Depending on your style of camping, a campfire might be an all-night party, a cooking necessity, a survival tool, or comfort on a cool night. You might not even be the kind of camper who makes a fire at all— plenty of campers use stoves or portable gas grills for their cooking (or heating, in the case of stoves) needs.
But if you are the kind of camper who uses fire, you will need wood to facilitate that! You can’t have a campfire without firewood, after all. But how much firewood you’ll need depends on what type of fire you plan to build and how long you’ll keep it going. Today, we’re going to give you all the information you need on firewood. We’ll tell you how much you need, how it’s sold, how to find it yourself, and we’ll even go into notes on how to choose firewood and what types of trees give you the best wood for burning.
Campfire Wood: How Much Do I Need?
To determine how much firewood you need, first, figure out if you’re going to be cooking or not. You can toast a marshmallow or two over pretty much any fire, but if you’re planning on making a meal, you’ll need to have a fire that burns a bit hotter than a regular campfire. This means adding more wood and shaping your fire so that it develops a nice coal bed for cooking.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that a bundle of wood will burn for about 2 hours in most conditions. You will need additional wood if it’s windy, wet, or if you’re cooking. Keep in mind that this is just for firewood— you will also need kindling and tinder to get your fire started. You can either buy firestarters or use leaves and twigs for kindling and tinder.
|Campfire Duration||Minimum Wood Required||Wood Required For Cooking|
|1 hour||1 bundle||1-2 bundles|
|2 hours||1-2 bundles||2-3 bundles|
|4 hours||2-3 bundles||3-5 bundles|
|6 hours||3-4 bundles||5-7 bundles|
|8 hours||4-6 bundles||6-8 bundles|
Also, keep in mind that the longer your fire burns, the longer it will take to cool down completely. Fire safety is crucial while camping, especially if you’re in an area that’s prone to wildfires. Be sure to obey all fire rules for your campsite of choice, and respect that sometimes it’s simply not safe to make a fire.
How Much Wood Is In A Bundle?
Generally, a bundle of firewood contains 4-5 logs of firewood that are split into 8-12 sticks that are 3-4 inches in diameter. These sticks are wrapped in a net bag or plastic carrier for easy transportation. The actual measure of a bundle is between 0.65 and 0.75 cubic feet. Pre-packaged bundles can cost anywhere from $4 to $10, depending on location. While this can add up, especially if you’re planning a long cooking fire, there are advantages to buying bundles. The wood is already split, and it’s often seasoned or heat-treated so that the moisture content is minimal.
How Dry Should Firewood Be?
The magic number is 20% moisture content. Any more, and the wood will burn poorly, or maybe not even burn at all. Living wood and very fresh wood can have a moisture content of up to 80%, so the firewood you buy will either have been seasoned for at least a year or kiln-dried in an oven to get the moisture content down.
How Much Does A Bundle of Wood Weigh?
Although it varies based on the type of wood and the moisture content, a bundle of wood can weigh between 20 and 27 pounds. This means that if you’re planning a three-night camping trip with a two-hour fire each night, you might be taking more than 120 pounds of firewood into the forest with you! This might not be a problem if you’re car camping or winter camping with a gear sled, but if you’re backpacking, there is no way you want to bring that much weight in wood!
Where To Get Firewood
However much firewood you need, it’s important that you get it close to wherever you’ll be burning it. Some land management groups and campgrounds will inspect your firewood and may even search your vehicle to make sure that you’re not bringing in any unapproved firewood. If you’re planning on camping at a state or national park, be prepared to answer questions about your firewood’s origins.
This concern comes from the huge risk of invasive species being transferred through firewood. Species like the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle, spotted lanternfly, and dozens of others can be transferred through firewood
The conservation group Don’t Move Firewood has a map that has details about firewood rules and regulations, as well as some information about how to ensure that you’re buying local firewood. In general, if you’re planning to camp at a site that has a camp store (like a national or state park), it’s easiest and best to just buy firewood from there.
