I split and sell firewood each winter to hunters heading up north and neighbors who run out of fuelwood before spring. Calculating how much wood you need is important to a good camping experience.
Average Campfire Wood Consumption Chart
|Convenience store bundle|
(1 cubic foot)
|Bundles for an |
average social campfire
|Bundles to cook a |
|Slat Wood (thin flat pieces)||0.5||4||2-3|
|Split Wood (rough irregular triangles)||1||3||1-2|
The average campfire burns approximately one hardwood bundle (about 1-cubic foot) an hour in a 2-3 foot wide firepit. Very soft wood like fir will burn twice as fast. To keep a crackling fire from morning to evening takes 10-20 bundles, but a small campfire can be maintained with 5-8 bundles per day.
How Many Bundles of Wood from a Convenience Store for A Campout?
The following chart assumes you’ll want a small fire in the morning, and a longer fire in the evening. It will provide approximately 3 hours of fire per day (one hour per bundle of split wood from a convenience store).
|Overnight Campout||3 Bundles (split wood from a convenience store)|
|Two Night Campout||6 Bundles (split wood from a convenience store)|
|Three Night Campout||9 Bundles (split wood from a convenience store)|
The average camper will use 4-5 bundles of wood in a day either maintaining a single campfire for several hours or having 2 shorter ones. That’s the figure most experienced campers tend to cite. I would tend to agree with that.
It’s important to get an idea of what type of fire you want. Do you want a bright, crackling campfire with lots of light? That’s going to take a lot of wood. That’s the fasted burning type of fire. If you want just a slow, glowing, warm bed simmering of embers, you can get away with a lot less wood.
What do you want your fire to do for you? Fire is a camper’s tool. If you merely want it to set the ambiance, that’s fine. If you want it to keep you warm, cook a meal, or ward off wild animals, that’s great! You just need to have an idea of what function you want it to serve so you know what type of fire you want to have.
Basic hardwood has a heat value of approximately 20 million BTU’s per cord or 156,000 BTU’s per bundle. that’s 156,000 BTU’s released per hour, or so. The average stovetop burner gives off 7,000 BTU’s per hour. If you are smart with your wood, you can do a lot with it.
I’ll give a simple example. If you want to cook hotdogs for 6 people on a single bundle without a problem. I used to start campfires at church for the kids to cook hotdogs and s’mores. I figured the troop of 30-kids could each roast a hotdog and marshmallow on 2-bundles worth of firewood.
If I wanted a bright fire for an hour to illuminate a good storytime, two bundles would do it very well. But, if just a small fire is needed and it’s okay if fit burns low and smolders a bit, then one bundle to start it plus half a bundle per hour seems about right.
How Much Firewood is in a Bundle?
Most store-bought bundles of campfire wood contain about 1 cubic foot of firewood. Some are 3/4 cubic feet. A bundle that size will usually measure about 16 inches long, 10 inches high, and 10 inches wide. They are usually hardwood, but sometimes softwoods like fir are sold in bundles.
A bundle isn’t a legal unit of wood. Well, some areas do put local regulations on it, but there isn’t a legal standard across the board. However, Free Market has created a crude standard.
A bundle of wood ( about 1 cubic foot) is 1-128th of a cord of wood. A full cord is 128 cubic feet of split wood, or a stack of split wood measuring 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall, and 8 feet long. The industry standard size of a piece of firewood is 16-inches long.
A Good Cooking Fire Uses Less Wood
The best campfires for cooking are slow-burning, smoldering piles of embers, not a bright flaming fire. Flaming fires are soot and give off heat unevenly.
There’s an old Indian saying: “Whiteman make big fire, stand far back; Indian make small fire, sit close. I’ve seen various iterations of that in historic writings from the 19th and 19th centuries. Basically, you can do more with a smaller fire because you can get close to it.
Remember how much heat wood can put out? Burning a small fire for cooking helps reduce the amount of wasted heat. Smaller fires can be more evenly maintained and actually allow you to work around them without burning your fingers off.
Tips to Keep Your Wood Dry
The best firewood is dry wood. Wood can absorb a surprising amount of water in just a few hours’ time. the most important point to keeping your wood dry is to just cover it. Whether that means sliding some wood beneath the camper or truck, or tossing a tarp over it, it’s a good idea.
You don’t necessarily have to cover all your wood either. When I’m camping, I usually just gather a small pile of wood under the truck or in my tent. Just enough so I can get it started again in the morning. damp wood can be hard to start a fire with, but once it’s going well, damp wood is no issue.
Dew, rain, and moisture from the ground all make your wood harder to ignite. it also makes it smoke more. Save yourself some time and a slight headache by setting aside a bit of dry wood for when you need to get things started again.
You can also dry wet wood near the fire. I just camped in marshland. Most of the area was wet and all the wood I gathered was soaked. I got the fire going, then stacked up wood near the fire to dry. Within an hour, I had some nice, dry firewood which was warmer and smoked a lot less.
