Fireless fun: Tips for campers during a campfire ban

Illustration by Blake Fernandez

With campfire bans across Arizona, many Flagstaff campers might be discouraged from spending a night under the stars of the high country. Though experts encourage people to continue to enjoy camping with tips to stay warm, have light and cook outdoors sans campfire.

Beginning April 24, Flagstaff entered Stage Two fire restrictions according to the City of Flagstaff. The update said that the restrictions were put in place not only to lower the likelihood of any human-caused wildfires, but also to reduce the impact that dealing with a wildfire might have on the response of emergency services to COVID-19. More information on the elevated fire restrictions can be found on the city’s website and in previous reporting by The Lumberjack.

Despite the heightened fire restrictions, Flagstaff campers can still practice safe, fire-free camping this summer. However, NAU senior Jeremy Cienfuegos said camping without a campfire is just not the same. He explained that campfires are what make the nighttime part of camping most fun. As people tend to gather around a campfire to stay warm, cook and share their stories, Cienfuegos said he was worried that collective experience might be lost when camping without a fire.

“I think a campfire is a very important part of camping — it brings people together,” Cienfuegos said. “I feel like my last camping trip would have been better with a campfire. However, it is more important to consider the safety aspects of fire before lighting one. There are times when having a fire is just a bad idea.”

Regardless, Cienfuegos said that while it’s not the same experience, camping without a campfire can still be fun, but requires thoughtful preparation. If unprepared, one might be in for a cold and dark camping experience.

Jerolyn Byrne, the Firewise Specialist at the Flagstaff Fire Department, shared some tips for people who plan to camp without a campfire. Firstly, Byrne noted that regardless of if a camper is sleeping in a tent, hammock or otherwise, they should plan on bringing a sleeping bag that is rated for the lowest temperatures of that night. Byrne also said that dressing appropriately is key to staying warm and suggested packing extra layers for when the night gets colder.

“Extra warm layers such as hats, gloves and fleece jackets help keep the chill at bay in the high country,” Byrne said.

Additionally, Cienfuegos recommended that campers bring along more light sources than they would when camping with a fire. Phones can often serve as flashlights, but packing additional light sources can be useful, as phones can run out of power quickly or malfunction easily. He said that one might not realize how much darker it gets without the fire.

“A few lanterns are really useful for a campsite, but if you plan on leaving the campsite at night you are going to want a flashlight,” Cienfuegos said.

Cooking is another obstacle campers face when camping without a campfire. While campers can pack prepared food ahead of time, cooking outdoors — and eating freshly cooked food outdoors — is a pastime of camping many wouldn’t dream of giving up. Cienfuegos said that a portable stove is a necessity. He said they can cost around $15 to $40 and often include a small case that can fit in a backpack.

Byrne suggested that campers test their stoves prior to their camping trips so it can be ensured that they burn effectively and efficiently. She said people should look out for leaks or other issues with their stoves that might compromise their function. Again, preparation is key, as she suggests campers also pack additional propane or butane tanks for their portable stoves to make sure they don’t run out while camping.

Even though portable stoves can have cooking while camping covered, one element of the campfire that may seem irreplaceable is the ability to roast marshmallows to make s’mores. With a little innovation and some inspiration from Ayesha Curry’s Food Network recipe, campers can make s’mores using only a skillet and a portable stove.

While they don’t look like traditional s’mores, skillet s’mores taste the same and eliminate the need for a campfire. All one has to do to make their own, is heat chocolate and marshmallows in a skillet over a portable stove, being careful not to burn either. Then, once the chocolate and marshmallows are warm and gooey, graham crackers can be dipped into the skillet like tortilla chips in a salsa bowl.

Cienfuegos and Byrne agree that campers should not be discouraged from camping in a time of campfire bans, but rather be encouraged to get creative and prepare thoughtfully. Regardless, campers like Cienfuegos look forward to when the campfire ban is lifted so they can continue to practice fun camping traditions safely.