building a campfire - sometimes it's just not right

7:08 p.m. on September 11, 2007 (EDT)
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In another thread recently, there was a sidetrack to a mini discussion about campfires. I know this can be a hotly debated topic - but I'll go there anyway :).

While backpacking this past week, I ran across several places where there were campfire rings. This is one of them: a summit pass, at 8100 feet, with no water for miles around, and with panoramic views in all directions.
http://www.stanford.edu/~bheiser/Images/Misc/bad-spot-for-campfire.jpg

I hiked to another similar pass, also with a fire ring. And, of course, at each campsite by the various alpine lakes I passed, there were more fire rings.

I am not against campfires per se. I build them myself, mostly in cool/cold weather, and only when I feel reasonably comfortable that I have a decent water supply, shovel, and so on handy. I *^&( sure wouldn't build one during one of the driest summers on record, in an alpine environment, with little deadwood around (and what is there needed for the natural cycle of the environment), and with no water for miles around!

WHAT POSSESSES SOMEONE to build a campfire on a summit, or a high mountain pass? And what makes people think they should chop down trees, as I saw evidence of at the alpine lakes, to build fires? I can even see camping there - especially if a tent spot has already been established - there's relatively little new damage if you're careful... but... a FIRE??? Geeeze!

I just don't get it.

OK, rant off...

Let the flames begin! :-)

9:20 p.m. on September 11, 2007 (EDT)
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I don't think anyone can disagree with your basic premise: "sometimes it's just not right."

I love a fire, although I prefer small fires to the large bonfires we seem to get with groups. However, when I'm hiking solo in the spring, summer and fall, I usually don't bother. In the winter, I will almost always have a warming fire. Still, I agree that some places just are not right for fires.

I'm visiting Michigan's U.P. this weekend, and will not build a campfire, given the large forest fire that ravaged the area this summer.

1:49 a.m. on September 12, 2007 (EDT)
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No flames here. I remember campfires from my days in the Boy Scouts, but we sure weren't at high elevations in the back country. Plenty of parks out West ban fires for good reason-way too dry and dangerous. In Yosemite, a definite no-no, even in winter. Stoves aren't as romantic, but are far more efficient. A company called Titanium Goat even makes a folding lightweight stove that would be great in winter-it is designed for their pyramid tents. Kind of pricey, but worth checking out

As for why people do that-stupidity and ignorance (in the true sense of the word)is my best guess.

7:41 a.m. on September 12, 2007 (EDT)
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Before you grab the tar and feathers, keep in mind that in an alpine environment that fire ring can stay "fresh" for a long, long time. It may have not seen use for many years. At one time it was the norm to build a campfire - especially if you wanted to eat hot food. Backpacking stoves weren't always the convenient and safe little bombs they are today.

What really irks me back East are the numbskulls who equate a fire ring with a garbage disposal - those folks who attempt to burn their (foil) food packets - why does it irk me? I'm one of the idiots who cleans that stuff out of the fire rings while wandering along the AT. Yes, I'm also dumb enough to pick up your discarded candy wrappers, soda cans, beer cans, bottles and the like. This explains why my daypack or backpack tend to be rather unique, they weigh more at the end of some hikes than they did at the beginning. Anyhow - enough of my "issues".

If you really want to do the environment a favor, and you're in an area where NLT is accepted, do what you can to rid the area of the fire ring - scatter the ashes and stones, try to return the area within the ring to something approximating "normal" for the terrain (keeping in mind, however, that it's likely that the soil layers under that fire ring are essentially dead and it'll be a few years before anything can grow in it, especially in an alpine environment).

And do me and the rest of the world a favor - pack out your trash - after all - it weighs less empty than it did full.

2:46 p.m. on September 12, 2007 (EDT)
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BH,

Well, I gotta edicate ya. The fire rings on peaks and passes are intended as signal pyres. They tell the whole world that "I AM HERE! I AM GREAT! I HAVE POWER!" They are closely related to other signalling and messaging practices, like painted graffiti, initials and names carved into trees (and gouged into soft rock), FRS radios (which are used to loudly convey information like "I am here, where are you?"), and other similar Conveyances Of Important Information. Sometimes the fire ring bonfires are insufficient, so the practitioners set the whole forest on fire (like Mark Twain and his friends did at the north end of Lake Tahoe). It's also closely related to trundling rocks off mountain peaks and canyon rims.

Just be glad you didn't find one of the "reflector rocks" - you know, the tall, flat-faced boulder that people use to build their bonfires next to, which reflect the heat to the crowd standing 10 feet back (because it's too hot), and then commemorate their glorious deed with a 6 to 10 foot tall blackened face on the formerly white granite boulder.

And it proves that the super-macho Outdoorsmen can light a fire! I can't believe you didn't know this ;)

11:51 p.m. on September 12, 2007 (EDT)
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LOL Bill S :)

I'll have to remember that!

And Fred, I too, marvel when I see foil, glass, and other obviously inflamable objects in fire rings.

I hadn't thought of that perspective - that the fire rings might actually be from long ago. I'd be tempted to remove it, as you described, though I guess I'd be concerned that someone would just build a new one, maybe in a new spot, just causing more damage...

So, instead, I just feel annoyed when I see it, then I move on ...

11:03 a.m. on September 13, 2007 (EDT)
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I agree with the majority here as the time for 'Fire rings' on summits have long past. I generally dismantle those I find on New England peaks where I spend my seasons hiking. If done thoroughly it's hard to tell a ring was present if one looks casually at the site.

