Campfires add life to your camping trip. From sitting around and telling stories to cooking and roasting marshmallows, they can truly be the heart of the evening. Unfortunately, not all campgrounds allow them.
The top alternatives to campfire are:
- Propane or electric heater
- Freestanding portable stove
- Propane fire pit
- Camping stove (for cooking)
- Lanterns (for lighting)
I’ll go into more detail below, and there are lots of tips for staying warm, fed, and entertained along the way.
Alternatives to Campfires For Staying Warm
There are lots of ways to stay warm on a camping trip. Here are some alternatives to campfire you can stay toasty with instead.
Propane Heater (Outdoor and Tent Heater)
Propane heaters seem scary to some people. There’s a lot of talk about how they’re toxic due to carbon monoxide, but it’s not true. Propane heaters are safe in tents and outside them, but you need to use the right one.
These heaters are gas-powered and come in various sizes. Outdoor propane heaters are typically large and need open air to function safely. They can be used instead of a campfire for staying warm outdoors.
If you want to ensure the inside of your tent stays warm, then a tent heater is what you need. These function the same way as an outdoor propane heater, but they’re much smaller and are safe to use indoors.
Make sure you look for a tent heater that shuts off if it detects low oxygen, or falls over, like the Mr. Heater Little Buddy.
Electric heaters are an option if you’re at a powered site or have a generator. They’re basically little fans that blow out hot air, like this one.
These work well indoors, but they’re not large enough to keep you warm outside. They’re a great way to stay cozy without needing to lug a gas canister along with you.
You can use them outside, but I only recommend doing it if you’re certain it’s not going to rain.
Freestanding Portable Stove
A freestanding portable stove can be a great idea if you’re sure it’s not going to rain. It’s a large, electric heater that often has enough heat output to warm you outdoors, though it’s best for use in a large tent—they’re great in canvas tents.
The stove provides heat and minimal light, and the fire illusion in them can make you feel warm and cozy the way a real campfire would.
A stove that you can adjust the heat and brightness is a must, and also ensure it has overheating protection. The Antarctic Star 3D is a great example of a stove with the right qualities.
Propane Fire Pit
A propane fire pit is similar to a freestanding portable stove, but there’s no electricity involved, so there’s no risk of electrocution if it rains.
It’s a gas-powered fire that produces real flames. It’s the closest thing to a real campfire there is. The video below will give you a good idea of what they look like.
You start the gas and light that, and it creates real flames for you to stay warm with. However, these are sometimes banned as they’re considered a real fire. Ask a park ranger ahead of time if you’re allowed to use one of these.
Additional Tips For Staying Warm Without A Campfire
There are lots of tips and tricks for staying warm with no campfire. I talked about a lot of them in this cold weather camping tips article. I’m going to go over a few of them here.
- Wear layers: Wearing lots of light layers will help seal heat close to your body
- Move around a lot
- Eat and drink a lot: Staying full and hydrated makes your body use energy, so you get hotter
- Use the right bedding: Ensure you use a mummy sleeping bag with a good temperature rating, and invest in a high-quality sleeping pad with a high R-value rating
- Stay dry: Don’t go swimming close to bedtime if you know it’s going to be chilly at night
- Use heated accessories: Wear heated gloves and boots to keep your extremities warm inside or outside of the tent
There are plenty of more tips linked in the article above, and they’re perfect for if you want to go camping in fall or winter. Many of them still apply in a campfire-free early spring!
Alternatives to Campfires For Cooking
Campfires provide much more than warmth. You need some way to cook and make hot drinks! The alternatives below will ensure you have access to a hot meal.
Portable Propane Fire Pit
If you’re allowed to use a portable propane fire pit, then you can use it for cooking. Try not to cook anything too greasy, as you don’t want it to drip on the artificial coals. For example, if you want to roast sausages, then do it in a flameproof pan and not on a skewer.
Take a look at the 10 best camping mess kits if you want to stay clean while cooking and camping.
Camping stoves are the perfect way to cook without a campfire. They’re small, light, and are powered by very small gas canisters. All-in-one camping stoves don’t usually require additional cookware unless you’re cooking for a large group.
Make sure you get a wind-resistant, durable camping stove. Jetboil is a fantastic brand for that. The Jetboil Flash can withstand wind and still boil fast, so you won’t be waiting too long for your meals.
Portable Electric Cookware
Portable electric cookware wasn’t exactly made for camping, but it can be useful when you have no other options. If you already have a portable stovetop or grill, then bring it along with you!
You’ll need cookware to use a portable stovetop or grill, but you can cook your stuff just like you would at home. A portable barbecue is also a good option for car campers who have no weight or bulk limit on their gear!
Alternatives to Campfires For Lighting
Campfires are an excellent light source, so you’re going to need something that can help you see if you’re going without one. There are a few options below that’ll suit different preferences.
LED String Lights
If the campgrounds will let you string up lights around your site, then LED string lights are a wonderful, very pretty way to light up your area. Check out our article on the best camping string lights.
If you’re going for colorful LED lights, try to stick to red and yellow. That general hue of color attracts the fewest bugs. Pink is also a good option, and orange is good too—although orange may attract butterflies.
Inflatable lanterns pack down small, and they’re powered by the sun. You can charge yours all day then break it out at night when you start having trouble seeing.
Some inflatable lanterns light up in different colors, and some let you charge your phone with them, too.
If you love the look of a flickering flame, then a candle lantern might be your perfect pick. These lanterns are highly affordable, require no power, and they look wonderful.
Make sure you place your candle lantern where children can’t touch it, and keep an eye on it at all times. Anything with a flame is dangerous, even if the flame is as small as the one on a candle.
Headlamp Bottle Lantern
A headlamp bottle lantern is kind of a DIY thing. You take a water bottle, fill it, then wrap a headlamp around it.
You won’t have to wear an uncomfortable headlamp, and you can place the bottle in any spot to illuminate your surroundings. The light isn’t restricted to being attached to you.
There’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned flashlight. Big or small, battery or solar-powered, getting a few flashlights is a good way to ensure that everyone on your trip can see.
Flashlights these days come in different colors and have varying levels of power, so you can select the one you like and light up your path in place of a campfire.
Alternatives to Campfire For Entertainment
Finally, some people rely on their campfire for entertainment purposes, and that’s fine. But you can have fun without one! You don’t need the general vibe a campfire brings to do some fun activities with your family.
Stargazing is a great way to pass the time on a camping trip. There’ll be no campfire to obscure your view of the stars! Bring an astronomy book or download a star finder app and have fun seeing what you can spot.
A small, cheap telescope goes a long way on trips like these, too. A red dot finder, small telescope, and star finder app can give you a glimpse of planets like Mars and Jupiter if you’re in the right place at the right time.
If stargazing isn’t your thing, then you can’t beat card games or board games to get you all in good spirits and having a good time.
Even talking can be fun if you make an effort. Of course, you can always fall back on ghost stories—you don’t need a campfire to tell them, either. It might be even eerier to tell ghost stories without a comforting fire flickering a few feet away.
A propane heater, a camping stove, a decent lantern, and a vivid imagination are all you need to have a good time, keep fed and warm, and stay safe on a camping trip at night. A campfire is nice, but you’re not missing out too much if you can’t have one!
There are lots of alternatives to consider, so experiment until you find something that provides the most fun for you and your camping buddies or family. I guarantee you’ll discover that you can have a wonderful time without the fire.