A good campfire burns clean and long, giving off lots of heat without the unwanted smoke and sparks. To achieve the perfect fire, you’ll need suitable wood. This guide provides some of the best firewood for campfires.
As your choices will be limited to local tree species, we’ve included a diverse range of options. At least one of the firewoods on this page should be available where you camp.
What is the best firewood?
Hardwoods like oak, ash, beech, or birch are the best firewood options for a long-burning, hot campfire. Softwood like pine is easy to light and makes excellent kindling. If you’re cooking on the fire and want some delicious added flavor, try hickory, mesquite, or fruit trees like cherry.
Oak is the poster child for firewood. It burns slowly, meaning you don’t have to keep adding more to the fire all night. This dense wood also gives off plenty of heat, so long as it’s properly seasoned. Red oak produces 24.6 million BTUs per cord, while white oak offers 29.1.
Sitting next to the fire, you’ll discover the wood doesn’t throw out much smoke as it burns. You won’t have to keep moving around the fire, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
Oak varies in fragrance depending on the species. Red oak may have an unpleasant aroma; white oak is far superior, with a scent that some describe as fresh sawn wood.
Ash is great firewood for the campfire as it burns clean, produces good coals for the marshmallows, and has few sparks. White ash is one of the best varieties, with a heat output of 24.2 million BTUs, but it may be difficult to split. Green ash offers less heat but is usually a cinch to split.
While the fragrance of burning ash is mild, it’s pleasant, and people sensitive to smoke won’t find the smell overwhelming.
Do you love cooking food at the campfire? Hickory is perfect for adding a smoky flavor to meat, poultry, and vegetables. People enjoy it so much that producers of liquid smoke usually include hickory as one of their flavors.
Hickory firewood will also keep you toasty warm in the outdoors. It also doesn’t billow out smoke or give off sparks. Bitternut hickory has a BTU rating of 29.2, while Shagbark is an extreme 30.6.
Hickory is super-dense, meaning it can be a challenge to split. Its wood fibers are stringy and tough so make sure you have a decent axe or maul if you’re doing the legwork yourself.
If you’re looking to buy split wood from a firewood seller, you’ll find hickory is one of the more expensive options.
Seasoned beech is another hot-burning firewood that emits 27.5 million BTUs of heat. With excellent quality coals, it will keep giving off heat long into the night. Perfect if you’re staying up late telling ghost stories or having a few whiskeys.
Beech burns clean with minimal smoke and a mild fragrance. It ranges from easy to extremely challenging to split. The difficulty level will depend on the number of knots and whether the grains are twisted.
Cedar is well worth using if you love a blazing fire that gives off a heavenly aroma as it burns. It is well-known for its pleasant fragrance and is a popular variant in air fresheners and cleaning products.
Cedar doesn’t emanate much heat compared to other hardwoods on this list. Western red cedar provides 18.2 million BTUs per cord, while the Eastern variety only offers 13.0 million. Cedar is an excellent option if you’re camping in a climate that doesn’t get too cold at night. It’s also ideal for use as kindling or combined with other varieties like oak.
Keep in mind cedar sparks a lot so never leave it unattended if you want to avoid unwanted fires.
Birch has a papery type of bark that makes fantastic natural tinder. It catches alight quickly, so if you’ve got no firestarters, this will work well as a substitute.
Like cedar, birch is valuable firewood to take camping but won’t give off a lot of heat. It is suitable for use in the shoulder season to take the chill off the air. Birch provides 20.8 million BTUs per cord, rated low-moderate compared to other wood varieties.
Birch has a nice smell when burning and won’t pop and spark. A clean flame provides a comforting fire that allows you to relax rather than dodge embers.
If you discover birch logs near your campsite, check them for signs of rotting before burning. They tend to deteriorate quickly, and the smell isn’t pleasant once they’re in the flames. It may work well if you’re hoping to clear out some of the other campers!
Cherry gives off an enticing fragrance as it burns. It’s pleasant to relax around a fire that burns cherry firewood, but it’s also great for cooking food.
The coals created by cherry firewood are very good, meaning the fire will give off heat longer. Unlike some types of wood that burn fast, you won’t need to keep topping up the fire if cherry is used.
Cherry firewood provides 20.4 million BTUs of heat per cord, which is relatively low. However, it offers better warmth than pine, spruce, and willow.
If there is no cherry firewood on offer, consider other fruit trees like pear or apple. They’re also good choices if you want a pleasant-smelling fire.
Dogwood is one of the top camp firewoods as it burns clean with minimal sparks and smoke. It also radiates impressive heat similar to hickory, Osage orange, and oak. The amount of heat ranges depending on the species, with Pacific dogwood providing up to 27.4 million BTUs and Flowering dogwood providing up to 31.1 million.
