Campfires are a central element of camping. They tie the campsite together, providing warmth, light, and heat for cooking. In many ways, the campfire is the backcountry equivalent of a dining room table. If you run out of fuel for your fire, you lose out on all this. Determining how much firewood to bring depends on what kind of camping trip you’re going to have. Transporting the firewood may not be worth the hassle if you can gather wood at the campsite, for example. Read through this guide to discover how to factor in the particulars of a camping trip to decide how much firewood you should gather to make sure you can stay warm for the whole trip.
Camping Firewood Checklist
There are many considerations to make when determining the amount of firewood you need for a camping trip. Run through this checklist to make sure you’ve taken everything into account.
Do You Need To Bring Firewood?
It might seem like an obvious point, but some campsites sell firewood or have vendors in the surrounding area. Look for a cord of wood near gas stations on your way to the campsite. Some well-known places to camp, such as KOAs, sell firewood on site. Cords of wood are the large stacks that are typically covered with a tarp to stay dry. Firewood retailers usually have a larger business like bait and fishing supplies. There are occasionally local people who sit with a truckload of firewood to sell to campers visiting the area.
Are You Allowed To Bring Firewood?
Many places across North America forbid or strongly suggest against the transportation of firewood because pests like the Asian longhorn beetle or the emerald ash borer can be carried inside firewood and spread around to new locations. Locally sourced firewood can avoid this unintended consequence, as can certified pest-free wood. Check the local regulations to make sure you aren’t breaking any rules by transporting your own firewood to your campsite.
Can You Find Firewood?
Gathering kindling and firewood at the campsite will save lots of effort transporting wood. It will prevent inadvertently introducing new pests to the area and basically guarantee that you won’t run out of fuel. Some camping locations, especially the popular ones, forbid gathering firewood to preserve the natural environment. National parks and places with unique ecosystems are the most common places that limit or ban firewood gathering.
What Will the Weather Be Like?
If you’re going camping in the autumn or winter, you’re going to burn through a larger amount of wood. Also, think about the moisture content of the wood. If it has rained or snowed recently, finding dry wood will be much more difficult. Even if buying firewood is a possibility, they may not have covered their woodpile adequately. In either of these situations, you’ll need to keep a fire going through most of the day as well as at night. Make sure you can find plenty of dry wood and bring manufactured kindling. Buying seasoned wood ensures that you’ll have dry fuel.
Will You Cook Over the Fire?
Cooking hot meals over the campfire or a wood-burning stove is one of the best parts of camping. Collecting enough of the right type of firewood is imperative to get enough heat to cook food. Plus, you’ll probably be burning more wood if you have a significant amount of food to cook. If you’re camping during a cold winter, you’ll likely be drinking more coffee, tea, and other hot drinks to warm yourself. That means you’ll need more firewood. It’s unlikely you’ll need a whole additional cord of wood, but a few extra logs will likely be needed.
How Fast Does Firewood Burn?
Larger bonfires release more heat and burn faster. Smaller fires build heat the longer they burn, so a log might not last as long in an older fire as it would when the fire is just beginning. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say exactly how long a log will last in a fire. If you were to keep a healthy fire going for an hour, you would probably have to add a couple of logs to the fire. Dry logs or wood that has been hollowed out by insects has less mass to burn and will turn to ash faster. Certain types of wood also burn faster than others.
Firewood Guide: Which Tree Makes the Best Firewood?
Wood is divided into two camps: hardwood and softwood. These names have more to do with how the tree species behave and less to do with the hardness of the wood. Hardwoods generally have more density than softwoods and therefore burn longer. Oak, birch, and ash are three of the most popular hardwoods. Larch, pine, and cedar are common softwoods that burn well in a fire.
- Oak: One of the most common types of trees in North America, oak is great for campfires because it burns slowly. Mix it in with other kinds of wood to keep a fire going without having to tend to it too much. Look for the distinctively-shaped leaves to identify oak trees.
- Birch: This species comes in different variations that burn at their own rates. Compared with oak, birch burns much more quickly. Use it at the beginning of a fire and mix it with oak for a healthy fire. Birch trees have white papery bark.
- Ash: Ash has a great output which makes it perfect for cookfires. It can be used on its own in a fire and it also has a steady flame so you can depend on it for good light. Ash trees have few branches low on the trunk but their bark looks like oak.
- Larch: A very hard wood, larch takes ages to dry, but it burns extremely hot. If you’re cooking with a wood stove or kiln, larch is the perfect type of wood to use as a fuel source. The branches have needles kind of like pine.
- Pine: Although it’s easy to light and keeps a nice flame, pine burns a bit more quickly than the other species on this list so you’ll need more of it. If you find pine at your campsite, it’s optimal for use as a firestarter. Pine needles are the biggest giveaway that you’re in a pine forest.
- Cedar: Not only does cedar have a nice hickory-like scent, but it’s also easy to burn even when it isn’t completely dry and crackles pleasantly in a fire. Cedar trees look similar to pine trees, but they’re usually greener, and the needles are closer together.
- Hickory: Hickory is one of the hardest woods that’s widely available. It burns for ages and puts off a really good amount of heat. Cookstoves and bigger bonfires both benefit from the inclusion of hickory, especially for the smoky flavor it imparts into food. Hickory trees are usually very tall with thin trunks and have large acorn-like seeds.
- Poplar: This is another fast-burning type of wood that works great as a fire starter. You can also use it to build up a fire for a good flame. If you only need a temporary fire, poplar if ideal. Poplar trees are also called cottonwoods and their round leaves give them away.
