We all know the picturesque camping scene. Beautiful clear skies, the taste of sweet gooey marshmallows melting in your mouth while sitting next to the warm glow of the perfect campfire. But with a particularly dry winter and spring, the mountains can be plagued with devastating wild fires, drawing out well warranted fire bans through the camping season forcing you to camp without a campfire if you must adventure to the wild.
It’s still worth it.
For most people, camping trips are often planned far in advance and require usage of PTO days and extensive scheduling. This is especially the case when it comes to trips expanding across several days in far away sites. I don’t know about you but generally, a week off is hard to come by and certainly should not be wasted.
Don’t get me wrong. If the camping conditions are dangerous, skipping it completely or changing locations may be your only option. I don’t want anyone getting hurt or sick from what is supposed to be a fun activity.
However, if there is a fire ban but the actual location is safe, I say go for it. Even if there is no restrictions in a location, campers often opt to camp without a campfire to help preserve the land when there isn’t a pit at their site, or when resources aren’t optimal.
In fact, my fiancé Robb and I just spent five days around this past Fourth of July weekend exploring southwestern Colorado, a place I’ve been dying to check out but is a bit of a drive from Denver. Due to Colorado’s unseasonably dry spring, many wildfires have broken out all across the state. Basically, the whole state had at least a Stage 2 fire ban which clearly bans campfires of any kind.
That didn’t stop us from exploring this region. Do to the departure in my previous 9-5 job, I finally had the time to make the trek and I was not about to let it go to waste. Telluride is more than six hours away from Denver, and while I’ve heard about it’s beauty, it’s hard to justify such a drive unless we have several days to check it out.
Luckily, Robb is a nurse that works three twelve-hour shifts and has plenty of PTO, so we seized the opportunity. We both basically live for the mountains so it’s only right for us to finally check out one of the greatest mountain towns in the state. Besides, it was nice to get a quick break from the wedding planning only a few weeks away. Camping is the prefect economical pre-moon for our little adventurous souls.
So, we decided to camp without a campfire.
It’s really not as bad as you think and if you check out the pictures from my trip, you will see that it is all worth it. I adore my state, and the epic views are seriously something out of a dream.
Honestly, we didn’t miss much without the campfire. Simply follow a couple of principles and you can make your camping trip just as epic as ours. Let me break it down for you.
First, you need to think about what the campfire adds to the trip to be able to know what you need to supplement the fire itself. I like to break it into four different groups, so I can really tackle the issues.
- Light and Visibility
Now that we know what we are trying to accomplish, its easy to find solutions and substitutions to great the same outcome we are looking from a campfire.
STAYING WARM AT CAMP WITHOUT A CAMPFIRE
I get it. On those chilly summer nights, that steady stream of warmth is something to die for. But we don’t want to take that literally. Wild fires can destroy homes and put the lives of our brave fire fighters at risk. This is never worth it.
So, what to do when it gets cold and you are at camp without a fire?
One of the most obvious things is to layer up. I’m talking more layers than you think you might need, especially if you are car camping and have no issues packing in more clothes. This is certainly not a time to pack light.
I try to bring a variety of things. Multiple sweatshirts, water-resistant jackets, scarves, hats, pants, fleece, coats, leggings for underneath, whatever! I even like to bring a little extra if Robb doesn’t pack enough.
Something else to remember is that your clothes become useless in keeping you warm once they are wet so bring multiples of each type. On the last day of the trip, a wonderful leak was discovered in my tent soaking some of out items. Luckily, we had other clothes in the car but if we relied only on a few pieces, we would be very cold.
As for jackets go, one of my favorites is this North Face Bombay jacket. It’s light and comfortable but does a lot to keep you warm and dry. Add a few layers and you should be good to go.
You can even add a few hand warmers to your ensemble or gloves. As a ski family, we have a ton lying around and they are nice for those extra chilly evenings. When you camp without a campfire, you lose that active heat coming your way. This will solve this problem.
Optimize your Sleeping Space
If it’s going to rain, you need to prep your tent for the storm. Make sure your rain fly is on all the way and staked down at every place that you are able to. With rain, I usually keep the tarp inside of the tent so there is no chance of water pooling. Generally, you want to make sure your tent it at an angle that water will flow away from it rather than get stuck under you.
Another thing I’ve done, especially since I know my tent has a leak, is to add reinforcement with tarps. I ran out of tarps this trip since my free-standing canopy broke during the wind storm of Moab last spring but, having an extra one to string up a tarp slightly above the tent at an angle to make sure water doesn’t get close to your tent.
Next, make sure you have a great sleeping system to stay warm throughout the night.
I’ve gone on many rants about using a cheap blow up mattress while camping. Don’t be fooled. It is pretty awful while camping in my opinon.
I am personally obsessed with my Big Agnes Hinman sleeping pad that I splurged on last year and let me tell you, it is life changing. This bad boy is graded up to 15 degrees and you seriously feel like you are sleeping on your bed at home.
I do understand that this was a splurge, and while I think this should be one of the first splurges you make (most of my other gear is cheap), it might not be what you can afford at the moment.
GO WITH A FOAM PAD INSTEAD.
There are cheap. Even the top brands like Big Agnes and Therm-a-rest have nice foam pads at reasonable prices. The only time I’d recommend air mattresses is if you have a high-quality backpacker pad that is heavily insulated.
People don’t realize that cheap air mattresses are not equipped with proper insulation and turn into an ice block. Not to mention, they always deflate in the middle of the night and are a pain to deal with. I never knew how pleasant a tent can be until we tossed the air mattress.
