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Campstoves vs. Campfires

> Sandra Downs <downs@nb.net> wrote:
> Still, I thought the age of live fires on hiking trails was behind us. Maybe
> not, I guess. Your comments? I certainly don't agree with training the girls
> to build fires anywhere but approved campground campsites. Certainly not
> along a hiking trail.

Scouts should be trained to build fires only in emergencies, not as a
regular feature of their camping outings. I don't necessarily think that
each Scout needs to buy a campstove, but perhaps each troop could
purchase enough stoves for the Scouts to use. 
The campfire has been such a traditional part of Scout camping trips,
but this emphasis does needs to change. How about a merit badge for
learning to safely operate and maintain a campstove? From my experiences
with the MSR Whisperlite, I'd say there is enough to learn to justify a
badge. ;) (Still- it's a nice little stove!)

It's safe to say the majority of the AT-L readers own campstoves and
know their advantages. But, I would like to add my comments on the
stoves vs. campfire debate, as it directly relates to the topic of
Scouts building fires.  

Many people still feel that a campfire is an essential ingredient of the
camping experience. That feeling can be a primal one (the fire keeps
away the wild animals and the fearful darkness) and/or nostagic and
enculturated (Mommy and Daddy always built a fire when we went camping,
the pioneers built fires so let's do like they did). Or maybe they like
to sit around a fire at night.. for no other reason than they just like

If campers build fires due to primal instincts, why are they are out
spending the night in parks, forests and backcountry areas, instead of
staying home in a safe sheltered environment? One of the reasons we hike
and camp is to come to grips with our fears of the unknown. We accept
certain risks as part of the outdoors experience. With knowledge and
experience, it becomes easy to see that a campfire is not necessary to
have a safe campsite overnight, and our fears become tempered and

In regard to the enculturation of campfires, campers at all levels need
to change their thinking and enjoy the campsite without a "big roaring
fire". We probably aren't cowboys, "Indians", pioneers, cavemen, or any
of the other stereotypical firebuilders. We can make the choice to break
with tradition and stereotypes- if there are valid reasons to do so. And
there are! 

There's a peace and harmony in a cool, quiet campsite in the evening
without the roar, smoke and sparks of a campfire. To say nothing of the
satisfaction that can come from knowing that one is living in the
forests and wilderness without endangering the camp and its
surroundings. Campers should learn from the natural inhabitants of the
forests and wilderness- who don't build campfires, but survive. 

Campfires generate much more air pollution than a well-tended,
clean-burning campstove. The stove burns only as long as needed to
prepare food and drink, but the fire burns and smolders over a much
longer period and inherently burns "dirtier". In many natural areas
around the country (the Great Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park is a prime
example), the problem of air pollution is becoming critical, and
although campfires create a tiny portion of the total, we don't need to
contribute campsmoke when there are options. 

(Aside: the Park and Forest Services should discourage developed
campground campfires - go through Elkmont, Smokemont, and Cades Cove in
the Great Smokies on weekend evenings and look at the total volume of
campfire smoke generated! Whew...) 

Also, most backcountry campsites experience the high impact of campfire
fuel gathering. If you've seen and despaired over a typically scoured,
picked-over and trampled campsite area, with numerous fire rings built,
no more need be said. Many campsites are closed each year to allow site
recovery, primarily from fuel gathering. 

Campstoves are inexpensive, reliable, clean-burning, and low-impact.
They do have some disadvantages, but these are far outweighed by the
facilitation of low-impact camping.
They heat food and liquids much more efficiently than campfires, and the
need for warmth can easily be met by proper clothing selection. 

A lot of this has probably been discussed in the AT-L list prior to my
subscribing, but it bears repeating to raise consciousness about the

Michael Vaughn
Chattanooga, TN  USA