Campfires produce smoke by incompletely burning fuel. It is impossible to build a campfire that produces no smoke, but by increasing the efficacy of the combustion, you can reduce the amount of smoke produced. Essentially, this means increasing the temperature of the fire. Accomplish this by using quality fuels and digging a tunnel that feeds oxygen to the fire.
1. Determine in which direction the wind is blowing. You can gently drop some of the tinder from head height and see which way it drifts if the wind is very calm.
2. Clear a 10-foot-diameter circle on the ground with the shovel or a bushy stick. Remove all sticks, pine needles and vegetation.
3. Place the rocks in the cleared circle in a horseshoe shape. The open end of the horseshoe should face the direction from which the wind is blowing.
4. Dig a 6- to 12-inch-deep, 6-inch-wide trench, about 2 feet long, between the open arms of the horseshoe.
5. Adjust the rocks so that they form a circle, by “closing” the horseshoe. Use a large flat rock to span the trench. You should now have a round fire circle, and the trench should pass under the rocks.
6. Place two-thirds or your tinder on the ground in the middle of the fire circle.
7. Stack kindling around the tinder in the shape of a tepee. Leave plenty of gaps for oxygen to penetrate the fire, but keep the kindling pieces close enough to each other to avoid allowing too much heat to escape. Additionally, be sure to leave a gap through which you can access the tinder when it is time to start the fire.
8. Light the remaining third of the tinder with a match. Once it is burning well, use this tinder to light the tinder in the fire circle.
9. Add increasingly larger fuels -- such as split logs or thick branches -- once the kindling begins burning on its own. Continue adding material until the fire is burning well. Once lit, the fire will draw oxygen through the trench, raising the temperature of the fire.
Items you will need
- Several large rocks
- Water pail
- Select fuels that burn hot, such as oak, hickory, maple and beech. Always use the driest wood possible, as the increased water content of “green” wood is a heat sink that reduces the temperature of the fire.
- Avoid using tinder that creates too much smoke, such as pine needles and straw. Additionally, avoid placing wet or green leaves on a fire, as they also produce a lot of smoke.
- When safe to do so, situate your fire so that it is on the upwind side of a large tree, rock face or other structure. Some of the smoke that is produced will adhere to the surface of the structure, further reducing the amount of smoke in the air.
- If necessary, you can blow or fan the mouth of the trench to get more oxygen into the fire.
- Always have a pail full of water on hand when making a campfire.
- When extinguishing the fire, allow it to cool before dousing it with water, as this creates a large cloud of smoke and steam.
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