Why Campfire Smoke Follows You – 6 Effective ways to Prevent It

Why Campfire Smoke Follows You
Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

Campfires are a wonderful way to keep you warm, provide entertainment, and light your way on a dark evening. However, the fun quickly comes to an end when the smoke starts following you.

Campfire smoke follows you because the hot air rises above the fire, drawing cooler air towards it. However, your body blocks the cool air from accessing the fire. This lowers the air pressure near you, and the smoke drifts towards that low pressure, and you.

It’s a little more complicated than that, though, and I’ve researched it so you don’t have to. And the research shows that there’s a way to minimize the smoke that follows you.

How Wind Speed and Direction Influence Smoke – Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

Wind direction is the most influential part of where the smoke blows. If you’re in a completely wind-free area, then the smoke will usually rise directly above the fire. It won’t bother you. However, evenings are rarely without a breeze.

The wind blows toward the fire, and that leads to the smoke blowing toward at least a few people around your campfire, especially if the campfire is surrounded. 

That’s not all, though. The wind often changes directions, so if you move, then it might seem like the smoke follows you. The wind can also attack from various directions, sending the smoke toward several people sitting around the campfire.

Trees and bushes create blocks for the wind’s path, so the wind blows around those blocks and towards whatever’s in its path. You could feel like the wind is attacking you from the left and right side of a tree, and it’ll blow the smoke in multiple directions.

Every time the tree branches sway or the bushes move, that creates an opportunity for further airflow and wind disturbance. Even you moving creates a tailwind, and that’ll lead the smoke to follow you, too.

With all this wind being constantly created, it’s no surprise that the smoke seems to go in every direction and chase you down. 

The result is, the only way to stop the wind from influencing the smoke is to sit still on a breeze-free evening while hoping someone doesn’t walk by and create a tailwind to disturb the smoke.

How Physics Influences The Smoke – Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

The smoke’s tendency to stalk you isn’t the wind’s fault on its own, though. Even in a windless environment, the wind is still likely to follow you. 

This time physics is the culprit—but there are ways to be smarter than physics, some of the time.

Hot Air Rises – How Physics Influences the Smoke

Hot air always rises. In theory, this should keep the smoke away from you. However, the hot air rising creates a vacuum. Colder air is drawn towards the fire to fill that vacuum. This means that any cool air surrounding you and the fire will head for the flames, creating wind.

This doesn’t always go seamlessly, though, which brings me to my next point.

Body Blocks – How Physics Influences the Smoke

Anything that’s in the way of the fire influences atmospheric pressure. This poses a problem as far as cool air getting to the flames goes, though. You’re in the way, so the fire can’t draw in the cold air as quickly as it would like. This creates a low-pressure area.

You can read about what a low-pressure area is here.

Naturally, you’re going to want to sit close to the fire. It’s easier to toast marshmallows that way! Unfortunately, it may be drawing the smoke right into your face.

Atmospheric Imbalance – How Physics Influences the Smoke

The low-pressure area causes an atmospheric imbalance. The fact that the fire isn’t usually fully surrounded also adds to the imbalance. For example, there are gaps between you and the others around the fire.

The atmospheric imbalance helps create wind that blows towards you, and you know how wind impacts smoke.

Heat Absorption – How Physics Influences the Smoke

Finally, heat plays a role in this, too. Material easily absorbs heat, and your clothes will draw that heat in to keep you nice and toasty.

The heat warms the air up, and that rises, creating another warm-air-cold-air vacuum.

The air starts moving towards you to fill the vacuum, creating a wind that blows smoke right in your face.

How To Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You – Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

You can make physics and wind work to your advantage if you’re careful. Let’s look at how.

Choose Your Weather – How to Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You

Look at the weather forecast for your desired camping dates, and consider changing your dates if it’s going to be too windy. The minimal wind is better for your tent and your trip.

If you can’t find a wind-free night, look for one that has a light breeze blowing from a specific direction. Figure out what’s coming from that direction on your campsite. If it’s a bunch of trees, then it’ll feel like the wind is blowing from more than one direction.

Ensure the breeze is blowing from a direction with no trees or bushes in the way if you can.

Pick Your Area Carefully – How to Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You

Try to find an area that has very few trees and bushes near the campfire area. This will ensure there are no obstacles that’ll create wind tunnels around you. 

Your tent also counts as an obstacle, so try to create your campfire as far away from your tent as possible if you can. Securing a large campsite will help you do this.

This is easiest when you’re car camping. Wilderness camping and backpacking make it difficult to ensure your area is tree-free, although some natural parts that allow wilderness camping have decent clearings that you can camp in.

If you can, camp in a wide clearing, not in a tree-packed place.

Sit Further Back – How to Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You

If you sit further back from the fire than usual, then you’re less likely to impact the air and wind direction. Your clothing will also absorb less of the fire’s heat.

You’ll still be warm and have a pleasant view, but you won’t be right up close to the flames. This should help the smoke stay away from you.

Allowing enough room for ample airflow between members of your party will also help, so spread out! 

Move Your Gear – How to Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You

If you have any gear, try to keep it near your tent. A lantern or a cooking stove near the fire is fine. They’re not huge obstacles. But try to keep them by your side rather than in the path between you and the campfire.

