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Finally, an artificial campfire that doesn’t suck

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There’s nothing better than snuggling up around a campfire before crawling into your tent for the night. But campfires are increasingly banned following a historic fire season in New Mexico, more acres burned in California and a worsening drought in the West. This is the problem Roar campfires tries to solve by developing his new propane campfire. Its novelty? It is really hot.

The idea was born during a photo shoot for GoFastCampers, near Bryce, Utah, two years ago. Randall Slimp brought his Toyota Tundra and, realizing that campfires were banned in the drought-stricken Dixie National Forest at the time, decided to pick up a propane fire pit from a big box store along the way. .

Although wood burning campfires are generally prohibited on public lands when the risk of wildfire is high, portable stoves, fireplaces and heaters generally remain authorized (although you should always check before you go).

But while setting up the fire pit in the camp on the first night, Slimp realized that while its flames provided a pleasant atmosphere, they did little to keep the group warm.

“It was so cold that night that I had to put my down pants on,” says Instagram-famous dog owner Kelly Lund @Lokiwho was also on the trip.

Another problem arose the next day during filming: Slimp loaded the large metal bowl and a 20-pound propane tank into the back of his pickup, but struggled to find a way to secure them by because of their uncomfortable shapes. Bouncing off-road knocked the fire pit over, spilling its decorative lava rocks all over the bed. And when the propane tank started rolling, it ground the rocks into an abrasive powder, which got into all of Slimp’s camping gear. Frustrated, he and Lund began coughing up solutions.

When they returned home to Colorado, the couple began researching what makes wooden campfires so pleasant to be around. It turns out that there are three types of heat: conduction transfers heat through touch, convection transfers heat through air, and radiation transfers heat through infrared waves. Although propane fireplaces are warm to the touch and heat the air directly above the flames, they don’t provide much radiant heat. And that’s why standing around one doesn’t warm you up.

“Charcoals emit infrared rays at the perfect frequency to heat water,” says Lund. “Our bodies are mostly made up of water, so these rays excite molecules in our cells and generate heat.”

To mimic the radiant heat of a real campfire, Slimp and Lund had to find a way to heat something to glow a bright orange, just like charcoal. And they wanted to use propane because the fuel provides a much higher energy density than batteries, is easy to transport, and is available everywhere.

The first prototype of what would later be called Howl Campfires. (Photo: Howl of the Campfires)

The first prototype was essentially a miniaturized heating tube attached to a propane tank. He squirted propane into a tube, then used a fan to blow air through the tube. When turned on, the tube glowed nice and warm, but the fan was noisy and required a power source. In fact, the tube got so hot it ended up melting the fan wires. and the team realized that creating an ideal air-fuel ratio would require adjustments at altitude, where there is less oxygen.

“We wanted to create something durable that didn’t require a battery,” says Slimp. And the solution was a Venturi.

Seen through an infrared camera, you can easily see the tube radiating heat in the infrared spectrum. (Photo: Howl of the Campfires)

By releasing pressurized propane from a tank and circulating it alongside air through a constriction in a large chamber, the flow of propane itself drew large amounts of air with it. This eliminated the need for a fan and its associated electronics, and the volume of air drawn into the combustion chamber was large enough for it to operate at altitude. Slimp says his team has successfully tested their prototype at 9,000ft and plans to mount a production unit at Pike’s Peak (14,115ft), once they are ready later this year. Howl’s performance is already impressive. Typical portable propane heaters, like the Mr. Heater Buddy, stop working at around 7,000 feet.

“In our system, the high-velocity jet of propane produces a constant momentum, which then moves a constant amount of air molecules with it,” explains Howl engineer Alex Tenenbaum. “There should be no difference in heat output or burn rate whether you’re at sea level or in the Himalayas.”

The other problem the team faced was getting all that propane injected into the tube to burn completely. To solve this problem, all it took was a quick phone call with prolific outdoor product designer Owen Mesdag.

“If you don’t burn all the fuel, you produce carbon monoxide,” says Mesdag. “So I told them they had to give the fuel a purpose.”

By injecting the fuel-air mixture from the Venturi into a wire mesh, Mesdag says they “give the flame a home”, where complete combustion can take place. The flame exists in the mesh at the beginning of the tube, and the pressure from the Venturi then blows through the contortions of the tube.

For the visual effect of a campfire flame, propane is also released from a burner in the center of the Howl Campfire, with its flames protruding from the top of the device.

Connected to a propane tank, the Howl campfire forms a stable and easily transportable cube. (Photo: Howl of the Campfires)

The final challenge was portability. Howl enlisted the help of Eric Black, a product designer based in Porland, Oregon. Black suggested using the campfire body as a support for the propane tank. By unifying cylinder and body, the solution transforms an awkward combination of a round tank and a free-standing box into a single stable cube the size of two bundles of firewood, complete with tie-down points. To secure it in a vehicle, all you need is a lashing strap. The team told me that a single 20-pound tank should be enough to run the fire at full blast for about 7.5 hours, which should give users two full evenings of use on a single tank.

Howl plans to produce its campfires from “mostly American” components, at a factory outside of Houston, Texas. They hope sales start in time for Christmas 2022 and are aiming for a price somewhere north of $800.

Worth it? As wildfire season in the West draws closer to the year and irresponsible camper behavior continues to force land management agencies to ban wildfires in more and more places, solutions like this will increasingly become the only viable option if you always want to have a campfire when you go camping.

“Our goal is to keep the campfire alive,” says Lund.