No matter where or how you like to camp, you need to be aware of your environmental footprint and make choices that protect the environment. Future generations deserve to enjoy the woods too!
Foraging For Firewood
If you don’t want to buy firewood, you will need to gather it yourself. If you’re thru-hiking or on a long-distance trip where you don’t want to carry heavy bundles of firewood, there’s likely plenty to be found on the ground. However, this does put you at the mercy of the local climate and weather. Wet, waterlogged wood won’t burn well, and if it’s wet enough, it won’t burn at all. But if the conditions are suitable, and the campsite allows it, gathering your own firewood can be relatively easy and is free. It also means that you won’t be carrying it in and that you won’t have to worry about carrying the plastic bag out with you.
When you’re looking for firewood at your campsite, it’s prudent to follow the Leave No Trace guidelines for wood collection. These guidelines ensure that wood collection is sustainable and safe for the environment. These guidelines are referred to as the “Four Ds”: Dead, Down, Dinky, and Distant.
Dead: Only collect dead wood. Living wood doesn’t burn well and damaging living trees for firewood causes environmental harm.
Down: Only take wood that’s on the ground. Standing dead trees and snags provide shelter for several species and play an important role in the ecosystem.
Dinky: Small wood is better (and burns better!) than larger pieces of wood. Larger logs often harbor beneficial insects and microorganisms and can provide shelter for small animals. Choose firewood that’s the diameter of your wrist or smaller.
Distant: Don’t just harvest wood from around your campsite. Spread out the impact of your wood-gathering so that it’s not just concentrated in one spot. This helps keep enough woody debris on the ground for healthy sapling and soil development.
By following these guidelines, you have the best chance at collecting the right kind of firewood and preserving backcountry campsites for other campers.
Additionally, there is a fifth D-word you need to keep in mind when foraging for firewood: Dry. Remember, wood with a moisture content that’s greater than 20% isn’t going to burn efficiently. Some campers who frequently forage for firewood carry a small moisture meter with them to make sure that they’re not wasting their time with wet wood (though this is pretty uncommon).
How To Choose Firewood
Whether you’re looking in the woods or at the camp store, some wood is better for burning than other types. To make sure that you’re choosing good firewood, you need to inspect it by feeling it, looking at it, listening to it, and smelling it.
If you pick up a piece of wood that feels heavy for its size, that extra weight is coming from extra moisture. But if a piece of wood feels too light for its size, it will burn but it won’t produce coals— it’ll burn up too quickly for that. This means that wood that feels light is great for kindling, but not for the main fuel for your fire.
When you’re shopping for wood, take a look at the ends of the sticks or logs. If the ends show cracking, also called checking, that’s a good sign. Wood dries from the surface to the center, and this uneven drying rate creates cracks. These cracks show that the logs have been seasoned and are dry. You should also look for light-colored wood that doesn’t look freshly cut. Wood that’s had time to dry tends to be lighter in color than fresh wood.
Dry wood sounds different from wet wood. To test this, take two pieces of your wood and hit them together in your hands. You should hear a sharp “crack” noise rather than a dull “thud.” A dull sound means there’s too much moisture for the wood to burn well.
Take a good whiff of your wood. The smell shouldn’t be overpowering, although woods with high phenol contents (like pine, spruce, and other conifers) will always smell somewhat fresh. When wood dries, the smell tends to evaporate with the moisture. For hardwood, it can take a long time to get that moisture content below 20%, so smell is a really important feature to pay attention to when you’re gathering wood.
What Trees Give The Best Firewood?
Generally speaking, hardwood trees create firewood that burns longer and hotter than softwood. Hardwood logs can burn almost twice as long as softwood logs, which means you’ll carry less wood if you use hardwood. Most lumber used today is softwood. These trees grow faster and mature more quickly, and cost less to grow and harvest. So while softwood might be easier to come by than hardwood, it’s not quite as nice for firewood.
