Roasting marshmallows, bare feet in the grass, twinkling fireflies — backyard campfire season is coming. The first day of spring is on Mar. 20 and the first day of summer isn’t that far off, either, on June 20. So soon enough, it’ll be time to trade in sweaters for short sleeves.
SKIP AHEAD Best fire pits
Many of my fondest childhood memories occurred in the backyard, my siblings and me running shoeless around before my dad gathered us up to cook marshmallows over the old-school charcoal grill for the ultimate warm weather staple: homemade s'mores. To this day, nothing reminds me of summer quite the way biting into a s'more does. Now that my daughter is old enough — and while our new normal means we'll be staying at home more — I'm looking forward to sitting around a fire, but with an upgrade to that charcoal grill: I’ll be using a fire pit. With s'mores season right around the corner and to help you find your own piece of summer relaxation in your backyard, we compiled a few of the best fire pit options to consider for your backyard as the hotter weather settles in.
How to shop for the best fire pit
Because of their popularity, fire pits are now available in all sizes and configurations, from small portable fire pits and larger single units to table options with chairs in a variety of heights. And they all come with a variety of fuel options, from wood and gas to propane. But before you invest in a fire pit, consider both where you’ll want to place it — in a garden, on a patio or a balcony — and how you'll use it. Will you be cooking up marshmallows or simply sitting around it to stare at the flame. Do you want a permanent or portable fire pit — do you want to take it with you or does it stay in the backyard? Permanent fire pits are more expensive but last longer.
Where do fire pits belong?
Location, location, location is one of the most important things to take into account when shopping for a fire pit, said Heather Hilliard of Heather Hilliard Design and Judy Kameon of Elysian Landscapes. Both women have incorporated fire pits into their clients' outdoor spaces. Here’s how to best determine your fire pit’s prime real estate, according to Hilliard:
- Keep the firepit a minimum of 12 feet away from a structure — “further if you have the room.”
- Avoid low-hanging trees — “there should be nothing overhead.”
- Select a clearing for your firepit position — “ideally one out of the wind, and located on non-flammable surfaces.”
Seating distance is another thing to consider when choosing a fire pit and its location. Kameon likes to choose places where you can have seating on all sides of the fire pit while still having plenty of room for people to move around.
Fire pit fuel: Gas, wood or propane
Think about your preferred fuel type. Options generally include natural gas, propane and wood. According to Jackie Hirschhaut, the VP of public relations and marketing for the International Casual Furnishings Association, fire pits' most popular fuel sources are natural gas and propane. Propane is easy to buy, inexpensive, comes in portable tanks, doesn't make a mess to install and burns clean. Many propane fire pits also equip temperature control and are easy to light, says Elle Meager, the founder of Outdoor Happens.
If you go with a plumbed gas-fired fire pits, which Hilliard said many of her clients choose for ecological and aesthetic reasons, you need to be sure that a gas line can be piped and plumbed to the desired location by a professional.
While depending on where you live you might not be able to have a wood fire pit, I'm a fan of wood. There's something more authentic about it, and if you have kids, it's easier to get them involved in the fire pit experience by helping collect wood and twigs from the yard for the pit and eventually letting them help to get the fire started. Woodfire pits also tend to be cheaper, according to Meager, and you can use charcoal in most wood fire pits, which can create long-lasting heat as the charcoal tends to burn longer than wood, similar to a grill.
How does your fire pit ignite?
How do you want to light your fire pit? Some models come with electronic ignition — others you light with a match. Kameon says she has always used manual ignition fire pits and recommends them for safety. “You have more control. No one can accidentally put it on,” she said, adding that, especially with gas powered fire pits that burn clear without the manual ignition, you might not even realize it was on during the day.
Fire pit safety
All of the experts we spoke to recommended buying the best quality fire pit you can afford as they can get hot and crack. Kameon suggests looking for fire pits made out of steel or concrete. And a concrete or stone material will stay comfortable to the touch, Hilliard says. She also recommends fire pits with a broad lip to set the fire further from those gathered around with it.
Best fire pits to shop this year
Best overall fire pit: Sunnydaze
Sunnydaze makes different outdoor products, including hammocks, fountains and patio umbrellas.The brand's wood-burning Crossweave Outdoor Fire Pit is relatively easy to set up and can be set up in your yard, garden, or patio and is easy to move if you change your mind about where it should be. At 36 inches in diameter, it is large enough for family and friends to gather around and comes with a metal, built-in wood-burning grate and poker. This fire pit comes in both Black and Bronze so you can choose what color works best for your outdoor space.
Best wood fire pit: Design Within Reach
Natural gas is most common with Kameon’s clients but for wood her pick is the Plodes Geometric Fire Pit from Design Within Reach. It comes with a hefty price tag, but is available in two different sizes — both of which require a match light. Made from steel, it can be used with wood or charcoal.
Best gas fire pit: Concrete Work
Concrete Work Tinder Hemisphere (sold out)
While Hillard often works with Concrete Works to create custom fire pits for her clients the company has several made to order fire pit models including the modern looking Tinder Hemisphere. Made out of concrete, this fire pit can be ordered in several sizes, color choices and comes with a choice of a manual or electric ignition.
While the Tinder Hemisphere is currently out of stock, the company’s Dawn fire pit — which is also made from concrete — is compatible with either propane or natural gas and comes in three different sizes to choose from.
Best affordable fire pit: Hampton Bay
At under $100, this fire pit is one of the most affordable options on the market. This fire pit includes a cooking grate for grilling, a mesh screen and poker for safety. Not only is this fire pit budget-friendly, but it also boasts an average 4.4-star rating across more than 1,800 reviews.
Best portable fire pit: Outdoor Greatroom Company
The Outdoor Greatroom Company offers a variety of eye-catching fire pit designs. Their portable option includes easily removable legs, allowing the fire pit to collapse for a transportable pit you can bring to your campsite.
Best wine barrel fire pit: A Wine of a Kind
A Wine of a Kind Fire Pit (limited availability)
Oenophiles can't go wrong with a wine barrel fire pit. Etsy seller A Wine of a Kind makes theirs from recycled wine barrels. This fire pit is made from a recycled red wine barrel that's been stained to a honey color. The propane tank can be stored inside the barrel for a clean look and the gas control valve allows you to adjust the height of the flame.
Best table fire pit: Seaside Casual
Fire features can also be found in tables in addition to pits. Hirschhau recommends the gas-powered, round Seaside Casual fire table for an elevated fire pit. It's available in a variety of wood finishes to match your backyard decor and there is enough room to place glasses and plates at the table.