Man has been using wood to make fires for over 1.5 million years and when we go camping it is still the main source of fuel that keeps us warm on those chilly evenings and allows us to cook up our favourite camp feasts. Over time man discovered that some woods burned better than others and in this article we are going to have a closer look at the best woods to use on your campfire.
Over the years selecting the best trees to cut down for firewood depended on a number of factors. These included, the soil type and where the trees grew, acidity and moisture content, the topography of the land and the prevailing micro-climate (wind direction, sun and shade). Over time man soon figured out that certain types of wood just naturally burned better than others.
This reasoning came down to the density of the wood, with hardwoods usually being the best option for burning but also some softer woods could also be a wood of choice as they often started quicker and also had a relatively good burning longevity. Other factors that came into play over time was the importance of drying out ‘’seasoning ‘wood before being used on the fire, we all know that freshly cut wood does not have near the same effect as well seasoned wood.
Why is it so important to season your wood?
Wood that has dried properly will almost always burn hotter than wood that still has moisture in it, basically because much of the heat energy is used to evaporate the remaining water.
First of all unseasoned wood will be smoky and will smoulder, the experts will also tell you that wood should be cut in the springtime and then stacked in a sheltered area for up to 12 months with some woods like oak taking anything up to 24 months to fully dry out .
It is important to note that in general wood burns most efficiently when the moisture content is at 20% or less. Damp wood burns at a cooler temperature, resulting in incomplete combustion and giving out more smoke which is not healthy or enjoyable when sitting around a fire.
How do you know if your wood is well seasoned?
The first sign of your wood being well seasoned is that it will feel lighter in weight and will have visible radial cracks at each end of the logs. Dry wood will also “ring” on impact, while wet wood will make a thudding sound when logs are hit off each other. You will also hear a hissing sound from unseasoned wood when it is burning.
So what are the best woods for burning on your campfire?
It is widely recognised that hardwoods are the best wood for burning on a fire.
– Oak is an excellent camp fire wood that gives out great heat when well seasoned, it can take up to two years for Oak to be well seasoned. Oak also burns slowly and does not spark it is the perfect wood to keep you warm on those colder nights.
– Maple similar to Oak is a dense wood that generates little smoke and also gives out great heat and will burn for a long time. There are different types of maple wood, examples include Sugar, Manitoba, Silver, with Red Maple being one of the best ones to use on your campfire.
– Apple stands out as a good wood for using when camp cooking, it burns slowly giving out good heat it also does not spark much.
– Cherry when seasoned well is also a slow to burn wood that produces good heat.
Woods for instant, great warming heat include:
– Ash is probably the best green wood for a using on a campfire mainly because of its low moisture content. It also gives out good heat.
– Birch burns quicker that the harder woods but despite this it also gives out good heat, it has a pleasant aroma when burning. Birch gives out very few sparks which is always a bonus and it also has an interesting blue flame. Like may other species there are a number of types of Birch with Black Birch often described as the best type of Birch to use on a campfire.
– Cedar like Ash is a good wood for cooking with, it gives out good heat and has a small flame.
– Beech produces high amounts of heat, and lets off few sparks. It is also easily split and burns with a bright flame.
– Eucalyptus is a fast burning wood that has a distinctive smell, it should be well seasoned as it is made up of oils and sap.
Coniferous softwood trees are not good for burning, they are not dense and do not produce much heat. Coniferous trees also create sparks and can be very smoky and really should be avoided for use in your campfire. One of the worst coniferous tree is hemlock and you should definitely not put it on your campfire.
Some deciduous trees also don’t make great firewood. Aspen, basswood and willow trees all have very softwood and are generally of a poor quality for burning and producing heat. That said, this wood is a little better than most coniferous trees mainly because it doesn’t spark as much.
Pine can be used to get your fire started but should not be used as your main fuel as it does not give out great heat and it also burns quickly.
So, in summary, choose your campfire wood wisely and also make sure that your wood is well seasoned there is nothing worse than sitting around a smoky fire that does not give out much heat. Happy Camping!