Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

Try These Cozy Campfire Alternatives for Fun Without the Fire

Campers often envision spending the evening around a fire pit, chatting and roasting marshmallows for s’mores. And we agree—some of our favorite camping trip memories are set around the fire! Even still, fire bans are more common than ever before, and safety always comes first. We have a responsibility to stay fire safe, whether campfires are not allowed due to a formal burn ban from a government agency, one from your Hipcamp Host, or a warning for dangerous conditions.

The good news—there’s no need to sacrifice the fun and ambiance of a campfire under the stars. We’ve got dozens of campfire alternatives you can use any time campfires are banned, unwise, impossible, or just too bothersome, and they bring all the comfort and camaraderie of a fire ring without violating fire rules. Read on for a few ideas on how to keep those evening hours memorable—no campfire required.

Photo by Nicholas Tortajada in Coconino National Forest, Arizona, US

Ambiance: String lights for evening gathering spaces

Put up a string of solar lights and you’ve got yourself a little hangout haven at your campsite. This makes the lack of a campfire much less notable. Having evening light sources in addition to headlamps can be a necessity, so look for string lights that are durable under typical weather conditions and shine brightly enough to let you play cards or read a book by the glow.

We love the MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights. Hipcamp CEO Alyssa Ravasio says: “Hanging lights can immediately change the atmosphere of your campsite, and the Luci is a really simple and small item to pack for your travels. I like these lights because they are solar-powered with a secondary charging function via a USB cable.”

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Kate Murray at Hidden Haven by Cainbable Creek, QLD, Australia

After-dark activities: Stargazing supplies for an unforgettable night

If you book a remote campsite that gets good views of the sky without light pollution, you might actually have a resource more valuable to outdoor enthusiasts than a real fire: dark skies! Find the right spot with limited light pollution using our dark skies map, then consider loading up a stargazing app and packing a blanket and maybe binoculars to stargaze instead of focusing on fire restrictions. While Hipcampers can opt for their own small, portable stargazing scope, some Hipcamp Hosts offer telescopes for free use or rental while on-site.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Wendee Wingfield at Monument Creek Glamping, Colorado, US

Cozy vibes: A portable fire pit (if allowed)

When you research the ins and outs of your area’s fire ban, you may find that certain propane fire pits are allowed, pending the vegetation and risk. This can provide the traditional camping experience without the risk of wildfire, keeping your guests warm and cozy with a well contained open fire. Shop around to find some remarkably small fire pit sets that can be used for travel and car camping—Hipcamp staff love the portable, smokeless Solo Stove fire pits, while many Hosts opt to invest in propane gas fire pits.

Photos by Hipcamp Photographer Juliana Summers in North Carolina, US

Heat and warmth: A small electric space heater

If the main draw is warming up a section of the campsite or the interior of a yurt or cabin, consider an electric or propane heater. These can really make those chilly evenings more enjoyable and give you more time to stay up making memories later at night before burrowing into sleeping bags. Portable heaters can be bulky to transport for campers, but many Hosts provide larger heat sources like patio heat lamps for chilly nights. The Mr. Heater Little Buddy Heater is pictured above.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Nic Castellanos at Camp Nauvoo, CA, US

Entertainment: Games, music, and storytelling prompts

One of the best features of campfires is that they seem to draw out stories from the group. Another way to get that going is with a conversation starter game like Chat Pack or Table Topics. Whether you’re in the tent or in camp chairs with blankets to keep warm, these prompts can lead to quick laughs and bonding. The group will likely ditch the cards and simply swap memories and ghost stories before you know it.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Meredith Baird

Cooking: A camp stove

If you primarily like a campfire for cooking, consider an RV camping stove or other cooking setup that allows camp chefs to make hot food outside while still complying with burn ban restrictions. Once you verify that the burners are allowed, you can enjoy a hot camp meal without having to build a big fire to cook—and it’s also an easy way to Leave No Trace. Camp stove options range from mini canister stoves like Pocket Rockets to three-burner setups that are powerful but still portable. Either way, pack a good amount of campfire snacks like grapes, trail mix, and crackers to enjoy sans campfire—we promise they still taste just as good.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Jessica Strom at Grand Canyon Wander Camp, AZ, US

No fire? No problem.

While a great attitude and a love of nature are much of what makes for a backpacking or camping trip, a bit of extra planning can go a long way, especially when campfires might be a safety hazard. Choose any of the campfire alternatives above to help foster the camping magic we all know and love, even without an open flame.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Nic Castellanos near Yosemite, CA, US

Additional fire safety information

Hipcamp partners with industry leaders and subject matter experts to share safety information and employ a variety of tools that ensure we are keeping Hosts, Hipcampers, and the communities they interact with safe. We have developed extensive resources to remind Hosts how to set up their properties for safe campfires when fires are permissible and advisable, and also to share with Hipcampers how to build, manage, and safely extinguish campfires.

Additional information for Hipcampers

When your Host enacts a fire ban, you’ll receive communications stating what is and is not allowed during your trip. No fires of any kind (including fireworks) are allowed with a ban in effect, unless otherwise stated. There is a zero-tolerance policy for failure to adhere to these bans, and we thank all visitors for respecting our lands, communities, and firefighters. If you’d like to cancel a booking due to a fire ban, this can be done in your Hipcamp account.

Additional information for Hosts

Hipcamp Hosts have the power to enact a fire ban at any time, either due to local laws or restrictions, or simply by choice, right in the Host Dashboard. Fire bans apply across all listings, and all on-site Hipcampers and upcoming bookers will receive communications stating that fires are no longer allowed on the property.

Laura Leavitt is a writer, editor, and teacher in Ohio. She owns her own copywriting business and focuses on writing about small businesses, personal finance, food/drink, and sustainability.

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