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Gear Guy

Is it safe to use a heat generator to warm my tent?

OK, call me a masochist, but I love winter camping. However, when I try to convince some members of my family to go with me, the answer is always the same: "Too cold." So I spy the Zodi Hot Vent II ($135), which uses a propane cylinder to provide heat to the tent. This could be just the ticket! But does it work, and is it safe? Only the great Gear Guru knows for sure. Jeff Minneapolis, Minnesota

A: Well, yes, this approach "works." Very well, for that matter. The Zodi Hot Vent II ( is simply a propane stove hooked up to a blower and a couple of air tubes. You ignite the heater, hot air is emitted, and the blower sends it down the tubes and into your tent. Because the burner stays outside, there is no real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. And the air isn't so hot as to melt tents or burn skin, so it's safe in that regard as well.

Trouble is, it depends on whether you winter camp next to the car or haul gear in via backpacking. For the former, this system will be just fine. For the latter, forget it. A single small propane cylinder lasts only three hours; a five-gallon one (the size used with most barbecues) about 35 to 40. But that will also weigh about 30 pounds. The Zodi also needs a car battery to power the blower. So it isn't a hassle-free gadget. I not too sure what you do for extended use in the wilds, as it could get complicated to recharge the battery.

There are other options, though. Coleman's BlackCat Portable Catalytic Heater ($50; uses a chemical reaction to generate heat from propane, making it safe for use inside a tent. It puts out plenty of warmth to keep a tent cozy, and runs eight hours off a single propane canister, making it marginally portable for short backpacking trips.

Of course, the heater only heats the tent. It's still going to be cold outside. And that means whining family members. There's not, to my knowledge, a gadget to get around thatB

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