Activity Plan for Minimize Campfire Impacts

Exploring Fires and Stoves

This activity should take about 65 minutes.

What Your Group Will Learn

After participating in this activity plan, which is designed to help participants learn about various options for fires, participants will be able to

  • Determine if a campfire is a necessary component of camping.
  • Assess what areas can ecologically or aesthetically withstand another campfire with minimal impact.
  • Build minimum-impact fires in both high-use and remote areas.

Participants will compare how fast they can heat water on a camp stove, campfire, and a mound fire. They will then assess the value of each cooking method.

Materials and Preparation


  • A backpack stove, fueled and ready
  • Three small pans for heating water
  • Water jug
  • Firewood—small to large sizes
  • Mineral soil for a mound fire
  • Ground cloth or plastic garbage bag to gather soil
  • Enough unscarred rocks to build
    • A traditional campfire ring
    • A base for the fire pan
  • Fire pan (metal garbage can lid, oil pan, or other fire pan substitute)
  • Hot chocolate mix and cups for drinking


  • Locate an area that will permit the group to safely and responsibly build fires.
  • Read the entire lesson plan and the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace thoroughly. It is necessary for group members to know how to use a fire pan and how to build a mound fire before beginning this activity.
  • Practice building a mound fire prior to the meeting so you are familiar with the process.
  • Scatter the unscarred rocks and firewood over the surrounding ground.
  • Place the soil for the mound fire nearby.

Grabbing Your Group’s Attention (20 minutes)

Explain to the group that there are three types of prepared food for camp meals: precooked cold meals, meals cooked over fires, and meals cooked on a camp stove. Group members will compare the value of stoves and fires when making hot chocolate. But first, they will help the leader demonstrate how to build a true Leave No Trace fire.

Demonstrate how to build a mound fire. Follow the directions for building a mound fire found in the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace. Use group members to help gather soil, firewood, and clean up afterward. Help participants understand how a properly built mound fire leaves almost no trace of the fire. The entire process of building the mound fire, extinguishing the fire, and cleaning up should take about 30 minutes.

Steps for Teaching the Activity (30 minutes)

The Heat Is On

Participants will compare how fast they can heat water on a camp stove, a fire built using a fire pan, and a traditional campfire. After heating the water and making the hot chocolate, group members will attempt to remove all evidence of the fire (e.g., traces of ash, dirt, firewood, etc.). This process will help participants think about the advantages of stoves, mound fires, or fire pans over traditional campfires.

Explain to group members that they will conduct an experiment to demonstrate the pros and cons of fire use. Divide the participants into three groups. Each will:

1. Prepare a fire source.

2. Boil water and make hot chocolate.

3. Clean up the site so no one can tell they have been there.

Ask one group to use a stove, one a fire pan, and one a new rock-ring fire. Have each group keep track of how long it takes to prepare the hot chocolate and clean up the site.

Note: It will be necessary to supervise the groups as they light the stove and construct the campfires from the materials provided. Read the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace and instruct the fire-pan group on the proper way to build a pan fire.

Leave No Trace does not simply mean putting out the fire and cleaning up the trash. There should be no evidence that the fire ever existed. Here are points to remember when supervising and discussing the activity:

  • Make it a special challenge to Leave No Trace.
  • Is the ground scarred or scorched?
  • Is there evidence of charred wood? All campfires require crushing coals to ash, soaking with water to eliminate fire danger, and disposing of the ash. (Even fires built in existing and properly located fire rings should be cleaned.)
  • Are there scarred rocks?
  • Is soil noticeably disturbed in and around the cooking site?

Ask participants: Which method of boiling water was fastest? The stove will most likely be the fastest method of boiling water. Fires require more preparation time, especially if proper care is taken to Leave No Trace.

Ask participants the following: Which method would group members prefer if they were very hungry, if it were raining, or if they were camped on rocky terrain where a fire was impractical or they had no wood source?

Ask them: What problems arose during cleanup? How successful were the fire builders at leaving no sign whatsoever of their fire? A true Leave No Trace fire should leave virtually no sign of its existence. Did the fire builders meet this standard? Ease of cleanup generally will follow this order:

  • EASIEST: stove. Stoves require virtually no cleanup when used properly.
  • MORE DIFFICULT: fire pan. The fire pan, set on rocks or some other suitable surface, will not damage the land but still will require disposal of ash.
  • MOST DIFFICULT: traditional rock-ring fire. Traditional fires will scar the surface upon which they were built, requiring rehabilitation of the fire site. These fires are usually built with rocks that become permanently scarred. Did the group take the time to wash soot off the rocks?

Wrapping Up the Activity (15 minutes)

Your group has had the opportunity to experience and discuss the benefits and procedures for building different types of fires. How well have group members learned to minimize their impact with fires?

Summarize the advantages and disadvantages of campfires and backpacking stoves.

  • Can the group describe the preferred techniques for building a fire in high-use areas? (Use a stove or an existing fire site.)
  • What are some of the no-trace fire building practices in pristine areas? (Build a mound or pan fire.)
  • What are some reasons why a night without a campfire might be more enjoyable? (Stars are more noticeable; small animal sounds are easier to hear; the darkness enhances storytelling.)
  • Discuss the impacts of gathering wood—social trails, loss of nutrients for plant life, etc.

Congratulations on conducting a well-prepared meeting for your group!