Campfire Tips

For some campers, a campfire is essential for a campout. A campfire provides light, heat, smores, and can also be an inspiring sight on a campout. Leave No Trace is not against fires in the backcountry or frontcountry. Leave No Trace recommends the responsible use of campfires, so people can enjoy them and to minimize campfire impacts. Thanks to warm fabrics, headlamps, and camp stoves, fires are not as necessary as they once were. There are a lot of ways to enjoy a campfire without leaving an impact on the land.

Some options for a minimum impact fire are: to not have one if you do not need it, a mound fire, or a pan fire can be alternative to large bonfires. 

Mound Fire - Make a mound out of mineral soil on a tarp or fire blanket. Build the mound to be 6-8 inches high and 12-24 inches long. Build your fire in a depression that you make in the mound. The mineral soil mound allows the fire to not scorch the ground below it. You can collect mineral soil from the root bulb of a downed tree. When you are done you can put the dirt back where you found it.

Fire Pan - Is a simple and easy way to minimize your campfire impacts. Simply place a commercially bought pan on top of three to four rocks and scatter your ashes when you are done.

Established Fire Ring – Use an established fire ring when available, this will lesson your impact.

Do not burn your trash in a campfire. According to Mary Ann Davies at the U.S. Forest Service (2004), dangerous carcinogens like lead and styrene can come out of the burnt trash smoke from plastics and batteries. Trash does not burn down all of the way and residues are left over in the pit. Animals can be attracted to your fire pit if you burn food trash such as apple cores or steak bones.

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When considering firewood for your campfire, check the local rules and regulations of transportation of firewood and wood collection.  Do not transport firewood across state lines or a far distance from the source.  Therefore, the threat of transporting invasive species is low.  If firewood collection is allowed in the area you are visiting, you can use the 4 D’s of firewood collection:

Dead- use only dead wood

Down- use only down wood on the ground, Do not cut a branch off of a tree

Distant- Find your wood a good distance from camp

Dinky- Use only small wood that is about the size of your forearm

Keep these recommendations in mind when you are having your next campfire. Thanks for reading and remember to be like Bigfoot and Leave No Trace.

Pat and TJ

Leave No Trace’s Patrick and Theresa Beezley are part of the 2014 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, Coleman, Hi-Cone, The North Face, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.