Sure, maybe a good air mattress might be insulated more and deflates a little less but if your going to splurge, why not just splurge on the awesomeness of a self-inflating pad like my Big Agnes Hinman listed here?
It’s seriously the best camping investment I’ve ever made.
When you camp without a campfire, sleeping warm and dry is especially important so go the extra mile to secure your tent. And make sure you don’t forget a beanie so heat doesn’t escape your head. Pile on the extra blankets and you’ll be good to go.
COOKING AT CAMP WITHOUT A CAMPFIRE
The next thing is food.
Regardless of fire bans, I personally believe that it is best to bring some other kind of cooking system if a fire isn’t possible. Think about it. What if you can’t start the fire because it’s too wet? What if you’re hungry during the day before the fire? No more wood? What do you do?
Simple. Bring a propane stove and/or grill.
Not to sound like Hank Hill or anything but a propane option is preferred over charcoal for camping. Why? Well, some fire bans include banning charcoal grills as well as campfires. Also, propane is simply easier to get on and off at a snap of your fingers.
Luckily, you can easily get something pretty cheap. I am not going to recommend any specific brands on these because I’m not particularly overly impressed by any of my products. I just got one from a big box store under 20 bucks. I have one of those single burner stoves and it gets the job done. There are some neat cooking systems on my registry but it’s a registry and those are honestly meant to be a bit extravagant right? This is definitely a spot where you can save and go cheap if you are acquiring gear for the first time.
I know that this means that you might have to forgo the iconic camping meals but hey, it’s a chance to try gourmet camp cooking. Personally, I love to go with the gourmet styles in the wild. If you saw the meals I prepared on this last trip, you would be in awe. Camping does not mean you have to sacrifice flavor.
If ice is also a challenge, I have a great article showing you tips on camping gourmet without refrigeration here. If not, just cook like you would cook at home.
Since we had to camp with no campfire, I figured we would treat ourselves in gourmet food instead. Camping is still vacation.
LIGHTING UP CAMP WITHOUT A CAMPFIRE
I am a city rave girl. I am also afraid of the dark. So, when it comes to camping without that warm glow, I do what I can to turn the light back on.
I’m known for it. I love, love, LOVE my solar-powered string lights. I mean a couple of them even blink with the music. But, more importantly, they keep my campsite well-lit.
I may be outdoorsy, but I still get squeamish with the spiders. On our last trip, we found two giant daddy long legs hanging out in the tent. I made Robb take them back outside. I mean, they were huge.
The point of this story is that you do want light to see your surroundings and to help keep your tent bug free (my tent zipper wasn’t working properly but normally you ‘d want to make sure this is secure too). These particular spiders may be harmless, but not all creatures are safe to sleep in a tent with.
Prevent these problems by bringing plenty of lights. Fun string lights aside, I currently have two small lanterns, one with a hand crank if the charge goes out, headlamps which are clutch when it comes to always having some light near you, a couple new blow up color changing cubes that recharge with the sun, and several cheap flashlights.
Obsessive? Perhaps. But especially when there isn’t a campfire, it is good to have options. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything without that fire due to my abundance of lights. If you know you can’t have a fire, why not stock up? Plus, they are generally great to have around the house in an emergency the anyways. Double usage = double value.
On the other side, I do recommend switching off the lights for even just a moment, especially if there is no moon in the sky. You have not lived until you’ve seen the full milky way in person and what better opportunity for pure darkness than when you don’t have that campfire. You can totally turn them back on in a minute to prevent spiders.
CREATE AMBIANCE AT CAMP WITHOUT A CAMPFIRE
You can pretty much say I’m am the queen of ambiance. If you saw my apartment or my former office, you would understand. I am as nester and nester gets and I totally get it from my grandma.
With that said, I feel like people often forget the importance of ambiance and vibes that a campfire brings. Unless you are trying to get to bed really early for a hike, you might want to spend time actually outside hanging out.
My favorite moments are the long conversations and uninterrupted attention that I get when spending time camping with Robb. Not to mention, sipping that perfect drink and dancing to my musical obsession under the stars are the best ways to spend a summer evening.
Don’t cut your night short because of the lack of fire. Create a place that you want to hang out at.
As mentioned before, I am obsessed with string lights. With an addition of these blow up solar orbs in all the colors of the rainbow, I was able to make pretty cool make shift art installations that put a fire to shame. Plus, there was no worry about the dreaded smoke in face and re-positioning.
Think of it this way. When you go to house party, a music festival, or even a bar, do they have campfires? What makes it compelling to hang out outside? The best backyards and bars have string lights, bumping music, great food, comfortable furniture, and great decor.
No one hangs out in the harshly lit smelly back ally, unless they are smoking (which also kills the vibes). Let’s bring that idea to the outdoors.
With car camping, I always keep a great playlist prepared, music going from my awesome solar-powered speakers, tasty food, and wonderful lights. You can ask any of my friends who have camped with me. I do it up.
I know I keep mentioning this, but I seriously did not miss that campfire while camping on this last trip, even with a bit of rain and spiders. The ambiance of the site made it well worth staying up late and spending quality time with the fiancé in the great outdoors.
I promise you that these few tips can really boost up your camping trip even if you must camp without a campfire. This summer, I’ve had personal friends lose summer homes to the wild fires while some of Colorado’s most precious resources goes up in flames. Please, respect the fire bans even while spending some time outdoors. You really won’t miss the fire if you prepare.
Do you have any great tips that you use when you camp without a campfire? I’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comment section.
Love this story? Follow me on social media and subscribe to my blog to get more tips to make your next outdoor adventure the next best yet.