Camping is the favorite activity of many families and a lot of the times when it’s brought up it brings back memories of a cozy evening with your favorite people around a warm campfire. In other words, a camp without campfire just doesn’t feel right and this is why one of the core ingredients to a nice weekend out is a well-built fireplace. A good campfire means one that doesn’t constantly go out, as well as one that doesn’t smoke and spark too much. The main culprit behind all those unwanted fire side effects is inappropriate types of woods. Naturally, some types of wood burn way better and have a more constant burning temperature than others.
Key takeaway: If you are out camping and want to make a great fireplace go with hardwood. It burns better and lasts longer. There are types of softwood which are also good for the task. Go with more dried out branches and trunks rather than the freshly cut or broken ones. That will make the fire easier to sustain and it won’t gas out constantly due to the moisture which has built up inside the young fresh wood.
If you are interested in a great camping tent as well, we suggest you head over to our Buyer’s Guide where you will find tons of useful information as well as great tips from seasoned campers!
Before we dive deeper into each kind of wood you might bump into the wild, we want to discuss a topic which is equally as important:
Hardwood vs. Softwood
When it comes to building a great campfire, hardwood is the way to go. It is denser and therefore has more material into it to burn. The density also regulates another aspect – the speed with which the wood burns. Since the material inside the hardwood is packed tightly it will burn significantly slower than the one inside softwood, as much as it is. Experienced campers take advantage of this and use hardwood to keep the fire burning overnight.
Some of the most popular hardwood trees are:
The softwood trees are:
In this article we will be discussing mostly the various properties of different kinds of hardwoods since, as we already established, they are far more suitable for your campfire than their softer counterpart.
When walking through a forest there is one important aspect you need to know – how to distinguish trees from one another. Let’s find out!
Differences Between Hardwood and Softwood Trees
The two terms you need to be familiar with are “deciduous” and “coniferous”. Those are the other names for hardwood trees and softwood trees. Hardwoods are called deciduous and are known for having a trunk which doesn’t go exactly straight up. It branches off multiple times before its peak. The seeds of these trees are nuts and the trees themselves have leaves instead of needles. Softwoods, or coniferous trees, are straight and don’t branch off at all. They have cones for their seeds and, as we already pointed out, their leaves resemble a needle.
If you are walking along someone who doesn’t know anything about trees, that information is surely enough to impress him. There are other smaller differences such as the color of the tree, the tree’s bark but they aren’t as specific as the first few major differences.
Not All Areas Are The Same When It Comes To Trees
This is one of the most important things you need to remember. If you camp at different locations you might have already noticed that each location has its own specific tree type which is called the dominant tree there. This is why you shouldn’t stick to using just one type of hardwood for your fires because that way you will get used to the way it looks and burns and whenever you are in an unfamiliar environment you will feel out of your waters.
Now, let’s check out all the tree types and see what they strong and weak points are, as well as to which region they are most typical.
The Tree Types You Need To Know
First, let’s start with one of the most famous and widely spread hardwood trees:
This is the best type of wood to put in your campfire. When dry, it produces a lot of heat and is also able to maintain that temperature for a good duration of time. It burns slowly and steadily meaning you won’t have to add more wood to your fire constantly. All these properties are due to its high density. Another reason why Oak is highly preferred by campers is that it is available throughout most of the country. In fact, the USA has the largest number of Oak species out of all countries, followed by Canada and Mexico.
Oak also has the highest amount of heat per cord and doesn’t spark as much as other hardwoods. It is ideal for cooking due to the fact that it doesn’t produce any smoke and won’t change the taste of your food. Still, you will need to find well-seasoned and drier branches for your campfire. Freshly cut one’s or ones which you break off a tree won’t have the exact same properties as the seasoned ones.
Speaking of cooking, make sure you check out our camping cooking tips article which has some great ideas and tricks for the passionate campers!
Moving on to our next great wood type for campfires:
Just like the Oak, Maple is very dense and is great for sustaining a campfire. One slight downside of it is that it is harder to chop into pieces due to its density. Still, the time over which it burns compensates well for that. It generates a lot of heat without smoking too much. Some of the best types of maple you can use are:
- Sugar Maple
- Manitoba Maple
- Red and Silver Maple
It is found in many regions of the country and is considered one of the most popular hardwoods.
Rounding off the trio of the best woods to use in your campfire is none other than:
Ash, also known as Fraxinus, is a tree from the Oleaceae Family. Some of the trees from this family are evergreen while others are deciduous. It is one of the best woods for campfires out there thanks to is properties. It hardly retains any moisture even when left out in the open when raining, it isn’t a smoky type of wood and it catches fire easily making the first few minutes of your fire set up easier than ever. Even when green, ash burns nicely which means that you can pick any ash branch or wood you can find and you will still have material to burn. Still, if you want a better and more self-sustainable fireplace, try getting seasoned wood.
The tree itself grows in most of the forests in the USA. Its branches are lightweight compared to oak, maple, and cedar. Still, it produces a lot of heat just like the next wood on our list.
If you want a campfire solely for the purpose of keeping you warm during the night, the cedar is the right tree type for you. It won’t produce as big of a flame as the other types but it will make up for that in terms of heat produced. Apart from the excellent thermal properties of this wood, it also has a nice scent to it, making it ideal for those chilly nights out.
Fun fact, the cedar scent can actually be found in most wood polish products making them feel more natural.
If you want to cook on your campfire, then the next type if a good choice for the occasion.
Hickory burns hotter than oak and other popular hardwoods, although its heat isn’t as potent as the one coming from the cedar. It is very dense and tough to split but those properties make it exactly the wood you need. It holds very little moisture and burns for a long time. It is the go-to choice for camp cookers.
Another hardwood used for cooking is apple. Not only it is almost as good as hickory but it has a nice scent to it.
Apart from smelling great, this hardwood has great heat properties. The only downside of it is that it burns out quite quickly. Still, it burns unseasoned meaning you can pick it up at any point of its life and use it to make your campfire hotter and bigger.
Which Wood Types To Avoid
People often use all sorts of wood in their campfire ignoring some of the downsides of most softwoods. Some branches will produce too much smoke or gas out your fire quickly. In general, there are four wood types that should be avoided. Those are:
Either way, those are rare threes and have a typical shape or form making them easily recognizable, and therefore easily avoidable. If you want to test out which woods burn the best, try all of our suggested types and see which works the best for your camping needs.