehicle, but for the most part we would have tried to sleep in our rooftop tent, which is a Hannibal 1.4m made of very thick canvas. The tent is quite warm but the coldest we had slept in at that moment was around -5°C, This was easily doable with a warm down blanket and a wool blanket on top. As we where preparing for temperatures up to 25°C colder than that, we started looking for some tent heating options.
We quickly came across the Mr. Heater propane/butane stoves which are relatively inexpensive and had great heating power. The cartridges, however, where not refillable and only lasted for 6 hours, which for the climate we were preparing for ment at least one cartridge every two nights. Also the fact that the gas is burned inside the tent, although having a shut off in case of reduced oxygen levels, didn't really appeal to us.
We knew that mobilhomes and vans used diesel heaters that directly heated the inside air through a plate heat exchanger. We quite liked the system but it wasn't really possible to heat a tent that way. Also, we already installed an engine preheater which allowed us to heat the inside of the vehicle so there was no point in installing an additional heater. As we really only wanted to heat the tent, we decided to buy a diesel air heater from Autoterm and try to install everything as a portable setup. Autoterm is a the European brand name of Planar, which is a large Russian manufacturer of heating systems. After having a discussion with an autoterm technician, we were happy with the information and were also convinced about the quality of their products. Having a significant lower price than Europe's market leaders Webasto and Eberspächer, while still complying to all automotive standards, we think that Autoterm is a great brand.
After ordering all components we did some trial fitting and saw that everything would fit well inside an Alutec Industry 30 box, The box with 430x335x277 mm outer dimensions fitted perfectly in front of our rooftop tent and didn't protrude above the tent. We decided to use a 5l diesel tank, which would last us at least a week. Below you can find some picture of the building process.
Unfortunately 2020 was the year of the Corona pandemic and travelling to Norway became impossible. We decided to head south instead, to Portugal, with a few day stop in the Pyrenees so we could at least try our setup and experience our first camping in the snow. We drove towards the Pyrenees national park, to Embalse de Bubal, which is a lake at around 1000m altitude and took a small side road parallel to the A-136. The road was not maintained during winter months resulting in high snow levels. We decided to camp along the way and setup camp in the snow.
We heated some leftover pasta in the car and watched the sun set behind the mountains. After we finished we started our heater and prepared to go to bed. When we entered our tent is was nice and toasty at around 20°C while outside temperatures dropped to -10°C. What an amazing night we had, The following morning we opened up out tent windows and watched the snow fall while we stayed warm in our tent. We realised how nice it was to have the heating system with us, that we would not leave on any autumn, winter trip without the mobile heater anymore.
Even in Portugal we enjoyed our heating system. Although it wasn't that cold during the day, during the night it cooled down quite a bit. In addition we had some rainy days which in combination with the colder weather caused some moisture in the tent. We found out that having the heater on for half an hour before going to bed, everything had the time to dry out and give a comfortable feeling. We even found out that the heater was handy for drying out wet shoes after hiking in the rain!
Putting the heater hose in one of your shoes is a great way to dry them out quickly!
After our three week trip we could not be more satisfied with our heating system so we decided to put it on our webshop.
Some useful and practical information:
We usually used the thermostat function and set the temperature to 20°C-21°C, this proved to be a nice temperature to sleep at and allowed the heater to run at around 20-30% of its nominal power. Seeing this, the heater can easily be used to heat larger spaces or even multiple tents.
We averaged at around 0,15l/h of diesel fuel, giving us more than a week of warm nights. the heater consumed around 1Ah of battery energy per hour so it could also be run on a regular car battery for a night without having to worry about starting problems.