We get it: camping without a campfire is kind of a drag. You know what’s a MUCH bigger drag, though? Wildfires. They’re a big problem for us here in Colorado. So, while we love us some beers, s’mores and spooky stories around a blazing/smoking/crackling inferno, we love our local wilderness even more. So we’ve learned to cope with—and maybe even excel at—fire-free camping. With the Dog Days of summer panting at our heels, here’s how to weather a fire ban without your fun-factor taking the heat.
First, the basics: what even IS a fire ban?
A fire ban is a geographical restriction that determines where you can and can’t legally use a wood or charcoal campfire. These bans are especially common in dry climates—and even in some temperate climates, near the height of summer. While California and Colorado seem to get the most press for uncontained wildfires, uncontrolled burns actually happen in just about every state; last year alone, the U.S. lost more than 10 million acres of national wildland due to accidental fires. Which is no bueno.
But the campfire is the anchor of our evening!
Yep, it sure is. But a fire ban doesn’t mean a FUN ban, people! You just have to get a little creative, and your friends at Kelty are here to help. Here are three surefire (see what we did there?) ways to keep the figurative fires burning at your campsite—without literal fires burning the whole campground down.
- Get Lit
In addition to providing heat, one of the defining features of a campfire is the fact that it’s a central light source—one that effortlessly draws everyone into its seductive circle. So, whether you’re telling scary stories or planning a Jenga smackdown, you’ll need to create an alternate hangout for your peeps.
If your campsite has a picnic table, you’re halfway there—just throw down your oilcloth and fire up the ol’ lantern, and you’re good to go. For campsites without tables, set up your favorite shelter (we’re pretty fond of the Noah’s Tarp, Mirada and Big Shady) and string some solar-powered fairy lights to and fro like a hipster beer garden. Then drag your Linger or Lowdown chairs into a circle to get the party started!
- Game On
Another great thing about campfires is they’re basically always the evening’s entertainment. Warm, hypnotic and capable of cooking anything you can slap on a stick or wrap in foil…wait, can I marry a campfire? That’s some major #relationshipgoals right there. ANYWAY, without that central attraction, you’ll need an activity to keep everyone from staring deeply into one another’s eyes. So, unless it’s that kind of camping trip (no judgment here) you’ll want to bring along your favorite games.
If you don’t have a portable cornhole or bocce set to get everybody moving, you can throw down a Bestie Blanket (or two) in your fairy tent so the group can enjoy family-friendly classic party games like Giant Jenga, Bananagrams Big Letter, Uno—or adults-only upstarts like Cards Against Humanity.
- Pit Stop
While you should always double-check the specific regulations of the area you’re visiting, most fire bans only cover wood and charcoal—which may mean it’s perfectly okay to cheat with a propane campfire like the Camp Chef Redwood Fire Pit. Propane fire pits have other advantages too: they’re easy to light, smoke and ash free, have adjustable flame levels and eliminate the need to track down firewood.
Concerned about space? Consider leaving your camp stove at home, because it’s (almost) just as easy to cook over a propane fire pit. There are amazing recipe roundups here and here; for less involved camp cuisine, get yourself one of these life-changing fire pit cookout kits to simply roast and enjoy. And if you’re concerned about your morning coffee, here’s a groovy kettle you can put directly in the pit.
And if all else fails, spend some good ‘ol fashioned time looking up at the 5 billion star sky. It doesn’t disappoint.
Photos: Tom Milam for Kelty, @twm_photo and @thebeansandrice_.