Tailgating, warmth on a cold night in the mountains, summer night backyard gatherings, roasting the perfect golden-brown marshmallow, unbeatable ambiance for storytelling and ukelele playing—there’s a ton of great excuses for having a campfire. Camping. Hunting. Late night beer drinking by the river. It’s just not the same without a warm cozy flame to gather around.
But as outdoor enthusiasts and wilderness advocates, we have to ask that question: Is what I’m doing sustainable?
Is my campfire leave no trace-able?
Am I contributing to the carbon crisis?
If so, how serious of a contribution do campfires add to the environmental crisis?
Well, the bad news is that any fuel that you can burn contains carbon—carbon is a prerequisite to fire. Meaning, when you burn whatever fuel you decide to burn, that carbon will be released to wreak havoc upon the atmosphere (okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but you get it).
The good news? You can minimize your impact on the environment without sitting around your campsite freezing in the dark!
You can do this while burning a traditional wood campfire or with a portable propane fire pit. The choice is totally your own, and we’re not here to bash anyone for having a campfire—obviously, we’re all about eruptions here. Read ahead to learn a little more and make your own informed decision about what kind of campfire will make you, and the wilderness around you, feel all warm and fuzzy.
It’s the circle of life. Burning wood is carbon-neutral, right?
Smoky the Bear says, “Not so fast, Camper. Let’s clear up this common misconception.”
It’s easy to see why a lot of folks think that wood-burning campfires are carbon neutral.
Wood was once a tree that sequestered carbon. Whatever carbon is released when it’s burnt is negated by the carbon taken up by the tree throughout the course of its lifespan.
The dry deadwood on the ground will decompose and release that carbon anyway. What’s the difference if you light that baby up?
The key difference here is time.
Nature takes her sweet, sweet time. When a tree decomposes naturally, it can take years to release that carbon into the air. Not to mention, the process of natural decomposition allows a portion of the carbon to be released back into the soil instead of the atmosphere. Likewise, a sapling can take a decade to grow into a mature, carbon-sucking machine.
Burning wood in a campfire, on the other hand, releases all the carbon stored in that wood in a matter of a couple hours.
Unfortunately, the carbon-neutral theory of burning wood doesn’t hold up.
The good news is, the carbon impact of burning a traditional wood campfire isn’t environmentally disastrous in and of itself. It doesn’t hold a candle to the carbon footprint of burning coal and cruising around in gas guzzlers.
You don’t have to feel bad about yourself for enjoying warming your hands to the sweet sounds of wood crackling on the fire—unless you’re in an area that’s under the effect of a stage 1 or 2 fire ban—then, maybe don’t do that. In the case of said fire bans, or if you’re simply looking for a more efficient fuel that you don’t have to chop up with a hatchet, let’s take a look at another option.
Let’s talk propane. It’s great during fire bans, but is propane sustainable?
Much like wood and whatever else you can think of that will light on fire, propane isn’t carbon-neutral. On the bright side, burning propane does leave a smaller carbon footprint than many other fuel sources.
Burning propane emits about 135 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU
Burning dry wood emits about 213 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU
Burning coal, for comparison, emits about 205.3 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU
Burning natural gas weighs in at the low end of the spectrum, emitting about 117.8 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU
So. . . Is propane sustainable after all?
There’s a lot to unpack there. Propane is clearly a nonrenewable resource. Burning propane housed in single-use canisters can produce unnecessary waste. That said, when it comes to the carbon impact of burning campfires, propane takes the cake as one of our cleanest, most efficient options—especially if you’re able to replace single-use propane tanks with refillable tanks.
We also love propane for being so leave no trace friendly.
A well-managed wood-burning campfire can meet leave no trace standards as long as you’re being diligent. But propane adds ease to leaving no trace. It doesn’t leave behind ash that can pollute water sources and, let’s face it, most people are less likely to toss junk into their propane fire pit and leave behind its half burnt remnants.
The Most Colossal Campfire Con: Smoke (White Rabbit! White Rabbit! White Rabbit!)
While it’s always super important to remain mindful of our impact on the environment when we’re recreating outdoors, there’s another reason why we decided the world needed a rugged portable propane fire pit. . . Smoke.
Traditional wood-burning campfires, love em’ or hate em’, you’re probably going to get blasted by hot, smelly smoke at some point.
The carbon footprint of burning wood pales in comparison to the impact of the fine particles that are carried into the air along with that putrid smoke. The biggest impact of the particulate matter volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) produced from a single campfire probably won’t be measured on the air quality index, but they can be pretty nasty to your lungs and eyes.
Particulate matter from campfire smoke can cause inflammation in the eyes and lungs. In extreme cases and for kids or people with preexisting conditions, it can even lead to asthma or emphysema attacks.
We’re sure there are some crazy outliers who enjoy being temporarily asphyxiated while trying to roast a mallow. Barring those people, the common consensus is that smoke is the biggest downside to gathering around a warm fire.
A Campfire for Anytime
We built LavaBox with the intention of creating an environmentally responsible answer to enjoying campfires.
Propane fire pits leave a relatively small carbon footprint and propane is one of the most efficient sources of fuel
As long as no man (or propane canister) is left behind, you can pack up your LavaBox when you’re ready to head home and leave no trace—Smoky the Bear thanks you
The risk of starting a wildfire due to campfires getting out of hand or failing to be completely extinguished is minimized
You don’t have to kiss your campfire goodbye when fire bans are in place
You can experience all the joy of gathering around the campfire while not having to musical chair your way away from smoke or air the smell out of your clothing for the next week
There’s a time and a place for everything. Unfortunately, due to the increase in wildfires decimating our wild spaces, the time and place for traditional wood-burning campfires is becoming harder and harder to find.
LavaBox is our answer to continuing to recreate the way we’ve always loved to recreate outdoors, responsibly.
It was made with the environment in mind and comes with the added benefits of not having to breathe in smoke or hunt for firewood.
It’s a great excuse to have fire anytime. Portable, easy to light up, and easy to pack away and leave no trace. If the time and place are right to chuck a log on the fire, we support you! But, if your adventures this season require a more efficient, less smoky, portable, watertight, fire ban compliant kinda campfire you can learn more about LavaBox here.