What is a Fire Pit? – The evolution of the humble campfire

About the Author: Hi, I’m Chris I run this website! This information is stated as personal opinion for our circumstances and does not constitute advice, professional or otherwise, to you and your circumstances. By visiting and using this website, you accept and agree to be bound by our Disclaimer along with our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy posted on the website. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

A fire pit can simply be a makeshift hole in the ground or it can be as elaborate as a raised marble fire table on your patio. Most campers will create a makeshift fire pit in the ground. On the other hand, most homeowners will want a raised fire pit that can blend in well with their outdoor landscaping theme.

So, a fire pit or campfire can be anything that contains a fire and ensures it’s safe and under control.

The most complex fire pits are designed to increase the efficiency of the fire, including allowing added oxygen in under the fire to fuel the fire’s combustion reaction.

A controlled fire is usually also used for an additional functional purpose like heat, gathering people together, or cooking and grilling.

By some estimates, humans have controlled fire for well over 1 million years [1]. It’s in our blood to enjoy gathering around a fire and staring into its mystical dance. And just like our ancestors, we love to create a space to burn a fire and sit around it to share stories or just enjoy nature in silence.

Types of Fire Pits

Here are seven types of fire pits to consider: 

1. The Hole-in-the-Ground Campfire

The hole in the ground campfire is the sort of campfire you might create if you’re out camping in the wilderness. To create one of these campfires, simply dig a shallow hole in the ground about 2 feet in diameter. You could even find a natural dip in the landscape and use it as your fire pit.

The benefit of digging this ‘pit’ is that it allows the fire to burn with less interference from the wind. The hole allows wind and breeze to pass overhead without stoking the fire too much. So, it’s a nice safety measure.

But hole-in-the-ground campfires certainly have their disadvantages.

You need to make sure you’ve found a space where there is no grass or surrounding debris that could allow the fire to spread beyond your control. So, you need the right sort of terrain.

Having the fire underground can also limit the amount of oxygen flowing into the fire. These makeshift pits also don’t have grates, meaning their airflow (and burn quality) is much poorer than more elaborate pits.

And lastly, these fires need to be put out thoroughly before you go to bed at night – make sure all the embers are out and the fire pit is cool to the touch so a sudden wind will not cause the fire to re-ignite during the night. 

2. The Stone Lined Campfire

A stone-lined campfire is more common in a location that is frequented by campers. These campfire spots usually start as a simple hole in the ground, but become more elaborate over time.

The first step-up you’ll want to make from a hole-in-the-ground type of campfire is to gather stones to place in a circle around the fire. This helps prevent ember from blowing out of the fire pit and causing a secondary spot fire. It can also minimize the impact of wind on the fire, allowing it to burn more smoothly.

3. Dakota Fire Pits

The Dakota fire pit is a campfire that is dug into the ground. Unlike your regular hole-in-the-ground campfire, this fire pit is usually dug a few feet into the ground. It then has an additional tunnel dug in the side that funnels air from the outside into the fire.

Because fires are hungry for oxygen, the fire will suck air through the secondary tunnel to fuel itself.

The Dakota fire pit’s secondary tunnel allows the fire to burn much more smoothly and efficiently. The fire has a lot more oxygen to breathe, which reduces smoke and increases the heat intensity of the fire.

4. The Steel Walled Campfire

These are the sorts of campfires that you’ll tend to see at campfire grounds all around North America. They’re a simple steel drum, which often have a campfire cooking grate placed over top for grilling. These are cheap and can be bought in bulk to be placed around a camping ground.

The nice thing about these steel walled campfire pits is that you can usually lift the cooking grate to allow the fire to burn with or without the grate in place.

5. The Portable Fire Pit

A portable fire pit is great for back country campers. It’s designed to be lightweight and mobile so you can carry it to and from your campground. Once camping is over, you can pack it up and haul it back out with you.

Portable fire pits have an advantage over campfires when you need to do ‘leave no trace’ camping. Many national parks and wilderness areas these days ban simple ground-based campfires because they can cause damage to the ground and are likely to lead to secondary spot fires than portable fire pits.

A portable fire pit stands a few inches off the ground. The bowl where the fire burns is usually walled to contain the fuels. You’ll usually want to put wood inside these products only – accelerants like fire starters and gasoline can damage the materials.

You’ll want to get one that’s easy to construct and deconstruct and light to carry. You can even get some that fit snugly in a backpack.

6. The Raised Wood Burning Fire Pit

These last two types of fire pits are the sorts of ones you’d likely find in your backyard.

They’re designed to be permanent structures. They usually cohere with your outdoor landscaping theme, and can be the feature item in a well-designed backyard.

First is the raised wood burning pit. These outdoor fire pits often rise about 2 feet from the ground, stand on steel or marble legs, and have large bowls in the center.

Something we like about permanent fire pit structures is they usually come with an ember guard lid to prevent fire spread. This is simply a mesh lid that covers the fire bowl, so you can still see and feel the warmth of your fire, but nothing can blow out.

7. The Gas Fire Pit

Gas burning fire pits are most common on people’s patios. This is because they don’t burn as hot and cause far less mess. You can usually burn a gas fire pit on a wooden deck without causing damage to the deck – a hug pro of these pits!

But gas pits also have their downsides.

The biggest one for us is that it just doesn’t feel like a real fire. We like to poke and prod at our fire. We like to add wood and tend to the fire, then watch it crackle and burn down to embers. But a gas pit just burns steady and consistent, with no crackling or sparkling.

You’ll also need to remember to keep your propane tank full so you don’t run out of fuel for the fire pit.

Why do I need a Fire Pit?

In the past campfires were a necessity for life. They were used for warmth and cooking.

But today we use campfires for recreation. In a way, it’s a nostalgic return to a past world free from technology or distractions of the 21st Century.

If you’re a camper, you’ll probably want to get a portable fire pit with a grilling grate so you have something to gather around at night and grill your meals with confidence. If you’re a homeowner, a more permanent fire pit on your patio (gas is best) or the yard itself can help create a great atmosphere for outdoor entertaining. 

Final Thoughts

We LOVE to go camping and we love a good fire. Staring into that twinkling fire as it dwindles down to coals and embers is too much fun to miss out on! For us, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hole in the ground or elaborate marble fire pit, if it’s a fire, we’re there! But a fire pit’s a great idea if you want to cook and enjoy fires with safety and confidence.

Sources

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_of_fire_by_early_humans