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Best fire pits for 2020: BioLite, Solo Stove, Tiki and more

From BioLite, Tiki, Solo Stove, Garden Treasures and others, we tested many popular fire pits to see which ones are the best.

Life may be full of stress these days, but you'd be surprised by the things you can do to blow off a little steam. One surefire way is to take daily walks. Another is to unwind in front of a crackling campfire. You don't need to hike into the woods to enjoy this cozy orange glow. Nor do you need to build a permanent fire pit from heavy materials like stones or bricks. Instead, get a fire pit that's portable. These products are sold by lots of retailers, including Lowe's, Amazon and Home Depot. Plus, many fire pit manufacturers sell their wares directly.

These transportable fireplaces range widely in price, size and weight. There are inexpensive $60 models and high-performance pits that'll set you back as much as $350. You can even spend $1,500 or more on fancy propane-burning fire pits. 

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In the market for a fire pit? We're taking a bunch of portable fire pits for a spin to find out which one is best.

Brian Bennett/CNET

In this roundup, we focus on genuine, wood-fueled fire pits. Beyond providing heat, they can also cook food, including grilling. Most importantly, they're a great way to roast marshmallows for tasty s'mores. The models on this list are either best sellers, highly ranked or worthy challengers from established outdoor brands. We tested them to determine their strengths and weaknesses firsthand. If you need help choosing a fire pit that matches your needs, you've come to the right place. I'll update this list periodically.

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Some fire pits, like the Solo Stove Yukon shown here, are large -- great for gathering around to roast marshmallows.

Brian Bennett/CNET
Brian Bennett/CNET

Our favorite fire pit on this list is made by Tiki, a company that began with the familiar Tiki bamboo torch over 60 years ago. Now, Tiki offers a fire pit that's large, sturdy, and attractive. Priced almost $300 more than its budget rivals, its performance, ease of use, and superior style make this pit worth the investment.

The steel and stained wood pit doesn't just look good. The Tiki Brand Fire Pit has a clever airflow system that recycles hot smoke back into the fire chamber. During our testing, it was easy to ignite, firing up in about five minutes, and fully burning in 15. 

It also generated far less smoke than the other fire pits we tested, especially after its logs caught fully, usually at about the 15-minute mark. Only the Solo Stove Ranger burned wood with less smoke emission, its fuel burning fiercely in five minutes. The Tiki Fire Pit's logs burned efficiently as well, lasting for hours.

Because of its large (16 inches in diameter) mouth, it's easier to share the fire with multiple people. The Solo Stove Ranger is smaller by comparison, its metal fire ring is 10 inches in diameter. Kids gathering around to roast s'mores need to be careful though. All surfaces of the Tiki fire pit, including its metal lip are scalding hot after the fire is lit. It also takes time to cool after the flames die down. 

We do appreciate the Tiki Brand pit's removable ash tray. It makes for easy cleanup. The pit puts out a generous amount of heat as well. While that's perhaps not ideal for hot summer nights, it's excellent when the temperature dips during the fall and winter. Tipping the scales at 45 pounds, this fire pit is heavy. Think twice before you position it, and get help when you do.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Solo Stove fire pits have gained an avid following in recent years, and the company's newest product, the Solo Stove Yukon is its biggest and best yet. With a top side that measures 27 inches across, and a mouth 23 inches in diameter, the Yukon is large enough to accept full-size firewood logs. Despite the Yukon's wide footprint, its stainless steel body gives it a sleek appearance. 

The Yukon shares the same sophisticated airflow system you'll find on other Solo Stove products. According to Solo Stove, these vents help drive a continuous supply of oxygen to its fire. In our experience, the Yukon delivers performance just as good as its smaller cousin, the Solo Stove Ranger, but on a larger scale. 

The Yukon's fire starts fast, its logs fully caught in just five minutes. Once they caught, they burned for hours. This pit is efficient too, consistently consuming all of our test firewood logs. At the end of the night, there was little solid debris to speak of, merely a few bits of charcoal and ash. It produces a lot less smoke than the other fire pits we've tested here too, save the Solo Pit Ranger.

You can also order the Yukon with a rain cover ($55) and metal stand ($70) for extra cash or part of a bundle. Because the pit weighs 38 pounds, we don't recommend moving it often. Also, like other high-performance fire pits, kids (and adults) need to be careful around the Yukon. In addition to the intense heat from the fire itself, the Yukon's steel surface heats to scalding temperatures fast.

David Carnoy/CNET

The $250 FirePit, made by Brooklyn-based BioLite, weighs under 20 pounds and is built for portability. Measuring 27 by 13 by 15.8 inches, it's relatively long and narrow. However, it holds a little more wood than you'd think, with a capacity for up to four cordwood logs. You can either use it as a standard fire pit or as a backyard grill.

In fire pit mode, you lower the fuel rack to the bottom of the pit. To grill over hot wood coals, or charcoal briquettes if you prefer, raise the rack to its highest position. BioLite bundles a grill grate with the product for that purpose, which sits over everything. The grill lit up fast, in less than five minutes, and was fully burning in less than 10.

