A Safe, Functional, Leave-no-trace Campfire Pit




For more than forty five years I have had the opportunity to paddle many of north western Canada’s wild rivers. Pulling ashore after a day of paddling, I look forward to a meal cooked over an open fire. The last thing I want to see are scars, litter or signs of others who have passed this way. I also want to make sure that we leave no trace of our passing so I have developed a way of making safe, functional, leave no trace campfire pits. These fire pits contain and direct the fire and, when finished, no trace can be seen.

Step 1: Selecting the Pit Place

Sighting a riverside fire pit is the most important step in the process. Select a steep section of large cobbles along of a river bar below the high water line.

Step 2: Preparing the Pit

Remove cobbles to form a pit about a foot deep, foot wide and about two feet long going into the slope. Place larger rocks level along the sides of the ditch type pit. Check to make sure the grill will fit across the rocks.

Step 3: Setting the Fire and Grill

Set kindling length wise along the bottom of the pit and place larger sticks on top. Light the kindling. The fire will move up the pit and ignite the larger sticks. Once these are burning well, add larger pieces of wood then place the grill over the fire. For slow cooking, wait until the fire has died down and a bed of coals have developed. This pit can be used for cooking breakfast. Try to make sure that only coals are left after your last fire.

Step 4: Putting Out the Fire

When finished using the fire pit, pour liberal amounts of water over the coals, then cover with sand. Refill the pit with the cobbles that were removed. Place the larger rocks in the stream.

Step 5: Cleaning Up the Site

When finished, you should not be able to see a trace of the fire pit or that there was a fire. Make sure that there are no traces of your cooking or use of the area. Next spring, following high water, any traces of human use will have completely disappeared.

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    2 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Great idea, and I commend you for leaving no trace.

    On another note, using river rocks for a fire ring is extremely dangerous, as the rocks can and do explode periodically from boiling water in the many micro fissures in them. General rule we were taught in the Army was that you should look for rocks with jagged edges, as they more likely haven't been subjected to years of water.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    I most often use a couple of short logs (about 5" dia) to hold the grill and soak it after the fire is out. The logs last about 4-5 days, I simply wrap then up and take them along.