I also try to discourage new ones being built for the sake of those who will come after the party leaves. And 'party' is the operative word here; seeing as how it's mostly young folks, or macho types that 'need' to prove themselves by building a fire, regardless of 'fire conditions' in the surrounding area. A lack of water and or shovel is just plain assinine, and shows a lack of outdoor skills, blazing inferno aside IMO. The hype of television shows with marginally correct behaviors being demonstrated by 'experts' seems to be the catalsyt for the growing numbers of witless campers in the woods these days IMO.

It does irk me too to find toilet paper trailside amongst all the other trash left on, around, and in fire rings. Even worse are the louts throwing their trash into the shelter pit toilets along the AT! I remember back in the '70s when we used to all carry a pound of lime in our packs, and toss in a sprinkle every time we made a depoist. It left the place smelling cleaner, and kept the flies down. Hike it in, Hike it out!

12:02 p.m. on September 13, 2007 (EDT)
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Some years ago, there were fire rings every hundred meters or so all along the JMT, other sections of the PCT, AT, other popular trails. In Lyell Canyon (south of Tuolumne Meadows, headed down toward Reds Meadows and Devils Postpile), it seemed like it was every 50 feet. The USFS and NPS and volunteers from Sierra Club and others had a campaign to remove and restore all the fire rings except for a single one at each of the designated campsites. Thankfully, the recovery has been successful. When you get your permits for the Sierra these days, the rangers at most stations include comments about LNT and fire rings in particular (also cautions about human waste disposal and a strong reminder about not leaving "Charmin lilies").

In many areas now, especially winter, use of WAG bags and the similar bags from RestStop is strongly encouraged (and required in some areas). The latrines along the Whitney trail (from Whitney Portal to the summit of Mt Whitney) have been removed and "pack it out" for human waste is required.

I have to disagree slightly with Gear Guy - the louts have always been there. While I agree about Survivor Guy and the other TV "experts" and their practices, I do not see that there is any increase in witless campers due to these shows. I saw this sort of thing decades ago when I was in high school. Several of my friends and I would go into various parts of the Sierra each year about 3-4 days after a Sierra Club High Trip had passed through and add to our gear collections. At one point I had a dozen Sierra Club cups (the kind now considered collectors' items with the emblem and "Sierra Club" embossed into the bottom"). We carried out good sleeping bags, jackets, and other items (plus bags of cans and other trash). This detritus was one of the reasons the Sierra Club discontinued the High Trips - too much impact from an activity of the leading environmental organization, despite huge efforts to train and educate the participants. It wasn't just the High Trips that left trash (and poorly dug latrines and catholes), of course. It took years for the horse-packers to clean up their act. And there were (and still are) the "fishing camps" and (in the National Forests) "hunting camps". You can still find places where there is "camp furniture" made by chopping down trees (or cutting limbs from living trees), lashed together for tables and benches (one very extensive example is near the top of the Gorge of Despair, dating from at least the 1960s).

5:02 p.m. on September 15, 2007 (EDT)
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Indiscriminate fire/firepit use/abuse is one of the things that bothers me, especially backcountry.

11:38 a.m. on September 26, 2007 (EDT)
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Ahh, camp furniture, lean-to's, trash in trailside toilets, massive congregations of people, huge fires .... these all bring back such "fond" memories of backpacking on the AT and other trails that are easy to get to.

The ability to build a fire and construct some type of shelter from native materials is, however, good to have - the knowledge could save your life under true survival conditions, as can knowing what plants you can and can not consume, a solid knowledge of first aid and let's be honest, knowing how to navigate both with and without external aids (like a compass) -

That said, you can eliminate or at least lessen the need to put this knowledge to use if you prepare for your outdoor trips correctly (the noteworthy exception being first aid).

I've run across people "lost" on the AT - here in PA the blazes seem to be on every other tree - the trail itself is as obvious as I95 - but people still, somehow, become lost or disoriented - the last one was comical - a couple with a GPS that had suffered from a dead battery - they had set out hiking North to where they'd left a car - I was hiking North as well when I met them head on. Seems they'd forgotten which side of the trail they'd camped on the night before and were headed away from their vehicle (and had been for a few hours) - they were convinced that they were right and I was wrong until I produced a compass and proved that they were, in fact, headed South. While I didn't share the thought with them at the time, I just kept thinking "Darwin was right, Darwin was right" .....

Then there was the "slack packer" (speed hiker) I ran into on one wet, cold evening, with a twisted ankle and no gear for the night - had no idea how to tape an ankle and even if he'd known it wouldn't have done much good - no first aid supplies. Cooked up some nice hot tea for him, wrapped him in my sleeping bag, taped his ankle and helped him out (about 2 miles) to meet his wife (in a camper) - got there around 9PM in the dark - her comment "where the f*** have you been????" - nice - I just wandered off into the woods by myself and let him fight the battle ....

Yep - Darwin was right ...

12:59 p.m. on September 26, 2007 (EDT)
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At least around most fire rings that I have sen along the AT do not have much fuel left around them which is lucky because I have spoken to rangers who have found abandoned fires that still have hot coals burning in them. There was also a guy on the AT in GA lighting fires right on the trail. I did find three weekend campers in GA who had a huge fire going at a shelter with a dead tree they had cut down. At least I got my footwear dried out! In the middle of the night smoke blew directly into the shelter so they had to put it out. It is rare to find people using fires to cook on any more other than in wood burning stoves.

8:34 p.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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Some time ago I attended a Leave No Trace educator’s course and this was a "Hot" topic.

