News & Updates

The Burning Question: What are the Four D’s of Campfire Collection?

Chloe Lindahl - May 17, 2022

Campfires are a favorite pastime for many people in the outdoors. Here at Leave No Trace we love a campfire as long as proper precautions are being taken! Whether you’re at home roasting s’mores or on a backcountry camping trip keeping warm, campfires are an essential part of the outdoor experience. However, campfires can quickly become problem some (to say the least). In fact, unattended campfires are one of the top causes of human caused wildfires. When planning a campfire, always check to make sure they’re allowed, conditions are safe to have a campfire and that you act responsibly.

Part of having a responsible fire means sourcing your firewood in a sustainable manner. When collecting your own firewood is allowed, follow the four Ds to protect our treasured outdoor areas.


Always make sure to check that the wood you are collecting is dead. An easy way to do this is the scratch test. Lightly scratching the bark to reveal if the inner bark is green and twiggy or dry and brittle is a great indicator. Removing live twigs or branches from the tree removes its protective outer layer and exposes it to disease or invasive pests which may cause the tree to die. Moreover, dead wood is also more likely to be dry and will burn better than live wood.


While it may be tempting to source your wood from dead trees and brush, instead collect wood that is down on the ground. Just like live trees, dead trees can scar when we cut or break branches and limbs. Additionally, this may cause a cascading effect of impacts. When future visitors see the removal of limbs, they may assume this is okay to do themselves. Acting sustainably is alway a priority to allow the outdoors to be an enjoyable place for all.


You may stumble across a large down tree near your camp and think “this will support a campfire for the next few nights”. While that may be true, you should only collect firewood that is “dinky” or smaller than your wrist. Downed trees provide important habitat for birds and other animal species. Additionally, larger pieces of downed wood play an essential role in recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem, water cycling and soil production. This system of collecting wood that is smaller than your wrist actually works in your favor as firewood of this size will burn all the way to ash and be easier to put out.


When it comes time to gather your wood, make sure you collect wood that is far away from camp and is ideally not all taken from one location. Gathering fuel away from your site helps the area keep its natural appearance.

No matter what, before you gather firewood make sure to check on a few regulations in the area. Always be sure that there are no fire restrictions in place, that the area you are staying in permits wood gathering and make sure to keep an eye on the fire watch for the day.

Following these simple guidelines will allow you to have a safe, responsible campfire on your next outing.

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

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