The temperature of a campfire depends on many factors. This includes the type of fuelwood you use, the wind conditions, and how you stack your materials.
So, how hot is a campfire?
A large campfire can burn up to 2,000°F (1093°C). But most sensibly sized fires will be more around the 900°F (482°C) mark. You don’t need a massive campfire that will leave you without eyebrows. You can reach higher temperatures with a small fire, so long as you set it up correctly.
It’s much better to keep your campfires small and under control, so you don’t start the next forest fire that hits the headlines. (Really, who wants to be that guy?) This article will give you tips for selecting materials and setting up your fire properly.
You’ll have a hot mug of campfire coffee in your hand before you know it!
You can use the color of the flame to tell if your campfire is getting hot. Blue and white flames are the fiercest, while yellow and orange flames are less hot.
Lower temperature fires also tend to burn smokier, but a hot fire can release a lot of smoke if you choose the wrong materials. (Oak, maple, and apple are all used for smoking!)
Choosing Materials for Your Campfire
The temperature of your campfire will depend on the materials you use and how you set it up. It will need plenty of oxygen to give it a fighting chance!
A gentle breeze will do you a lot of favors, but you’ll have to go out and find the wood yourself.
First, you need to select suitable materials for your campfire. For starting material, you could use something like toilet paper, newspaper, or dry leaves.
I know of army guys who use tampons to start fires in emergencies. I wouldn’t recommend tampons, as they usually contain a lot of plastic, but they would undoubtedly be a conversation starter.
The more starting materials you can get burning, the better chance you’re giving your fire, as you’ll be setting it off with a hot and powerful flame.
You’ll want a mix of small and larger logs or tree branches to keep your fire going. The advice on collecting firewood differs depending on whom you listen to, so I’ll tell you about both theories I’ve heard.
- You shouldn’t collect deadwood from the forest because it’s a vital food source for fungi and insects, which are key players in ecosystem health. Instead, you should bring your own and pack out any excess with you.
- You shouldn’t bring your own wood to a forested area because you might be transporting pathogenic fungi or bacteria, which could harm the forest.
I was rather confused when two respected outdoors people each insisted that they were right. So I referred to the Leave No Trace Information Center, which is the Holy Grail of responsible camping.
Responsible Fuel Collection
Here is their advice:
“Don’t bring firewood from home. Buy it from a local source or gather it responsibly.”
Ok, great. But what does “gather it responsibly” mean? According to LNT, that means:
- Don’t cut wood from standing trees, whether they are dead or alive.
- Gather wood only when there is an abundance, and its absence won’t be noticed.
- You want to take wood from a wide area around your camp to minimize the impact.
- Take pieces that aren’t bigger than your wrist and which you can snap with your hands,
Don’t forget that campfires are allowed only in certain places, due to wildfire risks. Do a quick Google search for the region or national park that you are visiting!
Setting Up Your Campfire
Ideally, you will have a fire pit to keep your fire off the ground. But if you don’t, you can use existing fire rings.
If there are no existing fire rings, you can build a mound fire. Do this by collecting dirt and rocks from a disturbed source like a fallen tree and laying them up to 5 inches thick on the ground. This will protect the earth below from heat.
Here’s a video to help you visualize what I’m saying. I find it much easier to learn by watching!
Clearing Up After Your Campfire
Once your wood has burned down to white ash and cooled, you’ll soak the leftover ashes and sprinkle them in a wide area around camp.
Then pop the soil back where you found it, and you’re good to get back home. (Not that you’ll be eager to leave camp!)
A lot of people make the mistake of making a huge campfire that they can’t keep under control.
Remember, less is more. You can still make your coffee and fry your breakfast if your bonfire isn’t reaching the tree canopy! (Plus, there’s less mess to clean up afterward, which is always a bonus.)
Cooking on a Campfire
If the reason you’re wondering how hot campfires are is so that you can safely cook food, I’m afraid there is no way to be certain how hot your fire is. You’d be better off going by how the food looks.
If you are worried about safety when cooking something like chicken, you’d be better off getting a temperature probe for the meat itself than trying to work out the cooking temperature it reached.
For example, chicken would have to reach 165°F (75°C) to be safe.
Cooking on a campfire is a lot of fun, but you must use the right equipment. If your pans have any plastic, wood, or silicone parts, they won’t make it back home in one piece.
I recently wrote an article about campfire cooking equipment; you’re welcome to check it out if you need any more information or inspiration.
Even if all you have is some tin foil or metal sticks, you can still have fun baking potatoes or melting smores. Whether you’re on a family camping trip or a solo thru-hike, campfire cooking is a worthwhile and fun experience.
A Fair Warning!
Before I go, I want to make sure you know that not all kinds of wood burn the same. If your lumber is too young or green, it won’t burn well or give off heat.
So there’s absolutely no reason to cut live wood from trees, as it’s only going to smoke you out!
The types of wood you use will also influence the fire temperature, though dryness is the most critical factor.
Some shrubs and bushes are poisonous to burn, but you should be okay with most logs that you can find in the woods. Don’t burn wood that has been in contact with poison ivy, as you could inhale super dangerous fumes, which is far more dangerous than touching it.
If you don’t think you know how to identify poison ivy, the following video should help. (It’s also good to know for nature wees, especially if you have to squat as I do!)
I can’t tell you exactly how hot your campfire is burning without lighting it inside a multi-million-dollar testing lab. And let’s be honest: That’s not going to be the best camping spot.
We know that big bonfires can get as hot as 2,000°F, but smaller fires can still get up to a respectable temperature that will boil your coffee for you.
Blue and white flames burn particularly hot, so they are a good sign that your temperature has ramped up. But the best way to know whether your food is ready is to look at it. Does it look and smell cooked, even when you slice into the center? If so, enjoy your meal!
I hope you found this article helpful, and I wish you many happy adventures around a crackling campfire.
More to read:
Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.