8 Campfire Alternatives When Camping

Silhouette of a man with his guitar beside two bottles of beer and his camping tent against the sunset backdrop.

Ahhhhhhhhh.  There are probably few things in life that are as relaxing and refreshing as spending time at camp by a roaring campfire.  In fact, it’s even a little difficult to imagine a camping trip without one.  Unfortunately, for a wide variety of reasons, a campfire–even a small one–isn’t always possible.  In a growing number of places, for a wide variety of reasons, having a campfire is not only not possible, but it’s also illegal.  In some areas, there is a danger of wildfires.  In others, there is the threat of environmental damage such as erosion, the results of which can remain for many years after a simple campfire.

So, what is the answer?  For some people, there is simply no substitute for a guitar and a sing-along around a campfire.  For these would-be troubadours, there are flameless answers.

Flameless Campfires

For some people there is simply no substitute for a campfire.  If the law or some other authority prohibits a fire there are plenty of alternatives to real flame.  Thus, these flameless fire methods.  None of these will keep you warm, and cooking anything over any of these isn’t a very practical use of your time, but you will achieve the effect.

Crepe Escape

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Who could ever forget the old trick of building a “fire” indoors by using a substitute for an earthen pit with wood and fire made from blowing crepe paper or plastic cut into strips?  It might not have been a real fire, but everybody got the idea, and before long everyone got into the spirit.

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Today, thanks to technology and a little ever-present imagination, an indoor fire can also be built outdoors, provided electricity or a good battery is available.  All you need to accomplish this is a fan that fits the enclosure that you have, a light that also fits, and a number of strips of crepe paper or plastic.  No electricity?  No problem.  There are plenty of fans and lights that operate on battery power.

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The best fire layout for this would probably be a criss-cross fire (also called a Council Fire) of logs or sticks in a size that would be just big enough to cover the fan and light.  Make sure that both the fan and the light are pointed upwards, and attach a number of crepe or plastic–preferably red or orange in color–strips that have been attached to the fan, allowing it to blow upward.  This arrangement gives you both the air and light of a fire without the actual fire.

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If you don’t want to go through the time and effort to make a false campfire, you can purchase one that is already made.  You can purchase 3D cardboard fires that only require that you set them up to enjoy them.  These types of false campfires come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and lamp types for your choosing.  There is even one that is nothing more than a backdrop if that will do you for ambiance.

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Another alternative to a fire is a lamp of some sort.  There are many different types available that, whether you combine them with a wooden fire setup or not, will project the illusion of a campfire.  One of the most recent types of lamp that is supposed to provide therapeutic benefits is the Himalayan salt lamp, which is available in many forms, and supposedly emits ions for health.  There are even battery powered versions of the same light.  The yellow/orange color of these lamps makes the need for other coloring methods unnecessary, but that’s up to you to decide.

You Tube Fire


What does the video-sharing website have to do with a campfire?  That’s easy.  If you have either a power outlet or a battery-powered computer, as well as an Internet connection, you are in the campfire business.  This is done easily by calling up any number of fireplace videos that often run several hours in length.  There are some that have nothing but the fire that burn, crack, and pop.  There are others that have a thunderstorm, howling wind, and heavy rain sounds.  There are still others that have music of many types.

False Fireplace

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Ok.  So it’s not a real fire or even a real fireplace.  It is a fireplace, and a pretty nifty one too.  False fireplaces have been made for years, and in recent years they have been created that are very realistic.  This one has been created so that it’s little more than just a fire, with no “place” around it, making it perfect for campfire ambiance.  There’s even heat to it too, to keep you warm.

RV Fireplaces

Another alternative to a real campfire is an RV that, like many, is outfitted with a false fireplace.  This idea has the added benefit of being among the larger of the RV models since the smaller ones usually don’t have such an option.  This option does limit the number of people who can take part since you usually can’t fit the occupants of an entire camp inside one RV, but with a lesser number, the fire in an RV can be more than adequate for a campfire.

 

If for whatever reason you don’t want to have a campfire of any sort, that’s okay too.  The problem in a situation like this is that most people, when gathered together in the evening, expect some kind of campfire, fake or not.  That’s when you have to throw a little more creativity at the problem to create something else entirely.  Here are some ideas for situations such as these.

A slide show or movie

Friends watching a movie on a projector screen against a campervan.

Modern photography is a Godsend in situations like this.  Not only will it allow you to create something very unique, but you can do it with little more than a digital camera of one sort or another, and an idea.  And if your idea is good enough, people will probably forget the thought that they were expecting a campfire in the first place.  A lot of this has to do with focus.  People love to see themselves on a screen, and if you can produce a video or a slide show with participants being featured, you will have a winner.  Another benefit of this type of program is that in addition to the visual element, you can add the sound of practically any sort to create a very unique production.

No fire, more fun

Friends on a camping trip enjoying some music.

For most people, camping without a campfire is less a matter of practicality and more an issue of fun.  Let’s face it: a real campfire is fun to have, but when a campfire isn’t possible, something else needs to take its place.  After all, after a busy day, there are still things that can be done such as enjoying a relaxing dinner whipping out a guitar or other musical instruments for a chorus of campfire songs.  Another option is games of some sort.  Regardless of how you get into your camp, there are games that can usually go with you in some form.  If you are packing, try to remember the travel chess set, bocce ball, cribbage, checkers, and party games.

Think Into the wild

Camping under the Milky Way.

As long as you are in the wilderness, why not make use of the dark by stargazing, shutting off your flashlights for a game of hide-and-seek, telling ghost stories, or playing flashlight tag.  Players of any age can enjoy camping without a campfire if you play your cards right, figuratively or literally.

 

Regardless of the reason that you can’t have a campfire, there’s every reason that a campfire should be the only thing you can’t have.  You can still have nearly everything else.  These include plenty of tasty food and treats that everyone can enjoy.  For this, all you need is another source of heat or just a way of preserving whatever it is you bring from home.  There are plenty of things you can bring from home to replace campfire snacks such as smores, hot dogs, and much more.

Between everything that is available such as headlamps, lanterns, flashlights, and every other fire-free light source, the idea of having a campfire by firelight is romantic, sure, but not really entirely necessary.  Having a communal area in which to play nightly campfire games can be the key to the quintessential camping trip. Fortunately, you don’t have to go without a fire entirely, even when fire bans are in effect.

Even when you can’t use some kind of contained fire option, you often can have a flame-free alternative.  All you need to do is find a central area where everyone can get together, like a picnic table or unused firepit, and set up lanterns wherever it might be located.  You may even be able to arrange a few fake candles (or even glow sticks) around the base for some added ambiance.  You can often achieve a fire-like motion by using the same types of candles restaurants and other establishments use to create ambiance.  For some magnification as well as color, try putting these tiny lights inside of a colored plastic bottle.

If you happen to be deep in the backcountry, you could build a flame-less campfire out of different types of fire-safe light sources.  Try stacking a handful of logs like you normally would, then drape string lights, glow sticks, and flashlights around for a fake campfire that’s every bit as dreamy as the real thing.

If you can’t have a campfire, for whatever reason, you should realize by now that there are plenty of options to keep everybody happy.  All it takes is a little creativity.