Campers have a lot to consider when planning their trips, including their campfires. Use these camping tips to answer the question: How much firewood do I need for camping?
6 Factors Impacting How Much Firewood You Need
With a little practice you’ll be able to get a really good idea of how much wood you’ll need for your trips. There are 6 main factors to consider:
- Length of trip
- Type of fire
- Size of pieces
- Firewood type
- Camping wood’s moisture content
Length Of Camping Trip
- How many days will you be camping?
- Will you have a fire every day?
- Will you have fires only at night or will they be burning during the day too?
- Does your camping destination typically have dry or wet conditions?
- Is the current weather forecast favorable to having fires?
Type Of Fire
You’ll need enough wood to do all of the activities on your agenda. What is the purpose for your fires?
Ambiance: Do you just need a small flame to add to your evening events?
Warmth: Will you be using it as a heat source?
- Do you need a long roaring fire on a wintery, long and cold night?
- Will you be camping in the summer months and just need a little heat on a cool evening?
Cooking: The amount of firewood needed for campfire cooking varies greatly.
- Will you be preparing food that requires low, slow and long cooking methods?
- Do your recipes require hot, fast and short heat?
- How many meals will be cooked using a campfire?
Rescue: These types of fires are not used by a large number of people. They are typically used in the backcountry by campers in distress so we’re not going into great detail here. You can get a closer look at how to start an SOS emergency fire to signal for help.
Fire Ring vs Stoves
There are different ways to enjoy a fire at camp. Will you be using fire rings or are you bringing a campfire stove?
Traditional campfires use wood logs but camp stoves can burn with just twigs, leaves, pinecones and small pieces of wood.
These things are great for backpackers and lightweight car campers. The design has a double wall that makes fuel burn more efficiently and generates less smoke. That is possible because of the gasification and secondary combustion processes. The Solo Stove Lite is a smaller version.
Size Of Pieces
The best option for building is to start a small fire and add wood to grow it larger. For this post we are only talking about firewood for camping but we wanted to mention the other material you’ll need to start your fires.
This is smallest-sized material used to get the fire going. You’ll probably just pick up these items around your campsite. Tiny twigs, dry leaves, dried up needles are your best bet.
This is bigger than tinder but smaller than firewood. Dried small sticks less than 1-inch around are perfect but you can also use the thin wood pieces you’ll find on the ground after splitting logs with an axe or maul.
These are the largest pieces you’ll use, they should fit inside the ring. Your wood should never hang outside of fire pits.
For best results, check out our post on how to start a campfire.
Type Of Wood
The best firewood for starting a camp fire is softwood, but, hardwood is better for maintaining it.
This is the best wood for starting fires because it catches quickly. But, it has a much shorter burn time so you’ll need a lot of wood to keep the fire going for any length of time.
Typical varieties of soft woods include:
- Douglas fir
Hard wood takes much longer to catch so it is best used as the “second layer” after your initial layer of soft wood is fully burning. Hard wood burns longer and it’s a slow steady burn. This is the best situation for campfire cooking.
Typical varieties of hard woods include:
Wet vs Dry Wood
The moisture content in the wood plays a big role in the quality of your fire. Wet wood tends to smolder, it burns slowly and produces a lot of smoke but very little flame (or possibly no flame at all).
You only want to use dry wood. It burns nicely producing beautiful flames and no smoke. The dryer the wood, the prettier the fire.
Calculate The Amount Of Wood To Take
So, how much wood do you need? After considering all of the aspects we just discussed, here’s how to calculate the right amount of wood.
General Rule Of Thumb For Burn Time
How much burn time will you get out of a piece of firewood?
You can’t determine how much wood the average campfire burns until you know how long it takes to burn a log.
Take into account some general guidelines to come up with a rough estimate for burn time and number of pieces needed for your trip:
Smaller pieces of wood burn faster that larger pieces.
You need less wood if you are burning hardwood because it burns for a long time compared to softwood. Here’s a good rule of thumb.
Calculate What You’ll Need
- A typical 14-inch long piece of SOFT firewood burns for about 1 hour
- A typical 14-inch long piece of HARD firewood burns for about 3 hours
So for example, if you have 4 pieces of wood burning at a time and you want a 3 hour campfire you’ll need:
- 12 pieces of softwood
- 4 pieces of hardwood (but, you’ll probably need to get the initial fire going using softwood)
Where To Get Firewood
You can buy your campfire wood or pick it up for free. There are pros and cons to both options.
