Whether you’re camping out in the bush, or spending an evening on the beach, you need a proper campfire, but in today’s world we need to think more carefully about how and where we start our fires.
Camp fires are notoriously unsafe when they’re lit on open ground, so we’re going to look at some of the best portable fire pits you can buy on a budget.
Portable fire pits save time and effort, as well as reducing risk, by raising fires up off the ground, and helping to circulate air more evenly for better burns with fewer sparks. But are gas or wood fire pits better? Or should you buy a collapsible fire pit, or a traditional bowl?
In this article we’ll answer those questions and more to help you find the best portable fire pit.
Best Fire Pits for 2022
Portable Fire Pit Buyers' Guide
What is a Portable Fire Pit?
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Portable fire pits don’t just mean a fire bowl you pick up and throw in the boot, they’re more considered, and the best fire pits have ember trays so you can clean up after yourself when you leave the beach, or the campsite.
Most obviously, you can get gas fires, but they often require heavy gas bottles to be carried around with them, and might not be the most convenient way to stay warm in the outback at night.
Gas fire pits are cleaner to burn though, and produce no smoke.
What to Look for When Buying a Portable Fire Pit
Collapsible Fire Pits
The best portable fire pits are collapsible. Different styles fold away in different ways, but unless you’re buying a really high end gas burner pretty much every fire pit folds away a little bit.
My favorite are the fire pits that fold either completely flat, or concertina into little bags no bigger than a wine bottle. I’m probably just putting my own biases on it but, to me, portable means compact and convenient.
If you’ve got a whopping great gas stove in the garage you’re far less likely to put it in the car for an evening on the beach, just a couple of logs and a fold away fire pit and you’ll never be without it.
Fire Pit Weight
Always check the weight of portable fire pits. Heavy fire pits are a bad choice on two fronts: They’re harder to transport, and they cool down slower.
If you buy light weight, even aluminum fire pits you can usually pack them away about 20-30 minutes after the fire goes out, and the embers are usually contained in trays so can be doused with water (or even poured into a container to take away with you to be extra safe).
The heavier a fire pit is, the longer it holds its heat and the longer you’ll need to wait to pack up and go home.
Best Fuel for Portable Fire Pits
Gas, charcoal, wood, or pellets. There are only four fuel types for any fire pit and the choice is down to either convince, or safety:
- Gas fire pits are easier to light, cleaner to burn, and safer while they’re in operation, but they also need a gas cylinder so take up more space, and more weight in the car.
- Charcoal is great for slow burning fire pits, and is great for cooking with, but produces dirty smoke that makes your clothes smell for hours. For a proper campfire, you’ll need at least a full bag or charcoal to keep it lit for longer than an hour too.
- Wood fire pits are lightweight, and usually just a handful of timber can burn for long enough to enjoy an evening on the beach. They do produce smoke while they burn though, and can spark if they burn unevenly.
- Wood pellets produce less smoke, and most fire pits that suggest wood pellets even use smokeless designs to reduce it further. They do mean you need to carry a bag of pellets with you, and if you’re out of town with a fire pit and run out of fuel, it’s much harder to find pellets than any other fuel.
Safety Guidance for Portable Fire Pits
- Never try to handle a lit fire pit, and always test distinguished fire pits for temperature by flicking water onto them first. The metal sides of any type of fire pit can stay hot for up to an hour after using them.
- Always put a fire out completely after use, and fully distinguish any embers so they don’t relight when you walk away.
- If a fire pit is producing vast amounts of smoke, move away, and stop adding fuel to the fire until the smoke has died back. Adding more fuel can often exacerbate the sums and smoke inhalation can lead to shortness of breath, unconsciousness, and even death if you stay in direct exposure for too long.
- Any portable fire pit should always be set up on ground that won’t catch fire itself. Never light a fire on dry grass, or near scrub, brush, or dry timber.
- Make sure you have extra water in hand to put out flames if they get too high.
- Make sure any fire pit is fully extinguished before you leave the site, or go to sleep for the evening. Fire can spread incredibly fast, especially in summer.
Best Portable Fire Pit Reviews
The KampKeeper pop-up portable fire pit is a little piece of design genius. It has a heat proof fabric grill tray that can be attached and literally shoved into your coat pocket for safety.
It has a completely collapsible stand that transforms into a charcoal grill for cooking, or a wood fire pit for warmth in the evening.
I’m obviously going over the top with my praise for this fire pit, but other than the fact it’s made from aluminum which tarnishes with heat, there’s nothing I can fault about it.
And the aluminum will withstand the heat for long enough too, so even that just adds to its clever design, and helps keep the cost down too. A great, affordable, fire pit with real impact.
I don’t know why this style of fire pit hasn’t been more popular. They are so convenient, and fold away smaller than any other fire pit on review here (or any fire pit I’ve ever seen).
This is a great fire pit that folds away into a bag and takes up no room at all. And because it’s such a simple design there’s no grill tray or ember tray to interrupt airflow, so it’s insanely easy to light a fire.
The Hoedia folding fire pit works best with dry cured wood, but it can cope with charcoal if that’s all you’ve got.
The only thing to be careful with, is that it doesn’t have an ember tray, so will need to be placed on ground that won’t catch, and should never be used anywhere near dry scrub.
While you need wood pellets to get this fire going and control the smoke properly, you can in fact add dried timber to the fire once it gets going, which helps to prolong the burn time, and as long as you add wood slowly and gently it won’t generate any excessive smoke.
The term smokeless is slightly misleading, but essentially, a smokeless fire pit is a double walled fire pit, that captures the smoke and circulates it back down into the fire, using pressure generated by heat.
