Mound Fire: How to Make Leave No Trace Fires

Mound Fire How to Make Leave No Trace Fires

A mound fire, or ‘leave no trace’ fire as it’s also called is a technique of making a campfire using some soil from the ground where you’re camping and leaving no damage or evidence you were there.

Campfires can leave ‘ground scars’ behind which are unsightly and messy. It’s not what most people want to see when they are surrounded by beautiful landscapes and unspoiled countryside.

There are some outdoors ethics and principles around doing your part to maintain the landscape outdoors, these are:

  • Planning ahead and being prepared.
  • Traveling and camping on durable surfaces.
  • Disposing of your waste correctly.
  • Leaving what you find how you found it.
  • Minimizing the impact of camp fires.
  • Respecting wildlife, and
  • Being considerate of other outdoors people.

There is a non-profit organization called the Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics. They do a great job of spreading awareness and educating people on how they can do their part to conserve the outdoors.

The best way to minimize the impact of a campfire as per #5 is to make a mound fire. And, the best part is that they are quick and easy and only require a trowel, tarp, and the firewood and lighting materials in most cases.

How to Make a Mound Fire

Here are a few easy steps to follow to build a mound fire:

  • Using a small shovel or a similar tool gather up some soil, or even better, sand, and fill a small bag.
  • Keep a pile of the topsoil to one side as you will be replacing this at the end to leave the area where you’re taking soil from as you found it.
  • Lay a thick tarp or ground cloth where you’re going to be setting the fire. This makes clearing up and leaving no trace behind quick and easy after you’re finished.
  • Pour out your bag of soil or sand and make a mound that will be able to hold your fire. Aim for 4-6” thickness of mound if possible.
  • Taking into account how large you need for fire for what you’re cooking, heating up, etc, gather the best firewood you can find.
  • Light the fire and keep an eye on it as you add more twigs and pieces of wood to keep it burning. Make sure no embers escape the tarp you’ve laid out.

This YouTube video from the Leave No Trace Center also takes you through the steps:

Cleaning up a Mound Fire and Leaving No Trace

The goal is to clean up the remains of the fire and leave no trace that you were there.

This is why you lay the tarp under the fire, just simply pick it up by the corners and pour the remains back into the hole you dug to get the soil and sand.

Replace the topsoil you kept to one side as I mentioned earlier and the area should look the same as it did before you disturbed it. Hence, the ‘leave no trace’ fire as it’s called.

Always Remember Fire Safety

I can’t explain how to make a mound fire without reminding you about fire safety.

There are thousands of incidents a year where campfires escalate out of control before the person making the fire can react, and some are very costly.

Here are some basic rules to keep in mind when making a mound fire:

  • Young people should be supervised at all times when building, using, and putting out fires.
  • When using products always read the labels carefully and use the items within the guidelines provided.
  • Always build fires, no matter how large or small, a safe distance from tents, tarps, and camping gear.
  • Always make others around you aware you’re going to be making a fire and where it will be.
  • Never leave a fire unattended, not even for a short period of time. Fires can spread incredibly fast and the embers can stay hot enough to reignite for hours after a flame has died out.
  • Check the area surrounding your fire for materials that are flammable or can catch alight.

Final Thoughts

Next time you need to make a campfire off of the beaten path from soil and wood around you think about the impact on the environment.

Just as you wouldn’t leave any rubbish behind (I hope), don’t leave any debris from a fire behind. Manage the fire responsibility too, don’t let it get out of control.



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