You can purchase bundles of firewood at many locations. Firewood bundles usually contain cheap firewood (soft wood that burns quickly) but costs a lot of money per bundle. A bundle typically contains:
- 7-12 pieces of wood
- Pieces are 12-18 inches long with a 3-4-inch diameter
- Total amount of wood is approximately 0.75-1 cubic feet
- Most recently I’ve seen bundles selling for about $20 but up to $90 for good hardwood
They usually contain enough firewood to have a small campfire that might last 2 short nights or a larger fire that will be good for 1 night.
This is a good choice if you don’t like smoky fires because it is usually “seasoned” wood, meaning it has been split and air-dried for an extended period of time.
For the average camper who is on a weekend trip and only wants to have one small single campfire each night (Friday and Saturday), this may be the best way to go. But, if you want larger fires that burn for many hours, you’ll need to buy several bundles of wood and that can get really expensive.
Bundles are often available during the camping season at:
- gas stations
- convenience stores
- hardware stores
- grocery stores
- campgrounds (campground stores, boat rental offices etc)
- state parks
- national parks
The easiest way to stay within a reasonable budget is to start your fire with the bundled wood but then continue the fire with free wood you find on the ground in the surrounding area of your campsite. If you find larger logs and dense hardwood, you will need tools to chop the wood.
Gathering wood in the great outdoors means you should expect a little smoke when burning because it is never really totally dry.
There are great places to find free firewood when camping in National Forests. Check with the local authorities before gathering and keep these tips in mind.
- You are not allowed to cut living trees but you would never want to use them in a campfire anyway because fresh wood does not make good firewood. It is wet and doesn’t burn (unless in forest fire types of conditions).
- Most national forests don’t allow you to cut standing dead trees because they are often inhabited by wildlife, particularly birds. They will require you to only use “dead and down” trees.
- A permit may be required before you can gather wood from the forest.
- You may need tools to split logs found in the forest.
- Using found wood may be a good option if you’re car camping because you won’t have to worry about taking-up your car’s limited storage space just to carry wood.
Do you have the proper devices for gathering and burning free wood? We often use these tools:
You may not be able to bring your own wood into certain camping areas. Authorities don’t want you to introduce insects from other areas.
Bark beetles are a problem especially when trees are in a stressed state (drought, disease, injuries etc.) These insects can contribute to the decline or even kill trees.
Remember to leave no trace, always maintain your fire inside the pit.
How To Stack Firewood
When you unload wood at your campsite, keep it off the ground, otherwise the moisture meter will go through the roof! You don’t want your wood to absorb any moisture while laying on the ground.
Lay two good-sized branches on the ground (to form a railroad type of structure) and in a perpendicular direction, lay your wood on top of the branches. This will elevate it off the ground.
It’s best to have your wood split rather than stacking whole logs. Split wood = dryer wood.
If the wood is not totally dry, it’s a good idea to stack it in a criss-cross pattern to allow air flow between the pieces.
Leave the wood uncovered as much as possible, cover with a tarp overnight (to prevent moisture from dew) and in rainy conditions (to prevent moisture from rain).
What Is A Cord Of Wood?
On really long trips with lots of campfire meals, we can actually go through a full cord of firewood. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a measurement that is 128 cubic feet (four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long) when racked and well-stowed.
Enjoy The Perfect Campfire During A Fire Ban
If your next camping trip is hampered by fire restrictions, try our tips to make a “faux fire” when camping without fire during burn bans. This is a great way to enjoy the ambiance of a fire when you can’t have a real one.
Open Flame Recipes
When it’s time to cook, do you automatically think of roasting a hot dog or a marshmallow? There are so many more options, some of my personal favorites include:
- Pie Iron French Toast
- Camping Nachos
- Campfire Corn On The Cob (my cooking grate is one of my favorite tools in my campfire cooking kit)
- Dutch Oven Chili
- Hobo Stew
- BBQ Ribs
- Cajun Chicken Foil Packets
- Smores Brownies (for baked goods use our Dutch oven temperature chart to determine how many coals you’ll need to maintain a specific temperature)
- Blueberry Cobbler
Get inspired with our best campfire recipes!
FREE Printable Camping Trip Planner
Make your next trip stress-free with a little pre-planning. Get your copy of our FREE printable camping trip planner template!