The smoke is then re-burned which massively reduces the amount of smoke pumped out of the fire. This is actually better for the environment as it combusts more efficiently and doesn’t release as much creosote of harmful particulates.
While the Grillz folding fire pit works best with charcoal for a slow burning grill, it doubles up really well as a wood burning fire pit, and if anything, works best without the grill installed.
For a quick and easy fire pit that can cook food when you need to, this is probably one of the most versatile grills you buy on a budget.
It folds completely flat too so fits discreetly in the back of the car for spontaneous trips to the beach.
If you’re happy taking gas bottles on the road with you, then something like the Outland Living gas fire pit might be worth a look.
I’m not a huge fan of gas fire pits, but they do reduce smoke and keep you warm without covering you in fumes, so are a good practical option for busy camping trips, or even mini BBQs.
One thing to keep in mind though is that this is a gas fire pit, not a grill. You’ll need a separate grill attachment to cook anything other than marshmallows.
These portable fires are clever, and make a great party trick, but no matter how “reusable” they claim to be, they’re only as reusable as a candle.
When it’s gone, it’s gone, and you’ve got a burned tin with some wicks glued to the bottom. Even the best brands of these soy wax fire pits create soot on marshmallows too.
If you want to show off with an easy to light campfire that fits in your pocket and last for five hours, then go for it, and this is one of the best on the market.
But it’s no replacement for a reusable, portable, folding fire pit (like the others in these reviews).
Other than being much heavier than any other portable fire pit on review here, these collapsible grills are pretty perfect. Ok, so it’s a bit more expensive, but it works with gas, wood, and charcoal, and can be adapted for use as either a grill or fire pit.
I think what’s truly brilliant about this isn’t even the grill itself, it’s the opportunities it opens up. Imagine you’re out camping, and desperate for a fire, but you’ve got a traditional folding grill.
You head to the nearest store, and you’re faced with bottles of propane, so that’s it. You give up, and head back to camp cold. Equally, if you’re stuck out in the cold with a gas fire, but the store only sells wood, there’s nothing you can do.
It might seem expensive, but it’s not if you consider it as being three fire pits in one.
Aussie Green Thumb Top Picks for 2022
Top Rated Portable Fire Pit
When you’re camping, cooking, or just on the road, you’ve got an absolute responsibility to make every fire you ever start safe. As summer temperatures get hotter and the rainy seasons get shorter, bush fires and scrubland fires are more and more likely.
That means that every single ember from every single fire needs catching safely, dousing, and disposing of responsibly. That’s the only reason I’m choosing KampKeeper Pop-Up Portable Fire Pit as my top pick today; because it’s safe.
It’s got a really clever detachable ember tray that stops anything falling on dry ground, and the flat base means it burns more evenly with less chance of ash and sparks.
But remember to keep your fires well away from any dry materials, because no matter how hard you try, you’re never 100% in control of a fire.
Best Value Portable Fire Pit
The Hoedia Folding Portable Fire Pit isn’t exactly the safest fire pit on the market, but for campers on a budget who are willing to take extra precautions, and make sure the ground around the fire is safe, then this is a really convenient fire pit.
It’s completely collapsible, packing away in a tiny shoulder bag, and because its fire tray is just a simple piece of flexible gauze the air circulation creates a super even burn, and helps you get fires going quickly.
Premium Choice Portable Fire Pit
For the same reasons as some of the other choices, I wanted Blue Sky Outdoor Living Smokeless Portable Pellet Fire Pit in our top picks. It’s more expensive, sure, but it’s also one heck of a lot safer, with a smoke reduction, spark reduction and ember catching design that keeps your fire as contained as possible.
Because of its flat base that sits against the floor, it's best used on sand, but if you set it on dry ground you can use fire mats or tiles to keep the scalding ember tray away from danger.
As well as being better for safetyman and for smoke inhalation when you’re sitting around the fire, it’s also better for the environment, thanks to the smoke recirculation technology that re-burns smoke to reduce the chemicals released into the atmosphere.
Portable Fire Pit FAQs
Are portable fire pits legal in Australia?
Every state has different rules for fire pits. For example, in Brisbane, wood or wood pellet fire pits are banned in summer, while in NSW it’s perfectly legal to have wood fire pits all year round, but not near vegetation, and not with starter fluid. Check local regulations before lighting any fire pit.
Is a fire pit a campfire?
A fire pit and a campfire are essentially the same thing, but campfires are built and prepared manually on safe flat ground, whereas fire pits are pre-built, or dug out into the earth to give better circulation and more controlled smoke.
How far should a fire pit be from tents or vegetation?
Any fire pit should always be placed at least 10ft form a tent, building or structure to prevent embers spreading. Fire pits should be placed at least 20ft away from vegetation as it takes fewer embers to cause a fire on vegetation than man made structures.
Can you use a fire pit in a gazebo?
Never use a fire pit in a gazebo or under cover. Fire in enclosed spaces can quickly get out of control and sparks can catch onto tents or fabrics instantly.
As well as the danger of spreading fire, smoke from fire pits gets trapped by any overhead structure and can build up, which leads to toxic carbon monoxide poisoning.
Are you looking for more fire pit options? See our review on more permanent type of fire pits you can add to your backyard.
Always be Ready with a Portable Fire Pit
Portable fire pits should always be used responsibly no matter where you are in the country, but they are a much safer alternative to DIY camp fires, and can be far easier to set up than most portable grills, with less damage to the environment.
The best portable fire pits are the ones that burn safely and steadily, with raised grills so they don’t damage the ground after use, but as for fuel, it completely depends on you, and your own preferences.
For me, the best fire pit is a wood fired grill, as long as it’s got an ember tray and reduces smoke as much as possible.