Let’s get the environmental argument out of the way first: the most environmentally friendly patio heater is a woolly jumper. But the best patio heater is one you buy online that usually runs on fossil fuels but keeps you warm during autumn and winter al fresco evenings.
If you need to beat the chill of the great outdoors, you have three kinds of heat to consider: propane 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 of electric heating: long-wave infrared 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 infrared 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.
Finally, there’s the good old log. Despite being fossil free, logs do create a lot of smoke so they're not especially environment friendly. That smoke will also waft over the patio table from time to time causing everyone to choke and splutter. Your guests' clothes will also smell, but they'll still enjoy the experience because nothing smells more earthy than wood smoke, cow pats notwithstanding.
Solid fuel patio heaters such as fire pits and chimineas are pretty effective, but you’ll need to keep a stock of logs – and logs are notoriously expensive given how quickly they burn down. Fire pits and chimineas can also be a danger with young kids running around.
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 expenses. You might also consider perusing the best garden firepits for further heating inspiration.
Our pick of the patio heaters available today
This 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.
While most La Hacienda chimineas take on a traditional Mexican design, the company has also dabbled in more contemporary versions, such as this modern-looking option with integral log store. It’s steel rather than clay so you needn’t worry about it cracking in the British winter. However, as an owner of multiple steel chimineas (including several from this manufacturer), over the years I’ve become well aware that the thin steel rusts over time if left uncovered. That said, to some people that may be a good thing, since it will eventually take on a rustic hue.
The Skyline measures 1.5 metres in height and 36cm square so it doesn’t take up much patio space. The good thing about this model is that the smoke it creates is mostly ported out of the tall chimney rather than into your face like so many open fire pit models. The small but sufficient log store beneath is another useful touch. Just be sure you don’t touch this thing when it’s alive or it could result in a visit to A&E. Keep kids and pets well clear, in other words.
This keenly-priced 240 volt wall-mounted electric bar is just over a metre in width and provides up to a substantial 3,000 watts of outdoor warmth. It’s an ideal model for verandahs and patios but, despite being weather resistant, it should be installed under full cover with zero chance of horizontal rain affecting it. Naturally, you’ll also want a professional to install it, if only to ensure that there are no unsightly wires dangling about.
The Blumfeldt is equipped with an aluminium casing for rust-free durability, a damp-proof rocker switch on the side and a handy remote control that, aside from switching the unit on and off, allows the user to select three levels of heat: 1000W, 2000W and the full 3,000W monty.
If you’re in the market for an outdoor heater that is always to hand when you need it, then this attractive and unobtrusive TV sound bar-style model is a great option. Available in silver or black.
You know the scenario… You have half a dozen guests lounging about on your Manutti Zendo garden suite and half of them are freezing to death because you unwisely bought only one outdoor heater. What you need is this pair of 2kW-a-piece freestanding electric reflective bar heaters to keep everyone’s teeth from chattering.
Each two-bar Heatlab pedestal provides three levels of heat output – 650W, 1,350W and 2000W – plus height adjustment. The reflectors can also be angled downwards by up to 45˚ and their IPX4 rating means they can be sited indoors or out. Running costs are said to be about 10p an hour which seems cheap.
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced electric option that covers a greater area while throwing extra light on the proceedings, then put this pair on the consideration list.
This electric 1,200W portable is a brilliant solution for keeping legs warm when having a natter around the outdoor patio table. Simply plug in the 1.8-metre cable (you’ll need a 13amp extension if you don’t have have an outdoor electricity supply), grab it by the handle and place it under the table (or anywhere else nearby) and bask in the warmth of its 360˚ carbon fibre heating element.
At a shade under £120, this is a great-value option for outdoor warming and a boon for chilly outdoor rooms like work sheds, cabins and home offices.
This portable gas model was designed for camping but it’s an excellent patio heater too. According to the stats, it kicks out between 4,000 and 9,000-BTU or radiant heat which is quite phenomenal for a heater of this size (19.56 x 34.04 x 38.1 cm). While we haven’t actually laid our hands on one, the general consensus among Amazon users is that it excels at warming the air around your feet – or torso if you’re sitting low. It features four heat levels, an integrated Piezo sparking mechanism and a low-oxygen and tip-over shut-off mechanism for added safety.
Although the Amazon listing says it’s also suitable for indoor use, we would advise against it, simply because it uses cartridge-based propane gas as a fuel and this may lead to a build up of dangerous carbon monoxide, as some users have reported. Gas burners also produce condensation as a byproduct. If planning to use it inside a tent, we would advise keeping the main flap wide open. When it comes to CO, you can never be too careful.
The practically-named Mr. Heater weighs a tad over 4kgs so it’s easy enough to carry short distances. Granted, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing model on this page but, judging by the swathe of positive reviews, it’s highly efficient even though it does tend to swallow gas at quite a high rate.
Here’s an easy-to-install, remote-controlled electric option that’s designed to be hung from the ceilings of verandahs, open conservatories, covered pergolas or any enclosed room that requires a 2,500-watt blast of intense warmth. If used outdoors, just be sure to have an electricity supply close to hand or you’ll need to unfurl a durable 13amp extension lead – which you will doubtless forget to roll up and bring indoors at the end of the evening.
At 23-inches in diameter (that’s 58.5cm for those of metric persuasion), the imaginatively named ‘2500W Electric Patio Heater Outdoor Indoor, Adujstable (sic!) Portable Patio Heater Electric Freestanding and Hanging, CE Certification, Fire Sense, Heater Electric for 30㎡’ is an excellent way to keep the bonce warm – but just don’t turn up sporting a beehive hairdo!
Fancy a wall-mounted electric option with halogen technology? Step right this way, my friend, and pop this half-metre radiant option from Symple Stuff on your patio or conservatory wall.
The tantalisingly named Electric Patio Heater provides 1,500W of short-wave radiation and its halogen tube has a lifespan of approximately 5,000 hours. According to the blurb, it can be mounted on walls, ceiling, parasols, poles or even on a ‘stable table’. Its design also allows it to be used indoors as well as outdoors so it’s a great option for enclosed areas like conservatories, utility rooms or even chilly kitchens.
What makes this particular fire bowl 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.” Doh!
If you feel the urge to add some rustic chic to the exterior of your abode and cost isn’t an issue, consider this beautiful 100-year-old rusty fire bowl sourced in Rajasthan, India. Kadais (also known as karahis) have been used as family and community cooking bowls across India for centuries. Presumably a Western visitor saw one while on his or her travels and thought ‘to hell with cooking in it, that would make a very stylish fire bowl for my Hoxton pad’ and promptly bought it home.
The Tudor Kadai comes with a stand, a grill grate for those who plan to actually barbecue on it, a pair of tongs and a wire brush to keep it like, er, old. If you can’t afford an original model, plump instead for one of the company’s recycled oil-drum models which retail at a more affordable £135 or the even cheaper Travel Kadai (£89) which comes replete with stand, grill, tongs and cotton duffle bag.