When it comes to camping, you’re going to need the essentials. That means suitable clothing, plenty of food to get by, some gear to catch your own food, and a reliable tent to keep you safe from the elements.
But you may have forgotten the most important thing: fire. It’s not only necessary for cooking your food, but it can also serve as a warm and inviting atmosphere to keep away the doldrums.
But campfires can create a lot of smoke that can hinder your camping experience and in some situations even put you in danger by revealing your location. However, it is possible to build a smokeless fire and this is exactly what we’re going to learn in today’s article.
Today you will learn how to make a smokeless fire, benefits of having one and all the additional tips and tricks you need to know in order to make sure that you build a perfect smokeless fire. So let’s get this started!
How to Build a Smokeless Campfire: Complete Guide
The main element of building a smokeless fire is the use of coal. Coal is created by heating wood at very high temperatures.
The result is a fuel that provides a lot of heat but won’t burn, so no smoke is created. Whether you choose to buy coal from the store or to make your own is up to you.
Here are the things that you’ll need to build this campfire from scratch:
- newspapers (or any other source to light up your fire initially)
- tinder or small sticks
- some water
First, you’ll need to set up your bricks in an arrangement that will trap as much heat as possible. Use at least two to three bricks to make some kind of stove, allowing for enough space for your fuel between them.
Next, take a sheet of newspaper and place it in the centre of the bricks. Take three pieces of tinder and arrange them in a triangle in the centre of your newspaper.
Place another three on top of this so that you roughly have a star shape. Continue with this arrangement until tall enough but still steady.
Place two to three pieces of firelighter in the middle of your tinder nest and light it. As soon as you have a fire going, insert a small amount of charcoal so it starts burning. The perfect quantity here would be a handful of coal.
Add as much fuel as you need over time, once the initial coal is heated. The bricks will help to keep a lot of the heat in, making the fire even hotter so you can stay warm as well as cook your food.
And most importantly, your fire will generate no smoke after the initial (and very short term) period.
Smokeless Fire Alternative: Building a Dakota Fire Hole
This is another method that you can use when it comes to building a smokeless fire, but it is a bit more demanding. Or at least it requires more time to prepare.
However, the process itself is quite simple, and once you’ve built your first, it will be much easier to build another one.
Although a Dakota Fire offers all of the same benefits as a smokeless campfire, it does have one advantage: it’s easier to control.
Because it’s a fire pit that’s underground, there are much fewer chances of it going out of control and causing a forest fire. All you have to do is kick dirt onto it, and there’s no more fire.
Plus, you are no longer limited by the use of charcoal which, in almost all situations, is not readily available in the wild and needs to be purchased.
So how do you build a smokeless fire using the Dakota Fire Hole?
First, there are certain things you should look out for when determining where you should build your Dakota Fire Hole.
You should avoid areas that are rocky or have hard ground that’s difficult to dig, are abundant in thick tree roots that require cutting, have wet ground or are near bodies of water, and areas that have soft soil or sand that won’t hold its shape.
With that in mind, you’re going to need to bring a sturdy shovel with you before you can get going. Now, here is how to build your smokeless campfire:
1. Dig a hole that’s about 10 to 12 inches in diameter, removing any soil and plant roots in the way.
Keep digging until your hole is about a foot deep. This is going to be the main chamber of your fire hole.
2. The second part is building your airway duct that will provide your pit with enough oxygen to keep burning.
Before you do this, you need to check the direction the wind is coming from so that you know where your entryway should start. It should be in the direction the wind is blowing (between the wind and the fire, basically).
3. Dig a small hole that is six inches in diameter that’s at least a foot away from the edge of your fire hole.
Angle the hole downward towards your fire pit so that it ends at the bottom of the hole.
4. Add fuel to your fire pit and light. Continue adding fuel as necessary.
The reason this works so well is that all of the heat generated by your fire goes upwards to where you need it, which pulls in more air through the airway duct.
With this method, the flames are being continuously fanned, so they’ll never go out and will continue to burn bright and hot for as long as you need them.
And when you’re done, shovel the dirt you dug up back into the hole and replace the caps of vegetation if they’re still intact. It’s best to return the land to its natural state so it looks like you were never there.
A downside of this method is that you need considerably more fuel (sticks and logs) in order to keep the fire burning.
Other Smokeless Fire Tips to Consider
Whether you choose to build a Dakota fire hole or to build a regular campfire, there are some more tips that you can have under your belt to improve your experience while camping.
Not only will these keep you safe, but they can help you in an emergency on the off chance that you do run out of the fuel you brought with you.
- if you don’t have any coal, there are alternative sources of fuel you can use that don’t produce any or a lot of smoke. These include dried animal droppings, wood stripped of its bark, dry grass, small twigs and sticks no bigger than your pinkie, and squawk wood.
- when using fuel, it should be between the size of your thumb and two feet long. Anything outside of these ranges won’t be practical.
- your fuel should be kept dry at all times. The presence of any water will cause smoke.
- your fuel should not have any ash on it. This will also produce smoke when burned.
- always inspect the site where you wish to build you fire to ensure that it is safe and secure.
- always keep water or other sources of extinguisher nearby. You can lose control of a fire very quickly.
- clear at least ten feet of the area around your campfire of any inflammable debris, including your belongings.
There’s no doubt that smokeless fires are definitely the way to go when it comes to minimizing our impact on the environment or keeping our location secret.
