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Salt Lake City, UT: After one month in the beautiful desert mountains of Central Arizona, we are northbound chasing winter – driving through snowstorms with blustery winds as we cross over the border from Arizona into Utah. Finally! Winter, and the seasons are upon us. We sigh happily. Our eyes light up. And we start to hum songs about snow, “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” As our outward excitement grows, we quietly brace ourselves for cold weather camping. And what better way to warm our bodies and spirits than by having a campfire? There’s no better way; or is there?
As we drove higher and higher into winter, we were faced with one minor issue - campfires are rarely permitted at high-elevation wilderness destinations (typically those above 4,000 feet). Why, you might ask? Well there are a lot of reasons actually:
1. Frequent removal of wood can exhaust the high country of nutrient-rich, soil stabilizing ground cover. In addition, the regeneration of wood sources often cannot keep pace with the demand for firewood.
2. The natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires. For example, rock scars are a common unfortunate sight in the backcountry.
3. Irresponsible fires can cause wildfires that wreak havoc, damaging precious landscapes, homes and infrastructure along the way.
4. There are great alternatives available for cooking food, such as lightweight affordable backpacking stoves.
In fact there are alternatives to every common reason that people desire to have a campfire – warmth, cooking, moral and light. Let us elaborate. There was a day, when campfires were required to cook and keep from freezing to death. Well, the fact of the matter is that modern advances in camping equipment and gear are contributing to a shift towards lightweight stoves and movements like Leave No Trace are encouraging a user to consider enjoying their stay without a campfire. That’s right. No campfire. Now what? Here we break down ways to enjoy a campfire without one.
1. Warmth – The idea that heat loss occurs primarily through our head is an old wives tale. In actuality, the only reason we would lose more heat through our head is if it is the only part of our body not covered. Make sense? Cover up and keep warm. The human body is not engineered to withstand freezing temperatures for extended periods of time. However, your 600 fill down, merino wool and Polartec layers are designed to help you do just that. And thanks to co-ops like REI you can find your essentials for an affordable price.
2. Cooking – Gone are the days of needing to cook your wieners over the fire. Lightweight efficient stoves are trending in the outdoor community because they are fast, flexible, eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection and promote minimum impact camping. Get your superior stove here!
3. Morale – You can’t put a price on morale! That is why it’s important to always remember your favorite lightweight games: dice, cards, a portable magnetic chess set, Frisbee and the list goes on. Any wannabe musicians in your party? Bring the flute and harmonize on (so long as you’re being respectful of your neighbors of course)! Caught up in your favorite murder mystery novel? Bring it along and relax into the pages. With a little bit of prep and imagination, you’ll be hard pressed to find yourself bored.
4. Light – Let’s see… there are literally hundreds of light alternatives: Luci lanterns (our favorite!), headlamps (a must have), hand crank lanterns, battery operated lanterns, Eno hammock led twilight lights, solar lights, old fashioned flashlights, new fashioned phone flashlights, candles, starlight, moonlight. Need we list more?
So as we neared the majestic snow-covered mountains, we maintained a peaceful feeling knowing that we had so many options to enjoying a campfire without one. Won’t you join us in this movement during your next campout?
To learn more, check our recommendations on how to minimize campfire impact.
Helping keep our wildness wild,
Jenna and Sam - Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Team West
Leave No Trace’s Jenna Hanger and Sam Ovett are part of the 2015 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Deuter, Hi-Cone, REI, Smartwool, The North Face, and Yakima.