The FirePit has a couple of signature features, one being patented airflow technology. A motorized fan drives air to the fire box. You can also control it via an app on iOS or Android phones using Bluetooth. A mesh body lets you see flames through the FirePit from any angle as well. 

Battery life for the fan is good too, with up to 24 hours at the low setting, 10 hours on medium and 5 hours on high. The airflow technology also helps create an almost smoke-free fire. The FirePit's legs fold up when you want to take the grill on the go, plus the pit comes with a handy rain cover. A removable ash tray also makes cleaning up easy. 

In all, this is a compelling little fire pit for someone who doesn't want (or can't have) a permanent pit always always eating up patio space. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

This fire pit from Garden Treasures proves you don't need to spend big bucks to enjoy a backyard campfire. Despite its low price, this pit is nice and wide (29.5 inches in diameter). It also comes with a mesh lid to keep sparks at bay.

It lacks an advanced airflow system, however, so fires in this pit generate a lot of smoke. And its steel frame isn't stainless, so leaving the pit out in the elements will invite rust. That said, we were able to get a self-sustaining fire lit in about five minutes. Its performance is comparable to the ignition time of premium fire pits such as the Solo Stove Ranger and Tiki Brand Fire Pit. 

Those products burn their fuel more efficiently though, leaving less unconsumed firewood and ash to clean up in the morning. Still, the Garden Treasures pit does get the job done on a tight budget. 

Others we tested

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The Pop-Up Fire Pit is very portable but makes a lot of smoke.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Pop-Up Fire Pit

The most portable fire pit in this roundup is the Pop-Up Pit. Its collapsible design lets you assemble and break it down quickly. It also uses a heat shield so it won't scorch the ground below. The pit offers a large (2 feet square) burning surface for your fire, too. Since its frame is constructed from stainless steel, the Pop-Up Pit is rust-resistant. However, because the pit is so large and has low walls, it creates a lot of smoke. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

Solo Stove Ranger

Squat, cylindrical, compact, and made from stainless steel, the Solo Stove Ranger appears simple at first glance. Tucked away inside this pit though, is the same sophisticated airflow system that its larger sibling, the Solo Stove Yukon, has. The system is designed to enable fire in the pit to burn hotter and consume its wood fuel more completely.

We can confirm that the Ranger delivers on these promises. It starts fast, with its logs aflame in just five minutes, and it burns for hours. The fires we started in the Ranger also burned with incredible ferocity. The flames inside the pit focused into an impressive rolling vortex. Despite the conflagration, the Ranger emitted very little smoke.

The Ranger does have a few drawbacks. Its compact size also means it can't accept standard firewood logs (15 inches long). It's also not the best for large groups or families either. More than two people roasting marshmallows at once quickly becomes a crowd.

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The Kingso 22-inch fire pit is small and has poor airflow.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Kingso Outdoor Fire Pit (22-inch)

Though it's a best seller on Amazon, We don't recommend purchasing the Kingso Outdoor Fire Pit. Its small size (22 inches in diameter) feels cramped. And since airflow throughout the unit is poor, we consistently had difficulty both starting fires and keeping them lit inside this pit. It doesn't come with a protective cover either.

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The Hampton Bay Windgate 40-inch Dia Fire Pit is massive and built from heavy steel. Unfortunately it suffers from poor airflow so its flames often die out.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Hampton Bay Windgate 40-in. diameter round steel wood-burning fire pit

The Hampton Bay Windgate is by far the largest fire pit in this group. It has a massive 40-inch diameter fire bowl, roomy enough for big groups to gather around. Weighing in at a substantial 60 pounds and constructed from heavy-duty steel, it takes a lot of effort to set up the pit where you want it. Unfortunately, the Windgate suffers from poor ventilation. As a result, fires we started in the pit consistently died out in 15 to 20 minutes. That in turn makes it difficult to recommend this model. 

A good fire pit will ignite in minutes and stay lit for hours.

Brian Bennett/CNET

How we evaluated them

To test each fire pit, we used the same fuel, Simple Simon Premium Hardwood sourced from a local Lowe's hardware store. For the amount, we selected three split log lengths (roughly 15 inches long). We then stacked the logs together, so at least some portion of each was touching the others.

Diamond Strike a Fire

I used Diamond Strike-A-Fire fires starters to ignite these pits.

Brian Bennett/CNET

To ignite each pit, we used Diamond Strike-a-Fire fire starters available at our neighborhood Kroger supermarket. One of these starter matches is all we required to get each pit's fire burning (or it should be). We then logged how long it took to establish a fully sustained fire. 

A well-performing fire pit will fully ignite in five to 10 minutes. A pit with poor airflow and design will take a lot longer, or even flame out after 15 minutes no matter how well you've stacked your wood. Additionally, we made note of how much smoke escaped each pit. Ideally, a fire pit will generate a lot of flame and little smoke. A quality fire pit will also burn fuel efficiently, leaving little solid material remaining once its fire burns out naturally.

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