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Smoky Campfires Are Rude: Learn How to Build a Better Fire

Imagine enjoying a peaceful night, fresh air, and a serene environment at your campsite. Then, suddenly, thick clouds of noxious smoke begin to creep through. It’s (hopefully) not a wildfire. It’s just an inconsiderate fellow camper with a smoky campfire. This is an all too common occurrence these days, either out of a lack of consideration or a lack of knowledge of how to build a smokeless campfire.

So what do you need to know to minimize the smoke while enjoying some time around the campfire? Read on as we explore how to build a better fire. 

How To Make A Smokeless Campfire - "Tip Of The Week" E47

Is It Rude to Have a Smoky Campfire in a Campground? 

Whether it bothers you or not, it’s unquestionably rude and bad camping etiquette to build a fire that belches smoke throughout the entire campground. It frequently ends up in other camper’s tents or drifting into RV windows. That frequently ruins the outdoor and indoor air quality. 

Even worse, some nearby campers may be sensitive or allergic to heavy smoke. Your smoky campfire could make them ill or uncomfortable. Even without medical conditions or sensitivities, no one enjoys the smoke. The stinging feeling in the eyes, the coating and odor it leaves behind, and lung irritation are not positive occurrences. 

And all of this is especially rude when you consider that well-built campfires can be virtually smokeless!

Smoky campfire at campsite
A smoky campfire is annoying and can even be dangerous for some campers.

What Makes Firewood Smoky?

There are several reasons your fire may put out a lot of smoke. But one of the most common issues is the wood used. Excessive smoke is a frequent sign of wood not fully combusting as it burns. This can be caused by burning wet logs or incompletely dried firewood, as well as the presence of unpleasant mold or fungi. 

Any yard debris like leaves or needles mixed in will also produce more smoke. Finally, certain types of wood are smokier than others in all cases, including most softwoods like pine.

What Wood Gives Off the Least Amount of Smoke?

Luckily for smoke-averse campers, certain types of wood are also known for their relatively low amount of smoke when burned in a campfire. These include oak, ash, maple, hickory, beech, and others. Generally, campers looking for low-smoke wood should opt for hardwoods whenever possible for a smokeless campfire.

Pro Tip: If you come in contact with another camper’s smoky campfire, use these 5 Simple Ways for How to Get Campfire Smell Out of Clothes.

Boy building smoky campfire
The type of wood you use will impact how smoky your campfire gets.

How Do I Make Campfires Less Smoky? 

Experienced campers can do a lot to reduce the amount of smoke their fire is giving off and the impact it’s having on their neighbors. Try these tips the next time you’re heading out to the campsite for a smokeless campfire.

Use Dry, Low-Smoke Wood

The single most important thing many campers can do to reduce smoke is to use properly dried firewood, sometimes referred to as “seasoned.” This simple process only requires keeping the cut firewood protected from the elements for some time. That allows it to release the water trapped in the wood naturally. 

This can be as little as three months or as long as a year and a half, with many settling on somewhere in the middle. Campers purchasing wood should ask to make sure it’s seasoned if the seller doesn’t offer the information. 

Once you’ve purchased your wood, it’s critical to keep it dry until use! That could mean starting your fire immediately after returning to or arriving at your campsite or covering or otherwise protecting your wood if you’re buying for several days or longer. 

Make the Fire in an Above Ground Pit

On a scientific level, excess smoke is produced when combustion can’t be completed. One of the most common reasons for this is a lack of oxygen. That can be particularly common in sunken fire pits that sit below ground level. Above-ground pits often have strategically placed holes designed to allow fresh air to access the base of the fire, improving combustion and lessening smoke.

Solo Stoves are great examples of one of these specially-designed “smokeless campfire pits” to create a smoke-free campfire. Its engineering creates better airflow and a more efficient burn. While smokeless fire pits aren’t truly smokeless, the smell and smoke will be significantly reduced due to the better, hotter burn.

