Best Outdoor Heater of 2021
The Rangland Outdoor Propane Heater impressed our testers most by providing a lot of heat with a quality design and build that convinced us of its longevity. Upon arrival, one tester unboxed and set up this model alone in 40 minutes, which was relatively quick. It has a large top reflector measuring a little over 32 inches across to direct heat in a large, even radius. We measured the max heat at the top at 960°F. When strong winds weren't present, we measured ambient heat well up to 8 feet away, heating the largest area of all models tested. Combined with its variable heat settings, this model creates a very cozy outdoor experience. It also features durable steel construction and a hammered finish that resists dirt and smudges. In particular, this unit held up exceptionally well during high winds, ice, and snowstorms, continuing to heat with ease. It comes equipped with a tilt-safety override shutoff if the unit gets tipped over, a feature we think every heater should incorporate. The two wheels mounted to the base makes it easy to move this model across relatively smooth and flat surfaces.
While we like the hammered finish on this model, the overall aesthetic of this style of heater isn't as nice as the pyramid heaters, in our opinion. The one thing to note with the Rangland is that you need to follow the lighting instructions carefully, especially when connecting a new tank. It confused a few testers at first. There is a quick view hole that attaches with a small screw on the right side of the heated screen that allows you to see when the pilot has lit. This will save you a lot of trouble and makes for very easy and consistent lighting every time. We found this model to consistently provide a blast of heat on our test patios, warming up several individuals simultaneously without us having to worry about it surviving harsh winter weather. After testing many products for several weeks, this one is our first recommendation for an outdoor patio heater.
The Avenlur Pyramid Patio Heater offers a very pleasing aesthetic compared to its mushroom-shaped counterparts. Enjoying an evening with good company in cold temperatures is not only about the heat but also the ambiance. At the center of this heater is a 4-foot tall ceramic glass tube. With a quick turn of the adjustment knob, you can raise a column of flames that delightfully dance behind the wire panels. Touting a heat output of 42,000 BTUs, we measured the max heat at the top near the reflector at approximately 753° Fahrenheit with an ambient temperature of 25° F. On the downside, we found that the warmth didn't radiate very well down and around the pyramid itself. The heating radius is approximately 4 feet when little wind is present. It features a safety auto-shutoff that automatically shuts down the heater if the unit is tilted or tipped over, which we really like.
The Avenlur Pyramid wasn't the easiest to assemble. It took one person a little over 2 hours to fully erect from start to finish. If maximum heat output is not at the top of your list and you prefer an outdoor heater with more ambiance than heat, this model makes for a winning combination of form with functionality.
The Dura Heat Tank Top provides a low-cost heating solution for a variety of outdoor activities. It easily connects to a standard 20 lb. LP (propane) cylinder and is virtually ready to use directly from the box. Dual burners provide up to 30,000 BTUs of warm, luminous infrared heat. The burners are individually adjustable to spread the warmth in multiple directions, and you can rotate the individual swivel heads if you want to change the direction of the heat. The max temperature, measured directly at the swivel head, was around 840° F when the outside temperature measured 25° F. You can continue to feel the heat up to a 6 ft. radius, depending on the temperature outside and if there was any wind. It has a CSA-certified safety function that shuts the heater off if tipped over.
One thing to take into consideration is the height of these tank-mounted models. Standing at 29-inches tall when mounted to the tank, they heat the area around you well when you are sitting or kneeling. Seeing as how the heat source is lower, they don't work as well for when you are standing around them. It's worth noting that this heating element is low to the ground, which could be a hazard for curious young children or pets. We also can't say this is an attractive option visually, which might be an important consideration for some folks. If you are on a budget or just need to be frugal with space, we are very impressed with the Dura Heat Tank Heater for its low price and respectable performance.
The Dr. Infrared Heater 1500W is designed for use in outdoor environments and can even be used inside your home. The included mounting hardware allows you to affix to walls. It can be suspended vertically, horizontally, or mounted to a tripod for more versatility. For testing purposes, we used a tripod (sold separately). There are three heating modes: L1 - 900W, L2 - 1200W, and L3 - 1500W. We found that to feel the most comfortable outside in sub-freezing temperatures, we needed to be seated or standing within 3 feet of the heater, making this a close proximity heat machine. With the ambient outside temperature of 24° F, we were able to measure the max heat right below the infrared coil at 845° F and felt cozy in just a down jacket and jeans. When it works, the remote is super handy, too. It is equipped with a tilt-safety override shutoff if the unit gets bumped or knocked over.
One issue we ran into was with the remote. We noticed some issues with inconsistency a couple of weeks into testing. Sometimes you had to be standing directly in front of the heater for the remote to work, and sometimes it worked just fine when you were seated or standing 6 feet away. Although installing new batteries seemed to completely remedy this issue, it left us feeling that using the remote will burn through batteries. If you are in the market for an effective electric heater for a small outside patio or living space, then the Dr. Infrared Heater will not disappoint.
