How Hot is a Campfire? Turning Up the Heat

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

A campfire, depending on its stage and other factors such as fuel type and air supply, can range from around 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius) during the ignition stage, to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius) when fully developed. However, most campfires used for cooking or warmth tend to be within a more manageable range of around 600 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit (315 to 482 degrees Celsius).

A campfire is an essential part of any outdoor adventure, providing warmth, light, and a place to cook your meals. But have you ever wondered how hot a campfire is? In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various factors that determine campfire temperatures, the different stages of a fire, and more. So, let’s dive in and answer the question “how hot is a campfire?”

Factors Affecting Campfire Temperature

There are four main factors that affect campfire temperature: fuel type, air supply, moisture content, and fire size/shape.

Fuel Type

The type of fuel you use in your campfire plays a significant role in determining how hot it gets. Different types of wood produce different temperatures due to their varying levels of energy content.

  • Hardwoods: Hardwoods like oak, hickory, and maple are denser and contain more energy per volume. As a result, they create a hotter and longer-lasting fire. They also burn more steadily, which can lead to a more consistent and manageable fire.
  • Softwoods: Softwoods like pine, spruce and fir, on the other hand, are less dense and have lower energy content. While they ignite more quickly and provide a bright, crackling fire, they also burn faster and at a lower temperature. They also tend to produce more sparks, smoke, and creosote, which can be less ideal for cooking or warming purposes (especially if you’re using a wood burning stove).

Air Supply

A fire needs oxygen flow to burn, and the amount of available air directly affects how hot a campfire gets. The more access a fire has to fresh air, the hotter and faster it will burn. Conversely, if air supply is limited, the fire will burn cooler and slower, or it may even be smothered entirely. Properly managing the air supply can help you control the size and temperature of your campfire. That’s why there’s usually holes in the bottom of your fire pit at a campground – so air can flow into the bottom parts of the fire.

Moisture Content

The moisture content in your wood impacts the efficiency of your fire. Damp or green wood has a high moisture content that needs to be evaporated before the wood can properly burn, which lowers the overall temperature of the fire. On the other hand, dry, seasoned wood ignites and burns much more efficiently, leading to a hotter fire. That’s why the firewood on your camping essentials checklist must be completely dry and seasoned correctly.

Fire Size and Shape

The size and shape of your campfire directly affect its temperature. A larger fire has more material to burn, which generally leads to a hotter fire. The shape of the fire can also affect how much air it can draw in. For example, a teepee or log cabin fire layout can draw in air well, creating a hot, fast-burning fire, while a lean-to or pyramid fire layout might burn slower and cooler due to restricted air access. The most efficient shape can depend on your specific needs and environment. Learn how to build a campfire.

Stages of a Campfire

Understanding the different stages of a campfire can give you a better idea of how hot it is at various points in its lifecycle.

1. Ignition

The ignition stage is the initial phase of the fire where the fuel is heated to its ignition temperature. This often begins with fire starter or kindling, which is small and easily combustible material like dry leaves, twigs, or newspaper. The heat applied to this material, through a match, lighter, or even a spark, starts a chemical reaction, which we perceive as fire. The heat produced by this reaction then prepares the larger fuel (like logs) for burning.

In the ignition stage, the average temperature is relatively low. It’s usually around the ignition temperature of the fuel. For dry wood, this is typically around 300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (150 to 260 degrees Celsius). This is when kindling and small twigs are used to start the fire, and the flames are small and yellow.

2. Growth

In the growth stage, as the fire begins to catch on larger pieces of wood, it increases in size and intensity. It can reach temperatures around 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius). The fire isn’t at its hottest, but it’s considerably hotter than in the ignition phase. The flames are larger and more orange, and the fire is beginning to create coals.

3. Fully Developed

In the fully developed stage, the fire has reached its maximum size and intensity, burning the main fuel source efficiently. If the conditions are right and the fuel is optimal, internal temperature can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius). The fire can expand quickly during this stage, as each piece of fuel that catches fire can ignite its neighbors.

This is the stage where the fire is the hottest and most efficient, capable of quickly burning through wood while producing a lot of heat and bright, white flames. This is often the stage where a campfire is the ideal cooking temperature for campfire cooking.