As darkness fell and the discussion continued on, the instructor quietly lit a single candle lantern and placed it on a flat rock in the middle of the group. Before long, we all got quiet began to stare at the candle, just the way you would stare at a campfire. Point made by the instructor.

Something to ponder: Building a new fire in pristine wilderness (or anywhere else for that matter) sterilizes 9 cubic feet of organic soil. Nothing will grow in that spot for a v-e-r-y long time. (LNT opines that if a ring exists it's OK to use it, but it is NOT a requirement!)

The following is an exerpt from the LNT website:

"The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth, is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Campfire building is also an important skill for every camper. Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of light weight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire. Stoves have be come essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, flexible, and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition, and they Leave No Trace."

For more about this subject from LNT visit http://www.lnt.org/programs/lnt7/campfires.html

Now chew on this: In some areas where bear activity is high, some bears have begun to associate the smell of a campfire, with food. Ah, remember the good 'ol days when animals ran from fire!

My opinion: Build a fire if your life depends on it. Otherwise, dress for the weather and pack a stove.

9:42 p.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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I agree with the principle, and furthermore, gathering wood and messing with a fire makes you filthy, and as I type this, I'm wishing that my vest didn't stink of wood smoke from last Saturday night. Am also remembering the lamb chops and roasted potatoes.

If a fire-ring is already available, and there is a supply of wood at hand, in my opinion the damage from building another fire there is quite trivial.

That said, I've sometimes demolished other people's fire rings in places where their existence seemed entirely irrational or particularly ugly.

In the few cases where I've built fires with no pre-exisiting fire ring, it's good to carefully scatter ashes and replace the sod. Most but perhaps not quite all of the evidence can be obliterated this way.


Above and just below treeline, there is little or no wood anyway, and fires are foolish or impossible.

10:10 p.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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While noble in gesture, scattering a used fire ring because you (or anyone else) might think it's ugly is a questionable act. The damage to the soil is already done. If you left it there, other people would most likely continue to use THAT fire ring. By removing it, you might be inviting others to build other fire rings near the site. People are remarkably predictable. If one person thought that was a good spot for a fire, chances are, others will think likewise and build another ring on the site. Now there is twice the destruction of organic soil.

As far as obliterating all evidence goes, replacing the sod on sterile soil does no good. It will not take root and what you have left is a circle of dead grass.

2 words to consider - Mound Fire.

10:15 p.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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One point is that to be effective in consistently building survival fires, you need to frequently do just that. I very seldom bother with a campfire and can/do leave no trace of one, if I build it; however, you do need practice as with shooting, to remain competent.

I have never built fires in wilderness areas, alpine areas or built new firepits; however, I do build fires from dead, leaning timber in heavily forested parts of BC. Here, fires are an important part of serial progression of ecosystem development and are not destructive.

I will also build a fire AWAY from a large rock face and then sit between the rock and fire to keep warm; this seldom leaves any discolouration on the rock and prevents incidents with heated rock/soil suddenly detonating into your face or mini-avalanches making things miserable.

Fire and mankind BELONG in pristine wilderness, it's just how you do it that matters.

10:50 p.m. on November 19, 2007 (EST)
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First I must give praise for practicing the art of survival fires. It truly must be practiced to be perfected rather than "Giving it a shot" when your world goes to sh--.

While I agree that fire plays an important role in the the developement and progression of many species of flora worldwide, and it does belong in the global scheme. Mankind, on the other hand, is just a visitor. There was pristine wilderness before we got here, and if we don't screw it ALL up while we ARE here, pristine wilderness will succeed long after we are gone. As for mankind BELONGING in the wilderness, I guess I have to agree to a point, after all that is where we lived before we ruined it and turned that wilderness into towns and cities.

At the risk of sounding all granola-cruncher - We belong to the planet not vise versa. Change is good, but only when it's done naturally, not provoked. It was ALL pristine wilderness once.

There is an interesting conversation going on on another forum about the California fires. Are they really that bad? Some say they are horrible due to the loss of human owned property. Some lament the loss of wilderness. Others remind that lightening fires have burned millions of sq. miles of land since the begining of time, and the human property doesn't belong there in the first place. Yes, fire BELONGS in the big picture, but not when they are started by humans.

6:53 a.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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Human "beings" do not belong to this planet.

Animals and plants belong to this planet and were and are the only creatures meant to inhabit the earth.

Humanoids came to earth after excaping the last planet they had polluted, used up all resources and destroyed thru horrific warfare.


Obviously humanoids repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

After we are done with earth, which planet will we kill off next?

9:47 a.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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Ed G wrote "Human "beings" do not belong to this planet.

Animals and plants belong to this planet and were and are the only creatures meant to inhabit the earth.

Humanoids came to earth after excaping the last planet they had polluted, used up all resources and destroyed thru horrific warfare.


Obviously humanoids repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

After we are done with earth, which planet will we kill off next?"

Perhaps we should just try to take care of this one, it's a pretty nice place to live. From an historic perspective, in our pre-industrial years we were doing pretty well. Without the advanced medicine and food production techniques our populations were fairly stable and well controlled by nature. It seems that the trouble began when we figured out how to control our environment, support greater and greater populations and population densities and increase our numbers to unsustainable levels, where our very existence degraded nature faster than it (nature) could heal itself and recover.

In the end, nature and the laws of natural selection will win out and we'll be shoved off our self appointed "top of the heap". It's happened before to dominant species, no reason to think that we're really any different.

12:18 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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I certainly hope, though am not hopeful, that we can at least find another planet to destroy, but building a campfire isn't going to get us there.

