The 5 best patio heaters 2017

Let’s get the environmental argument out of the way first: the most environmentally friendly patio heater is a woolly jumper. But if that’s not an option and you need to beat the chill of the great outdoors, you have three kinds of heat to consider: gas, solid fuel and electricity.

There are pros and cons to each. Electricity feels free, although of course it isn’t, but it offers instant heat and fairly quick cooling. There are two main kinds, long-wave infra-red and halogen: the latter is much cheaper but suffers from very limited range, so you need to sit fairly close and you’ll probably end up complaining about a too-hot head. Long-wave infra-red is much more expensive but doesn’t emit visible light and covers a much larger area.

Gas heaters can be very effective, but of course you need to buy gas for them - and that means thinking ahead so you’re not driving around the local garages and DIY stores looking for a new canister fifteen minutes before your guests arrive. They cost more to run than electric heaters do, but they warm a larger area without the hot-or-not issue that affects electric patio heaters.

T3 Roundups are product guides where we've chosen the products based on our opinion. Usually we'll also only include a product in one of these 'best' lists if they're highly rated by users and/or appear in the best-seller lists at major retailers such as Amazon, Argos or John Lewis.

Last but not least there’s solid fuel patio heaters such as fire pits and chimineas. They’re pretty and pretty effective, but you’ll need to keep a stock of dry fuel and if they’re small, you’ll need to refill them frequently. Chimineas in particular can be hard to clean and stay hot for a long time, so they’re not ideal for areas with young kids running around, and of course solid fuel means smoke - especially if you’re prone to adding anything flammable that comes to hand.

There are hundreds of patio heaters to choose from, but these are our favourites based on opinion, customer reviews and keeping an eye on cost and running cost.

Our pick of the patio heaters available today

1. Firefly 2KW freestanding infrared electric garden patio heater

Best for heating on a budget

Type: Free standing | Power: 2KW | Adjustable: Yes | Fuel: Electric | Heat type: direct

It’s cheap
It’s cheap to run
It’s ugly
2KW isn’t huge heat  

Amazon’s best-selling electric patio heater is great value for money. It has three heat settings - 650W, 1350W and 2000W - and a 3m cable, and it’s adjustable between 174.5cm and 210cm. The heavy base means it won’t blow over in a breeze, and while the quartz heating element won’t be up to the job of heating a huge deck it’s fine for small gatherings and the adjustable head enables you to heat what you want rather than huddle around under its hood. It’s not remotely pretty but at £39.99 for the freestanding version and £29 for the wall-mountable one, it’s one of the cheapest ways to get a decent bit of evening heat.  

2. Marko Garden Gas Patio heater

Best for feeling the burn

Type: Free standing | Power: 14KW | Adjustable: No | Fuel: Gas | Heat type: radiant

Really, really hot
Good heating radius
Expensive to run
Don’t forget the gas

Many gas patio heaters are prettier than the Marko, but many of them are much more expensive too - and unlike some, the asking price here includes the all-important gas regulator (rated 28-30mbar). It runs on Butane or Propane and the power is adjustable to a scorching 14KW, although it’s worth noting that if you want that much heat you’ll go through a kilo of gas in an hour. With a 13Kg bottle currently costing £32 from Calor, that means a running cost of around £2.50 per hour.

This is very much a no-frills option, so don’t expect fancy features such as wheels or integrated tabletops: it’s a simple and straightforward patio heater that does exactly what you’d expect without fuss or flim-flam.

3. La Hacienda Oxford Contemporary Steel Chiminea

Best for fashionable fire fans

Type: Free standing | Power: n/a | Adjustable: No | Fuel: wood | Heat type: fire!

Won’t break in winter
Thin steel
Small heat radius

While most La Hacienda chimineas take the traditional Mexican design the company has also dabbled in more contemporary versions, such as this one with a modern appearance and an integral log store. It’s steel rather than clay so you needn’t worry about it cracking in the British winter, but as owners of multiple steel chimineas - including several from this manufacturer - over the years we’re well aware that the thin steel rusts if you so much as mention water anywhere nearby, so a cover is essential and indoor winter storage is a very good idea. Don’t be entirely surprised if you have to get the sandpaper, rust killer and stove paint out every spring - but with third-party sellers offering this model for as little as £66, you probably won’t mind a little bit of maintenance.   

4. Shadow NOIR 3200W Zero Light

Best for rich people who are cold

Type: wall mounted | Power: 3.2KW | Adjustable: No | Fuel: electricity | Heat type: direct

Incredibly efficient
Heat without light
Pretty expensive
Best for enclosed spaces

No, it isn’t cheap. But the NOIR has an innovative design that enables it to pump out up to 3200W of heat while the casing doesn’t exceed ninety degrees. It’s rated above 13A so you’ll need an electrician to install it, but as soon as you finger the remote control you’ll appreciate the investment: long wave IR-C heating it provides the instant warmth of electric heat without the bright light of a halogen bulb, heats an area of 5.5 square metres and is fully waterproof so you can mount it wherever you fancy. It doesn’t run as hot as a halogen heater, so it isn’t a good idea for windy patios, but it’s a superb option for more enclosed outdoor spaces.

£700 | Heat Outdoors

5. La Hacienda Camping Firebowl

Best for camping

Type: Portable | Power: n/a | Adjustable: No | Fuel: wood/charcoal | Heat type: fire!

Foldable legs
Comes with a carry case
Not one for really small cars

What makes this particular firebowl stand out in a ridiculously crowded market is its portability: the legs are foldable, it comes with a carry case and it’s not so big you’ll damage a shoulder lugging it around. It’s 56cm wide and 39cm high, includes a mesh lid and also has a BBQ grill, so it’s a portable BBQ as well as a fire pit. For families who like to travel around and eat al fresco it’s an excellent option.  We love the Amazon reviewer who was concerned about the wood grate: “Where does the wood grate go? Surely it would burn?” As the seller patiently points out, “It’s not made of wood. It’s a metal grate that sits in the base of the bowl for the wood to sit on.”