Most campers, hikers and backwoods bonfire builders have probably pondered this question at one time or another -- just how hot is a campfire?
Is there one core temperature for your average campfire, or does it vary?
What makes a campfire hot, hotter and hottest?
There are a ton of questions surrounding this topic, and we’ve broken it down for you as simply as possible. You’ll learn how hot the average campfire is, what amps up the temperature of a campfire, and best practices for managing the flames to get the best use-- and safety-- out of them.
The Average Temperature of a Campfire
Unless you have some sort of fancy temperature meter that you carry around with you on your camping trips specifically for this purpose, chances are you won’t be able to -- or really need to-- gauge exactly how hot your campfire is to the degree.
The average campfire temperature is between 500 F and 1200 F, and usually rests comfortably in between. The variables that decide exactly where it’ll land in that average depend on things like wind speed and type of fuel -- more on that later-- but surprisingly your campfire doesn’t actually need to be that hot to get things done.
For example, if you’re cooking on the campfire, you usually don’t need any more heat than that generated by hot coals. If you’re using a Dutch Oven like this one to prepare your meals, 350 F is usually the median temperature for most recipes.
Similarly, a campfire meant to keep you warm doesn’t have to be much higher than 500 F to be effective.
The upper heat range of a campfire can get pretty inconvenient if left unchecked. For example, when you begin to hit the 1200 F range, aluminum cooking pans and pots, cans and more will melt.
If you don’t want to melt down your cookware, make sure you’re picking cast iron, steel or titanium to withstand campfires that may get too hot too quickly.
How Do I Tell How Hot My Campfire Is?
There are two main ways to figure out how hot your campfire is. The easiest is the palm test, although we always recommend you exercise extreme caution before sticking your hand over an open flame.
The general rule of thumb is that if you can hold your palm over a fire for 8 seconds comfortably, the temperature is around 500 F or a little more.
If you can hold it for 4-5 seconds, the temperature is between 650-750 F.
If you can only manage 2-3 seconds, the temperature is 800 F or above.
Some campers rely on the colors of the flame to decode how hot it is. This is generally a good indicator of the temperature range, but the color can alter easily based on the types of fuel used or wind.
As a rule of thumb, if your fire is in the red range, it’ll be between 500 F to 1000 F, with the duller shades of red being at the lower end of that spectrum.
If your flames are more yellow, your fire is between 1000 to 1400 F. Pure white flames indicate 1400 F for more.
Types of Fuel and How They Affect Temperature
Let’s go back to Fire 101 to discuss the types of fuel used in building fires. The first stage of fire building is with tinder. This is small types of twigs and wood, used for starting the flames. Fires built with tinder are the lowest temperatures of fire, and some campers don’t move past this point in order to cook their food.
Next step is to add kindling! Kindling are wood pieces that are thicker than tinder, and they keep the fire burning once tinder catches all the way. The temperature of a kindling fire is a little higher than tinder, but we won’t reach peak temperatures until we add the third type of wood which is fuel wood. These are logs, cords and large pieces of wood that fuel the fire and produce the highest temperatures.
Now, if you’ve accidentally selected green wood, or chosen willow or fir wood, these will burn at a lower temperature. Wood like pine will achieve a much higher temperature.
Although not a fuel, a good camper will need to be wary of wind speed and strength. Strong gusts of wind act like a bellows on open flame, causing higher temperatures and the safety risk of the fire jumping to nearby items.
Safety Measures to Protect Yourself and Your Campsite
The worst possible scenario is when the roaring fire you’ve build jumps to a nearby item or tree, causing a panic as you try to put it out and some lasting damage to your possessions. In order to keep control of the flames you’ve built, we recommend the following safety tips:
- Clear a large space of everything but dirt around the campfire.
- Don’t pitch your tent or sleep too close to the flames, as you may wake up with a burnt face or worse.
- Don’t build a larger fire than you need to accomplish your goal
- If you have the space, bring a fire ring like this one to help keep your flames contained.