The first time you use a portable fire pit, a light goes on, and I’m not talking about the golden flicker of flames on wood but rather the dawning realization of all the problems you’ve just solved, starting with portability. Sheltered at home, hankering for the comfort of a campfire but no space in the yard? Portable fire pit. Grossed out by the grills you find in public campgrounds? Portable fire pit. On public lands and living by Leave No Trace but can’t sleep without s’mores? Yep, portable fire pit.
Portable fire pits also tend to start and stoke flames easier than an ash-filled campground ring because their structures promote air flow. In the case of the BioLite FirePit, it actually has a fan that blows air across the wood to generate flames. Because of the constraints of their dimensions, fire pits also tend to confine your fire, making your wood last longer. Their grills stay clean, assuming you keep them that way, and because you dump the ashes when you pack and go, it’s easier to ensure all your coals are out.
We looked at the dozens of portable fire pits, selected a handful to test, and settled on these four as the best. Each has its own merits and will appeal to different needs and priorities, whether that’s price or portability or features, but all of them are great options.
BioLite was founded in the early 2000s by a designer and an engineer who learned that four million people die every year from respiratory issues caused by smoky, open cooking fires and then invented the HomeStove, which the company says cuts fuel consumption by fifty percent and toxic emissions by ninety percent. But to pay for its production and delivery in places like Africa, they also needed a profitable consumer business. From that came products like the FirePit.
The BioLite looks a little bit like a barrel smoker: You place the wood or briquettes inside, then cook your meal on a sliding grate on top. What separates it from other fire pits is that it uses a fan to control airflow over your fuel, which lets you alter the speed of the burn and size of the flames, giving you finer calibration over the heat and thus your cooking. BioLite claims it also makes for a smokeless fire, which isn’t true: In our tests, where there’s fire, there’s smoke, and while the grill can reduce the amount, it doesn’t eliminate it.
But it is a very cool grill and it gives you the most flame adjustability, thanks to its USB-chargeable power unit, which has three fan settings, from a slight puff to full-on turbo, which pushes air through 51 vent holes. In practice, you’re most likely to keep the fan set on the first or second levels, as the highest is loud and really burns through your fuel—you’ll probably use it mostly to get the fire started or finish off the wood at the end of the night.
There’s a bottom stainless steel grate at the bottom that can be removed for hibachi-style coals, as well as a small trap door for dumping coal and ashs, plus two carrying handles and folding legs. Being cylindrical, it’s obviously not as compact as other grills here, but it takes no time to set up, and with the turbo-air, lighting fires is a breeze. If cooking is your primary aim, the BioLite is probably your best bet.
But there are a couple other considerations. If your flames are low, they’re hidden by the mesh walls, which reduces that stare-into-the-coals-late-night-zoneout vibe. Also, the BioLite is susceptible to rust: The company stresses not to put out your fire with water, but numerous online purchasers have noted oxidation. Properly cared for, perhaps not a big deal, but something to think about.
Dimensions: 27 x 13 x 18
Weight: 20 lbs.
Fan run time: 24 hours (low), 10 hours (medium), 5 hours (high)
Roald Amundsen carried a Primus stove on the first journey to the South Pole and Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay used one on their first ascent of Mt. Everest. The Kamoto Open Fire Pit is much less complicated than a gas stove, but still: the brand has been doing this since 1892.
The Kamoto Open Fire Pit packs flat and pops up quickly on a set of scissoring legs, with a steel coal catcher serving as base. A tray drops into the bottom of the pit, supporting your fuel and increasing air flow. Two lightweight wind panels slot into the sides. The included grill fits gently over the top. At 21 pounds, it’s significantly lighter than the Snow Peak Takibi set (though the Snow Peak pit by itself is just 11 pounds) and makes for a tidier package.
