If you have ever gone camping before, you’ve likely come back home with fond memories of laughing and talking with your loved ones by the warm and cozy glow of a campfire. Most people consider a proper campfire a core factor in the success of their trip for both practical and sentimental reasons.
That being said, more seasoned campers have likely run into trouble before when building a fire. Sometimes, you literally burn through your wood too fast or you might not be able to get the fire hot enough for practical uses like cooking.
Whether you need the campfire for cooking or just to set the mood for your scary stories, the success of yours depends on the wood that you use. Not all wood is created equally when it comes to building a campfire; if you want wood that burns hot and bright for a long time, you have to know where to look.
So what is the best wood for campfires?
The best wood for cooking on a campfire is Hickory, the easiest to find is Oak, and the best for general campfires is Ash. Hickory is a hard-wood that burns well and adds great flavor to your meals. Oak is good for all-around use and is usually available in most areas. Ash is great for general use as it burns great and produces low amounts of smoke.
Today, we’re going to talk about the types of wood that are best for building a campfire and why you should consider using one of these options the next time that you go camping.
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Criteria for Good Campfire Wood
When building a campfire, the wood that you choose will affect how easy it is light, how long it burns, and how hot the fire gets. To meet these basic criteria, you first need to differentiate between the basic wood types and recognize how each will behave while burning.
Green Wood/Seasoned Wood: Which is Easier to Light?
Regardless of the type of wood you burn, you will either have green or seasoned wood to work with. “Green” in this case refers to newly cut wood, and seasoned wood has been cut for a year or longer.
When building any fire, seasoned wood is easier to light. It has been completely dried out; the water that the roots of the tree soaked up is now gone, so it will be far less difficult to keep burning. The last thing you want is to constantly relight and restoke the fire. If you have seasoned wood on hand or can find some, it’s far preferable to freshly cut or “green” wood.
Hardwood/Softwood: Which Burns Longer?
Once you have your campfire started, it’s time to relax. Nothing puts a damper on that like having to constantly feed the fire fresh wood. It’s also frustrating because you use more valuable resources and the wood you carry takes up a lot of valuable space. What you need is wood that burns for a decently long time.
Hardwoods generally burn longer and even hotter than softwoods do! If you want to save yourself some hard work and conserve as much wood as you can, hardwood is a better option for your campfire. Hardwoods include:
- Live oak
The downside to this, though, is that these woods can be more difficult to get, and they’re often more expensive to buy than softwoods like cedar, pine, or spruce.
Best Wood for Campfires
Now that you know what typically makes for a good campfire, let’s go over some specific wood examples and how they could be a benefit (or detriment) to your camping trip.
Easiest to Get Wood For Campfires: Oak
To some extent, you are limited by your region when looking to gather wood for a camping trip. In the United States, the most widely available option is oak. Of course, you can order bundles and have any type of wood that you like delivered to you; if you do not have that option, however, oak is a great campfire wood choice and you will likely have access to it.
Why is oak good for campfires? Let’s discuss this.
- It burns at high temperatures, averaging 24 BTUs per cord. This is great for those campers who plan to cook their meals over their campfire instead of a camp stove.
- Oak burns slowly and steadily when it’s dry and well-seasoned. You won’t have to use as much wood and you can relax by the fire without doing constant maintenance to keep it hot and bright.
If there is any downside to using oak wood to build your campfire, it comes from using “green” or freshly cut wood. If you burn green oak, your fire is going to be very smoky and it won’t burn consistently. You’ll have a difficult time getting it to burn at all.
Best Wood For Campfire Cooking: Hickory
If you want to cook meat over the fire while camping, hickory wood is an excellent choice for you. As the wood burns, it gives off a smoky, deep flavor that adds something special to anything you cook over it. The other benefits of using hickory wood for your campfire include:
- Extremely high heat. Hickory wood is one of the hottest-burning options you’ll be able to find. If you need to thoroughly cook something (or you’re just camping out in a very cold place), hickory has your needs covered.
- Longlasting burn times. Hickory is another hardwood, meaning that it will be denser and will burn longer than softwood options. You won’t have to use much of it as long as the hickory you bring is well-seasoned and dry.
- A great smell. Hickory wood smells pleasant when burning unlike some other types, and it can add to the ambiance of your base camp.
Now, the detriment to using hickory wood for your campfire mainly lies in the price. Hickory is more expensive to buy than oak wood, so if pricing is an issue, this may not be your best option. If you plan to cut the wood yourself, you may also have a difficult time. Hickory is difficult to split because it’s so dense.
Best for the Firewood For Standard Campfire: Ash
Ash is the most popular choice for firewood for most campers, as it isn’t too expensive, is widely available, and burns reliably throughout the trip. It’s the perfect standard wood if you don’t need anything special. Other benefits of using ash wood for your campfire include:
- Reasonably high heat. If you need to cook over your campfire, it’s possible to do with ash wood. It won’t always burn as hot as hickory or oak, but it’s perfect for most meals.
- Steady burning. Ash doesn’t burn out quickly like pine, and it doesn’t burn forever like hawthorn or cherry. It’s great for some bonding around the fire before bed!
- Low smoke levels. Ashwood does not typically produce a lot of smoke, keeping the air fresh and preventing your eyes from stinging. This is a campfire that you can sit beside and still talk to your friends without coughing.
- The ability to burn even when green. Most firewood is difficult or impossible to burn while still green. Ash can be used even when freshly cut, though it’s still more ideal to use it only when it’s been seasoned for a while.
- Easy splitting and portability. Ash is easier to split for firewood than hickory (if you plan to gather it yourself), and it’s far lighter than other hardwood! If carrying a lot of weight at once isn’t an option for you, then ash is still a good option.
There is no obvious downside to using ash for your campfire, but white ash is better than other varieties, according to many seasoned campers.
Acceptable Softwood Substitutes
If you can’t get hardwood for your campfire, there are plenty of softwood options that are acceptable to use, though not as ideal. Softwoods are typically more affordable, easier to split, and lighter than the others. However, they do not usually burn as hot and they burn quickly. Keep this in mind when making your final decision.
Acceptable softwoods to use when building a campfire include:
- Pinewood is abundant in the United States, so there’s a good chance you will find some near you. It smells pleasant and generates some heat, but pine does burn quickly. You’ll need a lot of it if you plan to use it for your campfire. Pine is better used as kindling than as your main source of firewood, but it’ll do in a pinch.
- Black birch, in particular, is a good choice for firewood when using softwoods. It burns hot and doesn’t produce much smoke as many other softwoods do. You can cook with it if you need to, but be warned that birch burns fast. It can be tricky to use when preparing meals.
In the end, the best wood for campfires overall is ash. It doesn’t produce too much smoke, it’s easy to cook with, and it burns for a long while. It is not as expensive as hickory wood, and you can still burn it even when it isn’t seasoned.
The best wood choice for your situation depends on what you are building your fire for! For cooking meat, hickory can be the best. If you’re camping somewhere rather cold, hardwood varieties are better for you because they burn hotter.
There are many wonderful wood options to consider for building a campfire, and each one is sure to help you make wonderful memories that will last for a lifetime.
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