By J. Herwick
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After a bit of experience with portable propane fire pits over the years, I've picked up a few things I think are key (with some being non-negotiable, in my opinion) when choosing a gas fire pit you can move easily take with you on the road.
I usually start with safety and durability and then work my way into the finer points of a fire pit or fire pit-related product as the process progresses. Without these two qualities, there's no point in looking at a product any further.
Let's take a look and see who I think is at the top of the market and what I look for when choosing a portable propane fire pit.
The Outland Firebowl 870 Premium is my top pick for the best portable propane fire pit currently on the market. With a 19-inch diameter bowl rated at 58,000 BTUs per hour, it's one of few at its price point with an auto-ignition starter.
Read on for more on what makes this portable gas fire pit so good and an additional recommendation if you are looking for more options.
Outland Firebowl 870 Portable Propane Fire Pit
Outland Living's extensive portable propane firebowl line is very well-regarded in the backyard fire pit and recreational vehicle (RV) space, with the Outland Firebowl 870 (see at Amazon) as a leader in that space, particularly from a construction and value standpoint.
Let's talk about the Outland 870's features, which are important to me when choosing a portable gas fire pit.
Diameter: 19-in. Most portable gas fire pits come in a diameter range between 19 and 21 inches (Outland does have one model outside this range, the 883, at 24 inches in diameter).
I chose the Outland 870 because its 19-in diameter adds to its portability factor, making it both lighter and easier to store when transporting it in a vehicle.
Weight: 25 lbs. The 870 comes in on the heavy side compared to the majority of 19-inch portable propane fire pits, but the additional weight is a feature of its more solid construction compared to lesser models.
Slightly cheaper fire pits will keep weight down to keep costs down, but durability may suffer. However, most fire pits in this range come at around 22 lbs. So the additional weight of the Outland 870 doesn't move the needle much in the long run.
BTU Rating: 58,000 BTUs/hour. The Outland 870 is rated at 58,000 BTUs, which is on the high end in the portable propane fire pit market and part of what makes this and other Outland fire pits such a good value.
Most 19-inch portable gas fire pits are either at 58,000 BTUs or less. Without getting too technical, the number of BTUs a gas fire pit has is related to the amount of heat it puts out in an hour, so the higher, the better.
|A little more on BTUs… According to the U.S. Department of Energy Information Administration, “a British thermal unit (Btu) is a measure of the heat content of fuels or energy sources. It is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit at the temperature at that water has its greatest density (approximately 39 degrees Fahrenheit).|
Energy or heat can be used to compare energy sources or fuels equally. Fuels can be converted from physical units of measure (such as weight or volume) to a common unit of measurement of the energy or heat content of each fuel. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) uses Btu as a unit of energy content.”
Bottom line: the more BTUs your propane fire pit has, the more heat it puts out per hour.
Safety Features: The Outland 870 has three specific safety features I look for in a portable propane fire pit.
Note: these features are common in other Outland Living gas fire pits (with slight variances), which is one of the main reasons I chose an Outland model as my best pick. However, many non-Outland models lack these features, so I tend to rule them out when making recommendations.
- A lower profile – The 870 is one of the lowest profile propane fire pits (11 inches tall) in Outland Living's portable line, except for the 873 Cypress (9.25 inches) and the 893 Deluxe (10.5 inches).
It is also lower in height than most 19-inch propane fire pits made by other manufacturers. With this low height comes a lower center of gravity, meaning the fire pit is more tip-resistant.
- A ring base (no legs) – When it comes to portable propane fire pits, I want the unit supported by a ring base, not one with legs.
Even with a low center of gravity, particularly one aided by the weight of a few pounds of lava rock, fire pits with legs are more prone to tipping. As a result, legs can get stuck in ruts or small holes you may not see.
If that happens, the fire pit could tip.
Most portable gas fire pits today have a ring base like the Outland 870, and I recommend that feature in every case.
A ring base provides 360 degrees of even contact with the surface the fire pit is sitting on. Along with a low profile, the ring base adds an extra degree of safety and a reduced risk of tipping.
- A longer 20 lb propane tank hose – The Outland 870 is equipped with a 10-foot tank hose, the minimum length you should expect in a portable gas fire pit. Some competing propane fire pit models have a tank hose close to half that size, typically between 5 and 6 feet in length.
