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Campfires in the backcountry
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Richard Gless
(rgless) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Campfires in the backcountry on 11/14/2008 00:02:38 MST Print View

I've seen a couple of posts in the last few months with pictures around big campfires that make me feel I'd like to throw something out for discussion.

I've built my share of big campfires in the distant past, but with the increasing regulation of campfires as a result of use (at least in California) I think we need to consider that a minimalist fire is better. (If you're in an area with tons of wood or an area that is very rarely used, this rant probable doesn't apply. I also realize some of the regulation is a result of drought and overall dry weather fire hazard.) A campfire is one of the real pleasures of camping, but several areas in California have banned campfires in recent years. We go to Emmigrant a lot since there were no restrictions on campfires, but this year they restricted fires to below 9000 ft. Even with a group of three or four people, we don't build a fire at all until it gets dark and even then it is rarely more than a foot in diameter. If it's not cold I often don't build a fire at all if going solo. We keep the fire small and try to use a minimum of wood. If there is a big campfire ring we try to make it smaller. If it is not an established site and has a campfire ring, we destroy the campfire ring.

I recently went to one of my favorite, relatively remote lakes in Emmigrant with only one decent campsite to find that someone had build a huge campfire ring right in the middle of the sleeping area making it essentially unusable as a tent site. In addition someone had sawed all the branches off the really cool, gnarled cedar trees next to the campsite for firewood. Needless to say it took a bit away from the outdoor experience.

I guess I'd just like to encourage everyone to consider a minimalist fire, if appropriate, as part of the UL ethic and maybe to try to encourage others in the mountains to do the same.

Edited by rgless on 11/14/2008 00:08:23 MST.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Campfires in the backcountry on 11/14/2008 00:45:05 MST Print View

Well said Richard, I have spent a lot of time in Emigrant and hope that people just respect the wilderness, the campsite and each other. There is something tribalistic about a nice campfire, it brings people together. Ice Man Cometh!!!!

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
Re: Campfires in the backcountry on 11/15/2008 13:46:44 MST Print View

Good post, but I think you're preaching to the choir here. The people who build the biggest campfires are the people who bring axes and saws on camping trips, generally equestrians and traditional backpackers I'd think.

Scott McClure
(scottmphoto) - F

Locale: The beautiful Arkansas River Valley
Campfire on 11/17/2008 09:32:11 MST Print View

There's an old saying that goes something like Indians build a small fire and sit close while a white man builds a big fire and sits far away.
I love having a campfire while camping, it is just part of the experience. A big fire is more dangerous, not to mention uses more fuel than a smaller fire would.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Campfires in the backcountry on 11/17/2008 13:31:52 MST Print View

For me, small campfires only when designated fire rings are provided, using only downed wood. In Ontario, most areas have established sites that they request you stick to. In winter, I'll have a fire if I need to dry clothes or boots out, or if I'm freezing my rear off, but same rules apply.

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Leave No Trace #4 on 11/17/2008 18:35:33 MST Print View

I love campfires but have also noticed it is more and more restricted. Fire suppression hasn't helped at all since there is so much fuel out there.

Principle #4

Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.