No doubt camping is a calming and relaxing experience, but if campfire smoke keeps blowing into your face, it may not remain a very delightful experience.
If you have had the pleasure of setting up a campfire, it is highly likely that you may have experienced that annoyance, just like me.
The main cause of the following smoke is simple physics! A low-pressure point is created by a person standing next to the fire. An imbalance of airflow is created near the fire causing it to move in the direction of the person who is standing nearby.
One of the potential solutions to this problem is making horseshoe-shaped fire pits (with a tall stone at the peak of the fire pit). Dismissing circular fire pits for horse-shoe shaped ones will give air and smoke, clear paths to move in and out, hence making your campfire experience enjoyable.
Why does campfire smoke follows you?
There are several reasons why campfire smoke might follow you. These are:
Constantly changing wind direction
As you may know, wind direction and speed can have a significant impact on the path of the smoke. There are several campsites where at one minute; the wind is blowing from North to South and the next minute South to North.
If you have set up your campfire where wind direction and speed vary frequently, then I am afraid you will have to deal smoke changing direction often.
This will probably give you thought about the smoke following you. Smoke flows in the direction of least resistance, and the wind helps it flow in that particular direction in which the wind is blowing.
Moreover, if your campsite is at a place with a lot of obstruction materials, then it may also cause a little inconvenience. The trees and bushes might obstruct the airflow, eventually causing an imbalance in the airflow.
This imbalance causes the wind to change direction and can have a significant impact on its speed, hence the smoke “follows” you.
Due to the low-pressure area created
As we have discussed earlier, smokes also may cause a follow effect due to the low-pressure area created above the fire. This is one of main reasons that can cause the smoke to follow you.
As the fire heats the air molecules above it, they gain kinetic energy and the air molecules above the fire, expand. This expansion causes them to become less dense and as a consequence, the air above the fire moves up.
As this air moves up, more air molecules are needed to fill up space. Hence, air molecules from the surroundings move in to take their place. This provides the fire with the oxygen supply to keep it burning.
However, if there is an obstacle that’s blocking the path of the airflow, it creates an imbalance.
For example, if a person it sitting close to the fire, he is blocking the path of the incoming air towards the fire. This will create a type of vortex between the fire and the person. This low-pressure area would provide smoke with a clear path to move towards the obstacle hence it creates the following effect.
Clothes absorbing the heat
Another reason why the smoke may tend to follow you is that your clothes may have absorbed the heat. As you may have been wandering near the campfire, your clothes may have absorbed the heat from the fire.
This heat causes the molecules near your clothes to heat up. Similar to the above reason, as the molecules near your clothes heat up, they expand and become less dense.
Less dense molecules tend to move up and make a low-pressure area beneath them. This low-pressure area is created just around you. Hence, wherever you move, the smoke will find its way to you due to the tendency to fill the area with nearby air molecules.
Why you should prevent campfire smoke from coming to you?
The smoke that is released from burning woods contains many different types of chemicals including carbon monoxide, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, benzene and many more.
The smoke containing these chemicals is hazardous to the health of every living being. Some of the hazards are listed below
Fatal for people with respiratory diseases
Although most people can have an enjoyable night with friends if they are not sitting too close to the fire. However, there is a different story for people with respiratory diseases such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Even the slightest of smoke sometimes can cause a chain of tightening of airways just before opening the doors of an ICU for you.
Although people with respiratory diseases are at high risk from smoke, it doesn’t mean that smoke doesn’t affect other beings. Anyone who in hails smokes face immediate effects.
Smoke can irritate the eyes and cause redness and tears along with irritation in the nose, throat, and odor may be nauseating. Exposure to heavy smoke also may cause lung function to change temporarily and cause breathing difficulties.
Moreover, not only the smoke itself is harmful. The heated air which one might in hail is harmful too. As Dr. Pichurko states “inhaling air that is consistently at a higher temperature than the surrounding air can cause more damage to the lining of your lower respiratory tract than smoke inhalation”.
Hence, you should get away from the area if your hands and face are feeling too hot! (Source)
How to prevent smoke from coming in your direction?
