Sunday, June 3, 2012

Alternatives to Campfires

I've been exploring alternatives to campfires on several recent backpacking trips.  After taking a Leave No Trace Trainer Course, I started researching the effects that fire and smoke have on our bodies and on nature.   I've also learned that campfires are NOT actually essential for safety and survival, and that alternative activities actually increase my enjoyment of the natural world.

I've discovered I don't miss having a campfire in the evenings, and I've been having a blast taking night hikes and doing "backpacker" yoga.  Without a fire, night-adjusted clear eyes see more and scents of the forest predominate.
Doing "backpacker" yoga by the glow of our headlamps. Photo by Fran.
I've made some observations comparing my backpacking activities and experiences with and without campfires: 

With a Campfire:
Collecting firewood tramples vegetation around the campsite.  Dragging large branches and picking up sticks leaves ugly visible holes, and removes habitats for salamanders and other forest creatures.   When wood is burned instead of rotting, it prevents carbon and nutrients from being recycled back into the forest.

Now we arrive at camp, set up and, and take a nap or relax with friends.

With a Campfire:
Inhaling harmful pollutants given off in smoke increases our chances of respiratory problems, causing itchy eyes and scratchy throats. 

Now we breathe in the clear and clean evening air. 

With a Campfire:
The heat from the fire sterilizes the soil around the campfire.  Fires leave behind ugly charred logs, ash, and soot.  When trash is burned, harmful pollutants are formed that leech into the environment, and are toxic to plants and animals.

Leaving the forest as we found it allows it to be enjoyed by future generations.

With a Campfire:
Conversations, bonding, and sharing moments of reflection while sitting around campfire. 

Conversations, bonding, and sharing moments of reflection while playing/ dancing with our glowstick bracelets (great idea from my friend Carrie).
With a Campfire:
Staying warm by huddling around a fire.

Staying warm by going on nighthikes to explore nature, see night animals, star gazing, looking in wonder at the moon, spotting satellites, watching the clouds.  Discovering how the forest transforms at night.  Feeling safer in the outdoors by becoming more familiar with the dark.

Finding a salamander on a nighthike.

We also have been stretching our legs and backs by doing "backpacker" yoga, which has phenomenal physical and mental health benefits.  My friend, Salt, came up with a series of movements and poses that specifically target muscle groups used while backpacking.  I've found that yoga relaxes me so I fall asleep faster, and it makes my muscles feel better the next day.

All this is not to say I'd never have a campfire again, it's just that I have increased my awareness.  On carcamping trips or on special occasions, I think they have their place as long as they are done with the best LNT practices and when the threat of wildfires is low.

 Special thanks to my hiking friends for introducing me to some truly wonderful evening activities.