How hot is a campfire? You may not think this answer matters much, but when staying warm or cooking food, the temperature matters.
Campfires are an essential part of the outdoor experience, but many campers don’t pay attention to the heat coming from their fire.
However, as we’ll discuss in this article, the heat level can affect everything from preventing cold-related issues to boiling water to cooking meat. So, let’s set up camp and get this tinder ablaze!
How Hot is a Campfire?
Campfires can be broken down into two sections – the core and the plume. The core is where the flames are the hottest and where you’ll notice red-hot coals. The plume is above the fire and doesn’t have any flames at all. If you’re trying to warm yourself or cook anything, you’ll be using the plume.
On average, a campfire’s core temperature ranges from 1500 to 1650 Fahrenheit (815 to 898 Celsius). If you have a large bonfire, the internal heat level can reach up to 2000 degrees F (1093 C).
The campfire’s plume often reaches up to 600 degrees F (315 C) directly above the flames. If you don’t want your cooking surface to be that hot, you can move it further away from the fire. The farther it is, the cooler the temperature.
What Do Different Colors Mean for Flame Temperature?
Typically, campfires are a mix of yellow, orange, and red colors. In some rare cases, you might see blue flames, but not likely. The color of the fire directly corresponds to its temperature. So, you could be able to tell the average heat coming off your fire just by looking at it.
Here’s a rundown of the different colors you might see and the temperature ranges they signify:
- Dark Red – You’ll typically see these on slow-burning embers after the main fire has died out. This color emits temperatures between 900 to 1100 degrees F (500 to 600 C).
- Dull Red – This color is typical for most campfires until they really start burning brightly. Dull red flames or embers are around 1100 to 1650 F (600 to 800 C).
- Bright Red – As your fire burns more intensely, the embers will get brighter and brighter. Once they reach this stage, they’re about 1650 to 1800 F (800 to 1000 C).
- Orange – Interestingly, the flames themselves are hotter than the core temperature. This happens because the fire burns the air and other gases emitted from your fuel (i.e., wood). Orange flames are between 1800 to 2100 F (1000 to 1200 C).
- Bright Yellow – Usually, the tips of the flames are bright yellow, and they’re the hottest part of the fire. These tips reach temperatures of 2100 to 2500 F (1200 to 1400 C).
- White – It’s pretty rare to get a fire hot enough to see white flames. However, if you’re building a big bonfire, it’s possible. At this stage, the flames are 2500 to 2900 F (1400 to 1600 C).
- Blue – Blue flames often happen when burning natural gas because there’s more oxygen in the mixture so the flame burns brighter. Since campfires don’t have that much oxygen in the center, they’re typically not blue. However, these flames burn between 2600 and 3000 F (1450 to 1650 C).
How Hot Should Your Campfire Be?
Unfortunately, campfire temperatures are much harder to regulate than your stove at home. However, your fire should have a mix of orange and red flames whether you want to use it for cooking or warmth. At this stage, your fire should be around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit in the center and 600 degrees Celsius in the plume.
Related: Cold while you’re camping? It might be time to invest in a good 4 season tent.
Cooking Over a Campfire
As a rule, it’s better to have relatively low, even heat than hot, intense heat when cooking over a campfire. It’s much easier to add fuel and move your cookware away from the flame than it is to cool your fire off. So, starting at a lower temperature gives you much more flexibility.
When adding fuel to your fire while cooking, you need to add a little bit at a time. If you do it all at once, the fire’s temperature will dip at first, then increase significantly as the fuel burns. When this happens, you’re more likely to burn your food.
If possible, you should also have an adjustable stand that can sit over the flames. This way, you can move your cookware up or down as needed to keep the cooking temperature as even as possible. Realistically, your campfire will have varying heat levels because of the way your fuel burns, but you can mitigate these differences by setting your cookware at the right height.
Can a Campfire Melt Metal Utensils and Cookware?
The short answer is yes, your campfire can potentially melt metal cookware and utensils. However, not all metals are created equally, and some versions are more heat-resistant than others.
