The Best Fire Pits: Tested

From backyard s’mores to backcountry cookouts, these fire pits provide warmth and cheer without charring the ground.

Kelly Bastone

13 reviews with an average rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars
Two adults and a child sitting around fire pit at beach at sunset

Folks say a campfire is "the original television" because it's endlessly entertaining to watch flames flicker, spark and pulse. Alone or with a group, we unlock a primeval connection with ourselves and our community when we settle beside a fire. If staring into a flickering blaze is an essential part of your outdoor experience, you may want to invest in a portable fire pit, which lets you bring your campfire with you. Fire pits let you create that sense of retreat not just at the campsite, but also at home, on the beach or at a trailhead parking lot.

Fire pits are easy to light and help minimize impact on the environment. The best of the bunch features some sort of heat shield that keeps flames from singeing the ground—as an Leave No Trace strategy, they're typically superior to the traditional ring of rocks around a blackened patch of earth. Sizes vary from small, light and packable to big and gleaming. Many include a grill for easy outdoor cooking.

We tested the best portable fire pits available at REI and distilled that feedback into this guide. Most of the fire pits we tested burn wood or charcoal, but we also reviewed a propane option that's smokeless. All the options in this guide let us enjoy fire, warmth and romance, wherever we roamed. Read on to discover our member-testers' favorites—roasting forks recommended, but not required.

Note: Before starting a fire outdoors, review Leave No Trace principles and safe extinguishing practices. Only have fires when they are allowed: check the land manager's current regulations for information on where to build a fire, proper fuel to use and potential burn bans.


Test Results

For quick recommendations, check out the results of our round-robin here, or scroll down for in-depth reviews:


Other Top Performers

The FIRESIDE OUTDOOR Pop-Up is the fire pit that thrilled most testers, most of the time. Packed, it's about the size of a camp chair and slides into a 27-inch x 6-inch tote with a shoulder strap. That portability made it easy to stash inside a camper van for use at dispersed, undeveloped campsites that lack campground facilities such as fire rings. Other testers loved how little room it occupied in an overstuffed garage.

Setup isn't the fastest or easiest of all the fire pits we tested, but it still ranks as low hassle. After expanding the foldable aluminum frame, onto the corner posts, you insert aluminum rails that help keep wood logs inside, followed by a fine-mesh screen. Then, you strap a reflective panel to the legs, beneath the mesh, using hook-and-loop tabs. The process goes quickly (one tester's 9-year-old easily mastered the entire setup), but it's not hands-free, and residual ash on the components can make for dirty hands.

The tradeoff is an extra-large (24-inch x 24-inch) fire pan that holds 125 pounds of wood—enough for a bona fide bonfire. That large surface area let multiple families crowd around the flames to roast s'mores and facilitates the perfect asado-style cooking fire: Using the grill grate ($70, sold separately) on top, our epicure could stoke flames on one side of the screen and draw coals over to the other as needed (the method keeps food from getting scorched). He successfully grilled a whole leg of lamb on the setup—a feat that wouldn't be easily accomplished on the other fire pits we tested.

The flimsy-looking heat shield helps protect lawns and driveways from damage. And the fire-rated screen made of stainless-steel alloy does an impressive job of allowing air underneath the fire to promote a hot, lively burn. Testers' fires generally left no more than a half-cup of fine ash on the screen.

The relatively reasonable price tag for the category also makes this one of the test's best values. Testers loved being able to see the fire in all its glory, without walls to hide its flames. But the open pan isn't the most windproof design, so testers wanting a fire pit for gusty beaches and mountaintops might consider the BioLite FirePit+ (see below), which does a better job of containing flames and embers. Buy now.

Pop-Up Fire Pit
Bottom Line: Supremely packable and portable, this fire pit and grill option create a crowd-pleasing fire that's ideal for whipping up a delicious backcountry meal.

Best testing story: One bonfire-craving tester dumped a 40-pound log onto the blaze, and the Pop-Up Base Kit eventually reduced it to a scant dusting of ashes.

The only model we tested that runs on propane, the Camp Chef Redwood Fire Pit requires a 20-pound tank fitted with a Type 1 connection (the kind barbecue grills typically use). The setup consists of two main parts: The propane tank, and the metal fire ring measuring 18 inches in diameter. Twelve pounds of lava rocks are included with the kit to amply cover the burner. Once those rocks are distributed, they can remain inside the fire pit between uses, making setup nearly instant: Just remove the metal lid from the fire pit, attach its hose to the propane tank, open both valves and light the gas.

