A campfire is a staple of the classic camping trip, and having it smokeless will make it better for your enjoyment as well as your health. Nobody likes a billowing smoke cloud chasing them around all night.
You can make a smokeless fire by using smokeless fuels such as charcoal and paper. Dry wood is also a good smoke-free fuel source. Lay your smokeless fuel source on a bed of dry grass and needles, and make sure to feed your smokeless fire in small doses.
There are lots of methods to help you achieve your smokeless fire, so I’m going to explain them below. I’ll also help you figure out why campfires smoke; that’ll help you know what to avoid when building yours.
#1. Use Charcoal and Paper
Charcoal and paper don’t create smoke, as they’re dry and fuss-free materials. It’s easy to ignite paper, and charcoal/coal burns easily when added to a fire.
Coal is also fantastic to use in your fire as it produces a lot of heat, which is great for cooking and staying warm on particularly chilly nights.
So, you’ll want to start by creating a firepit or utilizing the one on your campsite, then lay down some paper. Old newspapers work well.
Add some dry, brittle kindling on top of this. The brittler the better—it’ll definitely be dry if it’s brittle. Form a triangle shape with this tinder, and create another triangle shape on top of it, but upside down.
Place some paper in the hole of this star shape, using it as kindling, and light this.
From there, use coal to fuel your fire. You can also burn the rest of your brittle wood if you wish, as long as it’s bone dry.
#2. Create Your Fire Upside Down
Creating your fire upside down helps reduce smoke, as the smoke-making gases are created at the very bottom of your campfire. These gases then travel through the flames and burn up, so there’s no smoke left to release into the air.
Create a base of logs, and add smaller logs on top. Place your kindling on top of all that. Then you can add a piece of paper on top, scrunched into a ball. This will be your firelighter.
The paper will ignite, and the fire will spread down through the kindling, right to the logs. Your fire will smoke for a few minutes as it grows, but once it’s fully formed, the smoke will vanish.
#3. Make Your Fire With Twigs
Making your fire with twigs is great if you want to be stealthy, and it’s something that backpackers in particular will find useful when needing an hour or two of warmth in the evenings.
Find as many dry, pencil-sized twigs as you can. Ideally, source these from the ground.
Place your twigs on top of dried grass and leaves, or use paper if you have it. Then you can light the paper/kindling, and the twigs will serve as fuel.
The fire will smoke when you first light it, but after a minute or two the smoke will dissipate. Feed your fire using these tiny twigs, only adding one or two at a time, and the fire will remain smokeless.
#4. Create A Dakota Firepit
A Dakota firepit is a great project for someone who wants to get creative with their campfire building.
You dig a hole 6–12 inches wide, ensuring it’s about a foot deep. Widen it as you go. Then return to the surface and move 10 inches away from your original hole.
Dig another hole 8 inches wide, digging at an angle until your second hole’s base meets the first hole’s base. Ensure this second hole is placed on the side of the fire hole that the wind is coming from.
You’ll have created a little tunnel system like this:
Build your fire at the bottom of the larger hole, and use very dry wood as your tinder.
This isn’t a great campfire for heat, but it’s perfect for cooking. You can place your cookware atop the fire hole. It’s also perfect for a stealthy fire that won’t bother the neighbors.
#5. Using A Pre-Existing Firepit (And Follow My Tips)
Sometimes you’ll get out to the campsite and realize you didn’t bring any gear to help you create a smokeless fire. All you have is some regular old wood logs and a pre-existing firepit on the site.
That’s alright. There are some ways you can reduce smoke from a campfire, and you can also prevent smoke from following you if there’s still some smoke produced.
My article on why campfire smoke follows you will teach you to prevent smoke from following you, and it’ll give you tips on how to reduce campfire smoke as much as possible.
Here’s a quick rundown of the tips:
- Use dry firewood
- Leave space for airflow
- Remove debris from the campfire area
- Don’t use wood you harvest at your campsite
#6. Use A Campfire Alternative
Finally, there’s no surer way to have a smokeless fire than to avoid using a campfire entirely.
Sometimes you just don’t have the resources to go smokeless, or perhaps you’ll discover your campsite doesn’t allow fires anyway. There are several great alternatives to campfire you can try, including:
- Electric and propane heaters
- Portable propane fire pits
- Camping stoves
- Freestanding portable stoves
What Actually Causes Smoke?
The methods above are perfect for creating a smokeless fire—so, why do they work?
Well, you need to understand why fires produce smoke to understand why the above methods don’t.
Fires with complete combustion create water and carbon dioxide. If you want complete combustion, then you can use extremely dry fuels like coal, paper, and twigs. This article will tell you more.
However, incomplete combustion leads to the production of hydrogen and carbon. This creates ash and char, and that comes out in the form of smoke.
The methods also work by ensuring any smoke that is created won’t escape the fire’s flames.
The upside down fire makes sure the flames burn the smoke before it escapes. The Dakota fire pit lets wind blow down the second hole, directing the smoke to hit the flames rather than escape through the primary hole. That burns up any potential smoke, too.
Basically, smokeless fuel + smart redirection = smokeless fire. So, if the methods above aren’t for you, perhaps you could use this knowledge to find a way to create a smokeless fire that does work for you.
What Is The Best Fuel/Kindling For A Smokeless Fire?
The best fuels for your smokeless fire are:
- Coke (derived from coal)
- Dry grass
- Animal droppings
The best types of kindling to use include:
- Cotton balls
- Dried leaves and needles
- Dry grass
- Potato chips
Why Is It Best To Create a Smokeless Fire?
Creating a smokeless fire may seem like it takes a lot of effort for little reward, but that’s not true. Once you get the method down it’s easy to do, and there are plenty of reasons to desire a smokeless fire. I’ll elaborate below.
For The Environment
The less smoke in the atmosphere, the better—but having smoke in the atmosphere isn’t the only way a fire can disturb the environment.
Your smoke may disturb insects, birds, and other local wildlife. If you’re environmentally conscious, then this isn’t something you’ll want to do.
For Your Health
Smoke isn’t good for your health, either. You’re inhaling toxic elements when you breathe in smoke, so the less smoke you breathe, the better.
If you want to keep quiet and avoid drawing other campers’ attention, then creating a smoky campfire isn’t ideal. A smokeless campfire will let you camp undetected in the wilderness, and on campsites, it’ll ensure you don’t bother fellow campers.
Smokeless fires burn hotter and for longer. You’ll save time, labor, and money by creating smokeless flames.
You’ll need to top up your fuel less often, and you can enjoy the heat your fire produces for longer after the fire goes out.
A small amount of smoky flavor is okay, but sometimes you just don’t want that smoky tang that cooking over an open flame produces. If you cook over a smokeless fire, then you won’t have that smoky taste.
Smokeless fires are better for your health, the environment, your enjoyment, your wallet, and your food. They also won’t attract any unwanted attention.
It’s surprisingly easy to create a smokeless fire, and I recommend using a combination of the first two methods. Build your fire upside down, use paper as kindling, and feed it with charcoal. That way, you’re sure to produce a long-lasting hot fire that produces no smoke.