The Kamoto comes in two sizes, with American-standard 16-inch wood fitting the large, which is the version we tested. Like all of these pits, the construction encourages airflow, which makes lighting and maintaining a fire much easier than a n ash-filled public fire ring. When cooking, you can remove one of the wind panels to add wood or stoke the flames.
It’s a nice kit. For $160, you get everything you need for portable fire pitting, including a carrying case. With fast and simple setup, it’s a great all-around option for backyard cookouts or car camping. We did note a couple of issues, though. This is the only of the fire pits that doesn’t let you adjust the grill height (well, the BioLite doesn’t either, but it gives you more control over the flames). That makes cooking a much more hands-on affair. Also, the design occasionally allows coals to drop from the pit onto the steel base. Catching coals is in fact the purpose of the base, but as folks who live in the drought-plagued Southwest, we pay particular attention to wayward sparks.
Dimensions: 18 x 16 x 26
Weight: 21 lbs.
Also comes in small
We are unabashed fans of the Japanese reverence for good product design and have been pleased with the performance of more than a few Snow Peak items over the years, so were particularly excited to test the Takibi Fire & Grill, which includes the pit (called the Pack & Carry Fireplace), base plate, grill, and grill support. At first glance, the set was a little intimidating. It weighs 32 pounds and, in its carrying bag, looks like it would be awkward. But it isn’t awkward at all. Yes, it’s the heaviest of the pits, but it carries easy and sets up easier. You simply unfold the pit and place its legs over slots in the coal tray. Done.
The bottom of the pit funnels to a point, where you can crumple paper or some other fire starter, and then lay your kindling diagonally. Air flow is comparable to the Primus and Wolf & Grizzly designs: It’s good. Once the blaze is established, you place the grill bridge and grill atop the pit (use gloves). There are three height settings, which enabled us to perfectly char corn on the cob and toast some sandwich melts. After the fire burned itself out, we let the ashes sit overnight and in the morning dumped the tiny bit of leftovers in the campsite fire ring.
We’ve heard some users say the Snow Peak doesn’t throw out a lot of heat, but we felt otherwise—sitting opposite one of its stainless steel sides, we could feel the radiation coming our way. It is also, to our eye, the most beautiful and pleasure-inducing—watching your fire burn to embers in its Japanese-industrial-modern design silhouette feels like an event. The construction is sturdy but refined, and if a portable fire pit could be an heirloom, the Takibi seems like the one. It certainly captured our hearts.
MSRP: $320 as set, $190 with pit only
Dimensions: 18 x 18 x 13
Weight: 32 lbs.
Also comes in medium for $150 and small for $110
We’ve long been enchanted with the simplicity and utility of twig stoves, so the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe (tested as part of the Campfire Trio set) is a welcome addition to the world of small, portable, Leave No Trace fire devices. Yes, it’s a fire pit, not a twig stove, but its clever folding design and light weight are cut from the same cloth, or stainless steel as it were.
The Wolf and Grizzly weighs just two pounds, 6 ounces, and comes in a recycled, zippered case, which is small enough to stash in many vehicle door compartments. A slim metal frame opens to accept an accordioned receptacle, which forms a zigzag platform upon which your wood sits. The Fire Safe is petite, of course, measuring 13 x 13 inches, so by nature your campfires will be smaller, and with the low sides you’ll need to keep an eye on wind. But the airflow is excellent and wood burns well. And the construction feels robust—there’s nothing flimsy about it.
The optional Grill M1 Edition is equally clever (and adds just another two and a half pounds). The grill slats are connected by stainless steel cables and unroll to form a surprisingly sturdy cooking platform on the accompanying frame. As with the Snow Peak, you can adjust the grill to three heights—directly over the flame, six inches above the ground, or eight inches above the ground. If you need more height, you can always slide rocks under the corners.
MSRP: $179 as set with pit, grill, and fire striker; $79 with pit only
Dimensions: 13 x 13 x 8
Weight: 5 lbs. (set)
Words by Stephen Casimiro