Remains of campfires are not uncommon sights along hiking trails, especially in popular camping areas. Knowing how to properly dispose of campfire ashes can help to reduce the impact of campfires in the backcountry.

What are Campfire Ashes?

Campfire ashes are the burnt remains of wood used to have a campfire. Typically the ashes that have been completely burned are charcoal or white ash, although there could also be pieces of wood remaining that have not completely burned.

In popular front-country camping areas there are established campfire rings that are maintained and cleaned out by campground staff. However, at remote backcountry campgrounds there may not be anybody maintaining the campsite, except perhaps a local trails organization that may not get to every single part of the trail they maintain every weekend. Therefore, it is up to individual backpackers and hikers to clean up after themselves.

Why Clean Up Campfire Ashes?

If left unchecked, ashes will build-up in fire-rings used by multiple visitors, until the ring has completely filled up with ashes and is unusable. Hikers may try to expand the fire-ring to create more space, or start another fire-ring nearby. All of these situations goes against low-impact camping, and can be an eyesore.

How to Dispose of Campfire Ashes

Cleaning up campfire ashes can be a simple task, but it does require getting a little dirty. First, make sure that the campfire is dead-out, such as by pouring water on it before going to bed the previous night, and that the coals are cold to the touch.

Using a camp shovel or, with just your hands, gather all the ashes together in the center of the pit and grind them up as finely as possible. Do not crush ashes on rocks, as this can stain the rocks with ash and create an eyesore.

Once all the ashes have been crushed, gather a large handful and walk away from camp and scatter them into the woods. Do not dump them into a pile, rather cast them into the air in a wide, rainbow-like pattern. Repeat this process until the pit is clean.

If the campsite gets a lot of use, consider carrying the crushed coals in a plastic bag or trash bag for the first few minutes down the trail and scatter the coals away from the trail.

Safety Considerations When Disposing of Campfire Ashes

When disposing of campfire ashes, keep these safety considerations in mind:

  • Make sure the coals are dead-out and cold to the touch before crushing them. This not just for personal safety, but scattering hot coals through the woods can be a fire safety hazard.
  • While crushing the coals watch out for shards of glass or metal from cans. Consider wearing leather gloves for protection.
  • If the local rangers have different recommendations, follow what the rangers say for their own area.

By disposing of their own campfire ashes wisely, backpackers and hikers can help maintain their favorite campsites for years to come.