Camping Skills: Gathering Firewood

Campfires are the heart of a campsite, but without wood, they aren’t much at all. In almost all forest camping, gathering firewood isn’t hard, but it is time consuming. A few tips on firewood will help you make the most of your camping trip.

Don’t Harvest Live Trees

In almost all cases, it is illegal or immoral to harvest trees. Most public campsites explicitly forbid the taking of living trees except by special permission. Parks are typically similar. If you don’t bring any wood with you, you are limited to the wood that is on the ground AND that you can pick up, so if you are anticipating making a big fire or going for long, bring your own firewood.

Harvesting Fallen Trees

Gathering wood that is on the ground is typically legal, but you should ask before you try. In areas with very shallow ecosystems, just the impact of people walking the forest could disturb the life there, so they may ask you to only gather from along the path or road. That usually leaves very slim pickings.

A modest saw will really help you gather wood if you are interested. It takes some work, but you will be able to find a larger downed tree and harvest a nights worth of wood from that. In my opinion, a 4-6 inch diameter trunk is perfect, since the logs are cut reasonably fast and are easily carried, but they burn for a while. Try not to drag your wood on the ground either, since you want to leave the forest as pristine as when you got there.

Dry wood burns best, but that isn’t always an option. Avoid soft, rotted wood, since that will take forever to light and then burn with too much smoke. Green wood is similar in nature and should be avoided. The best firewood has been cut, stacked, loosely covered, and left to dry out for months. Again, this is why you should bring your wood with you.

Bring Firewood With You

Firewood isn’t hard to come by. Watching craigslist for a few weeks typically could fill a garage with firewood for free or cheaply. It takes some effort, but bringing wood with you is the best way to ensure that you will spend more time enjoying the fire than looking for firewood. Also, you can control what woods you burn more easily.

Final Tips

Not all wood is created equal. If you like hot fires, pine and birch burn fast and hot, but for lasting fires, dense hardwoods are the obvious choice. It takes more wood than you would think to keep a fire going, and big logs which appear to be great often won’t burn completely unless they are split into manageable wedges. If it is too heavy to be carried, I can guarantee that it is too big to be put into anything other than a massive fire. Also, remember to never burn pressure treated lumber since it releases toxic arsenic compounds into the air.