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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Diesel Air Heater: Is a Portable or Fixed Option Best for You?

Last year, I installed a 2kw Planar Heaters diesel air heater in my Turtleback Expedition Trailer. It has been an awesome addition to my trailer and has provided me with all the warmth I need for my SMRT Summit Suite Rooftop Tent.

BUT…I also have a 4kw Planar Heaters portable diesel heater. This heater is more powerful, but it has the obvious advantage of being portable.

A few weeks ago on a family camping trip, I used the fixed 2kw heater for my tent and loaned my 4kw portable heater to my brother-in-law who was in another tent. Two heaters, and everyone was warm!

Not all of you need two heaters, though. So, should you get a fixed or a portable heater? And is a 2kw heater or a 4kw heater the best bet for you?

These are the primary questions I seek to answer in the video above.

For your reference, I’ve summarized the main points of the video below.

Table of Contents

Fixed Diesel Air Heater Setup


As I mentioned in the introduction, I have the 2kw Planar Heaters diesel air heater permanently installed in the nose of my Turtleback trailer.

The setup is pretty simple – the heater is mounted on L-brackets to the side of the nose compartment. The exhaust exits the floor of the nose while the heat is routed through a tube through the side of the trailer’s nose and up into my rooftop tent.

As you can see above, on the exterior of the trailer’s nose, I have a fuel canister and a fuel line that routes into the nose compartment to feed fuel to the heater.

This heater also has a wired touchscreen remote that allows me to control it from the tent.

I run diesel in this heater, but you can also use kerosene. I have tried kerosene alternatives before as well, and that was a total nightmare, so stick to diesel or kerosene!

Fixed Diesel Air Heater Pros & Cons


The first benefit of this fixed diesel air heater is that it’s always there. I have nothing to move around or mount (apart from the heating duct, shown above extending into my tent).

Another benefit of the fixed heater is that it’s so small. The nose of my trailer isn’t that big, but even so, this heater barely takes up any space. Honestly, the biggest component of the heater is the ductwork, which I don’t take with me in the warmer months, so I still have some storage space to spare.

The wired remote that I mentioned earlier is a great benefit as well. The touchscreen makes it easy to quickly set the automatic temperature, or if you prefer to have manual control, you have that option, too.

Other benefits include:

  • Tons of heat output (more than I need for my rooftop tent)
  • Ability to heat multiple tents (with an optional Y-adapter and extra ductwork)
  • Flexibility of using diesel or kerosene
  • Comes in 12V or 24V variations
  • Can work at high altitudes

gifts under $1000 planar

In terms of cons, the only downside that I’ve been able to come up with is that the areas you need to heat have to be close to where the heater is installed.

That’s no problem for my rooftop tent since it’s just about four feet from the heater. But if I want to use the heater to send heat to another tent, that tent would have to be quite close to the nose of my trailer.

Portable Diesel Air Heater Setup

planar heaters 2kw portable heater

This portable heater comes in a crushproof and weatherproof case that allows you to sit it outside in the elements and not worry about what the weather will do to its performance.

As you can see, the fuel supply is mounted right on the unit, so it’s completely self-contained (apart from running power to the unit from a 12V or 24V source).

There is a silencer for quiet operation, an air intake filter, and a wired remote for ease of use, shown below.

All of this is in a 25.5-pound case that has a big, integrated handle to make moving the heater around an easy task.

Now, this unit is a 4kw, so it doubles up on the fixed unit in terms of heat output. This translates to 3,400-13,600 BTUs of heat (compared to 2,700-6,850 BTUs for the fixed unit). That’s a lot of heat!

Portable Diesel Air Heater Pros & Cons

diesel heaters are ideal for overlanding

Clearly, the biggest benefit of having a portable heater like this is that you can use it anywhere.

For example, I’ll take it with me when I’m camping in one of my Russian Bear tents or when I’m sleeping in the back of my truck. And like I mentioned earlier, I bring this heater along with me when I’m camping with friends or family so they have a heat source in their tent.

In other words, this unit is much more scalable than the fixed unit. You aren’t tied to using it in a fixed position, so you can take the heater where you need it – your tent, boat, RV, or your garage. Heck, this thing could heat your house in a pinch!

diesel heater contents

On the downside, since this is a portable unit, the power running to the unit can be a bit of an issue. By that, I mean that you have power cords running from the battery to the heating unit, which can be a tripping hazard.

I only mention this because my son often comes with me on my overlanding trips, and as an energy-filled 6-year-old, he doesn’t always pay attention where he’s going. If he were to trip over the power cord, he could injure himself, damage the heater, or both.

The portable unit is small, all things considered, but it’s much bigger than the fixed unit. If you’re short on space, the fixed unit will be a better option from a space standpoint.

Final Thoughts


As I discussed above, there are advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of heaters. Your task is to think purposefully about your specific camping and overlanding needs and buy a heater that best fits those needs. What works for me might not work for you – and that’s okay.

Ultimately, both of these heaters represent excellent options for your cold-weather camping needs. If you only need heat in one space and have limited storage, the fixed unit might be the way to go.

Diesel Heater next to an SUV in the snow

Alternatively, if you have room for a larger unit and you need the flexibility of a portable heater, the portable diesel air heater is a great choice.

Visit Planar Heaters to learn more about both of these units, and, of course, be sure to watch my side-by-side comparison video at the beginning of this article for a full run-down of these heaters!

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