In this season of socially-distant outdoor hangouts – even in the depths of winter – the key to comfort is layered heat sources. In caveman terms: Fire, good. Fire plus outdoor heater, better.
Top models in all categories can be harder to source right now than toilet paper was in the Spring, so be ready to change your choice based on availability. Our top picks:
The Towering Infernos
If you’ve got the space and the overhead clearance, a tower model is the way to go. They typically have the highest BTU ratings (the measure of heat output), and therefore put out the widest circle of heat – an important feature when you want to stay warm but also distanced.
The Small But Mighties
For smaller spaces or smaller groups, tabletop models can provide plenty of warmth for a handful of people spaced around a table. Proximity to the heat source means that electric models can work in this category, a plus for people concerned about the safety or sustainability of propane heaters.
The Hang ‘em Highs
Electric heaters you can mount to an existing structure like a wall, patio umbrella, or ceiling will free up even more space and allow people more freedom to move around. Don’t let the lower BTU ratings of these infrared models throw you off: they beam heat directly rather than heating the ambient air, which delivers a satisfying toastiness within a limited footprint.
The Covered and Cozies
A year ago it might have seemed weird to wrap up in a blankie to socialize, but here we are. And with options for plugging in at home or in the car, and even battery-operated models, there’s a heated blanket out there for every social occasion. Nope, still weird. (But we’re doing it anyway!)
Maybe we’ll go back to more “normal” winter socializing post-pandemic, or maybe we’re on the cusp of an outdoor hangout revolution. In the meantime, you can find us on the patio living our best lives under the warm glow of a supplemental heat source.