Right out of the box, the Member's Mark Patio Heater impressed with easy to follow instructions. It took one person approximately 35 minutes to assemble, one of the fastest setup times of the mushroom-top and pyramid models. The sturdy wheels on the base make it easy to transport, too. This model doesn't have a tilt-safety override shutoff, but the base is weighted, giving some peace of mind on blustery days. We clocked the max heat directly at the heating coil at 913° F with an ambient outside temperature of 24° F, and as with all the mushroom style heaters, the heat diminishes the further out you move from the unit. This model has an approximate 6-foot comfortable heat radius. The adjustable wrap-around table made this one of the most versatile and enjoyable to stand around. There's always a place to set down your drink or even play a game of cards. The table features a built-in LED light that gave a sense of ambiance in the darker hours, but we felt it might not hold up all that well with continued use.
One qualm that we encountered while testing the Member's Mark Patio Heater was that the stainless steel doors that housed the propane tank are thin and sharp. While opening and closing the doors of the propane housing, we sustained a few small cuts from moving the tanks in and out. Additionally, while we enjoyed having the table, it doesn't take too long for drinks on the table to heat up under the heating element, which is fine for hot chocolate and snacks but not ideal for cold beverages. That said, we like that this model provides a useable, illuminated surface that the others lack. These added features, plus adequate heat for 1-4 people, make this model a worthy consideration that encourages guests to huddle around the heat source.
The Dyna-Glo heater offers warm, radiant propane-powered heat. It's a single burner unit that mounts directly on top of the tank. Assembly was quick and easy; all you need to do is loosen the tightening bolt and adjust the quick connect to mount it snuggly to your tank. It boasts a CSA-certified tip switch, support leg, and safety shutoff valve. The easy to use variable supply valve works smoothly, and we measured the max heat output directly at the burner at 849° F, depending on conditions and the relative outdoor temperature. When we measure the outside temperature was 25° F. It claims to heat a 15 ft. radius, which would be closer to the truth if you were using this in a ventilated indoor setting. When used outdoors below 32° F, we needed to be within 4 ft. to effectively warm up.
One issue we encountered when testing was when there was even the slightest breeze, it was very difficult to keep the match or long stem butane lighter to stay lit long enough to get the burner started. You'll need some practice and the correct body position to block the wind and light the burner. If you are looking for a single-person heating solution that can be ready in a snap, then the Dyna-Glo would be a great choice.
The Hampton Bay 4800 BTU Stainless had fairly easy-to-follow directions. It took one person just under an hour to fully assemble, which was a bit longer than other mushroom-top heaters. One thing we noticed straight away was a rather large dent on the tank cover, most likely from shipping, but we wish it would have been better protected. This heater is made entirely of stainless steel, and it did seem to hold up to the elements well without any noticeable rust or damage. The quick light ignition button was one of the easiest and most reliable to use. We measured the max heat just below the reflector at 913° F with an outside temperature of 25° F and a slight wind. This made for warm ambient heat when you were within a 5 ft. radius of the heater on such a chilly day.
We realized quickly that the lack of wheels on the Hampton Bay was rather frustrating, especially when trying to move it around with a full tank of propane. It also does not have a tilt-safety override shutoff if the unit gets knocked over while in use. If you are looking for a mushroom-style heat source that you don't need to move often, this one works fine, but it's not our first choice.
The Hiland Double Tank Top requires a bit of assembly out the box. It took one person around 15 min to put together and hook up to the tank. We measured the max heat at the burners at around 805° F with an outdoor temperature of 24° F and little to no breeze. This seemed to warm up an area of about 6 ft fairy well.
We experienced more than a couple of problems while testing the Hiland Double Tank Heater. The mounting bracket was wobbly and seemed to lean under the weight of the two burners, which is less than ideal for a heating element. The single screw that fastens the heater to the tank would also consistently loosen over time, causing concern for this heater's longevity. The Hiland isn't something we would recommend, but it did work well enough throughout testing and generated decent heat while sitting or standing nearby.
The Briza Infrared Patio Heater charmed us for the first few weeks of use, but we ended up encountering a faulty emergency shutoff switch that halted its functionality. First, we'll share some of the things we liked. Within seconds it produces a precise beam of heat that warms you with a constant stream of heat. The easy to use tripod (included) allows for operation in a variety of places. You can also mount the heater directly to your wall. You can use this heater indoors and outdoors, and it does produce potent heat in indoor settings. There are three variable settings that produce either a 900W, 1200W, 1500W heat output, and we found this it is rather pleasant to sit in front of.
Now for the not so good. The Briza Infrared Patio Heater worked like a charm over three weeks of testing. Without any warning, we then encountered an error message with the slightest of movements. Even when you tiptoed by the unit while on its tripod, the slightest wobble sent this heater into shutdown mode. Although customer service responded to our inquiry within minutes, the unit, unfortunately, ended up being faulty, which we found disappointing for its price point.