A longer hose will allow you to position the fire pit propane tank away from the immediate seating area and still have enough slack to lay flat and provide some “give” if someone's foot hooks it while stepping over it. Anything less than 10 feet is too short.
Ease of Starting: The Outland 870 features automatic ignition, a feature rarely found in portable propane fire pits; starting is relatively simple. No matches or lighter are needed.
Accessories Included: This is where Outland shines, in my opinion. Each Outland Living 870 comes with a metal cover and a carry kit that attaches to the bottom of the fire pit for transport.
The 870 includes 4.4 lbs of lava rock and a propane tank stabilizer ring to keep the tank upright when the fire pit is in use.
One thing, though, and this is common with portable gas fire pits, the Outland 870 does not come with the standard 20 lb. propane tank.
I recommend using a tank exchange service like Blue Rhino or Amerigas instead of buying your tank. You'll get a full, leak-tested, refinished tank every time you need one. Just my 2¢.
By the way, you should get between 7 to 11 hours per 20 lb. propane tank, depending on how high you set the Outland 870's flame.
Just a few parting shots on the Outland Living 870 Premium (link to Amazon); I recommend this particular portable propane fire pit because it's pretty much the complete package.
It's well made, compact, and lightweight and puts out a lot of heat. It hits all my markers on safety, is easy to get started, and comes with handy accessories. All of this at the 870's price point is hard to beat.
Outland Firebowl 863 Cypress Portable Propane Fire Pit
If you are looking for a portable propane fire pit just about as good as the Outland 870, but just a little bigger, the Outland 863 Cypress (see at Amazon) with a 21-inch diameter might be a good fit.
The Outland 863, while having a 2-inch larger diameter than its little brother, the 870, has a lower profile at 9.5 inches and weighs only one lb. more.
Let's check out the Outland Living 863 Cypress…
Diameter: 21-in. Two inches larger in diameter than the Outland 870
Weight: 26 lbs. As mentioned, the Cypress is only one lb. heavier than the 870, and that's with a larger diameter bowl
BTU Rating: 58,000 BTUs/hour. The same level of heat output per hour as the Outland 870
- Like the Outland 870, the 863 Cypress has a low profile (lower than the 870, as mentioned), and that's a good thing concerning safety. Lower profile, better stability, lower risk of tipping.
- Also, like the 870, the 863 is supported by a ring base, a safety plus, as I mentioned before especially combined with the fire pit's low center of gravity.
- Finally, as with all Outland Living portable gas fire pits, the 863 has a 10-foot propane tank regulator hose which, as I mentioned before, should be the minimum length you should demand in a portable propane fire pit to reduce trip hazards and fire pit tip-overs.
Ease of Starting: The Outland 863 Cypress is started manually, meaning lit with a lighter or match.
Even with manual lighting, the 863 is easy to get started with the lighter and a simple (slow) turn of the unit's flame height knob after the propane has been turned on.
If you've ever manually lit a gas grill before, it's pretty much the same routine.
Accessories Included: Like all Outland portable propane fire pits, the 863 Cypress comes with a cover and carry kit, 4.4 lbs of fire pit lava rock, and a 20 lb propane tank stabilizer ring.
Like my top pick, the Outland Living 870, the Outland Living 863 Cypress (link to Amazon) has just about the same features, with the only significant difference being the larger diameter.
It is unique from other Outland firebowls because it uses what the company calls a Helios burner.
Unlike the usual square design in most Outland portable fire pits, this circular burner has additional “rungs” in the middle that have been added to produce a stronger, more even flame.
With a larger diameter, similar performance and safety features as the 870, and the same set of accessories, the 863 Cypress is a great choice if you are looking for a slightly larger portable propane fire pit for not much more money.
For more on the Outland Living 863 Cypress, check out my buyer's guide for the best fire pits for decks.
Here's a quick vid of the Outland Living 863 Cypress in action.
The Bond Aurora Portable Propane Fire Pit
I've included the Bond Aurora portable gas fire pit because it is a solid performer at a value price relative to the other options on the market in the 19-inch diameter or similar category.
From a heat standpoint, the Bond Aurora (see it on Amazon) comes in slightly lower than the Outland options, but at 54,000 BTUs, it's not too far off.
The Aurora fire pit's general design takes its cues from the Outland models, but its “fit and finish” is not quite as solid.
At its price, though, these differences are negligible if you are in the market for a less expensive but well-performing portable propane fire pit.