A Guide to Buying Firewood
For most campers, purchasing firewood on-site or from a nearby vendor is much easier than finding wood around the campsite. You won’t have to bring an ax or a saw and spend time cutting the wood into usable pieces. Most people aren’t sure how much to buy and what an appropriate cost for firewood should be, though. The stack of firewood you find at a shop is called a cord. It has fairly specific definitions: a cord of firewood should be 128 cubic feet. They’re typically four feet high and eight feet long. Another unit used to measure firewood is called a face cord. It’s also four feet by eight feet but its depth can vary between 12 and 32 inches.
It can be anywhere from 32 to 85 cubic feet. Some states only permit firewood sales by the cord or face cord. This is to make sure buyers are getting a precise amount. You can expect to pay around $100 for a cord, close to $200 for nicer hardwoods like hickory. Keep in mind that a full cord is way, way more than campers will need unless they’re planning to camp out for a month or more. For a single overnight camping trip, you probably won’t need more than 10 logs depending on what kind of wood you’re using and how much you plan to use the campfire for cooking and other purposes.
How to Gather Firewood
If you aren’t buying firewood and plan to gather it around your campsite instead, make sure you do it in a way that isn’t destructive to the environment. For example, don’t cut branches off living trees because this can damage them. If there are trees around, it’s very likely there are also plenty of branches on the ground beneath them. Finding logs might be a bit more difficult, but fallen trees and dead trees are great sources. Look under bushes and places with rain cover for dry wood.
If you’re on a longer trip, you might be able to season your own wood if it’s sunny. Don’t forget to look for small twigs and other kindling to start the fire. Many campers rely on manufactured firestarters, but dry leaves and pine needles are a fine natural substitute. It’s wise to collect all or most of the firewood you’re going to need and organizing it by the fire pit. A firewood rack is helpful for keeping the wood from being stepped on or tripped over and away from possible water on the ground.
How to Build a Long-Lasting Campfire
You can greatly reduce the amount of wood you need on your camping trip if you build the right kind of campfire. Use some of these tips to build a fire that can last without needing constant maintenance.
- Gather the right materials: You need kindling, tinder, and larger wood. Although the kindling and tinder are most important when you’re starting the fire, they’re also good for maintaining it and getting a nice bright flame for some brief extra light.
- Use the right shape: Arranging logs allows for better airflow and a bright flame. You can use classic formations like the High X, log cabin, cone, or upside-down pyramid. The last method will make the longest-lasting fire.
- Let air into the center: The heart of the fire needs airflow to keep burning. Make sure enough air can get in but a sudden gust of wind won’t over-stoke the fire and burn the firewood faster. Once your coals are built up enough, the center will likely have plenty of heat to burn even with reduced airflow.
- Mix wood varieties: Use fast-burning wood at the beginning and throughout your fire to keep a bright flame but make sure there’s plenty of dense hardwood logs to keep the fire going long-term. Of course, it depends on how long you need the fire to stay lit. But for overnight fires, you should mix plenty of hardwood with faster-burning softwood species.
Whichever way you decide to get firewood to your campsite, make sure you do it safely. In addition to personal safety measures to prevent burns and other injuries, you should also take precautions to protect the environment from pests and forest fires. Tree-killing insects live inside of wood. Try not to move wood more than 10 miles, with 50 miles as an absolute cap. You should also ask any firewood seller where they source their wood to avoid problems. Be careful when burning pallets or other waste wood.
It’s a nice way to recycle some wood that would otherwise be wasted, but some processed industrial wood is treated with creosote to preserve it and keep out insects. You risk inhalation of this potentially harmful chemical if you light it on fire. Make sure you have a fire ring or a fire line. If your fire is producing too much ash, use different wood. Otherwise, lit ashes could spread the fire to the area around you and it can get out of control quickly. Use this handy firewood map to find about firewood regulations in your area. It may seem ridiculous or annoying, but if we don’t take the proper steps to preserve our environment then we risk losing the beautiful backcountry campsites we enjoy so much.
The most important tip for preventing forest fires is to make sure you put out your fire. Don’t just pour water on it and leave it steaming. Fires that have been burning a long time can maintain enough heat and embers to reignite, and if that happens after you leave the whole area could sustain damage. Make sure to bury your ashes after you pour water on them. Throwing dirt on top completely stops airflow to the coals and embers and will help put out the fire all the way. Also, don’t leave putting out the fire until the last minute – give yourself time to monitor the fire and make sure it’s truly out.
Compressed wood chip log products are nice substitutes for firewood that don’t carry the risk of transporting tree-killing bugs. If you’re worried about running out of fuel on your campsite, bring along a backup propane tank so you can still cook and have light and a heat source if you run out of firewood. Organiz briquettes made of various organic materials are another easy way to bring fuel to your campsite, and they’re environmentally friendly.
Firewood is essential for campers who plan to rely on the campfire to cook food and give light and heat to their campsite. Running out of firewood will put a damper on things in a metaphorical way and leave everyone out in the cold in a very real way. If you aren’t going on a long multi-day camping trip, several large logs should be enough. The best plan is to bring the kindling and tinder and gather the larger wood from around the campsite, where possible. Always make sure to follow the applicable rules and regulations when transporting firewood. Use campfire tips in this guide to make sure your fire burns brightly and lasts as long as you need it on your next camping trip.
Bonus tip: Learn how to pick wood for a campfire with this helpful guide!