Nothing beats sitting around the campfire beneath the open sky. Whether you’re melting marshmallows, sizzling sausages, or just relaxing with a cold beer, a campfire makes any outdoor evening so much better.
But there is also a serious risk that your campfire could get out of control. If you don’t use a fire pit, the fire can spread underground via the root systems of trees or grasses.
You can think that you’ve put out your campfire properly, not knowing that the flames have popped back up out of sight.
If you don’t want to set your favorite nature spot on fire, you’ll need a fire pit. A fire pit will protect the ground from fire scars, which is an essential part of the Leave No Trace philosophy.
Fire pits are often mandatory if you want to have a fire in the great outdoors, so it’s best to bring one just in case. (But sometimes you’ll find regional fire bans, so you can’t have a fire even if you have a pit!)
All the fire pits in this article are lightweight and portable. They don’t cost a load of money, and they'll allow you to have all the camping fun you had planned, without any negative outcomes for wildlife or human safety.
In a hurry? Here Are My Top 3 Picks
Quick view: My top 3 picks for the best portable camping fire pits.
Best Fire Pits for Camping Review
Fireside Outdoor Pop Up Pit
The Fireside Outdoor Pop Up Pit is my favorite fire pit for camping.
It has excellent airflow, which means the fire will burn brighter and hotter than it would in many other portable fire pits.
This also reduces smoke, so you won’t be coughing and spluttering while trying to enjoy the flames!
You also have a choice between burning wood or charcoal, which will give you more flexibility when you’re searching for fuel.
The heat shield stops the ground from burning below, and the fire pit doesn’t let any ash through to the ground. This makes leaving your campground as you found it even more straightforward.
I also love how quick and easy this thing is to set up. It weighs only 7 pounds, and you can unfold it and get it into place within 60 seconds. Your fire will be safely away from the ground, but it won’t weigh you down!
A downside of any fire pit that uses mesh is that the lifespan is limited. Eventually, the fire will burn through the mesh layer and need replacing.
On the bright side, Fireside Outdoor provides a 50-fire/1-year guarantee. So, you don’t have to worry about it breaking down on you right away.
As much as I try to buy kit that will last a lifetime, that’s not so simple when it comes to portable fire pits. Regular fire pits can be as heavy as a person, so something has to give for you to fit this in your backpack!
SUCHDECO Portable Outdoor Fire Pit
If your budget can’t stretch far, but you still want to light fires safely, you should check out the SUCHDECO Portable Fire Pit.
This would be a good choice for a week-long camping trip or a few weekends, but keep in mind that the mesh will burn through fairly quickly. You can get hold of cheap mesh replacements for when that happens; just make sure to get the right size for your frame.
The great thing about this fire pit is that there is plenty of airflow, so your fire will be nice and hot. Good oxygenation also means you’ll have less smoke, and it’s raised high enough off the ground that it won’t burn the grass below.
Plus, the mesh won’t let any glowing ashes through to the ground, which is an important safety feature.
After you’ve let your fire burn out and the mesh has cooled down, you can unclip it and quickly move the ashes to a bin or compost. Make sure the ashes are cold first, or you might set the trashcan on fire!
The whole thing weighs only 2 pounds, and it packs down to 12.7" x 3.9" x 3.9" when it’s in the carry case.
One downside of this fire pit is that it isn’t the most stable. You’ll have to find good, flat ground to ensure that it won’t tip over.
But overall, this is a portable and affordable fire pit that I highly recommend.
Portable Plug Fire Pit
This gorgeous portable fire pit will last much longer than my other suggestions because it’s made from solid iron instead of mesh.
At 18 pounds, this pit is also a lot heavier than the others, but it's absolutely fine for a car camping trip.
I love the beautiful woodland creature design that will light up and flicker once your fire gets going. The pit is also really easy to put together and take back apart. There are four pieces that you slot together, and then you’re ready to go.
The base of the fire will help protect the ground, but you should bear in mind that some hot ashes could slip through the holes in the bottom of the base.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to clear the round of any twigs or dry leaves before you set it down.
Those small holes are useful, though. They will let plenty of air into the pit so that your fire burns well. Many dish-shaped fire pits don’t get enough airflow, so they are smoky and go out every 20 minutes or so.
The combination of price, weight, and easy setup make this a great fire pit.
The fact that it’s made of strong materials helped it clinch the top spot! (Plus it’s pretty, but I’ll pretend that’s not a decisive factor!)
UCO Flatpack Portable Grill and Fire Pit
This tiny fire pit packs a lot of punch. It folds up to only 1.5 inches thick and weighs just 3 pounds, so you can pop it into your pack on your next thru-hike.
Ok, so this isn’t the kind of campfire that a big group of people can sit around to keep warm.
But for a couple of people who want to accompany a night of wild camping with some crackling flames, this is a great choice. It also has a grill so that you can cook your dinner on it.
I think this would be the perfect choice for a kayaking trip when you’ll want to grill some freshly caught fish, but it would work just as well for an overnight hike or even a day trip down at the beach.
