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One of the quintessential activities of backpacking is sitting around a campfire in the cool of the evening before retiring for the night. Roasted marshmallows are campfire favorites along with ghost stories and adventure tales from the day’s hike. Yes, the Geez has been known to embellish a story or two for the sake of newbies. But what story isn’t worth adding a little danger or humor to?
Do I Need a Campfire Permit
Campfire safety is first and foremost! If you plan on building a campfire while backpacking many areas require you to get a campfire permit. The permit will alert you to the rules for building and using campfires safely.
Equally important is checking current fire conditions and/or restrictions before heading out into the wilderness. The forest service or governing jurisdiction will have that information available for you.
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For example, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you cannot have campfires above 9,000 feet even if there are no fire restrictions. Additionally, last summer they did not allow campfires even in established campgrounds in the coastal mountains because of the extreme fire danger.
The following rules apply to California’s campfire permit and are generally applicable to other jurisdictions as well. Check here to get a California permit.
What Equipment Do I Need to Make a Campfire
The three essential items needed for building a campfire are:
OK, maybe matches (waterproof ones are the best) are the only thing you really need. However, it is helpful to have fire starter cubes to
get your fire going. Also, a saw to cut up larger pieces of wood once the fire is established. My favorite lighter cubes are the UST WetFire cubes that come individually packaged. The whole cube can be used as tinder for the fire or you can use only a portion of it if the fire is easy to start.
The other handy tool is a backpacker’s saw for cutting wood. Often times most of the small sticks and branches have been used by previous backpackers at popular campsites, leaving only the larger branches and logs that are too large for the fire ring.
That is where the Silky GomBoy backpacking saw becomes invaluable. This old geezer can cut through a 5-inch log in under 30 seconds without even breaking a sweat. It also weighs only 8 oz. A real plus for The Geez!
What is the Best Way to Build a Campfire
When you are building a campfire while backpacking, take it from the Geez, place small twigs, pine needles, or dry grass over the fire starter cube and leave an opening to let your lit match do its work.
The secret is to start with small sticks and twigs, get them burning, and then add increasingly larger and larger pieces of wood in a teepee (inverted V) fashion over the fire.
This will allow air to get underneath the pieces of wood that you add and allow the larger pieces to catch fire. Once your fire is established you can place larger logs on the fire.
Another useful tool is in your gear already, a potty trowel. It is helpful to use your potty trowel if you need to clear the area around your fire or help to put it out.
Then sit back and relax. Although my backpack weighs an additional pound, I like to take my backpacking chair a Helinox Chair Zero with me to relax in when backpacking. Granted it’s not my La-Z-Boy chair at home. But it is worth its weight in gold on multi-day wilderness adventures.
If weight is an issue for your adventure, read here about a great ultralight personal size ground cloth to use for sitting on the ground – even if it is wet!
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What if Building a Backpacking Campfire is Not Practical?
For whatever reason, sometimes you hike into an area where campfires are problematic. Some forest areas are frequented by so many hikers that finding firewood is almost impossible.
Or you have hiked all day, are dead tired, and arrive at your camping destination at dusk. That sucks the joy out of an otherwise perfect backpacking experience. The ambiance and warmth radiating from an evening campfire are squashed like a bug in the dirt. But an old geezer doesn’t let that get in his way!
Make a Faux Campfire While Backpacking
What if you could have what I call a faux campfire? Leave it to The Geez to come up with a solution. At home, you can buy a fake fireplace that uses electricity to create the look and feel of a real fireplace, albeit lacking the crackle and pop of burning wood.
Well, you can create the look and feel of a real campfire by using aluminum foil to block off the air vents under the burner of your backpacking stove. Lacking adequate air intake, the burning propane fuel dances 4 to 5 inches above the burner with a yellow flame resembling a campfire.
Four or five fellow backpackers can gather around the flames. However, it doesn’t give off much heat. But, it does provide the ambiance of a real campfire. And you can roast marshmallows with it just like a real burning campfire.
The downside to this faux fix is that your backpacking stove will have black soot on the burner and you will use an extra 65 grams of fuel per hour. If weight is not a problem, an 8 oz Isobutane/Propane fuel canister will provide you with an evening of faux fire enjoyment.
Remember to Leave No Trace behind with your campfires! And as the evening cold settles in, grab your sierra cup and some Campfire Whiskey, gather around your blazing fire to wind down, share stories, and deepen friendships.