The Best Firewood When Camping
The image of a gently crackling fire surrounded by happy, talkative people is one that very few people will fail to get the warm and fuzzies from. Whether it’s in the woods, on a beach, and even out in the desert, it’s something we tend to associate with good times and companionship, even when if we’ve never done it ourselves! Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a complete beginner in the world of camping, knowing what kind of firewood is best is an important part of the experience since no one wants to spend hours trying to light a fire, only to be bombarded with white smoke. In our opinion, the best firewood you can get is oak.
Of course, there are different kinds of oak, and white oak may be the best option, it’s not the only option. There are also some types of wood you should not use as firewood. For all of this information, keep reading as we take a deep dive into the world of camping firewood.
The Right Wood
The first thing to note about choosing the best camping firewood is that there are many variables to factor in. We have chosen oak as the best choice, but that may not be the case for every situation. The best wood for a wood stove isn’t necessarily the best wood for a campfire. And the best wood for a campfire that you plan to sit around and enjoy your evening isn’t necessarily the best wood for a campfire you intend to cook over.
Convenience is another thing to consider. While hickory may be better firewood for cooking over, it’s of little use if there is no hickory where you are, and you didn’t bring any with you. In that case, the best camping firewood would be the wood that you can get!
The point of this section is to say that you shouldn’t be too rigid with your wants and needs when camping. There should be a little compromise when you head out into nature; otherwise, you may as well just stay home. There are things you shouldn’t be flexible about—things like fire safety and using types of wood in our no-fly list below—but when it comes to something like the best camping firewood, be prepared to make do with what you have.
Our Top Choices for Camping Firewood
There is plenty of information to cover beyond the wood itself, so be sure to read to the end before you rush out and buy a pack of firewood or chop a tree down. Before we get into anything else, let’s go over the types of wood we think make the best firewood, starting with our top pick; oak.
You can get oak in both white and red variants (the name, not necessarily the color), but either is fine for getting a nice campfire going. There are several characteristics of oak that make it suitable for firewood, such as the fact that it doesn’t produce a lot of smoke. Nothing can ruin a picturesque camping scene like billowing smoke engulfing your camp.
Another positive for oak is the fact that it burns with a good amount of intensity, and slowly. Meaning you should get a better-than-average amount of fire for your wood.
However, they can be a little difficult to split, so that’s something to bear in mind if you are planning on sourcing your wood in nature. Oak is also great for use in wood stoves and firepits.
Available in either black ash or white ash, this wood burns with a more modest intensity than oak, making it less suitable for cooking over, and considerably less ideal for those more extreme camping trips where you are relying on the fire to keep your toes from falling off!
It doesn’t produce much smoke, however, and is easier to split than oak. Ash is a great wood to take the chill out of the evening air and give your evening that special camping ambiance. And, even though it doesn’t burn as hot as oak, it will be plenty hot enough to melt a marshmallow or roast a hot dog.
Cherry is another wood that burns with a lower intensity than oak, but it doesn’t produce much smoke and is possibly one of the most pleasant smelling firewoods you can get. If the primary purpose of your fire is to bring a little warmth to the evening and set the mood, cherry wood may well be the best option.
You’re not going to have an easy time splitting this wood if you’re getting it directly from mother nature—that “hard” in the name is not an exaggeration—but this is an easy burning wood with a high intensity to it. It’s not necessarily ideal for cooking due to the higher level of heat, but if you’re looking for firewood that can keep your toes warm on a cold night, this is the one for you.
Woods to Avoid
There are some woods you should steer clear of when you head out on your next camping trip. We could write an entire post on the specific of this, but for the sake of staying on point, we’ll just hit the main beats.
Any wood that has been treated, painted, or even just spent time around an environment where chemicals might have soaked into it should be avoided. It’s not ideal for you to breathe the fumes of such woods, and certainly not suitable for you to cook food over such a wood—especially if the wood is old and painted, as lead paint was all the rage only a few decades ago.
Fresh “Green” Wood
Green wood can be any kind of wood, including the types of wood we listed above as our ideal choices. Wood needs time to “season” before it can be burned, due to the high water content it stores. Burning wood that is too fresh will not only result in a more difficult time lighting it; it will also produce a considerable amount of smoke.
There’s not much to explain here; if a tree or plant is endangered, don’t go cutting it down so you can set fire to it!
In turns out that all that time spent in the salty ocean imbues driftwood with an abundance of nasty toxins that are both carcinogenic and cumulative. It should be noted that all wood releases these toxins when burned, but driftwood has considerably more of it.
Different Uses for Camping Firewood
As soon as you put the words “camping” and “firewood” together, the most obvious image to spring to mind is a campfire. It’s the most recognizable use of firewood, the most romantic, the most versatile. Of course, there is more than one way to burn a log.
Whether you are camping in a fancy teepee and you’ve brought along a portable wood stove—or you’re camping in a luxurious motorhome with a considerably less portable wood stove—or even if you are just looking to heat some water for a coffee using a foldable firebox, there are plenty of uses for firewood on a typical camping trip. You could even be camping in a commercial camping ground that has fire pits on every pitch or creating your own fire pit on the beach from a hand-dug hole and some nearby rocks.
As with most things in life, different woods are better suited for different tasks. For example, a large piece of oak will burn for a long time, making it ideal for a late-night campfire that will smolder away long into the night with very little maintenance needed.
Meanwhile, smaller pieces of oak will burn hotter and leave coals that can be used to cook over. Some wood, like hickory, will infuse noticeable flavor into any food cooked over it, while other types of wood like cherry will fill the area with their scent.
In any discussion regarding camping firewood, it’s worth taking a moment to reinforce the importance of proper fire safety when lighting a fire in nature, or anywhere for that matter. We’re not going to go into the specifics here because fire safety in nature is a topic that would take a full post of its own to do justice.
For now, all we will say is if you are in any doubt about how to safely build and manage a fire in the woods, on the beach, in the desert, or anywhere, then do a good amount of research before you try. Not only is it irresponsible and dangerous, but there can also be severe legal repercussions if something goes wrong.
A campfire, or a fire pit, or a crackling wood stove, can be a beautiful thing when you are camping out in the wilderness—or a commercial campsite. There is an ideal wood for most situations, but if you can’t find that perfect wood, or you’re not sure which wood is ideal for your situation, you can’t go wrong with oak.
And be careful!