And also, obviously, I'd dispute the notion that you can't obliterate most of the evidence from a small campfire.

12:48 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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if we were meant to be on this planet we would have had canine teeth. We don't.

Our teeth are designed for munching vegetables, grains and any evidence left from a small campfire.

5:02 p.m. on December 13, 2007 (EST)
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calamity,

Evidence, as you put it, visible evidence, from a campfire CAN be obliterated. After a short time, the average person would never know you built a fire there. It's the organic material that you destroy beneath the surface (Up to 9 cu. feet) that can never be brought back.

The idea behind Leave No Trace is to leave no trace at all, not just evidence you can see.

7:34 p.m. on December 13, 2007 (EST)
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It's my experience that French women tourists are the worst offenders.

Come to Disney world area, stay in a primitive state park campground, pee, leave toilet paper all over the place and go see mickey while leaving the camp fire unattended and smoldering away.

Ladies, the grate where you just put your cheese brots to cook is where I just pee'd to put out your fire.

Welcome to America.

9:17 p.m. on December 15, 2007 (EST)
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I guess I just don't see the harm in destroying 9 square feet of organic material. OK, so there will be a 3'x3' area of the woods that will only be covered by twigs, branches, and leaves, with no chance of a tree growing there. Sounds like a great place for a fire if you ask me!

I realize this violates LNT, but so does the trail that I walked on to get to the campsite. LNT, when taken to extreme, is absurd.

I totally agree with you guys about foil, glass, and burning rocks, and despise all of that when I see it. The forest is there to enjoy, not to mess up for the next generation. I just don't see that a proper, well-contained campfire does that.

10:04 p.m. on December 15, 2007 (EST)
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"I guess I just don't see the harm in destroying 9 square feet of organic material." The problem with your logic is scale-reasoning like this has resulted in thousands of square miles of the Amazon being cut down and burned.

10:34 p.m. on December 15, 2007 (EST)
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I'm with Tom on this.

If it wouldn't be right if everyone did it, then it's not OK for you to do it -- especially when it's something that's generally unnecessary, like a campfire.

I just don't see the point of building one.

10:45 p.m. on December 15, 2007 (EST)
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Probably I mentioned this, but last month, I made lamb chops and baked potatoes. Nice. Tasty. No cooking utensiles--laid stuff straight on/in oak coals in pre-existing, though unauthorized firepit. Not necessary. Could have stayed home actually, which would have caused least environmental damage (I drove to trailhead, burning more than a gallon of gasoline.)

Fortunately, I live in a multifamily house in heavily urban area, concentrating my impact; am hooked to sewage plant, and walk to work, rarely driving my car.

11:37 a.m. on December 16, 2007 (EST)
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Genghis,

The fact that you mentioned 'using a trail' in your post tells me that you believe, at least in part, in the ethics of LNT. Using existing trails, rather than creating new ones, is one of the most basic principals.

2:45 p.m. on December 16, 2007 (EST)
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I think I should point out one of my key statements.: "LNT, when taken to extreme, is absurd." Of course I believe in the general principles of LNT. What I don't believe in is excess.

I enjoy hammock camping, and one of the things I like about it is that it has less impact on the site than tent camping. That's a good thing.

I'm pretty serious about taking everything out that I took in. And invariably, I end up toting out some other person's trash as well.

That being said, a mound of burned wood is not the same as a wine bottle and a soup can. Trash is something that definitely shouldn't be there. But I just can't make myself think the same thing about the remains of someone's campfire.

Not only that, I almost always start my fire where there has already been a fire. Probably been one at that spot for 50 years, and somehow the forest survived.

I gave up cooking on a fire long ago. Jetboil is the greatest for that. But a campfire is a source of heat, a point of reference, a common cause among the campers, and a light to meditate by. (LEDs just don't seem to get the conversation going.)

Tom and Alicia's argument is a classic example of the logical fallacy known as the slippery slope. Yes, I agree, if everyone in Kentucky descended on the Red River Gorge and lit a campfire, they'd burn the whole gorge down.

But that's because the Red River Gorge is not large enough to support 3 million people camping. There would be a lot more problems than running out of wood if they all went at once.

To say, "if it's wrong for them, it's not OK for you," suggests a certain moral superiority of the non-firebuilders. If that's the way you really feel, I'm sorry about that. I don't judge you for not building a fire, or for camping in a tent. (I prefer a hammock.. leave less impact.)

I say you can camp the way you want, just don't mess up the woods. And I'll camp the way I want. With a fire.

5:34 p.m. on December 16, 2007 (EST)
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Genghis, I have no problem believing that an individual like yourself can responsibly build a campfire (in an established fire ring, minimizing impact, etc…) and have far less impact overall on the backcountry due to your total choices than many other backpackers and hikers, including those who don’t build campfires.

I don’t build campfires, although on rare occasions I’ll enjoy one at a campground. Personally, because there are so many options in backcountry stoves, I just don’t see the point in building a fire—although obviously people derive other benefits from them beyond cooking food. But, like the original poster referred to, I don’t like to come across their remains in the backcountry in inappropriate spots. I just don’t think it’s fair to others to come across my impact later (whether its trash, a poor campsite, or a fire ring). I’m not suggesting that your fires are like those irresponsible ones at all, just that the issue of leaving a visible impact is part of what bothers me.

And I definitely don’t think I’m morally superior for not building a fire. I think looking at your total impact on and off the trail (which is something you seem to have done) is way more important than feeling like you’re in “the right” due to one choice alone. And things like trash, dirty TP, and bad campsites bother me way more than a small, clean, established fire ring.

