It’s Leave-No-Trace Tuesday and it seems appropriate to talk about campfires since they are banned across BC right now.
I’m firmly of the opinion that camping does not need a campfire. I prefer it because I get to see the night sky, and there are no concerns about anything catching fire or melting from stray sparks, or finding firewood, plus there’s no messy, stinky fire ring which in turn means no scar on the landscape. Also with a campfire, everyone huddles around it looking inwards. Why not sit and look out at the landscape?
So here’s our tent, lit by a headlamp inside and the full moon outside. What you can’t see in this photo is that we had to dodge two (!) fire rings to pitch our tent, despite the fact that campfires are forbidden here.
Strangely, most of the articles and posts I’ve seen about the current campfire ban use pictures of roaring campfires to make the point. I think the various news organizations and public bodies should invest in some alternative stock photos that either show campfires being extinguished or have campers enjoying a campfire-free life! It is possible!
And I’ve finally found a hashtag that no one has used yet: #campingwithoutcampfires Try it 🙂
The obsession with campfires remains one of my biggest pet peeves when in the backcountry. Here in Canada (and probably elsewhere too), camping is intimately linked to having a campfire, be it for cooking, warmth, or as a TV substitute. They’re in all manner of adverts for camping and spending time in the great outdoors. And so it perhaps no great surprise that when people raised on this message venture into the backcountry to camp, they immediately feel some primal need for a campfire.
The thing is that they are completely unnecessary, borderline useless for cooking (I’ve tried), and damage the fragile backcountry environment to an extent that takes decades to restore. A portable gas stove is so much more efficient, and modern setups weigh very little. It’s the damage and mess that bugs me the most, especially when people don’t reuse an existing scar. As I mention above, there were two fire scars right next to where we pitched our tent, barely 2 metres apart. And when a place looks trashed, people are less inclined to take care and not trash it some more.
And so I do my best to leave places as I find them – or better. If I can walk away from a campsite and see no evidence I was there, I’m happy. That includes campfires. In many places we hike, they’re forbidden anyway (although that doesn’t stop people since enforcement is sadly minimal). And despite my fascination with fire as a youth, I never developed the camping-campfire association.
I’ll admit, then, that I find it easy to not bother with campfires. But I look at what I gain from not having one: no mess, no damage, no smell, no risks, and a clear view. A crackling fire is fine in a log cabin; in the backcountry, I want to hear the sounds around me. A fire draws my eye to its flames: without it, I have the entire landscape to admire. A bright fire accentuates the difference between light and dark: the night is rarely as dark as you think. In the backcountry, I accept there may be mosquitoes, and it may be chilly. I have warm clothing, plus bug wipes and a net if necessary.
I am quite happy to camp without a campfire.