How to Stay Warm in a Camper Shell

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When you’re planning to camp out in your truck camper, you’re probably worried about how to stay warm in a camper shell.

Let’s face it, even with an insulated truck topper, it doesn’t do much for you sleeping in a camper shell with the outside temperature below 30-degrees.

Staying warm depends on a few factors.

We’re going to offer several options and suggest whether they’re better suited to summer truck camping or winter truck camping.

Usually, they won’t work for both.

How to Stay Warm in a Camper Shell

When camping in spring, summer, or into the fall, solutions won’t provide enough warmth for all four seasons, especially in extreme winter weather.

A camper shell heater will be required, at a minimum. Also, a heated blanket isn’t a bad idea either.

Our observations and suggestions below reflect what’s possible during winter camping months and in the warmer months that won’t get as cold.

Here is how to heat truck bed with topper:

Use a Diesel Heater to Heat the Truck Camper

A diesel heater is fairly easy to fit and adroitly solves the problem of how to heat truck camper shell.

It does require some space to do so, but it’s often worth it for both the warmth and energy efficiency.

Diesel is known as a dry heat source, so it does not create added moisture or condensation inside the truck camper. And that’s ideal for people camping out or living in one full-time.

For example, the Happybuy diesel heater is capable of producing 5 kilowatts of heating power, has a muffler to reduce the sound, holds 10-liters of fuel, and comes both with remote control and a convenient LCD for the thermostat.

These types of models are trusted in RVs, truck campers, and boats too.

Happybuy 5KW Diesel Air Heater. 10L Tank Diesel Heater. 12V Diesel Parking Heater Muffler (LCD Thermostat and Remote Control)

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Read Also: Can You Sleep in a Camper Off the Truck?

Safety Considerations with Diesel in Confined Spaces

Using diesel in small spaces is far more practical than propane. With a smaller space, the better it will be to get a diesel heater installed.


There aren’t the same concerns with diesel fumes because diesel heater packages come with proper external venting solutions.

It’s known that they’re often fitted inside truck campers, campervans, and other vehicles.

Therefore, the venting systems are included to protect you.

Read Also: How to Heat a Camper Without Electricity

Auxiliary Heater for Truck Bed

An aux auto heater runs off the 12-volt system. It operates when the engine is running.

A 12 volt truck cab heater isn’t intended to replace a standard truck cab heating system but adds an auxiliary heater for the truck bed.

They’re particularly effective to provide additional warmth in the rear section that otherwise can get too chilly.

For example, the Back Seat Heat Plus provides approximately 1,100 BTUs of heat while drawing 25 amps (300 watts) from a 12-volt DC system. It wires into the battery making it relatively simple to install.

Also, it has a convenient dashboard control to enable/disable it too.

Back Seat Heat Plus, Truck Heater, 12-volts – 1,100 BTU

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Use a Propane Heater to Heat the Truck Camper Shell

With a heater for truck bed camping, propane heaters are effective to solve how to heat a truck topper.

They’re fine when there’s sufficient space to set up something like a Mr Heater Buddy as your truck bed heater.

These types of portable propane truck heaters come with a handle to move them into position.

They heat a small living space really fast! They include low-oxygen protection systems, will shut off if accidentally tipped over, and attach to either a 1-lb cylinder for single-use or a 20-lb one via an extendible hose.

The BTUs start at 4,000 and rise to 18,000 at the top level; this is more than enough warmth.

This Mr Heater Buddy is a reliable truck topper heater:

Mr. Heater Big Buddy Indoor/Outdoor Portable Propane Heater

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With smaller, more ad hoc camping arrangements in the back of a pick-up, space likely will be too cramped to accommodate a Buddy heater.

Read Also: RV Solar Basics

Safety Considerations with Propane in Confined Spaces

Any use of a propane heater creates some safety concerns and considerations.

For instance, proper venting is essential when using a heater for a camper shell to remove any propane fumes from the living space.

Leaving several windows opened enough to allow fresh air to circulate and any fumes to escape is very necessary.

Additionally, one should never be used without the installation of a carbon dioxide CO alarm to alert about possible gas leakage inside the camper.

Also, look at the recommended clearance distance for whatever heating solution you choose. These distances are necessary and depending on the size of your truck’s bed, it might be too limiting.

Furthermore, it’s sensible to use them in the evening. Then turn off the propane heater before bedtime.

This avoids the potential fume build-up and you’re not being awake to notice (the CO alarm should trigger but this provides secondary protection).

While a propane heater is one choice for truck campers, they’re unsuitable for winter truck camping.

This is because propane creates extra moisture at a time of year when you’ll already be battling condensation inside the truck.

Read Also: What Does Dry Weight Mean on a Camper?

Use an Electric Heater in a Truck Camper

An electric heater is another option if you do not like the idea of any type of gas being used in a confined cap.

While an electric heater will perform admirably, it will use considerable energy when doing so. Just like a space heater, they chew through the watts.

