Try out a propane campfire when burning wood just won’t do

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By Greg Illes

Let’s face it — a wood campfire is the ultimate outdoor experience in so many ways. The dancing flames, flickering light and smoky aroma all bring out the caveman in us. We feel soothed, safe, warmed and Zen’d all at the same time.


But what about those times and places where burning a pile of wood isn’t going to work so well? Maybe there’s no wood to be had or (most often these drought-ridden days) open fires are simply not allowed. There’s even that lazy camper problem, where it’s just a bit too much trouble to prepare the fire ring, split some wood, arrange the kindling and get the pesky thing going. Then there’s the specter of putting it out, thoroughly and safely, when fire-time is over. Precious water is needed to extinguish a fire properly and safely.

When you really would like a half hour by the fire but circumstances are against it, try out a propane campfire. We resisted doing this for several years (who wants a “fake” campfire?), but finally bought one — and were surprised at how pleasant a fire it makes.

There are many brands, and because we didn’t know for sure if we’d like it, we bought a cheap one for $80 on Amazon. It came with lava rocks (most do), and makes an okay fire which we use as our “backup” or “quickie” campfire. We added ceramic logs in place of some of the lava rocks, and that definitely gives it better aesthetics.

Using the unit is a snap: We just hook up the hose to a 10-pound propane bottle and turn on the valve. Poof! — instant campfire. The flames flicker and dance, and the rocks and logs glow red-hot. We can use a poker or fire tongs to adjust the position of the rocks and logs and “fiddle” with the fire as some folks love to do. We can even roast marshmallows over it (but DO NOT let them drop into the rocks — it’s messy).

When fire-time is over, we just turn off the valve. No smoke, no steam, no drenching with scarce water supplies. Let it cool off, put it back in its carry-pack and stow it. It uses about 1/2 gallon of propane per hour on high, half of that on low.

For the purists out there — No, of course it’s not as good as a real wood campfire. But it does absolutely beat NO campfire, hands down.

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.

photo: F. A. Mac Donald, wikipedia/public domain

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Thomas Becher

My wife has terrible allergies to smoke so we avoid campfires like the plague. The campfire in a can suits us perfectly and still get to do sm’mores. Hook right up to the gas line on the fifth wheel where the grill plugs in.

Tony Sauer

We have the Campfire in a Can model and albeit small, it is a nice substitute for a real fire. The propane fires don’t put out nearly the heat as wood fires, but they are nice when you can’t burn wood or want a quick outdoor fire