What is camping without a fire? If you’ve ever spent a relaxing night outside without the warm crackle and hypnotic dance of flame, you know. It is not the same. It’s just sleeping on the ground.
And if you’ve ever spent much time running rivers and exploring out West, you know the lengths you’ll go to avoid this cold and dark overnight downgrade. However, the challenges to this most basic and cherished camp luxury are many. Whether it’s land management restrictions in sensitive forests, or regulations on permitted sections of protected rivers, you can’t always have your s’mores and roast them too.
If you do want to make fires beyond the confines of a campsite fire ring, most managed lands and wilderness regulations require the use of fire pan. Often that means figuring how to haul along a bulky steel apparatus that’s as much of a pain in the ass to rig as it is to clean. Fortunately, the folks at Fireside Outdoor have completely rethought a camp essential that has long gone ignored. The result is the Pop-Up Fire Pit. It makes a portable fire pan a much simpler proposition for any multi-day trip, whether it’s loading it in a raft or canoe for the long haul, or tossing it in the car for an impromptu excursion or night out at the beach.
I got a chance to test one out on an overnight canoe trip this fall down the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. The first, most obvious attribute worth note is size and weight. Loading it in the canoe was simple—the same as adding another breakdown camp chair or roll-top table—with comparable packed-up dimensions and weight. In camp, the pit’s lightweight aluminum four-legged base extends out the same as a standard camp chair as well, topped by a fine stainless-steel mesh sheet that creates a 24-by-24-inch surface. This basic two-piece setup (that you could use for lighter travel) weighs a mere 3.2 pounds. I added the ember guard rails and the Heat Shield/ash guard, which tops weight at 8 pounds. I also used the corner risers, which hold the added-option Tri-Fold Grill grate.
Though it seems a little odd to have an elevated fire, the mesh creates an efficient burning platform that holds up to 125 pounds of wood. The company line on the design is that the added airflow allows fires to “burn brighter with 80 percent less smoke.” I believe it. And I certainly got coals red-hot and ready for cooking faster than normal—though there’s not much travel to the grill height. That means you need to burn logs down quite a bit, spreading coals wide to cook. See photo below for reference on the height off the mesh where the grill grate (not pictured) lies.
When the sun was back out, the pit had cooled long ago. (The aluminum dissipates heat surprisingly fast.) There was hardly any ash to deal with. This is where I was convinced of the system’s burning efficiency. The mesh cleaned up easy and then all rolled up around the packed-down frame. Left no trace.
As I tossed it back in the canoe, I knew I’d bring it along again as a key addition to my camping kit—one that allows anyone to bring your own campfire, and thus customize where you want your fire, without scarring the land.
[$119 with Heat Shield, firesideoutdoor.com]
— See more staff reviews of outdoor grilling products with a First Look at the Traeger Compact Portable Ranger
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