Because this is a public forum and read by many people with varying levels of backcountry experience and knowledge, I think it’s important to encourage the best possible practices by the backcountry community as a whole. So if someone ultimately decides to build a fire, hopefully they’ll also consider how to minimize their campfire impacts (LNT’s word on this subject is at http://lnt.org/programs/principles_5.php).

Anyway, fires are obviously a very personal choice. Hopefully we can all try to make responsible choices about our impact on the backcountry wherever we fall on this issue and others. None of us (including me) has no impact out there.

3:16 a.m. on December 17, 2007 (EST)
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"If it wouldn't be right if everyone did it, then it's not OK for you to do it."

Is the statement universally true or false, or does it only relate to building campfires?

If everyone in the world burned petroleum like American hikers driving or jetting to their favorite trailhead, the potential pending disaster to landscape would be considerably worsened.

Though people do have qualms about driving their cars, or for that matter, supporting the petroleum-based industrial and consumer economy through participation, essentially nobody is opting for the third-world peasant lifestyle.

 

 

---------------

8:22 a.m. on December 17, 2007 (EST)
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Quote:

"If it wouldn't be right if everyone did it, then it's not OK for you to do it." Is the statement universally true or false, or does it only relate to building campfires?

Even though I’m the one who said it, I don’t think statements like this can ever be universally true or false. There are too many variables for absolutes, especially on an individual basis. However, for me at least, it works as a good general guideline in evaluating how my actions impact others and the environment.

Despite sounding a bit sanctimonious about it, I don’t actually mean to judge others with this standard (because of the many variables). Instead, it’s something I consider when judging my own actions. I’m only one person, but I still try to consider my impact on a larger scale and this works for me.

Back to the original issue, I’m still not going to build a campfire in the backcountry. However, I realize that choosing to build or not build one is only one small part of anyone’s impact (with driving and other daily actions having far greater consequences that should be seriously considered). And after listening and considering the thoughts of the posters here, I acknowledge that there are responsible people who do build legal campfires with minimal impact. I’m probably not going to join their ranks, but I’ll refrain from knee-jerk judgments.

That’s my 2 cents. As the original poster predicted, this is a controversial issue, so thanks for keeping things civil.

11:14 a.m. on December 17, 2007 (EST)
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I will take a dip in this pool of turbid water.

I love a nice campfire... but there is a time and a place for everything. If I am in the backcountry I never, never build a fire...unless there is an existing fire ring and park regulations allow.


Just common sense here folks; Rules and best practices are not arbitrarily arrived at. People have actually thought this stuff through and like it or not, there is a time and a place for everything, including campfires.

Just because your personal philosophy goes against (this is directed at both those for, and those against fire) what is permitted or not permitted, you should not feel obligated to force it on others. i.e. "I like fire so I will build one even if I have to make a new fire ring in this protected national forest", or "You should never ever build a fire even in an area where campfires are allowed and existing rings are present… because it goes against the principals of LNT."

This is quite a controversial topic; can't we all just get along?

11:55 a.m. on December 17, 2007 (EST)
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With a screen name like Bigsmoke, you almost HAVE to get involved in this thread! I agree with what you are saying, however...
Building a fire in an existing ring is NOT against LNT principals. As a matter of fact, that's just about the only place it is accepted. Building a RING, on the other hand, is another story. LNT believes, as you do that people have the ability to make sound decisions. They simply try inform people that there are "Options for actions." As a LNT educator, I would like to remind everyone that the principals taught are simply guidelines, not rules. Again, options. Not hard fast closed-minded rules.

I feel that if a person is willing to accept some of the LNT principals, then that's better than nothing. Someone may insist on building a fire, but may still be willing to dig proper cat holes or may chose to camp on more durable surfaces rather than build a new campsite. They may be willing to walk through mud on an established trail rather than bushwalk around the mud, eventually widening the trail. That, to me, is a step in the right direction.

"Leaving your mark IS overrated”.

I feel I've now said plenty on the subject, and have no further desire to beat the proverbial deceased equine! I'll let the rest of you continue to discuss it like adults - I'm learning alot by listening to you all, and I plan to use these discussions in my teaching.

1:15 p.m. on December 17, 2007 (EST)
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Not that I think effects of a campfire "improve" anything, but regarding harm to soil, there's this, from a standard source on gardening:

One standard cord (128 cubic feet; a small truckload) of firewood will produce about one bushel of ashes.... (1.25 cubic feet).

Wood ash is useful as a fertilizer to improve the fertility of soils and as a source of lime to "sweeten" acidic soils.

The pH of ashes is very high, usually 8 to 12, so care must be taken not to use too much on small areas such as gardens, flower boxes, flower beds, and small vegetable gardens.

For using wood ash, a rate or 25 to 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet of soil area is a general rule of thumb...

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11:19 p.m. on December 18, 2007 (EST)
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Alicia wrote this:

Quote:

That’s my 2 cents. As the original poster predicted,
this is a controversial issue, so thanks for keeping things civil.

I guess I opened the proverbial can of long slithery creatures way back when, eh? :-)

12:35 p.m. on February 4, 2008 (EST)
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Good Morning,
I have a trailstove that burns small branches. It doubles as a windscreen for my small alcohol stove. I put a tinfoil pie plate under it when I burn. Still it's fire and I agree you must watch it.