You don’t want anything that could act as an obstacle between you and the fire. Try to keep everyone and their gear in a nice little circle around the flames.

Move Minimally – How to Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You

It’s fine to move in your seat or take the occasional trip to get a drink or visit the bathroom, but try not to move around too much. The more you move, the more you create a tailwind that’ll lead the smoke to follow you.

Find your positions and get comfortable before you light the fire. Grab everything you need and keep it within reach for the duration of the evening.

Don’t Sit Where The Wind Blows – How to Stop Campfire Smoke From Following You

Try to figure out what direction the wind is blowing from, and avoid sitting in its path. Ideally, the breeze will blow in one direction without changing much, and that wind will blow the smoke away from you. 

Creating a Smokeless Fire – Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

You can’t create a smokeless campfire, but you can minimize the smoke that comes from it. There are a few tips below that should help you keep the smoke levels down.

Use Dry Firewood – Creating a Smokeless Fire

Wet firewood creates more smoke, so use wood that’s as dry as possible. If there’s any wood with a damp surface, then you can attempt to scrape off the sodden areas. I mention doing this when discussing how long do campfires last.

Allow Some Airflow – Creating a Smokeless Fire

You don’t want a smoke buildup of any kind, so try to make sure that plenty of air can get to your fire and blow through it. The best way to do this is by creating a tipi-style fire. I describe how to do that in the article linked above.

You can also learn about it from the video below.

Learning how to build a campfire correctly is crucial, and building the right kind can make or break your camping trip.

Move Debris – Creating a Smokeless Fire

If there’s grass, leaves, rocks, and other things like that near your firepit, try to move them before you light your fire.

Grass and leaves make great kindling, but they also make great amounts of smoke. Limit their use after initially using them as kindling.

Avoid Green Wood – Creating a Smokeless Fire

It’s great to cut your own firewood, but try to do it a few weeks in advance, then bring it on the trip. Freshly cut wood is known as green wood, and it’s always wet!

Wet wood = smoke, so don’t use fresh firewood if you want a low-smoke fire.

Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

Summary – Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

Sitting back, using dry firewood, and keeping the campfire area unobstructed is the best way to keep as much smoke away from you as possible. Other than that, just try to camp on a windless night!

If you hate how the smoke follows you, perhaps you should consider using alternatives to campfire? From heaters to flashlights, there are lots of ways to stay cozy on your camping trip, fire-free.

Frequently Asked Questions – Why Campfire Smoke Follows You

Can Campfire Smoke Hurt You? – FAQs

Yes, campfire smoke can be hazardous to your health, especially if inhaled for an extended period of time. Tiny particles and gases in campfire smoke can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. When these particles are inhaled, they can cause respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Exposure to campfire smoke has been linked to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. These health risks are especially severe for people who have pre-existing conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

When camping, try to position yourself upwind from the fire to reduce your exposure to campfire smoke. You can also wear a mask designed to filter out a fine particulate matter or use a portable air purifier. It’s also critical to avoid burning materials that emit a lot of smoke, such as wet wood or trash.

Overall, while campfires are a fun part of camping culture, it’s important to be aware of the potential health risks associated with campfire smoke exposure and take precautions to reduce your risk.

How Do You Get the Small of Campfire Smoke Out of Clothing? – FAQs

The smell of campfire smoke can be difficult to remove from clothing because it is deeply embedded in the fabric.

Here are some suggestions to help you get rid of the smell:

  • Wash your clothes: The first step is to wash your clothes as soon as possible after being exposed to campfire smoke. Use a strong detergent and rinse with a cup of white vinegar.
  • Soak your clothes: If washing alone doesn’t work, soak them in a solution of warm water and baking soda for several hours before washing.
  • Air dry outside: If possible, avoid using a dryer, which can embed the smoke odor into the fabric. Instead, hang your clothes to dry outside in the fresh air and sunlight.
  • Use activated charcoal: Activated charcoal absorbs odors extremely well.  Overnight, place a few chunks of activated charcoal in a breathable bag or container with your clothes.
  • Use essential oils: Essential oils like lavender and peppermint can help to mask the odor of smoke on your clothes. Add a few drops to your laundry detergent or a few drops to a cloth and throw it in the dryer with your clothes.

Following these steps, you should be able to effectively remove campfire smoke odor from your clothing and enjoy fresh-smelling clothing once more.

How Far Away a Tent Should I Put my Campfire? – FAQs

When camping, it’s critical to keep your campfire a safe distance away from your tent. The general rule is to keep your campfire at least 15 feet away from your tent, though some experts recommend as much as 25 feet.

This is because campfires produce sparks and embers that can easily ignite nearby tents or other flammable objects. Furthermore, the heat from the fire can damage the fabric of your tent, making it more prone to tears and punctures.

Look for an area free of vegetation and other flammable materials when choosing a location for your campfire. Check for any overhanging branches or other hazards that could catch fire. It’s also a good idea to keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby in case the fire needs to be extinguished quickly.

You can enjoy the warmth and ambiance of a crackling fire without putting yourself or others in danger if you follow these guidelines and use common sense when setting up your campfire.

Ben Wann- Tent Camping Expert

My name is Ben Wann, and I’m a lifelong tent camper and backpacker who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.

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