smiling camper holding water bottle lantern

Tips and tricks for camping without a campfire

Camping season is upon us, and with it comes visions of marshmallows roasting on an open fire (or however the old saying goes). But what happens to your dreams of the wild life when there’s a fire ban in effect? Can you enjoy a night under the stars without a campfire to curl up by? Is it even worth packing up the car without the prospect of rubbing two sticks together? And what are you going to do with that family size bag of Jet-Puffeds?

Well, contrary to what you may have heard, camping isn’t all about the campfire. In fact, with this list of good alternatives and distractions, you might just decide to go fire-free on your next trip, even if there isn’t a fire ban (okay, maybe not, but they’re good ideas nonetheless). Read on for our best tips and tricks for staying warm, well-lit and entertained without a campfire.

Super important: Make sure to find out about the specific rules and regulations around fire bans in your area before you camp. When in doubt, consult your local park authority.

Take in a light show

view of the stars at night from underneath evergreen trees

Take advantage of full darkness to brush up on your constellation identification skills. “I’m big into star watching, and you don’t need a fire for that!” says Boris Issaev of Parkbus, one of MEC’s community partners. Without the added light pollution of a campfire, you’ll be able to see everything there is to see in the night sky above you. Need a cheat sheet? Clip a handy Night Sky Star Dial to your pack. And don’t forget to keep your backside happy by conducting your observations from a water-resistant blanket or camp chair.

Ready to take your stargazing to the next level? Learn more about how to navigate using the stars.

water resistant blanket, chair and star dial

Make your own mood lighting

Making your own camp lantern is easier than you think. Just fill up a see-through Nalgene bottle with some water and wrap a headlamp around it with the light facing in toward the bottle – backcountry mood lighting achieved. Pool resources to hang them up to brighten up the whole campsite, or go for a walk around the campground by lantern-light. Any budding entomologists will find camp lanterns perfect to spot cool insects that might shy away from an open flame.

Full lantern tutorial:

nalgene water bottles and headlamps

See your name in lights

light writing in a campsite at night

Boris from Parkbus also recommends busting out the headlamps and flashlights to try your hand at a little light-writing photography. “It looks really neat at night, and you can take some really cool photos with it,” says Boris. Spell out a message for your friends back home, get this year’s holiday card taken care of early or commemorate a campsite in-joke. Show us your best ones using the hashtag #goodtimesoutside.

headlamps and flashlights

Snuggle up

two people happy camping with blankets

Be sure to pack layers, as temperatures tend to dip at night, even in summertime fire ban season. Start with a solid base layer, make sure to bring a lightweight fleece and don’t forget a cozy blanket to insulate you from the ground, or curl up in for extra warmth.

blanket, fleece and longjohns

Enjoy a cold treat

S’mores who? Defeat boredom and hunger in one fell swoop with a portable ice cream maker that doubles as a game of catch. Add cream, sugar and vanilla in one end, ice and rock salt in the other, toss it around the campsite for 20 minutes and voila! Your new favourite camp treat, heat-wave friendly and made with whole ingredients you can count on one hand.

Pick your size: UCO Softshell Ice Cream Ball Pint; UCO Softshell Ice Cream Ball Quart

ice cream balls and cooler

Cooking over campstoves

stoves and fire pit

Boris from Parkbus also recommends a good quality propane stove for all your camp cooking needs. He says, “Cooking over a nice stove is actually easier than cooking over fire in my books.” Get inspired with camp kitchen recipes and cook like you’re back home in the backcountry.

A propane fire pit may be allowed, depending on your area and the severity of the fire restrictions in place. Always check local regulations before using a fire pit – rules will vary depending on your area and the current situation. When in doubt, get in touch with your regional park authorities.

The Outland Living Firebowl is CSA approved, and roasts s’mores and weenies with the best of them (minus the smoke, sparks and wood chopping). With adjustable flame height and natural lava rocks to give it a flickering campfire glow, you might just find yourself loading it into the trunk for all future camping trips too.

Shauna Wootton

Writer, wool sock sommelier and lapsed comedian. Big fan of small islands and cold water. Not afraid of bugs.