This mini fire pit is made of anti-rust stainless steel, and the sides of the grill work as a windbreak to help protect your flame. Your fire will stay safely contained and kept off the ground.
When you’re done, you can fold the whole thing back down in less than 30 seconds.
It may be small, but users rave about this pit. It will keep you surprisingly warm for the size, and you can fit 6 burgers or 12 hot dogs on the grill.
It comes with a strong canvas bag for storage, and the design is nice and sturdy. Honestly, I’m really impressed!
Aurora Camping Gas Fire Pit
The best way to avoid campfire smoke is to use gas fire pits. You’ll still get lovely hot flames to sit around, but you won’t have to collect any wood.
Simply hook the fire pit to your gas bottle, then fire it up with a flick of the switch.
This fire is scentless and doesn’t leave any mess behind. This fire pit is safe for use on wooden decks, and you don’t have to worry about burning the ground underneath.
Deadwood is an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. So, some people prefer to use a gas pit instead of searching for wood in overpressured dispersed camping areas.
This model is significantly heavier than the other pits, but it’s still pretty portable. Just put on the lid and click it into place. You now have a nice, sturdy handle for carrying your fire pit to and from the car.
This fire pit is well priced and it looks great, but you will have to pack a gas bottle, so it will take up a lot of room in your trunk.
Camping Fire Pits Buying Guide
To be honest, I think I’ve covered all the best portable fire pits in this article. But if you want to shop a little further afield, here are some things to look for.
Conventional fire pits are heavy and bulky. They can easily weigh as much as a person and take up all the space in your trunk, so there’s no way you could bring them on a camping trip.
Make sure to pick something light enough to load in and out of your vehicle without hurting your back. If you’re planning to hike, your fire pit must be as light and compact as possible. (And you’ll have to accept that your fire will be dinky!)
You need an excellent airflow so that your flames will get hot and bright. If your fire pit doesn’t let in enough oxygen, your fire will keep going out and a lot of smoke will blow in your face.
The base of your fire pit should either be mesh or have some holes to let air through. There is a risk that hot ashes will fall through larger holes and burn the ground beneath.
So, while mesh can be more effective in the short run, it will need to be replaced because it will start burning through after a few trips.
Wood is pretty easy to get your hands on, and it’s not too expensive. This can make wood-fired pits a good choice.
But if you’ll be camping somewhere without much forest cover, you might struggle to find enough wood in place.
Also, remember that wood is an integral part of the ecosystem, so take only a small amount and try to spread out where you are taking it from.
If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, a charcoal or gas fire pit can make more sense. You can bring your gas canister or charcoal with you, and you’re all set to go.
It’s not typically recommended to bring in firewood from somewhere else because the wood can contain pests or pathogens that you don’t want to spread around. (But If you’re buying pretty clean-looking firewood from the store, this won’t be much of a problem.)
Oh, and never cut live wood off a tree to burn! Not only will this be ineffective because it needs months to dry out, but it would also be a pretty horrible thing to do to your camping spot. (Yes, I have stumbled upon people using a chainsaw to cut off live tree branches because they wanted a campfire. A 500-year-old tree in a protected national park! Ouch.)
Your camping fire pit will probably arrive folded down or in pieces. Make sure it’s easy to set up but still nice and sturdy so it won’t fall to pieces while in use.
Ideally, your pit shouldn’t come in more than four pieces. It should be easy to put together and take apart, and it might come with a carry case to make it even easier to move around.
Why does my fire pit keep going out?
If your fire pit keeps going out, it might not be ventilated enough. Scoop out excess ash so the fire can breathe.
Your wood might also be damp inside. If you hear a ‘sizzling’ noise when the fire is going, it’s probably wet beneath the surface.
Can a propane fire pit be used on a camping trip?
Yes, you can use propane pits on a camping trip. They are pretty safe to use, and you are less likely to start an accidental fire with them than you are with a conventional fire pit.
Just bear in mind that the gas canister and fire pit might take up a lot of space, so truly portable propane fire pits can be difficult to find.
Should I use lava rocks in my fire pit?
Lava rocks are not an essential part of any campfire, but they are useful. They help your fire burn hotter for longer, and they protect the bottom of your fire pit. They would be better for a larger home fire pit than a camping set up because they will take up valuable space in a mini pit.
I love having a campfire when I’m in the great outdoors. My top pick for camping with friends would be the Fire Side Outdoor Pop Up Pit.
But if I were thru-hiking by myself or with one buddy, I would go for the UCO Flatpack Pit instead.
The best value choice would be a fold-out mesh fire pit like the SUCHDECO model; just bear in mind that you’ll have to replace the mesh before long.
I do have a soft spot for the woodland creatures on the Portable Plug Fire Pit, though. It’s a beautiful choice, and it will last much longer than my budget pick.
No matter which fire pit you go for, I wish you many happy nights around the campfire!
More to read:
Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.