To Campfire or Not to Campfire?
There’s a lot to love about campfires. If you’ve ever roasted marshmallows over hot coals, told ghost stories around the flickering flames, or warmed your feet after a long hike, you’ll understand their allure. For some, there’s simply no such thing as a camping trip without them. They’re as essential to the experience as starry skies and fresh air.
But as people in the American West know all too well, campfires and wildfires are inextricably linked. It seems like every single year, the fire season lengthens (fire season is now, on average, two-and-a-half months longer than it was in the 1970s). Wildfires burn millions of acres annually in the United States, and they threaten the communities and houses in their paths. While wildfires are a natural force and can be started by natural causes, nearly 85% percent of them are estimated to have human causes, according to the National Park Service. These causes are certainly preventable.
So that had us thinking: Is it time to ditch the campfire? Is the era of eating from blackened cans and cowboy camping over? If so, how can we replicate the warmth and the wonderful communal space they create?
We’ve gathered some recommendations to help you make the most of camp life without a campfire, as well as a few safety tips for trips where campfires are in the cards.
How To Enjoy Camp Life Without A Campfire
While campfires are a traditional part of camping, there are a lot of reasons to love camping without them. Without the light from the flames, the stars shine brighter. Without the crackle and snap of wood, you can better hear the owls hooting. Without the smoke, you’ll breathe better (and smell better the next day too).
Here are our recommended campfire alternatives:
• Bring a propane fire ring. If you’re car camping, portable fire rings are a great alternative to traditional fires. They’re safer and have less impact on the environment. You won’t have to gather wood from the area, and you won’t leave blackened rocks and dirt behind. Probably the biggest advantage to propane fire rings is that they give you more control. You can control the flame size and heat output. Plus, when you switch them off, you can be sure the flame is totally out. Be sure to check that propane rings are allowed when fire restrictions are in place in your area. If they are, you’re ready to pull out the marshmallows and graham crackers and get those S’mores cooking.
• Set up solar lanterns. One of the reasons campers love fire is because it draws people in with its warming glow. You can recreate the effect while keeping it low-tech with one or more solar lanterns in a centrally located spot. Before you know it, the whole crew will be gathered around, slurping ramen, and swapping stories.
• Put extra care into getting cozy. There’s no denying the warmth offered by campfires. So when you’re going campfire-free, put extra care into getting cozy. Bring along some puffy blankets and pillows. Wear a fleece onesie and slippers. Grab your warmest wool socks and slide into our Yogui shoes for comfort. Warm beverages, anyone? Make some hot cocoa or herbal tea using your portable camp stove.
• Plan camp activities. Often building and maintaining a campfire is the camp activity — but it doesn’t have to be. Pack some board games. Have each member in the family tell a story. Bring your camp table and a deck of cards. The opportunities are truly endless.
How To Safely Have A Campfire
Not yet ready to give up campfires? If you’re still dedicated to the campfire lifestyle, be sure to review the safety tips from Smokey Bear and Leave No Trace Principle #5. We’ve also gathered some recommendations to help ensure your campfire stays as just that — a campfire, not a wildfire.
• Use common sense. Is it really dry where you are? Are you camped on a bed of pine needles? Is the wind blowing? Is the night so warm you don’t need the added heat from the flames? Take stock of your surroundings. It might not be the best time for a campfire.
• Know the rules and regulations. Before you build your fire, make sure you know the rules and regulations in the campground or wilderness area where you’re staying. Federal and state agencies post notices about current fire conditions along roads and online, and they restrict or prohibit fires when conditions are dangerous. Pay attention.
• Use a pit. You’ll want to keep your fire contained. If there are suitable fire pits at your campsite, use them. If there aren’t any, dig one. Choose a site that’s at least 15 feet away from tents, trees, and other flammable objects, and watch out for low-hanging branches. When you’re selecting a campsite, a good rule of thumb is to camp 200 feet away from waterways.
• Keep it small. There’s a big difference between a campfire and a bonfire. Keep your fire small enough that you can control it when wind gusts start whipping sparks around. Aim for about 2 feet in diameter.
• Keep water handy. If the wind kicks up and you need to put out your fire quickly, it’s essential to have water nearby. Even in the backcountry, you can practice this. You know that 3L Platypus bottle you packed in? Fill it up and keep it close.
• Keep an eye on it. Your campfire shouldn’t be left unattended. Make sure someone always has an eye on it.
• Put it out completely. When you’re drowsy, warm, and ready for bed, it’s not exactly exciting to put out your campfire. However, this step is essential. Dowse the ashes with water, stir them around, dowse them again, then check to make sure the fire pit is cool. If you feel heat coming from the pit, keep dowsing.
So, to campfire or not to campfire? It depends on the location, the season, and your preference. But with some creative ideas, it’s totally possible to love camping just as much without a campfire. Tag us @KEEN to share your own campfire-free camping ideas.