Minimize Campfire Impacts

Fires versus Stoves

The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth, is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Campfire building is also an important skill for every camper. Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of efficient, lightweight camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire. Stoves have become essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, flexible, efficient, reliable, and clean burning, and they eliminate the need for firewood. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition, and they leave no trace.

Should You Build a Fire?

The most important consideration to be made when deciding to use a fire is the potential damage to the backcountry.

Lessening Impacts When Campfires Are Used

If building a fire cannot be avoided, camp in areas where wood is abundant. Choose not to have a fire in areas where there is little wood—at higher elevations, in heavily used areas, or in desert settings. A true Leave No Trace fire shows no evidence of its use.

Existing Fire Rings

The best place to build a fire is within an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite. Keep the fire small and burning only for the time you are using it. Allow wood to burn completely to ash. Put out fires with water, not dirt. Avoid building fires next to rock outcrops where the black scars will remain for many years.

Mound Fire

Construction of a mound fire can be accomplished by using simple tools: a garden trowel, large stuff sack, and a ground cloth or plastic garbage bag. To build this type of fire:

  1. Collect some mineral soil, sand, or gravel from an already disturbed source. The root hole of a toppled tree or sand from a dry riverbed are possible sources. 
  2. Lay a ground cloth on the fire site and then spread the soil into a circular, flat-topped mound at least 6 inches thick.

The thickness of the mound is critical to insulate the ground from the heat of the fire. The ground cloth or garbage bag is important only in that it makes cleaning up the fire much easier. The circumference of the mound should be larger than the size of the fire to allow for the inevitable spreading of coals. The advantage of the mound fire is that it can be built on flat, exposed rock or on an organic surface such as litter, duff, or grass.

Fire Pans

Use of fire pans is a good alternative for fire building. Metal oil drain pans and some backyard barbecue grills make effective and inexpensive fire pans. The pan should have at least 3-inch-high sides. Elevate the pan on rocks or line it with mineral soil so the heat will not scorch the ground.

Firewood and Cleanup


Certain safety precautions should be followed when handling fire: 

Teaching Leave No Trace