How To Have a Campfire with Less Smoke
Wood smoke means combustion without flame. The flame is actually smoke burning up, sometimes called secondary combustion. You see, the initial combustion of the wood creates a lot of gasses. The gasses, when mixed with oxygen, often ignite.
If you have a smokey fire and do anything that causes flames, like throwing in some paper towel, the smoke goes away for a bit. If a fire is smoking too much, increase the heat of the fire by gathering the smoldering pieces together, or by adding more wood.
Smaller pieces of wood are less smokey. Dry wood smokes less. Fires that are less spread out will smoke less, and smaller fires smokeless.
A pet peeve of mine at campgrounds is when people toss large logs on an almost extinguished fire. Those logs will smoke and smolder, creating a lot of smoke. If they were to split the wood smaller or just grab smaller pieces first, the fire would get hotter and make less smoke. Start with small pieces folks.
Starting a Campfire Easily and Safely
Attempting to use newspaper or fire-starting sticks to light large pieces of firewood makes a lot of smoke, takes a long time, and may not work at all. There is a much better way to quickly and surely get the campfire going.
There are 3 sizes of combustible materials when it comes to fires. We have tinder, kindling, and fuel. all three are important to a good fire. Tinder is the type of stuff you can easily light with a match. Kindling is sticks that are just too big to be lit with a match, usually around finger thickness or so.
Fuel is the larger sticks and pieces of wood that You’d use to keep a fire going. Don’t try to take tinder and use it to light the fuel. Fuel is harder to ignite. Use tinder, whether it be newspaper, dry leaves, and twigs, or wood shavings, to ignite the kindling.
Tinder is easily made from firewood with a hatchet, ax, or machete. Sometimes you can buy bundles of tinder wood. It’s usually just pieces of softwood like pine, which lights easier. It still usually benefits from splitting smaller.
Start with a good pile of tinder and carefully stack some kindling around it. After you light it, place more kindling on it and slowly add bigger wood as it gets going. Try not to disturb your fire when it’s first lit. There may not be enough coals to keep it going if you knock it over.
Bringing Your Own Wood for a Campfire
Usually, it’s alright to bring your own firewood camping. That’s what most people do. But sometimes specific campgrounds have rules against it and “require” you to buy all your wood from them.
Often, they cite a concern over exotic pests and invasive insects being brought into the camp, potentially threatening local trees. Sometimes the concern is seemingly legitimate from a well-meaning person. Often, it’s just a way to sell firewood at inflated prices.
There have been statewide bans on moving firewood across county lines. We had that in Michigan thanks to the Emerald Ash Borer problem. For a guy who lives near the corner of 3 counties, selling firewood was tough.
You can remove almost all the chances of transporting pests if you remove the bark off of wood. Pretty much all the tree-destroying bugs live just beneath the bark. If you debark the wood, it won’t hold bugs. debarked wood was the only exception to the Michigan ban of transporting firewood.
If you want to buy your wood in bulk, you can buy it locally and have it delivered to your home. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper that way if you plan to burn a fair bit of wood. Locally, a 3/4-cubic foot bundle costs $7 at the convenience store. That’s $9/cubic foot.
I can buy a full cord of wood, 128 cubic feet, for around $150, Mabey $200 delivered. That’s at most $1.56 a cubic foot. You can even buy a partial cord. Most woodcutters will sell you a face-cord, which is a single row (16-inch long pieces) in a stack 4 feet tall and 8 feet wide. That’s called a face-cord.
A face cord is a pile as tall and wide as a cord, but only one stack deep. Firewood usually comes in 16-inch pieces, and it takes three rows to fill out a standard cord. A face-cord is a single row or 1/3 of a cord. they are usually anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 the price of a cord. Prices vary by season and area.
Quick recap, a bundle is usually 1 cubic foot (sometimes 0.75 cubic feet). A cord is 128 cubic feet of split wood, 4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet (usually three rows), and a face cord is a single row stacked 8 feet long and 4 feet high, usually 1/3 cord or 42 cubic feet.
You can see prices of bulk wood locally by searching “cord wood” or “face cord” in Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
Here’s a set of cost and burn time conversions for buying campfire wood in bulk. The figures are based on the “average” size campfire and quality dry hardwood.
|Unit of wood||Cost per foot||Approximate campfire burn time||Equals # of .75 ft bundles|
|1 cord @ $150||$1.17||150 hours||170|
|1 cord @ $250||$1.95||150 hours||170|
|Face cord @ $50||$1.17||50 hours||56|
|Face cord @ $100||$2.34||50 hours||56|
|10 bundles (.75 ft)|
|10 bundles (.75 ft)|
If you want to know all the specifics about the burning characteristics and fuel value of different species of wood, the Utah State University’s Forestry Extention has a really great resource, Here’s a link to it.