Let's take a closer look at the Bond Aurora…
Diameter: 19-in. The Bond Aurora portable gas fire pit, like the Outland 870, comes in a 19-in. diameter configuration.
Weight: 18 lbs. One area where the Bond Aurora stands out is with regard to weight. Coming in at 18 lbs., Aurora is significantly lighter than the two Outland models mentioned above.
While generally considered a benefit, I attribute the lower weight to the manufacturer's economizing on the materials used to build the fire pit.
Don't get me wrong; it's still solid, but not as solid as the Outland options.
BTU Rating: 54,000 BTUs/hour. Aurora's BTU rating is slightly less than the Outland models, but the 4,000 BTU difference will be hard to notice in the long run.
- At just over 14.5 inches in height, the Aurora has a noticeable height difference compared to the other fire pit models discussed.
I don't think the extra height represents a danger per see, but I tend to err on the side of caution and go for models with a lower profile over tipping concerns.
- Because the Bond Aurora does have a ring base as opposed to legs, I think the tip-over risk is minimal even with a higher profile.
- The Aurora comes with a 10-foot propane tank regulator hose like the Outland models.
Ease of Starting: One surprise with this portable gas fire pit is that it has auto-ignition. The reason it's surprising is that most portable propane fire pits don't have it as a feature, especially models at this price point.
That said, I wouldn't count on the starter lasting two to three years. Starters on expensive fire pits and grills tend not to last or work well for long so I wouldn't expect much from this model's starter.
As I mentioned before, manual lighting is easy and safe as long as you follow the manufacturer's directions for your particular fire pit model.
Accessories Included: The Bond Aurora portable gas fire pit comes with a locking metal lid, fire pit lava rock, and a propane tank stabilizer ring.
Little details like this make this fire pit a good value. If you have a propane tank on standby, you can start this one just out of the box without buying anything additional.
The Bond Aurora (link to Amazon) is a basic portable propane fire pit. For its price, it's made well enough to hold up for a few years if properly taken care of.
While not as rugged as many of its higher-priced competitors, this fire pit heats well, is designed with safety in mind, and comes with several accessories that many more expensive fire pits don't come with.
If you are considering a value fire pit for light backyard or campsite use, this model may be a good fit for you.
In my opinion, my top pick, the Outland 870 Premium, is just the right balance of build, performance, portability, safety, and value.
Throw in an almost complete set of accessories (a cover, a carrying harness, a propane tank stabilizer ring, and almost 5 lbs. of fire pit lava rock and you've got a definite winner at an affordable price.
The other two options provide the additional size in one case, the 21-inch diameter Outland 863, and a well-constructed value option in the other, the 19-inch diameter Bond Aurora.
Hopefully, all three options I mentioned here offer readers an option aligned with their tastes and lifestyle.
As always, thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have any questions or comments about anything covered in this article or anywhere else on the site at john @backyardtoasty.com
What is a CSA-certified fire pit?
First, let's talk about what the CSA is. According to their site, the CSA, or Canadian Standards Organization, is,
“a global organization dedicated to safety, social good, and sustainability. We are a leader in Standards Development and in Testing, Inspection, and Certification around the world including Canada, the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Our mandate is to hold the future to a higher standard.”– Canadian Standards Organization (CSA)
In the outdoor living space, the CSA, working with organizations in the U.S like the American National Standards Institute, ANSI, and other standards organizations internationally, develops safety standards for residential outdoor patio products such as grills, fire pits, patio heaters, etc.
Additionally, they perform safety and reliability tests on these products and issue warnings/recalls when they discover a problem with a particular product.
When a product is tested and judged to have met the CSA standards for reliability and safety in their lab, they will formally issue their certification.
Look for the symbols below on your fire pit product to know if it is CSA–certified. The symbol on the left is for gas-fueled products in the U.S., and the symbol on the right is for gas-fueled products in Canada.
Can you use a propane fire pit on a balcony?
Technically, you can use a propane fire pit on a balcony. However, you will need to check state and local fire safety laws governing gas fire pit use on balconies and other structures before doing so.
You should also check with your community's homeowner's association (HOA) or property manager. The apartment/condo may restrict balcony fire pit use above and beyond state and local ordinances.
For more, check out my article on staying out of trouble with the law and safely using a fire pit on a balcony (if you can do so legally) or picking the right fire pit for a deck.