Campfire Heat Reflector
DIY aluminum panels behind the camp fire to reflect heat
We have seen many gadgets to enhance the campfire experience. One of them is the Propane powered campfire insert. The ring goes into the fireplace and you have an instant campfire. Before you shake your head, this is often the only version of a campfire during a fire ban restrictions. There are many restrictions during the summer months. Even so we think it's a cool idea, this document is not about the Propane campfire.
When the weather is on the cooler side, the heat generated by the burning wood radiates in all directions. It will also work on the above mentioned portable gas campfire. The reflector will direct more heat to you. Shopping for a portable, foldable heat reflector is not a simple task. There are not many products that fulfil all our requirements.
1. Foldable to store in a small place.
2. Some reasonable weight to withstand wind gusts.
3. Is affordable for the intended task.
We found the "Original Reflector" for almost $400, too expensive for our need. There are some Stainless Steel versions starting around $150, but they looked more like backyard versions. The hiker versions start at $20 but will get blown away. And lastly, there are versions for the indoor fireplace, hundreds of them.
If we can't find them, it is time to build one. The size of the four panels was the biggest unknown. The reflectors you buy are anything else than a square piece. We don't need handles, we don't need feet, we don't need fancy embossing or cutouts. Our version has 4 panels, each 12 inch square. To be exact, the panels are Aluminum Sheet 3003H14, 1/8 inch thick cut to 12 by 12 inch. We ordered them from Metal Supermarket in Oakville, Ontario. All four panels were $55 plus tax and ready for pickup the next day.
The four panels fold for easy storage. Folding them after use is simple, the panels collapse very smooth. Unfolding them is more tricky, the Quick Links don't slide well in the holes. Some wiggling is required.
The final weight of the panels is 3.3 kg. This is on the lower end of our expectation. After looking at the 12 inch panels, our feeling is that a 14 inch or maybe 16 inch would be a better choice. We did not use them in the field yet, but we sure will add our experience to this post at the end of the season.
UPDATE October 2021: It worked as designed, but not as intendet. We never had to use the panels for the wood fire.
When we were cooking with the JetBoil close to the Camping Trailer wall, the short stubby aluminium panel did not keep the heat away from the fibreglass. Neither did it protect from the strong wind. So the panel solved all these issues.
We were happy to get rid of the bulky dual burner stove that came with the trailer. The JetBoil is much smaller and complements the Induction Plate very well.
You can read more about the JetBoil in our Cooking, Heating and a hot shower story.
The cardboard sleeve to store the panel didn't survive the eight weeks on the road. This was the first quick fix as soon as we were back. We mentioned before that we love HDPE boards. We can cut the 1/8 inch sheet with a knife and bend it with a heat gun. It is cheap and practically indestructable.
We bought Quick Links to string the panels together. These are very versatile links that are already in use for the Limb Lifter. We bought more than needed for this project, the spares will come in handy in the future. A box of 16 costs $15 plus tax at Canadian Tire.
The first task was to file the edges and round the corners. Once it is smooth, we could handle the plates without protective gloves. When we use them in the field, we will not always wear gloves. It is really important to pay extra attention to this process.
The second task was drilling the holes for the Quick Links. The hole should be big enough to leave some of wiggle room. The distance of the hole from the edge should be less than the inside of the Quick Link. Don't forget to smoothen the drill hole as well, there is usually a burr around the hole.
The third task was the protective storage thing. We don't have a fancy padded bag with stitching and zipper, but we have a sturdy piece of cardboard, folded and held together with transparent tape. We referred to it as 'the sleeve' above. It works and is cheap. After all, we built the reflector to keep us warm, not to look at the fancy bag. When it is not in use, it will likely end up under the trailer anyway.
Make it shiny is optional. If the Aluminum Sheets are scratched, you may want to sand out the scratches. Search for 'how to polish aluminum panels' and you get many options. When the sheets are just dull, you can use a Aluminum Polish.