Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Think you know the best campfire wood? These 7 wood options might have you thinking twice

Stay away from green wood, of course

A smoldering campfire heating up an iron pot in the dusk
Pexels / Pixabay

Knowing how to build a fire is an essential skill in both recreational and survivalist situations. But if you want to make the most of your fire, considering the type of wood you’re using can help you optimize it.

This is useful if you have a small amount of wood, are in an extremely cold environment, want to practice fire safety or plan on cooking meals outdoors. The wrong wood could be too smoky, burn out quickly, or even explode into sparks.

On the other hand, using the wrong wood might not give off enough heat, only produce smoke, and take forever to cook things.

You don’t need to be a tree expert to figure out which wood is best for you. Rather, it’s best to stick to these top options. They all offer a consistent hot burn, but they also come with unique features that you may find more helpful depending on what you plan on doing near the fire.

So here’s a list of the best wood for campfires to use the next time you’re warming up under the vast night sky.

a pile of cut wood in the forest
Sharad Bhat / Unsplash

Understanding hardwood vs softwood

I know I said you didn’t have to learn everything about trees to understand firewood. But you do need to understand one fundamental difference, and that’s the distinction between hardwood and softwood.

Softwood is a faster-burning, lighter wood that ignites at a low temperature. This makes them easier to get started and means that you’ll get lots of bright, fast-catching flames.

Hardwood logs come from deciduous trees and tend to be much denser than their counterpart. These heavy logs will take a while to heat up and give off more smoke in the process. With patience, hardwood will create a tremendous amount of radiant heat due to its long-lasting burn.

As you can see, these types of wood can make a huge difference in how your fire burns. If you know you want your fire to burn quickly so you can enjoy a quick outdoor meal, go with softwood. If you want to stay by the fire for over an hour, hardwood will work best.

It’s a good rule of thumb to go with hardwood if you can’t decide. This is because hardwood tends to burn more efficiently, and although it may be harder to start, it can withstand winds, light rain, and even snow.

a uniform pile of chopped wood stacked together exposing the cut area
Vidar Smits / Unsplash

7 campfire woods to keep you toasty all night

Here’s the best wood to burn when you want the fire to keep going all night long with few surprises and a brilliant light display.

a maple tree with golden leaves
congerdesign / Pixabay

Maple: Long-lasting warmth

Maple is a classic firewood that commonly grows in both the U.S. and Canada. This means you’ll be able to find it at campsites and parks easily during your travels. Maple burns slowly and hot, with a steady flame that can last for hours.

It’s known for having a low moisture level and a high BTU rating, which means it produces a lot of heat per unit of volume. Because maple trees are rich in sap, they will also give off a pleasant aroma when burning.

But beware that this sap and excess moisture can also lead to a lot of smoke, so start your maple wood fire slowly and use small logs with lots of airflow at the base.

a large oak tree covered in moss with lots of leaves in the forest
Andrew Shelley / Unsplash

Oak: Steady, strong heat

Oak is a very strong wood, which is why it’s such a popular choice for building furniture meant to last for decades. This durability also makes it a powerhouse when it comes to building fires. Oak is great for large gatherings or long nights at the fire.

If you have a big group coming to enjoy the oak fire, make sure to have them help you with the heavy lifting. Oak is one of the heaviest firewood available, so it may not be the best choice for those who are carrying camping or taking backpacking trips.

It’s also essential to give oak a long time to season or dry out because it’s very dense and holds water for a very long time. Seasoned oakwood has a rich, woodsy scent accompanied by a dark brown or golden color.

two large ash trees towering in a field on a sunny day
binael / Pixabay

Ash: Lightweight for backpacking

It’s a bummer that oak isn’t the best choice for longer outdoor trips, but not to worry, Ash is a fantastic alternative. This lightweight wood is quite tough, making it a perfect solution for those who won’t want a lot of bulk.

Backpackers can easily light ash by making a friction fire bow drill, making it a great choice for those using minimal equipment. It’s also quite easy to split, so you can create the perfect-sized logs with no waste for your outdoor cooking needs.

It’s also a great choice for radiant heat for those who don’t want a lot of brightness from flames, as the wood quickly burns down to a toasty ash bed.

a bright hickory tree's branches with yellow and green leaves
Katja Schulz / Flickr

Hickory: The perfect balance of time and heat

If you’re looking for a good even-burning wood, try out hickory. This tree’s wood is very sturdy and takes longer than maple to ignite, but once it does, it will give off a lot of heat for an extended period.

Hickory has a BTU output that will outlast both sugar maple and red oak. Many people use hickory when they’re smoking food because you can count on it to burn for hours. It imparts a very rich flavor to meats for those who prefer a hearty meal after a day in the wilderness.

This option may be slightly more expensive than more common varieties on this list. But it’s relatively easy to find and won’t burn too quickly, which makes it an excellent value.

A foggy field full of pine trees
Robert Balog / Pixabay

Pine: Quick burning

Pine is a surprisingly diverse tree, and there are over 120 varieties of them on the planet. So it’s pretty easy to find it no matter where you’re starting your fire, and it lets out a familiar aromatic smell that’s nostalgic yet fresh.

Pine takes only a few minutes to light up, which is great for getting the fire started quickly. It’s low density and has a very good BTU output, leading to bright robust fires.