This campfire was perfect for cooking using our Wolf & Grizzly cookset.

4. Decay

The decay stage, or the burnout phase, is characterized by a decrease in the fire’s size and temperature. This occurs as the fuel is consumed and less remains for burning. The fire reduces to embers and ashes, and the energy release rate drops. Without additional fuel, the fire will continue to decrease in size until it goes out completely.

In this phase, the fire can lower back down to around 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius) or less, depending on how quickly the fuel is being exhausted. Towards the end of this stage, when the fire has mostly died down to embers, the temperature might be several hundred degrees Fahrenheit (around 200 degrees Celsius) or lower. This stage can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the amount of fuel and coals present.

5. Completely Out

The final, crucial stage of a campfire is when it is “completely out”. In this stage, all the fuel has been consumed, the fire is extinguished, and the temperature has dropped substantially. This stage is characterized by the absence of flames and glowing embers, and the ash is cool to the touch. However, do not be fooled by the absence of visible signs of fire. Heat can still be trapped beneath the ashes, which can potentially rekindle the fire given the right conditions.

To ensure the fire is completely out, it’s best to douse the remaining ashes with water and stir them to expose and cool any remaining hot spots. Repeat this process until there’s no more steam or hissing sounds, and you can safely hold your hand just above the extinguished fire without feeling heat. Not only is this a safety measure to prevent accidental burns, but it’s also a critical precaution to reduce the risk of unintended wildfires. Always remember: “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave”

How to Maximize Campfire Heat Output

To get the most heat from your campfire, consider the following tips:

  1. Use dry, seasoned wood: As mentioned earlier, dry wood burns hotter and produces more heat than wet or green wood. Make sure your firewood has been seasoned for at least six months to a year.
  2. Stack your firewood properly: The way you stack your firewood can affect the airflow and heat output of your campfire. Start with a base of larger logs, then add progressively smaller logs and kindling on top. This will allow for better airflow and create a hotter fire.
  3. Use a fire pit or fire ring: A metal fire pit or fire ring can help concentrate the heat from your campfire by containing it in a smaller area. This can make your campfire feel warmer and also protect the ground from scorching.
  4. Feed the fire consistently: To maintain a hot campfire, add more fuel at regular intervals. This will keep the fire burning at a consistent temperature and prevent it from dying down.

Campfire Safety Precautions

It’s essential to keep safety in mind when building and enjoying a campfire. Here are some safety precautions to follow:

  1. Choose a safe location: Build your campfire at least 15 feet away from tents, trees, and other flammable objects. Ensure the area is clear of dry leaves, grass, and debris.
  2. Never leave a fire unattended: Always keep an eye on your campfire, and never leave it unattended. If you need to leave the site, make sure to extinguish the fire completely.
  3. Extinguish the fire properly: When it’s time to put out your campfire, douse it with water, stir the ashes, and douse it again. Repeat this process until the fire is completely out, and the ashes are cold to the touch. Never use sand to extinguish a fire, and instead use water until it’s completely out and cool.
  4. Follow local regulations: Always check local regulations and fire restrictions before building a campfire. Some areas may have specific rules or bans in place due to dry conditions or high fire danger.
  5. Know the average metal melting points: Knowing the average melting point of metals is crucial for cooking over a campfire because it helps in choosing the right cooking equipment. This knowledge can prevent accidental damage or deformation of cookware, ensuring not only the longevity of your equipment but also the safety and quality of your food preparation. Both cast iron and stainless steel having some of the highest melting points of camping cooking utensils and are ideal for use over a campfire.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the heat output of a campfire, its different stages, and factors affecting its temperature is crucial for outdoor enthusiasts. Campfires range from a modest 300 degrees Fahrenheit during ignition to a staggering 2,000 degrees at their peak, influenced by the fuel type, air supply, moisture content, and the fire’s size and shape.

Keeping safety paramount, knowing how to control and manage these factors can make the difference between a successful campfire experience for warmth, cooking, or simple pleasure and a potentially hazardous situation. So the next time you’re huddled around a campfire under the open sky, remember the intricate science dancing in those flames, and the crucial role you play in safely harnessing one of humanity’s most ancient tools.

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About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!


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