Camp Chef cautions users not to lean over the fire pit while lighting it, and that advice is well worth remembering given the blast of flames that promptly erupts from the unit. After a few minutes, the flames and heated rocks emit impressive warmth (64,000 BTUs, according to Camp Chef). So naturally, the Redwood proved itself to be an effective space heater during chilly outdoor gatherings. Testers also loved being able to cut out the fire in an instant, rather than waiting for embers to die down. Unlike a live fire (which must be tended until the final embers burn and often keeps spectators awake past bedtime), the Redwood powers down with the turn of a dial. That dial also adjusts the heat output from low to high.

About the size of a beach ball, the Redwood and its accompanying propane tank are easy to pack on all but the most cargo-constrained car camping trips. There's no grill grate option, so cooking over the pit is limited to roasting hot dogs and marshmallows (BYO sticks). The flames' intense heat (there are no hot coals to facilitate indirect cooking) won't delight those who prefer to achieve a slow, golden crust on their 'mallows, but the setup still manages to fulfill the campfire expectation when campfires are inconvenient or prohibited (always check with your local land manager for real-time info about restrictions and bans). One tester relied on the Redwood during a fire ban in Colorado's Arapaho National Forest, where the fire pit provided the ambiance, the family craved while indulging the kids' yearning for s'mores.

Daylight tends to make the flames hard to discern, but at night they provide the glowing focal point most people seek from campfires. And even the strongest winds couldn't snuff the Redwood, making it a great choice for windy locations. Some testers missed the fragrance of a wood fire, but this unit's smokeless burn delighted most: Testers reported no smelly clothing, lung irritation or errant embers that burn through blankets and camp chairs. Buy here.

Bottom Line: Simpler to use than wood-burning fire pits, the smokeless Redwood is an easy-button option that functions as an outdoor space heater and s'mores-maker.

Best testing story: Forget eyebrow waxing. One tester nearly lost her facial hair when she peered into the fire pit while lighting the Redwood (which Camp Chef cautions users not to do).

Other Top Performers

There's something soulful about cooking over a fire, whether you're watching a marshmallow turn golden and gooey on a roasting fork or warming a pot of chili mac over open flames. But, if you're camped in an area that doesn't allow DIY ground pits or you want to avoid the hassle of fire cleanup, check out the Snow Peak Takibi Fire & Grill. It lets you enjoy the best of both worlds: a cozy fire and a freshly grilled meal. (The breezy cleanup is just the cherry on top.)

The Takibi Fire & Grill is made of stainless steel and built to last many seasons outside. (And should something happen—like the grill rusting or a part breaking—Snow Peak provides a lifetime warranty).

Plus, it's portable and collapsible (making it easy to stow), so outdoor lovers who want to end their day with food over flames can take it anywhere they go. "I personally love cooking over the fire when I'm camping instead of using stoves most of the time," says Elizabeth Nguyen, a camp sales lead at the REI store in Atlanta, Georgia. "This can handle a 10-inch cast iron and still has room for cooking burgers and vegetables."

The kit comes with five pieces: a grill net, a grill bridge, the fireplace, a baseplate and a carrying case. (If you want to burn charcoal, you'll have to purchase the Fireplace Coal Bed separately.) This modular design allows whoever's playing chef to lower and raise the grill into three different positions, adjusting the heat intensity from a full scorch to a mellow simmer. The baseplate protects the ground from heat and ash, and the carrying case makes it easy to store and take anywhere.

One caveat: Some online customer-reviewers shared that they had trouble burning larger logs. You may have more success with small sticks and twigs. Still, customers appreciate this wood- and charcoal-powered grill for its versatility, packability and style. It'll make even the most novice camp cook feel like a master chef in the great outdoors.

The battery-powered BioLite FirePit+ takes all the struggle, effort and uncertainty out of starting a fire. Charged via USB, the removable power pack runs a built-in fan that directs jets of air below and above the flames, so once testers lit the pile of kindling, they could sit back and watch the FirePit roar to life. You can adjust the three fan speeds with the flick of a manual switch or Bluetooth smartphone interface. The unit's battery life is truly impressive, powering the fan for 30 hours on low, 14 hours on medium and 7 hours on high. Unfortunately, the fan's whine detracts from the fire's rustic ambiance, and the system generates lots of ash (testers noted that food they grilled on the included grate came out coated with fan-driven grey flakes). The FirePit is portable enough to carry anywhere you'd tote a cooler, and it's a more responsible option for windy locales: Though not smokeless, it does a solid job of containing its embers. Buy here.

