Wednesday, November 29, 2023


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

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 open fires are simply not allowed. Or you don’t want to smoke out your neighbors. 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 an inexpensive one 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




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John Goodell (@guest_115420)
2 years ago

I’ve been all over the country in the past 10 years and there are a lot of states, towns, or campgrounds that won’t allow wood fires but allow propane. So often there is no other choice.

John Goodell (@guest_115421)
2 years ago
Reply to  John Goodell

And we love our propane fire pit.

Tom Mason (@guest_115413)
2 years ago

Think about all the clothing ,rugs,chairs,etc. that don’t get ruined from ember’s popped on them.

Donald N Wright (@guest_115408)
2 years ago

I guess there is no smoke to irritate the campground ?

Linda (@guest_115458)
2 years ago

That’s right.

Andrea (@guest_115398)
2 years ago

In 30+ years of camping we never had a wood campfire, not our thing for a number of reasons, though we both know how to build them. Good thing, between asthma, allergies, and such, I have to retreat inside when any smoke, wildfire or campfire, gets too thick.
We are often camping with fire bans, and some place we go prohibit ground fires.
A few years ago, we bought the small Little Red Campfire. We used it at first with the 1# canisters, given our tow vehicle of the time. Now, we take an extra 20# propane tank. LRC is nice, and it has warmed up our outside sitting area, especially if we have wind walls up on our shade/rain canopy. (The awning on our TT is pretty much useless.)

littleleftie (@guest_115379)
2 years ago

We bought one from Costco a couple of years back. Don’t know what was wrong with it but our entire propane tank iced up and the fire was lacklustre at best. Took it back and got a refund. Haven’t thought of trying another one after that.

Any ideas on what was wrong with it???—our propane tank worked fine on the bbq, so not likely to have been it as the problem.

Steve (@guest_89163)
3 years ago

We have had one for several years for the convenience, but also to help spread tree disease. People think I can bring wood and no one will care – well I DO!. The US is loosing several species of trees because of disease and bugs brought in from other countries.

I say get a propane fire pit. They are quick easy, take little space and are environmentally friendly.

Bill Langton (@guest_88854)
3 years ago

We LOVE our propane campfire pit! We too have added ceramic logs and can create a very realistic looking fire. I particularly like it for the reasons mentioned in the article – easy to deploy and stow, little cleanup, safer and can be used here in the west when actual campfire restrictions are in place for months at a time!

Drew (@guest_88844)
3 years ago

We got the Camp Chef Redwood years ago with a small 21/2 gal. gas bottle. Even on high it goes for about 4 or 5 hours. It came with 4 sturdy hot dog/burger forks with wooden handles that we’ve used a few times. Very happy with it.

Ce Ce (@guest_88839)
3 years ago

We have had great success with our homemade fire pot. We found instructions on Youtube. All it takes is an old soup pot or dutch oven with a cover, corrugated cardboard for a wick, and melted wax from old candles. The pot remains cool on the bottom and is easily extinguished by covering with the lid. It is compact and lightweight and gives off a surprising amount of warmth. We add wax when burning by placing a pillar candle in the flames to melt. We’ve had this pot for two years now.

Brenda G (@guest_88837)
3 years ago

A “thumbs up” 👍 to the Outland Firebowl 870 ….. came with carry handle and storage bag on Amazon & under $100. Also purchased a small propane tank for portability, if needed or wanted, away from personal campsite. Now if only someone could just invent a way to make it smell like it’s burning wood. 😁

Chris (@guest_89424)
3 years ago
Reply to  Brenda G

Doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon, and all the other Outland Fire Bowls are over $300!

Ralph Pinney (@guest_88824)
3 years ago

This is a great alternative to a wood fire and would be welcomed widely, IMO.
In our full-timing travels I have witnessed so many smoke factories people call campfires. Its obnoxious at the least and detrimental for people with respiratory issues. If you can’t build a campfire that minimizes smoke call a boy scout.
Moreover, after a couple of hours, many people just go inside their rig and leave the ‘campfire’ smoldering and smoking even worse.
I enjoy a good wood fire with the rest, but I do not appreciate the ‘fire-building’ challenged out there.

Pat (@guest_88807)
3 years ago

Unfortunately, Campfire in a Can is no longer available. I would love to know some of the other brands RVers are using.

LiVan_Life (@guest_88819)
3 years ago
Reply to  Pat

Bought ours from Amazon earlier this year, Outland Firebowl 823, and loved it the few times we used it before it got a tad too warm.

Sylvie (@guest_88829)
3 years ago
Reply to  LiVan_Life

We too have an Outland fire bowl. Just LOVE it! We never build a wood fire anymore!

Marie Dalzell (@guest_88804)
3 years ago

We love our propane fire ring! It’s usually just the two of us camping and it’s frankly, easier. We still make s’mores and it looks great. It’s a win-win for us.

Thomas Becher (@guest_48851)
4 years ago

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 (@guest_48737)
4 years ago

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

Sylvie (@guest_88830)
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Sauer

Our Outland puts out plenty of heat. Maybe it depends on the brand you buy.

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