One of the most memorable camping smells is of the smoke from a campfire. You can warm up a pot of coffee, toast marshmallows, or just enjoy hearing the logs crackle. But to do any of those things you need firewood.
Firewood is essential for camping, both for general use and for cooking. How much should you bring? It depends on a few factors including how big you want your fire, how hot, how long you want it to burn, and the type of wood you have.
Not having enough firewood can leave you unable to cook your meals and lacking warmth on a chilly evening. Campfires and firewood are vital to a successful camping trip.
How Much Firewood Do I Need?
For general campfire use, you will need 4 to five average size logs per hour and for cooking on a campfire you will need 6-10 logs per hour.
In most cases, firewood is sold in bundles. In general, a bundle has about four to five logs. Most of these logs are actually pieces of a split log. Each stick of wood will probably be about four to five inches in diameter and a foot or so long.
Occasionally, you may want to buy a face cord. A face cord is wood that has been cut, split, and stacked. The stack measures about four feet high by eight feet long.
You will need space to store all this wood, and will probably only want this amount if you are camping for a long time or want a massive fire. Still, buying by the face cord can be cheaper than purchasing small bundles.
Though various factors can affect the burn time, one bundle of wood will get you about an hour to an hour and a half of burn time. That is in your typical campground fire ring.
For two hours of burn time expect to use two bundles. Four bundles for four hours and six bundles for six hours. And so on.
For general use, these are pretty good calculations. For cooking, you will probably want your fire a bit hotter. The temperature of your fire can be affected by the type of wood you choose, but also how much wood.
For the purposes of cooking, you may want to add a bundle to the numbers above. I.e. 2-3 bundles for two hours.
Sometimes, you do not want to cook over an open flame but instead burn your wood down and cook over the coals. You will need to time the burning of the wood correctly so that you have coals when you need them. This will save you from needlessly burning through your bundles just to get coals.
However, because it is not an exact science, you always want to bring more firewood than you expect to use. It is better to have more than you need and have to leave some behind, rather than running out.
You likely won’t be burning your fire all the time, unless the weather is chilly and/or you are primarily at your campsite. Average campers who use their fire for cooking and a bit of general use and relaxation in the evenings go through anywhere from two to five bundles a day.
What Kind of Wood Should I Use?
- Seasoned, Not Green
The easiest way to obtain campfire wood is to buy some locally once you reach your campground. Usually, this is also the best idea in terms of safety and legality because transporting firewood is commonly not allowed due to pests.
Many campgrounds sell their own firewood bundles, and a lot of people who live near campgrounds sell wood too. If you are dispersed camping you can hunt down your logs, as long as you know what you are looking for.
Seasoned wood is the ideal type of wood for campfires. Bundles for sale will be seasoned. Wood you find will likely not be seasoned.
Seasoning occurs when the wood is cut, stacked, and left to dry. Seasoning wood makes it dry and light and perfect for burning. Because seasoning takes around six months, found wood will often not be seasoned.
Wood that isn’t seasoned is known as greenwood. This means it is still wet, possibly waterlogged, and heavy. Because it is saturated with water it is very difficult to burn. If you do manage to light it, it will produce a lot of smoke.
Still, you may get lucky with finding seasoned logs depending on the climate. If the limbs or tree happens to be dead or fallen, and it has been dry and warm, the wood may be seasoned enough for a campfire.
- Hardwoods Are Best
If you have a choice in the type of wood, hardwoods often fare better than softwoods. This is because they will burn longer, cleaner, and sometimes hotter. All properties that are excellent for a campfire, especially when you are cooking over it.
Hardwood favorites of campers include hickory, ash, oak, and even cedar.
Dense hickory can’t store a great deal of water. Its density means and lack of water means less smoke, a hot burn, and a long burn. Aside from these great properties, it is also a favorite for cooking due to the flavor it gives meats and other dishes.
Oak is widely available, making it a popular campfire wood. This steady burning wood won’t get as hot as hickory, but it will still be pretty toasty. That is, as long as it is well seasoned before you build a fire with it.
Ash, a light but solid wood, is great for avoiding tons of campfire smoke. Ash is also easy to start and long burning, perfect for building a fire at your camp.
Maple is great for campfires but can be hard to find already bundled. This is because it is dense, tough, and difficult to split. However, it produces a hot burn that will last you well into the night.
Beechwood is another bundle rarity. It will burn very hot and can burn for a while, but takes a very long time to season. Because it is so dense it needs to be seasoned for at least a year.
Finally, we come to cherry. Like hickory, this wood is often used when cooking because of its wonderful flavors. It isn’t very smoky and won’t get too hot. But the smell of a cherry wood campfire will definitely create lasting memories.
On the other hand, softwoods are not campfire favorites. The term softwoods commonly mean logs or bundles harvested from deciduous or conifer trees, like pine trees. Besides containing a great deal of water, they also have volatile sap.
One softwood stands apart though, cedar. It is surprisingly good for burning. The burn will be low and slow, lasting you all day at the campsite. Though the flames may not be roaring, cedar burns very hotly, ensuring your fire will be plenty warm. A bonus is a pleasing aroma it produces.
Though most softwoods, like pine and spruce, are not great campfire woods. They give off a lot of smoke, making your campfire less than ideal.
Other Campfire Necessities
If you have your seasoned wood bundles, then you are on your way to building a great campfire! But there are still a few things you need.
A vital component is something to light your fire. Some people use matches while others use a lighter. There are many camping lighters available on the market, this includes some that are wind and waterproof. Perfect for rugged conditions.
If you choose to use matches make sure you store them properly. This typically means in a waterproof case. Wet matches aren’t very helpful.
You may also need kindling or a firestarter. Kindling is usually widely available as it is small sticks, dry leaves, and twigs. It may also be paper or other dry small materials that start on fire quickly and easily.
Finally, some campers use commercial fire-starting bricks. Usually sold in logs or small bricks, firestarter can replace kindling and help to get your logs started. You can also make your own firestarter using things like dryer lint, a cardboard egg carton, and melted wax.
How To Cook Over a Campfire
To cook over a campfire, you need to build the right fire. If you are building a fire just for cooking, you can lay the logs in a V formation and allow coals to build between them. Coals are excellent for cooking.
But many times you will be using your fire for both cooking and entertainment, and be using a campfire ring. In this situation, the teepee build works just fine.
It goes without saying you don’t want to use plastic when cooking over a fire. This includes pots and pans with rubber grips. Instead, invest in a good set of cast-iron cookware and some pot lifters or tongs.
You will be exposed to heat too. Don’t forget to get some heavy-duty leather gloves and closed-toed shoes that won’t melt.
Depending on what you are cooking, choose the proper cooking method. This may be using a skewer, perfect for hotdogs or marshmallows, or using a grill grate, excellent for burgers. A grill grate can also hold a cast-iron skillet.
Some campers swear by their dutch oven, either set on the coals, on a grate, or suspended over the fire with an iron shepherds hook.
As you would at home, be sure to heat your food to the proper temp and exercise caution around your heat source. With a little practice, you will be a campfire top chef in no time!
Light Em’ Up
Once you have all of your components you are ready for a great campfire! Just make sure you have enough wood so no one has to go cold or hungry.
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