If you’re buying wood, it will usually say what type of wood it is. Even if it’s not specific down to the species, the bundle’s packaging will usually indicate hardwood or softwood. But if it doesn’t, or if you’re foraging for wood yourself, how can you tell? You don’t have to be a botanist to know the difference between hardwood and softwood— it’s actually a pretty easy determination! And perhaps surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the actual hardness of the wood. This determination is made by seed structure.
Hardwood trees grow seed-filled flowers or similar structures pollinated by bees and other insects. In addition to insects, these trees can also disperse their seeds through the wind (like maples with their “helicopter” seeds) or other animals like rodents and birds (like oaks and their acorns).
Softwood trees, on the other hand, grow seed-filled cones dispersed by wildlife, air, rain, and sometimes even fire. While some of their wood can be relatively soft, like pine, the softest wood— balsa— is technically a hardwood! Even though this is kind of confusing, just remember that softwood has cones and you’ll be fine.
Softwoods are also typically high in organic compounds called phenols. These phenols give them that distinctive pine-y, spruce-y, or otherwise crisp, coniferous smell. If your wood smells like a Christmas tree, it’s softwood.
In North American forests, softwoods you’re likely to encounter are pine, spruce, fir, juniper, yew, hemlock, and redwood. Hardwoods include oak, maple, ash, elm, birch, hickory, sycamore, sweetgum, poplar, and many others.
If you don’t want to deal with finding local firewood or foraging for it, you might want to look at some of these firewood alternatives.
Wood bricks are made of kiln-dried, super-condensed recycled wood chips and sawdust. This alternative firewood can be burned by itself or added to regular firewood fires to produce longer-lasting heat than standard firewood. These are manufactured for optimal burning, so they produce more heat than logs and are consistent in moisture content and size. Another major advantage is that they are guaranteed to be pest-free. They also quickly create a hot ash bed, which is ideal for campfire cooking. However, wood bricks can be expensive, and they primarily put out heat, not light. That means that a wood brick fire won’t look like a traditional campfire, and if you like the look of a roaring fire (as many campers do!), you might be disappointed by a wood brick fire alone.
Fire logs are similar to wood bricks in that they use recycled materials. These are log-shaped bundles of compressed sawdust and wax and are designed to light easily and burn well. Fire logs can also burn longer than a comparably-sized wood log, but many fire logs do not get as hot as a wood fire or are not suitable to cook over. If you want to use fire logs for camping, make sure you get logs that are rated for use in an outdoor campfire, like the Duraflame Outdoor Fire Log. As with wood bricks, fire logs can be expensive, but the consistent burn time and burn quality, as well as their environmental friendliness, makes them a good choice for some campers.
Plant-based Logs use non-wood products to create an extruded log much like wood-based fire logs. These logs often use byproducts from other industries and vegetable waxes to ensure a clean, steady burn. Two of the most common are soy and switchgrass logs and coffee logs.
Soy and Switchgrass Logs use farmed soy and switchgrass to create clean-burning logs. These logs use soy wax, which doesn’t leave a waxy residue in your fire pit.
Coffee logs are made from coffee grounds. You might not know this, but coffee grounds are extremely flammable. If you’re a coffee drinker, you can even recycle your own grounds to make handy DIY firestarters that you can take with you when you go camping. Like the other logs mentioned above, these are an organic material compressed into a log shape with natural waxes. They use recycled coffee grounds and burn fairly hot. And despite being coffee grounds, they only have a very faint coffee smell when burned. (Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage is in the eye— or nose— of the beholder.) Both of these logs burn longer than traditional wood logs, with coffee logs lasting up to four hours per log.
No matter what kind of logs you use for your fire, it’s hard to think of anything more closely associated with camping than that cheerful orange glow and the snapping pops of burning wood. The image of smoke and embers against the night sky is cherished by anybody who’s ever had fun camping. We hope that this guide has stoked some fun memories and kindled your desire to get out there and make a campfire. Happy trails!
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about