Much like ash, it’s best for fast fires that provide a lot of light and heat but won’t last too long. Make sure to have plenty of pine on hand to keep adding more logs as needed.

A close up of birch bark with a snowy plain in the background
Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Birch: Bright flames

Birch is an attractive and unique-looking wood that’s commonly used for burning in fireplaces but is also a popular choice for the great outdoors. The wood itself cures and dries rather quickly, especially for its density. However, the thick bark often holds extra moisture or sap, so consider peeling it off before lighting the fire if it appears to still be fresh.

The bark also makes excellent kindling and shavings for starting a fire with minimal effort when it’s well dried. It produces consistent medium flames that are perfect for stick-roasting over the fire.

Sparsely placed cherry trees in a field
Jan Huber / Unsplash

Cherry: Robust warm fires

Cherrywood offers the best of both worlds, with a composition that sits between a hardwood and a softwood. It is a good option for those who want to enjoy the warmth of hardwood but don’t have time to wait for it to season properly.

This firewood is also ideal for wood fire cooking because of its mild smoke that won’t overpower the flavor of your food. It gives off a nice aroma without too much soot or ash and is easy to control as you rotate logs throughout the night.

A man feeding a fire with wood in the forest
Jupi Lu / Pixabay

Build your fire correctly for the best results

Now that you know the best wood to burn in your campfire, it’s time to turn your attention to a few more important elements of a great fire to consider. These steps will make the most out of the qualities of your wood and make your fire more resilient and even overall.

  • Start with good kindling, which allows your fire to build heat in the core. You can either invest in firestarters or collect small pieces of natural debris around your site. You can also use an axe to make thinner strips of your existing firewood.
  • Stack your wood for optimal airflow. Some woods do better with a lot of oxygen, while others do better with less. Research the specific wood you have to determine how best to stack it.
  • Dry your wood properly, or buy well-seasoned wood. This gives you the best chance of lighting your fire and significantly reduces smoke levels. If you’re cutting the wood yourself, it may take 1 or 2 years to fully dry.
  • Stay vigilant around your fire. If you put too many (or not enough) logs on with consistency, the heat will die off, and you’ll have to restart the process again.

While these are the basics when it comes to fire-building best practices, some pros spend years perfecting the art of the campfire. You can learn from these experts and, of course, adapt their tips to your preference as your skills build

Eventually, you’ll find which wood and fire building method works best for you, leading to great flames and heat every time.

Rachel Dennis
Artist & writer with a flair for the outdoors, sustainability & travel. Off-duty chef, bookworm, and conversation lover.
The 20 best U.S. national parks to explore now
There are a lot of national parks to see, so here's a list to start with
Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park

Soaring mountains, dune-covered deserts, glacial lakes, primeval forests, and red rock canyons set the stage for memorable adventures in splendid U.S. national parks — "America’s best idea," as filmmaker Ken Burns rightly described it. You could spend years exploring the countless wonders of these cherished reserves, but if time is limited, then focus your attention on the best of the best. Below is our admittedly subjective list of the top 20 parks, presenting a wide variety of landscapes and locales.
National Park Pass programs
Before we get into the list of U.S. national parks, let's cover how you can save money if you're going to be visiting several of America's best national parks. The National Park Pass is a program offered by the National Park Service that allows entrance to many federal recreation sites across the country. Depending on your needs, there are different types of passes to choose from.

Annual Pass: This pass costs $80 and is valid for one year at over 2,000 federal recreation sites managed by six different agencies, including the National Park Service. This is a good option if you plan on visiting several parks throughout the year.
Senior Pass: Citizens 62 and older can purchase a lifetime Senior Pass for $80. It grants the same access as the annual pass.
America the Beautiful Pass: This pass costs $80 and covers entrance fees for a single vehicle, including rentals and RVs, at national parks and federal recreational lands for 12 months.
Military Pass: Veterans get a free lifetime pass to national parks and other federal recreational lands. Here are some additional things to keep in mind about national park passes:

Read more
All the camping toiletries you need for a weekend (or a week) in the woods
Just because you're in the wild doesn't mean you have to look and smell like it
Man shaving outside

Hiking, camping, and exploring the great outdoors give you a much-needed perspective change on just about all of life's greatest mysteries. It's like pushing the reset button on our human operating systems. When you return to "the real world," you're often completely refreshed and performing optimally across all facets of your life. Among other things, it shows you just how few things you need to exist in blissful harmony with nature.

Out there in the woods, you don't need much aside from the best camping tent, a good sleeping bag, and cooking gear to prep your favorite camping meals. But just because you pack light doesn't mean you have to skimp on the toiletries. It's an essential step that many people forget, but you want a few items to clean yourself up after an all-day hike or fishing adventure.

Read more
What you need to know about mountain bike tires: A complete guide
Better understand mountain bike tires
Schwalbe Styx MTB tires for the rear wheels of mountain bikes on a sales stand, Hannover, Germany, September 17, 2022

One of the most critical components of a mountain bike is the tires. Think about it—what is the only component actually coming into contact with the trail? Mountain bike tires. But they can be easily overlooked.

Contrary to popular belief, mountain bike tires are not all the same. They come in a vast array of options, each designed to enhance your riding experience in a specific way. The choices are endless, from tires tailored for different mountain bike disciplines to various sizes, brands, rubber compounds, and sidewall casings.

Read more