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Camper outside in nature at sunset with a white and blue tent

How to go camping without a campfire

There’s a lot to love about camping – being close to nature, sleeping soundly under the stars or cozying up around the campfire with your crew. But what if a campfire ban comes into effect in your area? While camping without a campfire sounds less than ideal, there’s actually plenty of ways you can stay warm, prep delicious camp food or enjoy a warm glow at your campsite without a fire.

If you’re wondering how you can camp without a campfire, these are the questions you’re probably asking:

  • How can I check if fire bans are in effect? Know which websites to check or who to call.

  • What can I use for light instead of a campfire? Handy tips involving water bottles, flashlights and more.

  • What can I use to cook food? Check out the wonders of camp stoves or tasty no-cook meals.

  • How can I stay warm without a campfire? Read up on the basics of layering and making sure you have the right sleeping bag for the temperatures ahead.

How can I check if fire bans are in effect?

Do your research. Often, the simplest way to see if fire bans are in effect where you’re camping is to check local park advisories or the campground’s website. For national parks, Parks Canada gives plenty of helpful information when it comes to fire bans, including which items are prohibited and which are allowed.

When there’s a fire ban in effect, specific types of items may or may not be permitted – it totally depends on the area you’re heading and the conditions they’re dealing with. Make sure to check what’s specifically allowed and not allowed. During a fire ban, things like campfires, charcoal or wood barbeques, tiki torches and wood-burning stoves are often banned. Items that may be allowed, depending on the area, are gas or propane stoves and barbeques, infrared heaters, gas lanterns and candles (that said, always double check, as sometimes these are banned as well).

What can I use instead of a campfire for lighting?

A campfire creates cozy camp vibes to your site, and it also provides a lot of natural light when the sun goes down. To make sure you don’t spend your camping getaway tripping over random logs and duffle bags, here are some other ways to light up your spot in the woods.

Four people camping outside without a campfire, using headlamps for light.

Lanterns and headlamps

Camp lighting has come a long way. You can find electric, solar and LED lanterns and headlamps that are easy to charge before (and even during) your trip that provide light all weekend long. Solar powered lights use the power of the sun to keep them going, while some lights can even charge in your vehicle if you’re car camping. A few lanterns or string lights hung around your site can give it a cozy feeling.

You can also make your own lantern with a headlamp and a water bottle. Grab your water bottle (preferably a see-through Nalgene), wrap a headlamp around it with the light facing the bottle, and presto: you’ve created a cool piece of mood lighting for your backcountry setup. Hang several of them on surrounding tree branches to brighten things up even more. You can also do this with battery-powered lanterns and twinkle lights too.

Consider the propane fire pit

Double-check with your local park and fire ban advisories to confirm if propane fire pits are allowed. If they are, these portable fire pits are an easy way to give your site a nice warm glow. They also give your camp crew a break from chopping kindling and stoking the fire. You also won’t smell like campfire the next day (though some people may miss that).

Four campers sitting outside on chairs with a propane fire pit.

Can I use a propane fire pit to cook food?

With a small fire pit powered by propane, it’s easy to think that roasting your smokies or marshmallows over it seems totally okay. However, propane fire pits generally aren’t recommended for cooking food; instead, they’re primarily designed as a way to give a cozy camp atmosphere. Things can get messy quickly when food is involved, and they aren’t easy to clean if food falls in. Plus, sticky, melty things like toasted marshmallows can clog the burners. Check the instructions on your fire pit or ask the retailer what they think is best.

Count on the stars

How do you think people made their way through the dark before we had all this special camp lighting? Being in the deep dark woods can bring out the natural shine from the night sky, so try turning off your headlamps and see what’s above. Your eyes will eventually get used to your surroundings and the stars are brighter than you might think. On a full moon night, you’d be surprised how much night light there is.

A camper cooking a meal on a camping stove outside.

What can I use to cook food during a fire ban?

Veggie dogs, campfire corn and s’mores may seem like camping staples. But if campfires aren’t an option, there are lots of other ways to make dinner. Just make sure you have your camp kitchen checklist filled out before you go.

Camp stoves

Gas-powered camp stoves are often your answer for cooking when a fire ban is in effect (but again, double check with your local park board just to be sure they’re not on the banned list as well). They’re easy to pack, and can boil water for coffee and tea, defrost frozen soups and stews, or fry up a delicious breakfasts in a jiffy. Large two-burner stoves are great if you have a family or group of people to cook for, or if you want a couple of burners on the go at the same time. Small, lightweight canister stoves fit easily into your backpack, which makes them perfect for backpacking trips or when you need to save space.

No-cook meals

Plot twist: you actually don’t even need a fire to make an array of tasty meals. Chopped salads, veggie plates, sandwiches, boiled eggs and jerky are all just a few things you can prep beforehand and bring on your trip to eat right away. If you’re rolling up to the campsite with a cooler, you can bring things like potato salad, more sandwich fixings, or even a charcuterie board (hey, sometimes it’s fun to get a little fancy in the forest).

Also, ever heard of an ice cream ball? This handy dessert-maker just needs cream, sugar, vanilla, ice and rock salt inside, plus some rolling around the campground to make a fresh bowl of ice cream. Who said you can’t play with your food? Kids love it, so it’s also a fun after-dinner activity.

How can you stay warm without a campfire?

When the sun goes down and night creeps in, campsites can get pretty chilly. And without a campfire close, you’ll be looking for other ways to stay warm and sleep warm. Layering up is your first step, so be sure to put together the proper collection of warm clothes by learning how to choose base layers and mid-layers, which includes fleece or merino wool.

Don’t forget to make sure your sleeping set-up is snug too. Take a peek at your sleeping bag’s temperature rating or learn how to choose a sleeping bag if you need one with more warmth. For an extra dose of coziness, check out wearable sleeping bags, blankets and quilts – perfect for sitting around the picnic table for a late-night game of cards.