Campfires are a wonderful way to keep you warm, make entertainment, and light your way on a dark evening. However, 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 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
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 towards the fire, and that leads to the smoke blowing towards 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. Wind can also attack from various directions, sending the smoke towards 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 wind influencing smoke is to sit statue-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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
You can make physics and wind work to your advantage if you’re careful. Let’s look at how.
Choose Your Weather
Look at the weather forecast for your desired camping dates, and consider changing your dates if it’s going to be too windy. 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.