Shop All Fire Pits


Fire Pits Buying Advice

Before you pull the trigger on a portable fire pit, consider where you'll use it and whether you'll need to pack it away between adventures. If you're using it primarily to warm backyard gatherings, look for bigger units that allow crowds to gather 'round. If you're buying it for vagabond adventures, you might prioritize a smaller packed size (some of these "portable" fire pits are actually quite heavy and bulky, so transporting them isn't necessarily a breeze).

Do you live where fire bans are frequent? If so, the Camp Chef Redwood might get more use than a wood-burning model that's prohibited more often than not. Then, once you've determined the best fuel for you, mull these variables.

Packability

Some fire pits don't collapse into smaller, more packable shapes, so they're best for households with ample storage space—or ones that plan to make the fire pit a more-or-less-permanent fixture on the patio or deck. The Camp Chef Redwood is a good candidate for extended use. Both include covers/carry cases to protect them from rain, but they're just as bulky in storage as they are in use.

If storage space is limited, or if you only expect to use a fire pit a few times per year, look at models that pack small. The FIRESIDE OUTDOOR Pop-Up Fire Pit and Snow Peak Takibi lead this list.

Grillability

You can hover a marshmallow over each of the fire pits we reviewed, but for real grilling capability, consider models with dedicated grates that are included with the fire pit or offered as accessories. Our grill jockey's favorite was the FIRESIDE OUTDOOR Pop-Up Fire Pit with Tri-Fold Grill Grate (sold separately). Its large surface area accommodates big roasts of meat or zucchini fillets for a crowd, and chefs can modulate the heat by sliding the grate closer or farther from the coals. The Snow Peak Takibi is another prime (albeit smaller) design for grilling. The BioLite FirePit+ is the smallest of the grills we tested, accommodating a pair of burgers rather than a crowd-filling smorgasbord.

Heat Output

In general, bigger fireboxes allow for hotter fires: Several fat logs burning together generate higher-temperature coals than kindling-sized sticks in a smaller firebox. If you want the kind of blazing heat that puts a steakhouse sear on your burgers or keeps a crowd cozy on an icy winter's night, consider a fire pit that can accommodate five or more extra-large campfire logs (the FIRESIDE OUTDOOR both check this box). Of course, heat output varies with the fuel type and quantity used; only the propane-fed Camp Chef Redwood stove offers an official measurement of its heat output (64,000 BTUs, which is impressively warm but not as scorching as the FIRESIDE OUTDOOR when used at full blast).

Aesthetics

Whether you want to gaze at the fire—or at its metal stage—appearances matter. Some testers preferred fire pits that looked stunning even when they weren't in use. Others disliked fire pits that hid the flames. The BioLite FirePit+ contains the logs (or charcoal) beneath the rim, but it's made of a metal mesh that lets the fire glow through.

On the "see it all" end of the spectrum, there's the FIRESIDE OUTDOOR Pop-Up Fire Pit, which elevates the fire on a flat base that lets spectators ogle everything from coals to sparks. And although the propane-fueled Camp Chef Redwood impressed even wood-burning snobs with its realistic-looking flames, it still lacked the "wow!" factor of other models.


Methodology

Over six weeks, seven families burned through truckloads of firewood bundles, 30 pounds of charcoal and a half-tank of propane (it's efficient!) to sleuth out the advantages and disadvantages of the best fire pits currently available at REI. Some perched fire pits on polished wooden decks to test the contraptions' heat-shielding abilities. Others hauled portable models to remote campsites and fed fires with gathered wood. Food was grilled; s'mores were roasted; errant embers were promptly snuffed.

Testers then scored the fire pits based on appearance, ease of use, packability, cooking facility, wind resistance and burn efficiency. Results were tallied and averaged to create a resulting score out of 100 for each fire pit. The Fireside Outdoor Pop-Up Fire Pit received the highest scores across most categories, with the Camp Chef Redwood, Snow Peak Takibi, BioLite Firepit+ scoring well in at least one (but not all) categories.


Photography by Dan DeLong.