They do take a bit more time and preparation to get going, but they’re definitely worth it, especially with how much more heat you get from all your work.
If you’re camping with your little one, check out our safety tips when camping with infants for reference.
In the end, the choice is up to you on how you want to create and maintain your main source of heat and light at night, but being aware of the possibilities and benefits of a smokeless fire should make them a no-brainer.
Why You Should Consider Smokeless Fires
Although it’s much easier to just throw some wood and fire together to get a fire going, there are very good reasons for considering a smokeless fire as your go-to for serving your campsite.
The process of creating a smokeless fire may be more expensive and require more time to prepare, but these benefits greatly outweigh these cons. Here are the main reasons why smokeless fires are better than regular ones:
1. Remain unseen: when you go camping, you don’t want other people to know you’re around, and that means being as stealthy as possible.
Having a smokeless fire means that there’s no smell for anyone to trace back to your location.
Also, by burning a smokeless fire, there’s no soot left behind on the ground, and that means you’re not leaving behind any signs of your presence once you leave. It’s like you weren’t even there.
2. Eliminates air pollution: the point of camping is to get closer to nature, and you can’t do that if you’re making the air worse.
With the impact of the waste produced by factories and other facilities, it’s important that even the common man does all that he can to preserve nature.
Even taking the smallest steps can make a difference. By burning a clean flame, you’re not adding any pollutants to the surrounding environment, thereby reducing your carbon footprint.
3. More efficient cooking: if you’ve ever cooked food via campfire, you may have an idea of how long it can take, and no one enjoys waiting for their meals to get ready while their stomach is grumbling.
With a smokeless fire, you have a more efficient method of cooking, as all of the fuel is being used to produce the heat you need.
That means hotter flames, so you’ll have your food cooked in no time instead of having to add more fuel to cook your food for a longer amount of time.
Speaking of which – why not check out our list of the best camping food ideas here, or go more advanced and look at our list of best camping stoves this year.
4. Longer burning times: smokeless fires take less time to get going, and also burn for a lot longer.
This further increases your cooking efficiency, as you can cook a lot of bulk meat at one time. That way, you won’t risk any of your meat spoiling and going to waste.
And because it burns for a lot longer, you’ll end up using a lot less fuel at the end of the day, so you’re definitely getting more than your money’s worth with each use.
5. Fuel is multi-purpose: the fuel used in smokeless fires can be used in a multitude of other devices, such as your cooking stove at home, wood burners, room heaters, and freestanding boilers.
So even though you may not plan to go camping for a long time, you can still put your fuel to good use at home.
6. Smoke is not healthy for us: Smoke wreaks havoc on the environment and the human body.
The fundamental components of smoke are compounds of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen but the most dangerous one is carbon monoxide.
If you add an accelerant (gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, turpentine, and butane) the smoke produced contains chemicals such as: aldehydes, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, and dioxins.
All these will enter your lungs and your system if you stay in a lot of smoke.
Benefits to Having A Campfire
Building a campfire from scratch is not only rewarding, it also provides so many benefits to you and those you’re traveling with.
Light: you’re going to need a source of light at night and you don’t want to use your battery-powered flashlights.
Warmth: nights in the woods can get very cold, and a good campfire can make all the difference in the world when it comes to staying warm.
Cooking: a campfire can be used to boil your water so it’s safe for drinking, as well as cooking your food. If you’re an avid hunter, this is even more important if you don’t want your kill to spoil.
Deterring predators: those that hunt during the night are less likely to come around your campsite if there’s a fire going.
Emotional benefits: the sight of a campfire provides a sense of security that even the first-time camper can come to appreciate. It provides a comforting effect that we can’t help but be drawn to, and provides the means for wonderful social interaction. How many stories and songs have been told and sung around a campfire?
See also: Best Windproof Lighter: Don’t Let Nature Get You Down
Because of these benefits, there’s no reason not to have a campfire, but there are better ways to improve on its functions and make it safer for you to use.
Smoke is not always bad as it can be used for certain things, like smoking meat, but it results in a colossal waste of energy and fuel. And this is not something you’d want when you’re out in the wild, trying to get warm and cook your food.
Now you know not one, but two methods to start a smokeless fire when you go camping or you just need a fire started – so pick your favorite or use the one you have the items for and get it done!
Before your next trip, be sure to read our piece on basic camping safety to keep you protected.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.
5 thoughts on “How to Make a Smokeless Fire: Complete Guide and Tips”
The Dakota fire pit is awesome! I think the theory is that because it burns hotter, it produces considerably less of the thick, white smoke. Just be very careful of roots, especially if it’s dry. Digging a fire pit like this can easily catch a tree root structure; these sorts of fires can smolder for days before it reaches the tree and will cause a fire.
Thanks for the useful tip Edward. It’s always wise to choose where you would want to dig a pit. You don’t want a forest fire that can burn for days!
I love the Dakota Fire too because it’s oblivious to any passersby. But I learned that to really limit your visibility, it is best to utilize the driest and deadest materials around you to generate less smoke. Nevertheless, I’ve tried with cooking and it was well done. The fire did a great job.
I remembered my Uncle showing us so many different ways to make start a fire from scratch. He also showed us a lot of smokeless fire tips that I still remember up to this day. The key is to stay safe and have fun.
I remembered my Uncle showing us so many different ways to make start a fire from scratch. He also showed us a lot of smokeless fire tips that I still remember up to this day. The key is to stay safe.