by Scott Ammerman
Quadratec Channel Correspondent
There’s something about a fire that always boosts the camaraderie of an outdoor activity. Whether you’re overnight camping way out in the wilderness, or just unwinding after a cold weather bike ride or kayak trip, warming up by a fire is a great way to have a few drinks with your friends and talk about the good times. It's not a coincidence that this exact scene is depicted in so many beer commercials.
You just can’t beat the sound and smell of a crackling wood fire. Of course, you need to have access to firewood, a safe place to build your fire and enough time for the fire to extinguish before you change locations. Based on where you are, having a wood campfire could simply be inconvenient—or even prohibited.
The Heininger Automotive 58,000 BTU Portable Propane Outdoor Fire Pit adds a little more wiggle room to these moments, allowing you to throw down a fire with very little notice, thus giving you more time to spend with friends around that fire. It is also legal at many beaches, and during most campfire bans (you may be required to secure a permit in some locations).
Hey, you can even use the Heininger Portable Propane Outdoor Fire Pit for tailgating. The surface below the pit barely gets warm, so you could even use it on a wood-decked surface without fear of scorching the material. In about 20-30 minutes, the fire pit will cool down enough to be put away, giving you quite a bit more ‘fire flexibility’ than you get from a real wood fire. How much wood would a wood fire w—oh, never mind.
Of course, the amount of propane you bring along is going to determine how long your fire lasts. Since I’m usually almost fully loaded on outdoor expeditions, I opted to mount a 5 lb. Manchester propane cylinder using a Power Tank Mounting Bracket for 5 lb. Manchester Propane Tanks outside the passenger compartment on the end of the accessory arm on my Hyline OffRoad Swing Away Tire Carrier RotopaX Mounting Bracket.
Power Tank makes several brackets to work with propane tanks from various manufacturers. The 5 lb. Manchester one I am using is on the lower end of the size scale, but they go up from that to several options in the 10-11 lb. range.
From right to left, this is a size comparison of a 5 lb. Manchester, an 11 lb. Flame King and a 20 lb. full-sized tank. If every pound counts for your setup, they even sell a 10 lb. capacity aluminum tank with a special bracket that weighs about the same as my 5 lb. steel tank, but holds twice the propane.
I already own this tank, and it perfectly fits the space between the passenger side tail light and my 37” BF Goodrich spare without blocking much additional rear visibility. This bracket is also compatible with the PowerTank Roll Bar Clamps , if roll bar mounting is better for your setup. Proper ventilation is still advised for best safety practices. We’ll talk more on this bracket in a bit.
Since Power Tank’s propane tank brackets are designed to mount to any flat surface, you could find another mount or rack solution to work with any of these brackets by using a little ingenuity.
With an adapter, this setup can also be used with any camp stove or heater that uses the 1 lb. disposable green canisters, which I’ve always felt bad about having to recycle after a single use. With five times the fuel capacity of those little guys, a $6 fill at my local propane place will last me more than a weekend of use. Based on where you travel, there could be some tunnel restrictions on propane tank transportation to be aware of, but generally speaking, a tank this small that is fully disconnected from propane appliances is acceptable.
Inside the box you will find the fire pit itself with a 10’ hose and integrated regulator, as well as several bags of lava rocks, a 20-30 lb. tank stabilizing ring and owners manual.
Initial setup is straightforward, but I do have a few tips that I came across online that will make things a little better during transportation.
First, open the two bags marked ‘M’ and set them on a flat surface. The lava rocks can be a bit dusty or have loose bits attached, so blowing them off with some compressed air is a good way to keep things clean inside your fire pit during transportation.
Arrange both bags of the medium rocks in the fire bowl—precise placement isn’t totally essential, just attempt to cover as much space as possible in the outer ring.
Then clean and distribute the L/G bag of rocks.
The last bag of rocks is labeled ‘Spare Rocks’ and I think you can probably figure out their purpose. I put mine in a safe place so I will absolutely not remember where they are when I need them. In fact, at this time, I can’t tell you where they are. Don’t be like me.
Connecting the propane tank is simple, and requires no tools. It works just like your standard BBQ grill. Leak testing is recommended when new, and again once per year to make sure there are no issues with the hose and regulator assembly. Leak testing is best performed by slowly opening the valve on the tank, and spraying a mild soapy solution on the full length of hose and all the fittings to watch for escaping gas. The process only takes a few minutes, and is well worth the time.
As for operation, the slow operation of the valve on top of your propane tank is essential. With the modern OPD (overfill prevention device) equipped tanks, releasing too much pressure at once will cause the internal valve to close until you completely shut the valve off again. There is an audible click when this occurs.
Once you open the valve about half a turn (without hearing the protection device engage), you can turn the valve on the fire pit to the light position. Quickly light the escaping gas while keeping your hands outside of the fire pit bowl. A stick lighter or long match is recommended for safety.
Once lit, you may set the flame to the desired level. Immediately after starting, the flame may be lower than if the fire pit has been running a while.
Of course, you could always run the Heininger Fire Pit with a 20 lb. propane tank (for four times the run duration) if you have space inside the vehicle (or at home, which I have been doing), and that stabilizing ring is included in the box for just that purpose. Power Tank even makes a bracket for those full sized tanks, but they are a little large for vehicle mounting on a Wrangler—but could be a good use of the Gladiator’s larger cargo storage volume, or in an overlanding trailer. This would also give you the convenience of running Blue Rhino (or other brand) exchange tanks available 24 hours a day in many areas.
This set up would be perfect if you were using several propane appliances at camp, or were taking longer-range trips where the additional propane reserve would be required.
For the Power Tank propane bracket installation, I purchased some 5/16” stainless steel hardware and nylon locking nuts, plus nylon bushings at my local hardware store for installation into the Hyline Offroad accessory mount.
With this setup, I can quickly change between my Rotopax mount and the propane tank bracket depending on what my needs are for the weekend. For day-to-day use, I leave the attachments off but the arm in place.
As I was saying, this puts the tank in place where visibility is minimally impacted, and it does not block my passenger side tail light.
With a little custom work, these tank brackets could be adapted to upgradeable hinge reinforcements like the Teraflex HD Hinged Carrier setup using a product like the GP Factor HD Hinge Accessory Mount . In fact, GP Factor intends to add the mounting bolt pattern of these brackets to its next Hinge Accessory Mount production run.
While custom mounting on a product like this is not expressly supported, drilling a few holes in any Rotopax style mount could allow propane cylinder mounting with the Power Tank brackets—mostly since the Rotopax cans are a larger footprint than the tank and mount. The weight is also within a few pounds of a single filled two gallon Rotopax can.
I have been taking this fire pit to places I normally wouldn’t have a wood fire, as well as some I would. We used it during a late November Toys for Tots event where temperatures dropped into the mid 20s, and people loved the product. We also had it sitting on the pavement burning for about five hours, with no issues scorching the asphalt lot surface.
Cooler spring or fall nights where it's nice enough to be outside (but not for long) have been better with the fire pit on the patio, and we’ve also used it on a few early season camping trips this year. I am a big fan.
While Project Rattler will never be a full-time overlanding vehicle, this adds a little modularity for shorter range trips or any outdoor adventure that could benefit from fireside hangouts.