Aluminum has the lowest melting point, so you should avoid using aluminum-based pieces when cooking. Cast iron and stainless steel are much better for outdoor cooking since they shouldn’t melt over a standard campfire. Here’s a rundown of the different melting points of these metals:
- Aluminum – Don’t put soda cans or aluminum utensils into your campfire, or they’ll melt immediately. Aluminum melts at 1220 F (660 C).
- Cast Iron – Cast iron pots, pans, and dutch ovens are perfect for camp cooking because they have a melting point of 2060 F (1130 C). So, unless your blaze is super hot (i.e., white or blue flames), you shouldn’t have to worry.
- Stainless Steel – This material is the most heat-resistant, with a melting point of 2750 F (1510 C). Plus, it’s lighter and easier to clean than cast iron.
The Factors That Affect Your Campfire’s Heat Level
Fire needs three things to survive – fuel, oxygen, and heat. If you remove one of these pieces, the fire will extinguish. Since heat is a natural byproduct of combustion, we’ll instead look at the size of your fire and how it affects its temperature.
The most common fuel type used for campfires is wood. However, you can use an accelerant like lighter fluid, or burn coal instead. We’ll break down the different types of wood you can use and how well they work for emitting heat.
Small fires can still reach the same temperatures as a larger one. However, since they occur on a smaller scale, they don’t emit as much radiant heat, so they don’t feel as hot. As a rule, big campfires and bonfires are much hotter because there is more fuel and oxygen to burn.
Have you noticed that blowing on fire makes it burn brighter? If you’re struggling to keep your campfire going, it’s likely not getting enough oxygen. You can try elevating your fire off the ground or using a fan to make it burn more efficiently. Be careful when managing a campfire in windy conditions because embers and sparks can fly off into the forest, causing a wildfire.
Which Wood Burns the Hottest?
As a rule, hardwoods burn hotter than softwoods because there’s more fuel to ignite. Since hardwoods are more densely packed, they generate more heat and last much longer. Of the most common campfire varieties, hickory and cedar wood are usually the hottest. Here are the different wood types you can use for a campfire:
- Hickory – This wood adds extra smokiness to your food, especially if you use skewers and cook over an open flame. Hickory also doesn’t absorb much water, so it stays dry.
- Ash – Ironically, this wood doesn’t emit much smoke or ash, making it perfect for campfires. It’s also lightweight and doesn’t retain much moisture.
- Oak – Oak burns slower than other hardwoods, so it’s better for stews and dishes that require longer cooking times. You also don’t have to worry as much about errant sparks flying through the air.
- Cedar – This wood doesn’t emit large flames, but it gets really hot. So, cedar is perfect for campfire cooking or keeping your campsite warm and cozy all night long.
FAQs About Campfire Heat Levels
We’ve covered a lot of important information, but you may still have some questions. Here are answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions about campfire heat.
What is the Hottest Part of a Campfire, and How Hot Is It?
The tips of the flames are the hottest, and they can range from 2100 F (1200 C) to 2900 F (1600 C).
How Hot are a Campfire’s Embers?
The embers are actually “cooler” because they’re not burning as intensely as the gases and other materials in the flames. Embers can range from 900 to 1650 F (500 to 800 C).
How Hot are Campfire Coals?
Once the fire has burnt out, you’re left with hot coals. If they’re still red, they’re about 900 to 1100 F (500 to 600 C). However, even if they’re not glowing, they’re still hot.
How Hot is a Blue Flame in a Campfire?
Blue flames burn between 2600 and 3000 F (1450 to 1650 C). However, they need lots of oxygen, so they’re pretty rare to see in a standard campfire on the ground. You can sometimes get blue flames if there’s heavy wind or you add oxygen with a fan or blower.
Is a Coal Campfire Hotter Than a Wood Campfire?
Coal campfires require more fuel and heat to reach their maximum temperature, but they provide a longer and more even heat. Wood campfires are easy to ignite, but since each piece of wood burns differently, they’re harder to control. Overall, both campfires can reach similar temperatures, but coal fires seem hotter because there are fewer fluctuations while burning.
Now that you know everything about the heat from a campfire, you can utilize this knowledge on your next outdoor excursion. Happy camping!
Next up: Are you getting chilly at night? Find out how to heat a tent in cold weather.