Building frame for campfire
Stack your wood properly to ensure your campfire won’t get too smoky.

Stack the Wood Properly

Even above-ground pits may suffer from a lack of oxygen (and the extra smoke it creates) if you don’t properly build your fire

For example, when logs and kindling are stacked too closely together, air can’t feed the flames, creating incomplete combustion in your campfire. By leaving plenty of gaps between logs, you’ll maintain airflow and help the fire grow quickly and without much smoke. 

Use a Fire Starter 

Commercial campfire starters can be a major help for those who don’t usually build campfires. But an underrated benefit is their ability to reduce the smoke that sometimes comes from the trial and error of starting a fire. Fire starters get things going as quickly as possible, helping get your campfire roaring quickly and smoke free. 

Pro Tip: Pack one of these 8 Best Campfire Starters to make building your campfire quick and easy.

Don’t Burn Debris

Campers and others often look at a fire as a convenient place to get rid of debris, from yard waste to trash. While this may be tempting, it’s a surefire recipe for a ton of unpleasant smoke for you and your camping neighbors. 

Leaves, needles, and other debris produce large amounts of thick, foul-smelling smoke. Garbage contains various materials that could introduce harmful chemicals into the air when burned. So stick to hardwood firewood – and only hardwood firewood – whenever possible. 

Do Not Leave Your Fire Burning Overnight or Unattended

In order to ensure your campfire continues to burn efficiently and smokeless, you need to keep an eye on it. So, in addition to making sure the smoldering remains don’t smoke out your neighbors, it is crucial to put your fire completely out before you go to bed or leave for the day to prevent accidental wildfires. This means dousing your firepit completely with water before you leave to make sure you put out all the hot ashes and coals.

Use Propane Fire Pits

The best way to create a smokeless campfire is to use a portable propane campfire pit. These pets are really the only true smokeless fire pits since these propane flames burn cleanly and don’t give off any smoke or sparks. No wood gathering is required, and you won’t have to worry about transporting wood. You’ll always have control over the flame height for the perfect fire.

Plus, propane fires are also allowed in most areas when fire bans are in place. You also don’t have to worry about putting water on hot coals and ashes, as you simply turn off the fuel supply to douse it.

Did you know? You can get that campfire smell without the smoke! Check out the campfire spray craze that allows you to have that cozy smell anywhere.

Be a good camping neighbor and keep the smoke level of your fire as low as possible.

What Should You Not Put in a Fire? 

We’ve touched on several things to avoid putting into a fire, but it’s worth mentioning them again. These include mold or fungus on wood, leaves, needles, grass, green wood, wet wood, or unidentified plants. This last is especially important, as some plants like poison ivy can cause health issues if you breathe in their smoke. 

In addition, garbage is an absolute no-no for fires. Much of our modern trash contains plastics, metals, and other materials you simply should not burn. You’re almost certain to create some noxious, unpleasant smoke, and plenty of it. 

A special note is also necessary for accelerants like lighter fluids or gasoline. Use lighter fluid sparingly and only when necessary, and only before you light the fire. Don’t squirt it onto the flames after. Gas or other fuel types are extremely dangerous, and you should never use them on a campfire. 

Pro Tip: Kick the campfire smoke to the curb and instead use one of these 7 Best Portable Fire Pits to Build a Safe Campfire Anywhere.

How to Build a Fire || REI

Ensure an Enjoyable Camping Experience for Your Neighbors With Smokeless Campfires 

A roaring fire is a must for many campers, but unpleasant amounts of smoke for you and your neighbors don’t have to be. As you can see, you can eliminate much of the problem by using the right type of wood in the right kind of arrangement. 

Keep these finer tips in mind to ensure you’ll always be able to enjoy the warmth and convenience of your campfire without the clouds of smoke. 

What are your campfire-making tips? Tell us in the comments!

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Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

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She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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