The trailstove leaves no trace, is good for cookin and does provide a tiny campfire. It's a bit bulky and weighs a pound. I stuff it with dried trail rations, before packing it away. An alternative to think about. Sometimes it's cold in those hills.
Luck

2:06 p.m. on February 4, 2008 (EST)
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I have one too, and like it a lot. You're right. You do have to watch it. I've found that if I avoid softwoods, like pine, there are less sparks. Hardwoods seem burn longer too, though maybe not as hot.

8:37 p.m. on February 4, 2008 (EST)
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The problem with the Sierra stove is that it still burns wood, which means you gather the downed wood that otherwise would decay and provide nutrients for the plants and provides habitat and nutrients for small critters (insects, worms, and lots of other invertebrates), most of whom provide nutrients for slightly larger critters, and so on up the food chain. The burning of the wood also releases CO2, which is the most significant of the greenhouse gases. If the downed wood were allowed to decay and provide nutrients for the next generation of plants, CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere, instead of being released. It is way too easy to think that "I am only burning a tiny amount of the downed wood, so the impact is negligible" and overlook the cumulative impacts. Also, it takes a battery to run the fan, and batteries contain various chemicals that impact the environment. Here in Palo Alto, we have a city battery recycling program, which still does release some contaminants into the environment, but way too many people just drop the batteries in the trash that goes to the landfill (or even leave them in the wilderness).

Yes, burning petroleum fuels (white gas, kerosene, butane, propane) also releases CO2 into the atmosphere, but it is less than getting the same heat for cooking from the wood fire in the Sierra stove (and similar designs), and far less than campfires.

More information can be found on the Leave No Trace website (www.lnt.org, with an "L" as in LNT). We should all be practicing Leave No Trace in the woods, and in our daily lives.

9:12 p.m. on February 4, 2008 (EST)
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As a Leave No Trace Trainer myself, I agree with you - to a point. LNT "SUGGESTS" that fires may not be necessary, and encourages alternative means of cooking and heating. Very different from a message such as DO NOT LITTER. "DO NOT" being the operative phrase here.

Hypothetically:
Let's say I find enough small fallen sticks along my trip to fuel my Sierra Stove. Yes, I agree, I changed something by picking them up. Yes there are carbon emmissions from my small fire. But - what impact is there to the earth to get an equivilent number of BTUs out of any type of fossil fuel. How many drilling platforms will it take. Even if it's just one, How much damage was done. I am of the opinion that the reduction of petroleum products of any kind is a big step in the right direction.

Now for another unsolicited opinion - Wood was meant to burn. Billions of acres of forest fires have burned naturally and unchecked for millions of years. This carbon emmission, the atmosphere could handle. After we began manufacturing "alternative" fossil fuels things went south.

7:39 a.m. on February 5, 2008 (EST)
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I have a sierra stove. You'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.

I have to admit, it's a lot of fun to tinker with the flame.

I use it on trips when I have lots of fresh drinking water available and don't have to rush to boil up a drink.

I like burning pine cone cones after the squirrels have chewed the pine nuts off.

The pot has .125" thick layer of pine tar and will never be cleaned again, but heck, that just speeds the boiling process.

Use your stove freely without guilt. If it was such a big problem with the environment I highly doubt they would be on the market for this long.

12:34 p.m. on February 5, 2008 (EST)
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I have a small, but heavy, folding woodburning stove (it does not have a fan or use batteries) which I keep in my car for emergencies and which once saved a weekend on the Lake Superior shore. I had my Whisperlite and a bottle of fuel, but had somehow left the pump assembly at home.

I collected some of small pieces of driftwood covering the beach and burned them in the folding stove to boil water for food and drink. After the meal, the firelight was warm and pleasant pleasant and the wood burned down completely to ash. One evening, as the fire died, I looked north across the lake to see the Aurora Borealis. A good stove that left no trace, apart from the ash that was quickly dissipated and the pieces of driftwood missing from the beach.

I have difficulty believing that burning the small pieces of wood that I burn in that stove, either driftwood or deadfall in heavily forested northern Michigan, can have anything more than a theoretical negative effect. However, I hate to see the lower branches broken from trees in the more popular camping areas and do agree that if everyone converted to wood, there would be a definite problem in that regard.

3:16 p.m. on February 5, 2008 (EST)
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While it is true that one person having a wood fire one time has a miniscule effect, it is the cumulative effect that causes the problem. If I were the only person to drive an SUV to work every day (remember, I am retired, so I don't drive to work, and when I was working, I bicycled to and from), then the resulting air pollution, CO2 addition, cost to the environment from the mining of the materials and manufacturing, and so on would be negligible. If my MP3 player (don't have one, actually) or computer were the only one in existence, the toxics generated by the tech industry could easily be taken care of by natural processes.

I don't have the current figures (and I hesitate to post statistics, considering that a certain poster will interpret them for far more than they are), but in 1985, there were 15 million visitor days in US designated wilderness areas. If all 15 million visit-days involved 2 uses of a wood fire (breakfast and supper), that's 30 million fires. I haven't measured the wood consumption of a Sierra stove, but it is pretty efficient. Suppose it were 1 board foot, which is a pretty small amount. Then 30 million board feet would have been consumed and turned into CO2. There are published studies that compare backpacking stoves to campfires, and they show that the CO2 emission of the backpacking stove is less. Plus, as I posted before, the downed wood is left to recycle into nutrients for new trees and for animals at the bottom of the food chain.

Again, the point is that it isn't the single use that's the problem. It is the cumulative effect of millions of people getting out there (and yes, the billions of 3rd World people as well).

