At the core of my soul, I want to hate BioLite’s FirePit+, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t my favorite gadget I’ve used this year.
You see, I’m a person who appreciates simplicity, and you don’t get any more simple than fire. You can essentially start one anywhere (not recommended), no fancy equipment required. So when it comes to firepits, my gut reaction is to favor the “it’s a firepit because there’s a circle of rocks on the ground” variety. Even the over-priced junk-steel firepits—the round kind that you can buy pretty much anywhere—feel preferable to anything fancier. God forbid someone introduce rechargeable batteries into the equation.
And then I tried the FirePit+.
At $250, it costs exactly $250 more than I spent putting rocks into a circle in my backyard, but having used it for several months now, I can say it’s easily worth that much or more. No other gadget I’ve used in recent memory has been as satisfying to use nor inspired my friends and family to rush out and spend some cash.
The BioLite FirePit+ (the company’s second-generation firepit) promises more than just toasted marshmallows and something to help you tell better ghost stories. At its heart is a small fan powered by a 12,800 mAh battery, which easily clips on and off one end of the firepit, and is meant to make starting a fire easier and—most importantly—keep the smoke out of your eyes. The fan box also includes two ports, one for charging the battery with a micro-USB cable and a standard USB port for charging your phone or whatever else.
Altogether, the FirePit+ is roughly the size of a medium-sized cooler and weighs about 20 pounds—hefty, but small and light enough to pack in the trunk for an overnight camping trip or a parking lot cookout at the ski slopes. Measuring about 17.5 inches long and around 7 inches wide (from the inside of the lip), the fire cavity (the actual pit part of the FirePit+) easily allows for standard-size (16-inch) logs, and there’s nothing stopping you from cramming some longer ones in there if you don’t mind them sticking out the top.
The long sides are made of attractive black metal mesh, so you can still see the flames inside, and it has handles on either end for portability. It also has four foldable legs, a log grate in the bottom to allow air all around the burning wood or charcoal, and a removable grate on top for grilling whatever you like.
The fan, which has four speeds, promises to all but eliminate the worst part of firepits: all that freakin’ smoke blowing in your face, no matter where around it you happen to sit. And it actually works! No, it doesn’t create a “smoke-free” fire—but it’s pretty darn close.
Here’s how the fan works: Levels 3 and 4, the highest fan speed settings, blow enough air into the fire cavity to give the flame ample oxygen to get going. Honestly, this feature is a little like magic: The fire starts so easily it makes you look like a goddamn Boy Scout. Even when the sticks and wood have been a bit damp, the fire was going nice and healthy within a matter of minutes. Levels 2 and 3 will keep a fire going strong while eliminating nearly all of the smoke. And level 1 lets the fire burn easily, but you’ll probably get a bit of smoke whirling around, mocking you.
Now, if you start a fire like me (using crumpled-up newspaper), the FirePit+ is not powerful enough to eliminate all the smoke during start-up—paper simply smokes way too much, even with the fan whirring at level 4. But once only wood is burning, I am continuously surprised by how very little smoke whirls around to pester me and my guests.
Mercifully, the FirePit+ does not screw around with companion apps or anything annoying like that. Instead, it sticks with tried-and-true buttons—or, rather, button. There’s just one. Press it once to start the fan, then click it again until you have the fan speed you want. Hold and press to turn it off. That’s it.
In terms of battery life, BioLite promises 30 hours on the lowest setting and 7 hours on the highest. When I attempted to conduct my own tests, I basically failed—the first time, I fell asleep before the fan shut off on level 4. The second time, I gave up after more than 7 hours had gone by and I needed to go to sleep. So, I don’t have any specific battery life figures to give you. But based on real use, I can say it has not in the past six months run out of battery while I’ve been enjoying some backyard flames. (Side note: Absolutely no one should use this thing exclusively set to level 4—you will just burn through an entire stack of logs because it acts like a freakin’ incinerator when the fan is set that high.) Most of the time, I had it set to level 2, which gave me enough juice for multiple hours-long outdoor get-togethers.
Beyond the basic FirePit+, BioLite also sells a few accessories, including a cast iron griddle that spans the top of the fire cavity, a BBQ lid, and a set of cooking utensils (knife, tongs, spatula), all of which the company included in the review kit I received (retail: $400, including the FirePit+). You don’t need any of this stuff to enjoy the FirePit+, but I will say it all came in handy during a camping trip this summer when I wanted to cook up some scrambled eggs and sausages for me and my friends in the morning.
There are only three things I dislike about the FirePit+. First, the downside to eliminating smoke is that it also reduces the amount of heat the fire emits to the sides. I admit I’m not 100% sure about the physics behind the smoke-reducing fan, but there is noticeably less warmth coming from the FirePit+ when the fan is set to anything above level 2. This doesn’t matter if you just have a fire going for ambiance. But during the winter months when we’re all hanging out exclusively outdoors because of the never-ending pandemic, heat becomes far more important—which just means you might want to stick to level 1 and endure a bit more smoke.
Second, I have to care about this thing, which is annoying. I have two other firepits, one that’s just some rocks in a circle, and the other is one of those aforementioned crappy circular pressed-steel ones that are everywhere now. Neither do I have to care about—I don’t bring them into the garage to ensure they don’t get rained on, nor do I fret when they show a little wear and tear. The FirePit+ is different—it’s nice. And while I’ve definitely left it out in the rain a few times without any consequence, it’s still a piece of equipment I feel the need to take care of, which bothers someone like me who doesn’t want the things I have to dictate my brain-space.
Third, it’s a little small. This is both a positive and a negative. Positive because it’s just the right size to make it portable while not being so small that you can’t make it your main firepit, especially if you have limited outdoor space. Negative because, well, sometimes you just want to make a big-ass bonfire—a real raging inferno—and this thing just ain’t gonna cut it. But that’s also not what it’s made for, so I can’t really dock the thing for not being the size of a small car, which is approximately how big I like my fires to be from time to time.
As I said, I didn’t want to like the FirePit+. But I truly do, despite myself. It’s portable, sturdy, and works better than I expected. It may not be 100% “smokeless”—but it’s far closer to smokeless than even BioLite itself promises. It’s held up well for months despite my haphazard care. In fact, it works so well and looks so good, both my friends and my brother got one for themselves after using it at my house. I’ve taken it on camping trips and set it up in my yard and on my deck. And while I can gripe about a loss of heat or the fact that I have to pop it in the garage or shed to protect it from the elements, sometimes that’s the price we have to pay to have nice things.