Cooking over an open fire feels like a staple of outdoor adventures, whether you’re backpacking in the mountains or doing some casual camping on the lake side. But the reality is that campfire cooking comes with its own set of problems--problems that have potentially long-reaching and negative implications on the environment.
Problem #1: Wildfire Potential
“Only you can prevent forest fires.” So says Smokey the Bear, and it’s true. Wildfires rip across the United States and Canada every year, and though the recent droughts in California have ended, many area still have to put fire bans in place ever summer in an attempt to limit the potential for these deadly blazes. And according tothis article from US News, the cost of fighting these wildfires is increasing every year. All it takes is a single spark from an illicit fire, or a moment of carelessness or lack of attention, and something once comforting can turn into a natural disaster of massive proportions. And, if you’re responsible for one of these blazes, you may be charged with footing the bill for its defeat, likethis guy--for him, it was to the tune of over nine figures. If that sounds like it would put a damper on a weekend of fun, it may be time to reconsider that campfire.
Problem #2: Gear (And Personal) Damage
Believe it or not, campfire smoke can be bad for your gear--stray sparks can burn holes in your clothing, soot and charcoal can permanently stain fabrics, and smoke can reduce the breathability, performance, and water resistance of your gear. Then, of course, there remains the risk of personal injury. While there are ways to mitigate the risk of injury, and while most campfires burn without an issue, there’s still a hazard. In fact, it’s not the flames themselves that pose the biggest threat-- 70% of campfire injuries are caused by embers, after the fire has supposedly been extinguished.
Problem #3: Pollution
Wood smoke might smell wonderful, but unfortunately it can also be harmful. When a particle of wood reaches 2.5 microns, not only is it fine enough to be carried in smoke and inhaled, it’s also fine enough to be toxic. And of course, it isn’t just wood you’re inhaling with that wood smoke--it can also contain chemicals like benzene, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). This chemical cocktail can even taint water sources thanks to ash carried by rainwater, or leaching into the ground. Smoke from campfires can also create a visible haze in places like national parks or other common camping areas-especially during peak season. And, if you’re burning trash in your campfire (which you shouldn’t), you’re releasing all those chemicals into the air, too.
Problem #4: Litter
The very act of making a campfire leaves behind litter, which definitely breaks the principles of Leave No Trace. Fires leave piles of ash, charred wood, and blackened rocks. In many cases, people also use their campfires to burn trash, which isn’t usually fully destroyed and thus leaves behind fragments of bottles, foil, cans, and plastic. In high-use areas, these seemingly small leftovers can pile up, leaving messes that can negatively impact the natural landscape and make maintenance workers’ jobs more difficult.
Problem #5: Ecological Damage
When it comes to gathering firewood, we all know to only collect fallen deadwood. Even if you follow that practice, though, the collection of this wood in large quantities can be harmful to the ecology of the area. In many cases, these dead logs and fallen branches may serve as vital habitats for insects and other creatures. Dead wood also increases the water-holding ability of soil, and removing it can lead to soil erosion. Even firewood that you bring with you (say, from your backyard), might be home to invasive species like the Asian long-horned beetle. If infected wood is moved to a new location, you risk doing major and irreversible damage to the environment.
Is There A Solution?
Actually, yes. While no one is saying to never, ever, ever have a campfire, when it comes to consistent outdoor cooking, there are far better and more elegant solutions. In the case of long backpacking trips, a fuel stove might be your best option. But for less intense outdoor excursions, solar cookers work wonderfully, too! We designed oursolar cookers to be portable, efficient, and easy to use for almost all your outdoor cooking needs. They eliminate the need for a campfire, so you can avoid the problems while still getting the benefits of campfire cooking.
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