As a slow-growing tree, the wood requires plenty of seasoning. Once dry, the result will be a fuel that provides heat for a late night around the fire.
9. Douglas Fir
Douglas fir is one of the better softwoods for burning, providing 20.7 million BTUs of heat. That’s a little higher than most pine species, so it’s a good option for colder climates.
Keep in mind this wood will burn fast and hot. To stay warm, you’ll need to feed the campfire all night to keep it going.
Maple gives off a pleasant aroma and is ideal for campers who also like to cook food on their fire. It is great for turkey and pork. Barbecue enthusiasts will love maple as its smoke adds a slightly sweet, subtle taste to food.
Maple’s heat output is low compared to hardwoods like oak and black locust, but it makes excellent coals and burns clean. It’s perfect if you’re camping in the shoulder season or in an area that isn’t too chilly.
Sugar maple is a great option as it is a dense wood that gives off more heat than most other varieties.
Pine isn’t ideal for an indoor fireplace or stove. Its sap content yields high levels of creosote build-up. But for outdoor campfires, pine is a great choice. You’ll be kept busy adding logs through the night, but the smell is hard to beat.
Pine is also well-suited to getting campfires started. As kindling, it catches alight easily, and you’ll have a warm fire crackling away in no time.
Firelogs are artificial firewood manufactured using materials like sawdust and wood shavings. They get compressed into solid logs that are extremely dense, meaning a long burn time.
Firelogs are an excellent option for anyone concerned about timber felling and habitat destruction. They’re also very compact, which is a massive bonus if you’re traveling light in the wilderness.
The biggest cons to using firelogs are that they cost more than regular firewood and aren’t great for providing heat outdoors.
Always follow state and local park rules for making fires. There may be regulations like how big the fire can be. Some locations have total fire bans due to weather conditions.
What makes good firewood for camping?
While almost any old, fallen trees can be chopped up and tossed in the fire, try to consider the following factors:
Make sure it’s okay to use: check with the campground or rangers to ensure that wood collection is permitted.
Sustainable: endangered species that are still alive should be left alone.
Use seasoned wood: even the best firewood like oak will smoke, spark, and give off minimal heat if it’s still green.
Avoid rotten wood: it usually gives off a pungent aroma as it burns, making your campsite unpleasant.
Look for hardwoods: a hardwood variety like maple, ash, oak, or beech is best for campfires as they typically burn longer and cleaner. Softwoods like spruce, pine, or cedar are excellent for starting fires.
5 tips for identifying seasoned wood in the forest
- Greyish or dark-colored wood is a giveaway sign that it has dried out.
- Logs with cracked ends are usually dry and ready to burn.
- If you hear a hollow sound when knocking two logs together, it’s a sign they’re seasoned.
- If the bark is missing, then the wood has probably dried out as moisture is needed for the bark to stay attached.
- The wood should feel dense but not heavy from water content.
Commonly asked questions
What firewood should I avoid burning in a campfire?
To avoid inhaling unpleasant or potentially hazardous fumes, avoid burning ocean driftwood, rotten wood, treated wood, or poisonous wood like poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. From an ethical perspective, never burn wood from live endangered trees or habitat wood for local fauna.
Can I bring in non-local wood for my campfire?
Always use firewood from locally felled trees. Carting in wood from another area is a major cause of invasive pests spreading to new forests.
How do I store firewood when camping?
The best way to store firewood when camping is to keep it off the ground. Place it on rocks, a bench, or somewhere away from moisture and insects. If you’re only at the campsite for a few days, the wood is fine laid on plastic bags on the ground.
How much firewood do I need for a campfire?
The amount of firewood needed at a campsite will depend on the size of the fire, the type of wood, and how long it will burn. An average-sized fire using a hardwood like oak will burn through one bundle (4-5 pieces) of wood every two hours. A two-night campout that maintains a fire for 4 hours each night will require four bundles of firewood.
Where can I buy firewood for camping?
If you need to buy firewood for your next camping trip, try local gas stations, home improvement stores like The Home Depot, or local woodcutters. You may also be able to use fallen tree branches from the campsite if permitted.
Using the best firewood for a campfire will result in happier campers. Hardwoods like oak, ash, beech, or birch burn hot and won’t smoke everyone out. They also take longer to burn as they’re extremely dense, meaning fewer trips to add more wood to the flames.
If you often head out camping, don’t be afraid to test local firewood to see what works well. Usually, the locals will be happy to let you know the top firewood options in their town.