Yeah, yeah, I love the romance of a campfire as much or more than any other woodsy type. And I recognize that just by existing, I have an impact. It's tiny compared to the cumulative effect of the 6 billion humans (the number I see bandied about these days for world population), but it is a contribution. Campfires are an occasional "guilty pleasure". Just be aware of the impacts of everything you do and try to minimize them. In the latest issue of one of the Outdoor Industry Association's magazines, there is an interesting article on environmental impact of the whole industry. They show a flow chart for a particular product we would think has hardly any impact. The steps in producing and end use plus ultimate disposal have an impact far larger than one might think before looking at the whole picture.

11:02 a.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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On a portage trail in a wilderness area I visited, it was suggested that if you come to a bog on the trail - a deep puddle - you were instructed to walk through it not go around it.

Do you do that too?

12:22 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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Yep. By walking around puddles we make trails wider and erode surrounding soil. Walking off-trail when there are established trails available is quite the LNT taboo. The trail, no matter how muddy, has already already established. Walking around a boggy area creates new trails.

There ARE some things you can do to lessen impact in trailless areas. Meadow walking is one. When in a group, try not to walk in a line -follow the leader style. Instead, meander or zig-zag along the way, trying not to walk where someone else has walked. The idea behind this is that it is better for a thousand feet to step on 1 plant each than for one plant to be stepped on a thousand times.

5:05 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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Very nicely said.

5:11 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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"In the latest issue of one of the Outdoor Industry Association's magazines, there is an interesting article on environmental impact of the whole industry. They show a flow chart for a particular product we would think has hardly any impact. The steps in producing and end use plus ultimate disposal have an impact far larger than one might think before looking at the whole picture."

Bill that's an intersting concept - life cycle impact of an item, whether or not outdoor related. I would like to see more of these sorts of studies done on consumer products as well, netted against cost/benefits of recycling, etc... Probably a hard number to come up with. Kudos to Patagonia for recycling used capilene.

5:27 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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Ah yes Alan, the story of stuff. Have you seen this?

http://www.storyofstuff.com/

Definitely worth a look. I plan to use it in my teaching this spring.

12:31 p.m. on February 9, 2008 (EST)
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termite will solve all your campfire problems. Works for me every time.

4:38 p.m. on February 9, 2008 (EST)
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"There ARE some things you can do to lessen impact in trailless areas. Meadow walking is one. When in a group, try not to walk in a line -follow the leader style. Instead, meander or zig-zag along the way, trying not to walk where someone else has walked."

This ain't a great plan if your hiking in Florida! The gators would love it and this also gives the rattlesnakes a better chance to clean their fangs :)

5:38 p.m. on February 9, 2008 (EST)
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Duly noted! Another reason to stay in areas where established trails exist. We don't want to be feedin' the wildlife!

5:09 a.m. on February 10, 2008 (EST)
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Statistics, as the primary tool of social sciences, offer a useful, and probably the only means of interpreting the impact of users on the back country.

Regarding both risk and environmental issues, they provide the "big picture," and are truly essential in both the insurance and financial industries, to say nothing of public safety agencies, and even outdoor retailers and advertisers.

To doubt their utility and meaning, would be, to say the least, intellectually very unsound.

Of course, if somebody trashes a campsite, or unwittingly tries somehow, to commit suicide in the wilderness, statistics won't absolve them from personal responsibility.

With regard to campfires, obviously scarring the land or burning it down is something that does happen, unfortunately, and is to be seriously discouraged.

But it may be that the average hiker causes greater damage to the environment simply by driving their car to a trailhead or to their job, or the supermarket. Personally, wilderness novice and poseur that I am, walk to work.


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1:36 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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We all know that just by existing, we have an impact. Here is the carbon (and other greenhouse) impact of that cheeseburger you are having for lunch (I don't eat red meat, so I don't eat cheeseburgers). http://openthefuture.com/cheeseburger_CF.html

The bottom line is that a single cheeseburger is 3.6 to 6.1 kilograms of CO2 equivalent, depending on the transportation mode. Given the burger industry's estimate of 3 burgers per week per person in the US, that is something like 196 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year. Another way to put it is that the CO2 equivalent of all those cheeseburgers is equivalent to 6.5 to 19.6 million SUVs (there are 16 million SUVs on the road in the US currently).

This weekend, at the annual Bear Valley Telemark Festival, part of the evening entertainment was a group of 5 films from a local environmentally-oriented film festival. One of these was of the person who did the research to gather the data in the above website. And, yes, part of the fee charged for the Telefest was to purchase carbon offsets. And yes, the banquet meal on Saturday night was purely vegetarian, as has been traditional for the 12 years the festival has been held - no bovine methane contributions (another of the films was about the beef industry - methane from the cattle in the beef industry is incredibly huge as a greenhouse gas).

2:18 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks for the story of stuff and cheeseburger links, I'll have to make time to read these. 3 burgers per week per person - no wonder we're all fat.

5:05 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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try a turkey cheeseburger. Ground turkey is actually a great replacement for hamburger.

turkey burgers
turkey chili
turkey taco's
turkey lasagna

hmmmm. good stuff

5:13 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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That's funny Ed, last night I took a pound of ground turkey from the freezer to make into something for dinner tonight. The dish has yet to be determined.

10:48 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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I have a super-large empty coffee can (might hold a half-gallon of liquid) sitting in the back of my car that I'm considering for experimental use as an outdoor "stove" for short backpacking trips.

I suppose I'd need to punch some holes around the lower sides.

This would have at least several, very severe disadvantages compared with a traditional wood fire, but I assume two significant potential advantages: more efficient use of wood and no fire scars.