The Rovsun Pyramid Flame Heater emanates an artful ambiance. We measured the max heat output near the top reflector at 689° F with an outdoor temperature of 24° F and little to no wind, ranking it near the bottom for overall heat output among the tall standing models. If you don't mind standing within a 1-foot radius around this heater, you will feel some heat up high and get a general sense of coziness. Pyramid style heaters work great for warming up your hands and creating ambiance. This model features a tip-over protection system. A safety valve will automatically shut off the heater if it is tilted or tipped over. The large wheels on the base roll very well and make this especially easy to relocate even when loaded down with a full tank of propane.One major issue we had was with right out of the box with assembly. The Rovsun Pyramid Heater took one person nearly three hours to fully construct. Every screw was already in place, so we had to remove it first to then later put it back. If you can get past the frustrating assembly and don't need it to provide much heat, this model really is an eye-catcher. It might be a great solution for ambiance during warmer months of the year.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review was lead by our senior review editor Katherine Elliott. She has more than six years of diverse product testing experience under her belt. She has lived in Tahoe for the past eight years, giving her a great understanding of how essential an outdoor heater can be in the colder months. That, coupled with her scientific background, has honed her skills for creating in-depth side-by-side tests. We consulted our resident mechanical engineer, David Wise, who has a background in heat transfer to verify our results.
Our testing period lasted over six weeks, taking place mid-winter in South Lake Tahoe, California, a cold mountain town with evening temperatures consistently dropping well below freezing. All of the outdoor heaters we bought for testing arrived fully packaged and required some form of assembly. We timed how long it took to put them together, then got down to testing. Although a huge part of testing included spending weeks standing and sitting under and around the heaters, we also collected statistics on the heating power, features, quality, and assembly of each model to give you a better idea of what would suit your outdoor living needs. We used an infrared thermometer to measure the heating elements and heating radii to get accurate results. We took into consideration the ambient temperature outside and any wind or winter storms that impacted our testing.
Analysis and Test Results
The details of our testing and the products that performed the best in each metric are discussed below.
The majority of outdoor heaters in our test use British Thermal Units (BTUs) or watts to measure heating power. BTUs are the unit of measurement for the propane-powered models, while watts are for the electric models. The warmest models with the largest heating radii are a few of the propane models, the Rangland and Member's Mark models. However, not all propane heaters were warmer than the electric models. For example, the pyramid-style propane heaters provided much more ambiance than actual heat, warming the smallest radii of all models. Note that wind and external temperature will affect the experience with these heaters.
For testing, we used an infrared thermometer to measure the max heat output at the source coupled with a temperature gauge moved around the heaters at different distances to give you an idea of the warming power of each model. The Rangland Patio Heater impressed us with its heat power when the mercury dropped. The max heat at the top measured at around 960° with an outside temperature at 25° F. As long as there was not a strong breeze, we felt the warmth radiate well up to 8 feet away, the greatest heat coverage of any model tested.
A huge part of what made some of these outdoor heaters stand out was the features they offered—whether it be an auto shut off tilt switch, wheels for easy transportation, or even a built-in wrap-around table.
The features varied greatly, and so did our opinion about them. The Member's Mark Patio Heater not only comes with a sturdy set of wheels on its base for easy transport, but its built-in wrap-around table made standing around this heater an all-around pleasant and cozy experience. Just remember, when that thing is cranking on high, your cold brew won't stay cold for long. The Avenlur Pyramid has a flame that erupts right out of the center that is protected by a 4 ft tall glass tube, giving this a dazzling aesthetic and adding an artsy vibe to your outdoor space. We loved the ease of use that the Dr. Infrared offered with its remote for anywhere control and plug and play nature.
The nature of outdoor heaters is to be used amongst the elements. Thus the need to be crafted out of quality materials is a must for the longevity of these heaters. The Rangland Heater has one of the more impressive builds. It is made of durable steel with a hammered finish that holds up to brutal winter weather and easily sheds ice and dirt. The pyramid style heaters' delicate nature with the glass tubs in the center seemed like they would fare worse when exposed to inclement weather, but the included covers kept them safe and protected for the most part. In particular, the cover on the Avenlur Pyramid Patio Heater was easy to use and added a sense of security to the pyramid heater.
Spending hours in the cold trying to interpret vague directions and fumbling with frozen hands can be exhausting, especially when what you are trying to build will ease your frosty demeanor. We do recommend assembling your heater indoors, at least in a covered area like a garage. Even if you can put these heaters together in a warmer environment, spending less time assembling and more time enjoying the heat is ideal.
All of the outdoor heaters arrived boxed and required some assembly before use. For some, like the Dura Heat Tank Top assembly was simply taking it out of the box and adjusting the fit to your propane tank. Others require painstakingly taking out each bolt and screw to turn right around and reassemble it. The corded electric heaters like Dr. Infrared 1500W can churn out the heat by putting it up on a tripod and plugging it in unless you'd like to mount it to a wall. The pyramid heaters took the longest to assemble, each taking at least two hours. We were able to put together each mushroom-style model in less than an hour, with the Member's Mark heater being the quickest of these models at 35 minutes.
Maybe you find yourself yearning to enjoy the warm, radiant ambiance that infrared heat offers, or maybe you prefer to huddle under the umbrella of warmth provided by the traditional mushroom-shaped heaters. No matter the source, an outdoor heater can be the perfect addition to any deck or patio, enabling you to host family and friends all year long. We hope this review helps heat up your next outdoor gathering.
— Kat Elliott