It is easier to LEAVE NO TRACE cooking on a stove rather than a campfire. Today’s backpacking stoves are economical, lightweight, provide fast, clean cooking and require little clean-up. In some heavily used areas, fires are not permitted. In fragile environments, such as deserts and alpine meadows, fires leave scars for many years and deplete slow-growing wood supplies. If you wish to build a fire, ask local land managers about fire restrictions or closures and whether a campfire permit is required in the area you plan to visit. Build fires only if they are allowed, there is plenty of wood that will be replenished quickly, and fire danger is low. When building fires, keep the following in mind:
Use only dead, downed wood. Green trees and branches won’t burn, and standing dead snags provide animal habitat. Sawing trees and branches leaves ugly stumps and scars. Collect small sticks from the ground, wrist size or smaller, that can be broken by hand. These burn completely and provide good coals. The remaining white ash is easier to dispose of than partially burned logs. Never leave a fire unattended.
Fires in existing campsites:
There are often existing campfire rings in established sites. Build your fire in a centrally located ring to concentrate use in one area and lessen overall impact.
Fires in pristine areas:
If no fire rings exist, a new ring is unnecessary. Fire rings do not prevent fires from spreading, and the blackened rocks are hard to conceal. Instead, build your fire in:
- A “fire pan” raised off the ground with rocks. Use a metal oil pan or light-weight barbecue grill, purchased at a discount out let or auto parts store.
- Sand collected from a stream bank or from beneath the roots of a downed tree, placed on a tarp for easy clean-up and formed into a six to eight-inch thick mound used as a fire platform.
- A fire pit dug in a dry stream bed or below high tide line.
Make sure the site is away from trees, shrubs, forest duff or peat, as these can easily catch fire. Avoid building fires next to rocks because smoke will blacken them.
Always make sure your fire is dead out. In an established site, pick up any trash in or near the fire area. If the pit is filling with ash, collect and then scatter the cold ashes several hundred feet from the campsite. Leaving a clean, usable pit will encourage the next campers to use the same site.
If you used a fire pan, fire platform or fire pit, you will need to scatter all the cold ashes well away from camp and replace any sand or rocks as you found them to LEAVE NO TRACE for others to see. If you are careful to remove all the ash from the sand, there will be little to no evidence of your fire. Naturalize the area with sticks, leaves or other materials to disguise the site.