Fires vs. 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 lightweight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire for cooking. Stoves have become essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, flexible and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition—and they Leave No Trace.
Camp in areas where wood is abundant if building a fire. 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 having been constructed.
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. Dirt may not completely extinguish the fire. Avoid building fires next to rock outcrops where the black scars will remain for many years.
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.
Collect mineral soil, sand or gravel from an already disturbed source. The root hole of a toppled tree is one such source. Lay a ground cloth on the fire site and then spread the soil into a circular, flat-topped mound at least 3 to 5 inches thick. The thickness of the mound is critical to insulate the ground below 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 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.
A fire pan is another good alternative to a traditional campfire. Metal oil drain pans and some backyard barbecue grills make effective and inexpensive fire pans. The pan should have at least three-inch-high sides. It should be elevated on rocks or lined with mineral soil so the heat does not scorch the ground.