Heat Storm HS-1500-PHX-WIFI Infrared Heater – Wi-Fi enabled (Wall Mounted)

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For instance, let’s say you have a small 40-watt electric heater. That will use 3.33 amps, approximately.

If you’re camping on a 4-day, 3-night trip, you’ll probably use it in the colder months for 8 hours a day. That will work out to be 3.33 amps * 24 hours (3-nights of 8 hours each), totaling 79.92 Ah.

Therefore, if you’re running it off a battery, you’ll likely need a 110Ah battery to leave a bit spare. Of course, if you’ll be using the 12-volt battery to recharge your smartphone and other electronics, then it may not be enough.

To run higher wattage electric heaters, charging up a Jackery Portable Explorer to bring along is a great idea.

Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000, 1002Wh Solar Generator (3 x 110V/1000W AC Outlets)

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Use a Furnace in a Truck Camper

Furnaces are becoming more popular with truck campers.

They benefit from not creating additional moisture which is great.

They also run using diesel, gas, or sometimes propane. Some models only use one type of fuel source, whereas others might work on more than one.

Truck Bed Heater for Dogs

Considerations for keeping your dogs, cats, or other animals warm enough are paramount for pet owners. Therefore, it’s relevant to cover this too.

Different approaches exist for keeping pets warm. These can include a truck bed heater for dogs or a 12 volt truck cab heater.

However, these will only run when the engine is too.

What other options are there for pets when you’re away from your truck camper and they’re left inside?

Here are a few of them:

  • Battery operated heated dog bed
  • 12v Heated dog bed
  • Pet heating blanket
  • 12 volt Pet heating pad

The K&H Thermo-Snuggly Sleeper Heated Pet Bed is an excellent option for dogs and cats to keep them cozy. It only begins to warm up once the pet is sat or laid down on the bed, making it energy efficient.

It requires only 6-watts, so it sips on the power.

K&H Thermo-Snuggly Sleeper Heated Pet Bed, Pet Products 6W – Sage color (Large 31″ x 24″)

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Another option is a pet heating pad to lay on the floor.

The Toozey Pet Heating Pad comes in different sizes to match your pets. This heating mat is machine washable, waterproof, and has inline electronic temperature controls with 6 heat settings and a timer too.

Additionally, there’s an auto shut-off feature up to 24 hours ahead.

Toozey Pet Heating Pad/Mat, 6 Temperature Settings, Timer & Auto Shut-off – Waterproof with Chew Resistant Cord (XL 47″ x 28″)

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Other Recommendations for Staying Warm During Truck Camping Adventures

Here are some other truck camping ideas to stay warm:

Add Insulated Curtains or Reflectix

Considerable heat is lost through the windows, so adding insulated curtains that can be drawn across both for privacy and to retain more heat is useful.

Alternatively, Reflectix panels can provide some additional camper shell insulation for the same benefits too.

Insulated Truck Camper Shell

The truck topper can be insulated, or the truck camper shell can be insulated later to retain greater warmth from the heating solutions adopted.

This is definitely worth doing.

Insulate the Camper Shell Floor

The floor should be insulated to make it warm and comfortable.

Foam mats create some bounce to them and absorb heat well.

Upgrade Your Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag needs to the rated for the weather/temperature level.

A classic mistake of many campers is to not have a good enough sleeping bag that will still keep them warm as the temperatures decline sharply into the evening and overnight.

A sleeping bag that’s rated for 15℉ (or even freezing temperatures) will help enormously in keeping warmer.

Get a summer sleeping bag and a winter sleeping bag for freezing temperatures and swap them out between seasons.

Or use one that’s rated for 15-degrees as a compromise and adopt some of our other recommendations to battle the extreme cold.

Get a Heated Blanket

A heated blanket can run off 12-volt power and plug into the truck camper or a separate power source like a portable power station, e.g., a Jackery or EcoFlow battery pack.

A heated blanket can be turned on a little before bedtime to heat the sleeping bag.

One like the RoadPro below is charged up using 12-volt power, is made from fleece from soft comfort, and it does the job.

Many of these heated blankets only need to run for 30 or 45-minutes to get the sleeping bag all nice and toasty. Then you can stay warm all night.

RoadPro RPHB-110DB 12-Volt Polar Fleece Heated Travel Blanket (58 x 42.5 Inch)

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Wear Multiple Layers

In the evenings, it’s a good idea to wear multiple layers. This can beat away cold air and prevent you from getting shivers.

Wearing wool tops, a beanie to prevent heat escaping, thermal underwear, and a jacket is necessary when the temperatures drop fast.

Running a heater and/or a heated blanket before bedtime also helps to stay warm when wearing less to bed too.

Closing Thoughts

By purchasing the best heating options, and adding the extra touches, you’ll be able to stay warm while in your truck camper.

Whether living in a truck camper full-time or just taking occasional trips away, there’s no need to ever be cold.

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