Wood-burning fire pits are the most basic and popular type, and many receive abundant and largely positive reviews. At their heart, they are simply a metal bowl for holding burning logs, but the most popular -- and safest models -- are also equipped with legs and a screen to keep the embers contained.
Among wood-burning fire pits, the Red Ember Bronze Crossweave Firebowl Fire Pit (Est. $170) looks to be a top choice. We found the most feedback at Hayneedle.com, where it earns an overall rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 following more than 825 reviews. Users overwhelmingly describe this squat bronze-toned steel bowl with its open basket-weave design as attractive, well built and easy to assemble. It is also very weather-resistant, though a few users complain that theirs rusted quickly -- sometimes in as little as one week. However, the staff at Hayneedle.com say that keeping the fire pit covered when not in use should prevent this problem. The Bronze Crossweave Firebowl comes with a PVC cover for this purpose, as well as a spark screen and a poker. There's also a grill grate, so the Red Ember fire pit can serve double duty as a barbeque grill.
The Landmann 28335 Big Sky Stars & Moons Fire Pit (Est. $110) is a little cheaper, and has a design that's a little more whimsical -- though whether that second point is a plus or minus depends upon your decorative preferences. As the description implies, in place of the classic basket-weave design, the Stars & Moon fire pit is adorned with punch outs of stars and crescent moons. The Landsman Big Sky series also includes the Landmann 28337 Big Sky Fire Pit, Wildlife, Georgia Clay (Est. $100), which features cuts outs of animals such as a moose, bear, fox and others, and the Landmann 28336 Big Sky Fire Pit Western (Est. $150), which features western-themed cutouts such as a steer skull, cowboy boot, and horse.
Other than styling, these fire pits are similar, and similarly well liked. The Landmann 28335 Big Sky Stars & Moons Fire Pit has accumulated more than 250 reviews at Amazon.com and an overall rating of 4.5 stars, while the Landmann 28337 Big Sky Fire Pit, Wildlife fire pit has a 4.6-star rating following more than 175 reviews. At Walmart.com, the Stars & Moons Fire Pit enjoys 4.7-star rating following more than 150 reviews and ratings, with 98 percent saying that they would recommend it to a friend.
Owners say this fire pit looks great and is lots of fun to use. They also like its large capacity, which makes building a decent, long-lasting fire easier. You also get a nice assortment of accessories, including agrill rack, spark guard and poker. The most common complaint about this otherwise sturdy fire pit is that its clay-colored finish wears off quickly, leaving the pit vulnerable to rust. A protective cover is available but costs an extra $25.
While wood-burning fire pits are inexpensive and versatile, gas fire pits have advantages of their own. Propane-fueled fire pits are easier to light than wood-burning models, they produce less smoke and soot, and you don't need to deal with the ash and debris that remain after the fire is extinguished. They can also produce quite a bit of heat -- some are rated to produce as many Btus as a propane patio heater. However, they tend to be quite a bit more expensive than wood-burning fire pits and are generally not portable, or even very easy to move around. Some, especially stone fire pits, are designed to be permanently installed on your patio.
Among gas-fueled fire pits, the Blue Rhino GAD860SP (Est. $540) looks to be a good choice. The fire pit's fire bowl is surrounded by an attractive multi-shade slate-tile mantle, while the rustic open latticework housing does a great job of hiding the propane tank. It's supplied with lava rocks and realistic-looking cement logs for a traditional wood-burning-fire look rather than the more modern look of fire glass that's found with many competing models. Many owners report that the GAD860SP puts out a good amount of heat and it's rated at 41,000 Btu.
Users say the GAD860SP, which is sold under both the Blue Rhino and Uniflame brands, is as convenient to use as it is beautiful to look at. It features a battery-operated electronic ignitor for safe, reliable starts and a slide-out tray to make changing the propane tank easier.
Feedback is generally strong. At Amazon.com, it draws a 4.3-star rating following more than 200 reviews. Satisfaction at Walmart.com, where this fire pit is sold as the UniFlame GAD860SP, is higher still -- 4.6 stars after more than 500 reviews and ratings, with 96 percent saying that they would recommend the fire pit to a friend. The UniFlame GAD860SP draws solid feedback as well at HomeDepot.com. Of course, not every user is happy. Some users find the GAD860SP incredibly difficult to assemble. We also saw a smattering of complaints that it produces too much smoke and soot, just as if it were burning real wood.
While most propane fire pits are anything but portable, the Heininger 5995 Portable Propane Outdoor Fire Pit (Est. $120) is quite the opposite. At a weight of just 22 pounds (not including the required propane tank), it's marketed specifically as a portable solution for tailgating, picnics, camping and more. Though it's not very large -- just 19-inches across -- it's rated to put out 58,000 Btu of heat. Though it resembles a wood-burning fire pit like the ones above, it can't double as a grill for cooking. The Heininger 5995 comes complete with a hose and regulator, as well as decorative rocks. The propane tank is not included. A protective cover is available as an option (Est. $40).
User feedback is almost uniformly positive. At Amazon.com it gets a 4.8 star rating following around 360 reviews. Most grant it a perfect score, and less than 10 owners rate it less than 4 stars. At HomeDepot.com, user satisfaction is similar -- 4.7 stars out of 5 following more than 40 reviews, with 100 percent saying that they would recommend this portable propane fire pit to a friend.
Elsewhere in this report:
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Buying Guide: Can't decide between a fire pit or a patio heater, or what type of fire pit or patio heater is best? Our editors discuss the key things to consider to help you find what's right for you.
Our Sources: These are the experts and user review sites we consulted to find the best fire pits and patio heaters. They are ranked in the order of their helpfulness.