Skip to Content

The Best (and Worst) Wood for Burning

We’ve all seen the TikTok videos and Instagram reels of campers gathered around the campfire with beverages and smiles. The kids are roasting marshmallows, and the dogs are happily lounging on the ground.

It’s the perfect image of an evening at the campsite.

But just how do you get that perfect campfire? There are a few tricks to burning wood to receive the longevity and heat you desire. So let’s take a look at the best and worst wood for burning!

What Happens When You Burn Wood? 

When wood burns, the wood mixes with heat and oxygen to transform into carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ash. It’s a chemical change from one matter to another rather than a physical change like chopping wood.

At 300 degrees, you get smoke. At 500 degrees, you get fire. It’s at this temperature that the compound molecules in the wood split apart. They combine with oxygen to release carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ash.

Burning firewood at campfire

Why Do People Burn Wood (From Necessity to Leisure)? 

Since ancient times, people have burned wood for heat, fire, and cooking purposes. In biblical times, armies burned fires to keep warm during desert nights. Indigenous people have long since used fires to cook soups and game meat.

Hearths in Colonial America kept the New England settlers alive during harsh winters.

Today burning wood is used for the same purposes, although used much more recreationally.

You can’t walk through a campfire without seeing the glowing embers. You can’t sit outside without smelling burgers cooking on a fire pit grill. It’s part of the camping experience to roast marshmallows and tell stories while sitting around the campfire.

What Is the Best Wood for Burning? 

If you’ve tried burning wood, you know there are some types of wood that burn better than others. When you’re only camping for the weekend, you want to make sure you’re not spending hours trying to get a fire started.

Here are the best woods for burning.

Best Overall: Hardwoods

All wood consists of the same compounds, including lignin and cellulose. The differences between good burning wood and poor burning wood are the space between the wood fibers and the amount of moisture and air the wood contains.

Hardwoods like maple, oak, ash, hickory, and birch are extremely dense and heavy. They don’t have a lot of space in between the fibers. This means fires built with hardwoods will burn slowly because they have a lot of fuel. They also produce a lot of heat, the perfect campfire for a cool fall evening.

Burns the Longest: Hickory

Hickory has the highest density among firewood at 37 pounds per cubic foot to 58 pounds per cubic foot. This means it burns for the longest time, usually hours, without needing to be refueled. Ash is sometimes used in place of hickory because it’s one of the few types of wood that can be burned “green.”

Not only does hickory burn for a long time due to its density, but it also produces a delicious smell and seasoning. Chefs love to use hickory for its flavor when grilling or smoking meats.

What Is the Worst Burning Wood? 

While hardwoods burn slowly, generating lots of heat, softwoods do just the opposite. Avoid using poplar, spruce, alder, or willow in campfires or camp stoves if you’re looking to enjoy the ambiance and warmth at a fireside for several hours.

You can use softwoods to help start a fire, but they won’t last very long or produce much heat.

Another important consideration is how “green” the wood is. Seasoned wood doesn’t have the moisture that green wood contains. The process of seasoning removes as much moisture as possible to improve its efficiency.

It’s a cleaner environment with less smoke.

What Is the Best Smelling Fire Wood? 

If you want to add a pleasant smell to your campfire ambiance, choose hickory, apple, cherry, walnut, or cedar to burn.

Just like chefs use these woods in the kitchen to grill and smoke meats, you can also take advantage of their savory smells. Hickory will have the traditional, instantly recognizable “smoke” smell, while woods like apple and cherry will have a sweeter aroma.

Is It Good to Burn Wood?

It also seems un-American to go camping and not have a campfire. As long as there isn’t a burn ban in place, the wind is fairly calm, and you’re going to be around to monitor the fire, there’s no reason not to get one up and running as soon as you arrive.

Campfires create a relaxed atmosphere and offer prime opportunities for family bonding or romantic evenings.

So the next time you head out to the campground, grab some local firewood or split your own to enjoy the glowing embers all weekend. Make sure to get local wood so you don’t introduce invasive species into the environment rather than carrying wood across state lines. Get a good seasoned hardwood that’s ready to burn and you’ll be all set!

Which type of burning wood is your favorite?

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: