Nothing says camping quite like a roaring fire in the fire pit, but you can forget about happily toasting marshmallows if your number one concern becomes avoiding the smoke plume. So what do you do if you get smoked out by your own campfire?
Though there are a few things you can do to prevent your campfire from smoking, the biggest determining factors are the type of logs used and their condition. Predominantly, whether or not the wood is wet.
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Choosing the Right Wood
Some campers may choose to bring their own firewood (providing they are following their state firewood transport rules), while others may purchase wood at the campsite. In many cases, locals who live near your camping destination or even the campground itself will likely have firewood for sale.
Still, those who are camping off-campground or rustic camping may have to go out and find their own firewood. The type of wood you use for your fire and how dry it is, plays a large role in how much smoke your fire will produce.
Seasoned Wood versus Green Wood
Seasoned wood often makes the best campfire logs. Seasoned can be described as dead and dry. Alternatively, greenwood or fresh wood will not burn as well and may produce a great deal of smoke. This is due to the water content of the wood.
Firewood that has been cut, stacked, and left to dry is usually seasoned. Freshly cut wood will have a much higher water content than wood that has been previously cut or found fallen.
However, in some cases, fallen logs or stacked logs may still be soggy. If your wood is not protected from the elements than rain, frost, and even snow can make it wet. If it has just rained, you will want to let your wood dry out a little.
As previously mentioned, some states don’t allow firewood to be transported due to invasive bugs and tree diseases. You will want to abide by all laws. Additionally, some campgrounds do not want the wood to be taken from standing trees, even if they look to be dead.
It is a safe bet to purchase your wood locally to your campground or from the campground itself. As an added bonus in most cases, this wood will be seasoned. If you do have to forage for your own wood it is a better idea to source it from the ground rather than breaking limbs off of trees.
The Best Type of Wood to Choose
Hardwoods usually burn longer, cleaner, and even a little bit hotter than softwoods. Any type of wood will burn, but with different results. Favorite hardwoods campers have used for fires are hickory, ash, oak, and even cedar.
Hickory is very dense and because of this, it cannot store a great amount of water. And as we have discussed, less water means less smoke. Because it is so dense, it burns quite hot and will burn for some time. This wood is popular for cooking as it can help to flavor meats and dishes.
Oak is another popular wood for burning, thanks in large part to its availability. Oak won’t burn as hot as hickory but still gets plenty warm and burns steady. It is important to make sure that your oak is completely dry before starting your fire.
Ash may be the best wood for keeping the smoke at bay. It is light but still solid and tough. This means that it will start relatively easily and then burn constantly for a decent length of time.
Maple is another very sturdy wood, it can be difficult to cut and split. However, it will burn hot and will last you into the night.
Beechwood isn’t a very popular campfire wood. It will burn very hot and can burn for a while, but it does have its drawbacks. Because it is so dense it needs to be seasoned well in advance, some recommending for at least a year.
Cherry is the final popular wood for burning. Like hickory, this wood is often used when cooking over an open flame. It won’t get too hot and will produce only a minimal amount of smoke. But as a bonus, the small amount of smoke emitted will smell fragrant and delicious.
Softwoods usually do not make good campfire choices. Softwoods refer to wood that is harvested from deciduous or conifer trees, such as pine trees. These woods usually contain a fair amount of water and highly volatile sap.
Cedar is a softwood, but surprisingly can be used for burning. Cedarwood won’t give you a huge flame or a roaring fire as it tends to burn low and slow. The upside of this is that it burns very hot, ensuring your fire will be warm and toasty. Additionally, like cherry, it gives off a pleasing smell.
Pine and spruce are two other examples of softwoods. These woods are not conducive to campfire burning and will typically produce copious amounts of smoke.
Finding the Perfect firewood
How can you find optimal pieces of firewood? Here are some guidelines:
● Look. The wood should appear dry. The ends should be split or cracked and the bark should easily fall away. Mold, mildew, and condensation are all things to watch out for as they indicate wet wood.
● Sound. The wood should sound rather dry and porous. If it is dropped or hit on something you should hear a crisp town rather than a deep thud.
● Feel. Simply, does the wood feel wet or dry?
● Smell. Wet wood smells musty and like earth. Dry wood tends to be rather odorless.
Building a Low Smoke Campfire
An ongoing debate between outdoor enthusiasts is how to construct the best campfire. A great campfire starts with a good foundation.
In most instances, you will have a fire pit, a fire ring, or even just an area previously used for burning. Nevertheless, you will want to make sure the ground is free of dead leaves, trash, or anything dry that could ignite easily.
You will want to have your wood gathered and ready to go. Short but fat dry logs consisting of hardwood are great for fuel once your fire is going. Small sticks make an excellent starter. To get the fire going you will want some dry leaves, brush, or even newspaper.
Starting your fire will hopefully be the smokiest part, after that the plume should subside. Place your tinder, or your clump of dry fire starter loosely in the center of the burning area. Don’t tightly squish it or compact it in order to maintain airflow.
Next, place your smaller sticks and twigs, otherwise known as kindling, on top.
Finally, build the bulk of your fire. Some people like to start with only one or two logs and add fatter pieces of wood as the fire grows. Others prefer to build a structure with multiple pieces of wood. This structure can be in the shape of a cone with the wood stacked on its end or a box-type structure with the wood lying on its side (lincoln log style if you will).
The key is to maintain good airflow throughout your structure so that you don’t suffocate the flames. Once you have built your firebase you can light the tinder. Many people like to assist the flame by fanning or blowing it gently.
The flames from the tinder should catch the kindling on fire and then the larger logs. Once your dry tinder has burned away and you are predominantly burning logs, the smoke should begin to subside. Add more logs as you see fit, but do so strategically taking care not to smother the fire.
Hot fires create less smoke, so try to keep it roaring. Additionally, hardwoods burn cleaner so you will want to use those as your fat fuel logs.
Still, you may get a bit of smoke as it is natural. Try sitting downwind of your fire if there is a consistent breeze. If the wind seems to be always shifting sitting lower to the ground may help.
Top Tips To Keep A Campfire From Smoking
In order to dry and build a campfire that gives off the least amount of smoke possible, try the following.
● Use seasoned wood. Wet wood produces a lot of smoke.
● Use hardwoods. Softwoods often get smoky.
● Try alternative tinder. Though excellent for burning dry leaves can be smoky (even though it shouldn’t last long). Birchbark makes a clean fire starter. Alternatively, commercial fire starters can be purchased.
● Maintain good airflow. If you smother your fire not only will it go out but it will also give off smoke.
● Hotter fires burn cleaner. Try to keep your fire nice and roaring to avoid smoke plumes.
● Consider making a fire decoy. If it is windy, the wind passing around your body can create a sort of vacuum. You can try placing a big rock or stump between you and the fire to suck the smoke plume towards it at which point it should then be drawn up into the sky.
Campfire smoke is a part of camping and in many cases unavoidable. However, there are specific ways to build and maintain your fire to set yourself up for success.