Though it's not an entirely unique idea, I doubt it's particularly worthwhile, and might be almost entirely impractical, but I did save it with that purpose in mind.

I can say that Volkswagen hub cabs work okay if not as a stove, per se, then for avoiding fire scars if you camp in junkyards, or otherwise happen to find them on site, but they are to my mind, much too heavy to carry.

My underlying interest in the coffee can is related to my fascination and skepticism regarding tiny, collapsible wood stoves for tents and my complete lack of experience with them.

I figure if a half-gallon coffee can works at all as a wood stove (outside, not in a tent, obviously), then I'd have slightly more confidence in these other more elaborate products. See Kifaru and other manufacturers for the tent stoves.

10:28 a.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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12:36 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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You guys need us carnivores to eat the cows.. dead cows do not contribute to the methane problem... By eating them we are providing the environment a very useful "carbon offset"

12:38 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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p.s. this is the longest lived and most active topic ever!

Trailspace hall of fame material here...

2:33 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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I don't have a great deal to add here. I rarely make backcountry fires as much out of laziness as anything else. I don't see the topic as being absolutely right or wrong. I think there are less fragile areas in which fires can be made with minimal environmental impact, not zero impact, but minimal to a point of being negligible.

For the minimal fires which I rarely make I'm not going to worry about co2 emissions given I drove my car many hours to the trailhead, use a bunch of gear manufactured from petroleum products and on and on.

Several years ago I backpacked off trail in a densely forested area of Michigan's UP. We camped each night in areas that likely do not see many visitors in a five year period, if for no other reason getting to these locations was quite difficult. There were no signs of recent visitors. We didn't happen to make any fires on that particular trip - couldn't have if we had wanted to as it rained and rained and rained. However, had me made a small fire in such a location the environmental impact would not have been significant, especially if we took the time to disguise the fire area when done.

Now, if this location became a popular destination and many people were to backpack there and light fires, that becomes a different story altogether. Rules of thumb in one environment, say no fires in alpine areas, may not necessarily apply in others, say difficult to access thick forests with few to no visitors.

3:15 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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Dead anything can contribute methane.

Ever see a human body that had disappered underwater? After a few days the body becomes a methane balloon and it floats to the surface.

Ain't nothing stinkier than a "floater".

5:00 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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Yes Ed_G, I have! But you have to know where to look for them - maybe if they had taken a survival ki... sorry, wrong thread!

8:43 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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stinky dudes arent they. Don't even come close to 'Crispy Critters"

Man, this brings back some bad memories of when I worked at a morgue and was never able to get a day off, even being newly married. People would shoot themselves at absolutely the wrong times. I always hated suicides at holidays.

Yes dear , keep the bed warm, I'll be back later.

we would burn the identified john does...inside tents and on top of coleman heaters :)

3:30 a.m. on February 14, 2008 (EST)
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That's a really cool site with "hobo stove." I'm going to study it, but I'd hesitate to use an old paint can. That Japanese guy, I must see his Web site though he sounds a little nuts:

SuperShioshio lives in Yokohama in Japan, he's a mountaineer and he collects backpack camping stoves. "I seem to be attacked by stoves," he says -- he has more than 200 of them, stoves of every possible type, all on display at his website.
http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~we2a-sod/index.htm

I do believe I've owned at least 10 different stoves, including three canister types, one alcohol, two kerosene, three gasoline, a sterno stove, and possibly others I can't exactly remember.

But owning 200 stoves probably has no practical use, even for non-novice poseurs, and are only valuabble for general education, as in museum pieces or an academic record.

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12:37 p.m. on February 14, 2008 (EST)
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Nothing works better than just piling up wood and putting some Thermite on it and setting it on fire. Thermite is easy to make and burns at 4500 °F

you'll never go wrong with a camp fire using it, I promise.

2:06 p.m. on February 14, 2008 (EST)
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"But owning 200 stoves probably has no practical use, even for non-novice poseurs, and are only valuabble for general education, as in museum pieces or an academic record."

That's true of collecting nearly anything. My stove collection is perhaps 50 or so, some of these I'll never have the time to light. In some cases I've collected speficif stoves simply because it's fun. With a number of sepcific stoves I could make a tidy profit by selling them on ebay and I doubt these will go down in value over time.

7:43 p.m. on February 17, 2008 (EST)
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...and sometimes, it's just right.

I don't mind building a small, friendly fire by a stream when I am fishing; something to heat some water for tea or cook a fresh trout. But you will never know after I have moved on that there had been a fire. To quote from myself:
"I may roll a streamside stone aside and build the fire in the cavity, or I'll cut a rectangle of turf out of the bankside grass and start the fire in the available hole. Either way, when I'm done cooking my lunchtime trout, should I have been so fortunate and hungry, and enjoying my tea (coffee requires cream, I take tea black), the embers are drowned and the stone or sod replaced. No evidence of my pleasant sojourn remains." see http://overmywaders.com/index.php?friendlyfire

Now, how does my fire impact anyone else? The twigs I used are now carbon - the cycle was somewhat accelerated - unseen, non-polluting, trapped underground.

If I am hiking/camping for an extended period, I'll take my Svea 123 and a pint of white gas. But if I'm going to be in the woods away from a white gas supply, I will save the stove for "special occasions"; e.g., when I am desperately in need of a cup of tea and my hands are too cold to pull a fire together, and sometimes, I just like the roar of the stove :)

Warmest regards,

Reed
www.overmywaders.com

December 20, 2014
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