After getting aware of all of the hazards of that smoke, you might want to prevent that from coming your way. Here are some tips to help you get rid of that smoke:
Set fire on flat ground (With no obstacles nearby)
When you are finding a place to set up your campfire, make sure that it is a flat piece of Earth. You might not want to set up your campfire where there is rocky and uneven terrain.
This is to make sure that the smoke that is being emerged from the fire has a clear pathway to go, rather than disturbing the campers. There should also be as little obstructions as possible such as trees, rocks, bushes.
These obstructions also block airflow and cause an imbalance which causes irregularities in the pattern of flow, hence disrupting your camping experience.
Sit at least 5 feet away from the fire
As we have discussed above, sitting near the fire makes a low-pressure vortex. To prevent this from happening, you need to have at least a distance of 5 feet.
This way oxygen can reach without obstruction to the fire and airflow pattern is balanced, hence smoke doesn’t go to your face.
Make a horseshoe fire pit
As we have discussed in the third paragraph, one way to stop smoke from coming your way is to stop making circular fire pits. You can make a horseshoe fire pit, and place a long stone at the peak of the pit.
One side (opposite of the stone) shall remain open that would provide a straight path for the oxygen into the fire and the stone will provide the smoke with a preferred way out of the pit.
This technique will help to provide the “chimney effect” and will lower the chances of smoke to wander around.
Less windy campsites
As you may know that constantly changing wind directions have a great impact on the direction of the smoke. Before you pack your bags and make your decision about the campsite, make sure to check the weather forecast.
Find areas that are less known for unexpected winds and have nice, calm breezes. I bet no one wants to run into a storm while camping!
How to avoid overly Smokey campfires? (Source)
1. Use Dry Firewood
Make sure to use dry, preferably kiln-dried wood to set your fire. To dry your woods, put them near the fire (not too close). Moreover, some types of wood naturally produce more smoke than others.
However, oak wood is best known to produce the lowest amount of smoke. Hence, if feasible, oak wood should be used for camping.
2. Avoid throwing debris in the fire
To make sure that your fire keeps burning and doesn’t go out in the initial stages, you might want to throw in some nearby leaves, sticks, etc. Though these may look dry their inside can be moist promoting more smoke to be released.
3. Choosing a suitable bark
As every bark is not the same, hence not each should be used for campfires. Birch bark is suitable as it doesn’t provide much smoke.
4. Smaller fires for airflow
Having a large space for the fire doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to create a huge fire. Setting huge logs on fire will produce more smoke and will take more time to fire up.
Logs also shouldn’t be stacked above another but should have a clear path for oxygen to prevent additional smoke from wandering around.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Why does the smoke go towards light?
Smoke doesn’t directly follow the light but rather follows the air movement. When a heat source such as incandescent heats the air around it, it forms convectional currents in the air.
The heated molecules around the source move up, making a low-pressure area beneath it (around the light source), this causes the smoke nearby to move to the light source. This causes the smoke to coalesce on the light source.
2. Is smoke attracted to beauty?
This is a common baseless myth that smoke is attracted to beauty. How can even smoke determine if anything is beautiful? Has it got those senses as of a human?
Yes, you got it right, no they don’t. Moreover, beauty is more of opinion-based, not fact-based. Each person has their definition of beauty and it is not generalized. Hence this myth is not entertained by common sense.
3. Why is my campfire so Smokey?
As we have discussed above, there are several reasons why your campfire is Smokey. You may be using unsuitable wood for burning, the ones that produce high amounts of smoke when burned. You should use Oakwood for a campfire if it’s available.
Moreover, you might be sitting in a way that is causing the smoke to go towards you or you might be throwing greens into the fire to “help it burn”. Though it may help it burn, it will also certainly help it to smoke.
While overly Smokey campfires can certainly ruin your camping experience, I have written some tips above that I am sure would help you next time you plan an adventure as these have certainly helped me a lot.
Smoke is very hazardous to health and it may be in your best interests to avoid breathing it and hence avoid breathing problems.
I hope you were able to find what you were looking for and if there is something you want to discuss, drop down a comment and it will be my utmost priority to reach out to you as soon as possible.
Have a great adventure!