Camping & Hiking

Why Does Campfire Smoke Follow You?

Picture the scene: the campfire you’ve been looking forward to all day is crackling away beautifully, the S’mores are ready to be toasted, you’re in the company of some of your very favorite people and the night sky is clear.

You stoke the fire, settle back, take a satisfying breath and… the smoke from the campfire comes straight towards you, just like it always does.

If this scenario is one you’re all too familiar with, read on, as I’m going to explain exactly why campfire smoke follows you and the measures you can take to prevent it happening.

OK, let’s cut to the chase, just why does campfire smoke follow you? The main reason is due to the wind and the frequency with which it changes direction, Other factors are at play too, including your movements around the fire, but fundamentally it comes down to the wind. But how, exactly? Let’s explore further.

people around a campfire

Wind Speed And Direction

The main reason for this infuriating phenomenon is wind speed combined with how often it changes direction.

Smoke follows the direction of least resistance (in other words, it goes where the wind blows). So, if you’ve set your campfire up in a place where the wind changes direction frequently, you’re more likely to get the feeling that the smoke is following you around.

The answer, of course, is to set up a campfire where the wind direction tends to stay consistent. That way, as long as you don’t sit downwind, the smoke should stay away from you. And if you don’t find a spot like that?

If you’re in a place where the wind is moving from one direction to another and the smoke seems to be heading towards you, your best bet is to take up a new position, away from where it seems to be blowing the most. Simple, eh? Well, not quite.

The problem with moving to another position around the campfire is that the very act of doing this will disrupt the wind flow. Disrupted wind flow will then create a tailwind which, you guessed it, will make the smoke appear to gravitate towards you again, no matter where you place yourself.

But that’s not all. Here comes the (even more) science bit.

It’s Because Of Physics

I know. Chances are you didn’t come here for a complex science lesson. So here is your simple, five-step guide as to what physics has to do with all of this:

  • Hot air rises, meaning that when your campfire creates warm air, it will rise above it. When this happens, the cooler air around the fire is drawn towards it.
  • Because you (and likely others) are near the campfire, your bodies block the path of the air heading towards the fire, which causes lower air pressure.
  • Because the chances are you don’t have the fire completely surrounded, this means that air will be able to flow freely towards the fire from the gaps, and this creates an atmospheric imbalance.
  • An atmospheric imbalance will cause the air to move, creating wind.
  • The newly created wind then heads towards the people in the way of the fire, bringing the smoke with it.

camping on a mountain

How To Solve The Problem

There are a number of ways you can lessen the chances of campfire smoke following you, and here are some of the most effective.

  • Firstly, try to pick a still time to light your campfire. It sounds obvious, but the windier it is, the more likely it is the smoke will gravitate towards you. Picking a still evening to have your campfire will go a long way to solving your problem.
  • Of course, this isn’t always possible, so if there is some wind around, try to set up your campfire in an area that doesn’t have lots of obstructions (such as bushes, trees, buildings, and vehicles) around. It is large objects such as these that will lead to more frequent changes in wind direction, so aim for somewhere with fewer obstructions.
  • Next, try using dry firewood. The drier your wood, the less smoky your fire should be. Avoid other items such as grass and leaves getting on your fire, too, as these can also cause more smoke to be generated.
  • Sit a little further back from the fire than you usually do. Obviously, one of the main reasons for having the campfire is to enjoy the warmth it gives off, so you don’t want to be too far back, but if you aim for a distance of at least five feet, your presence is less likely to disrupt the flow of the fire, leading to less likelihood of having the smoke drifting towards you.
  • Similar to the previous point, ensure any objects that are between you and the fire are removed so that the fire can flow freely.
  • Finally, when you and your group are settled in around the fire, try not to get up and move around near it too much. So, keep the snacks, drinks, and whatever else you’d otherwise have to move in front of the fire for close at hand (or at least behind the place where you’re sat), so the physics doesn’t come back into play and create a plume of drifting smoke with your name on it.

Final Thoughts

The issue of why campfire smoke follows you is one that has led to increasingly vexed campfire lovers trying all sorts of things over the years, from manically repeating the words “white rabbit” over and over in the hope of sending it elsewhere, to resigning themselves to their fate with a wistful sigh before declaring that “at least smoke follows beauty”.

Hopefully this article contains enough practical information in it to convince you that there are, in fact, more effective ways of dealing with the issue of why campfire smoke follows you.

Not only that, but you should be able to implement the majority of the suggestions through small changes in your behaviors. Then, all that will be left is for you to enjoy your campfire with that once annoying smoke, finally giving you a wide berth.

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Nathan Barker

My wife and I are huge adventure seekers! We've traveled and explored over 40 countries and want to share what we have learned on our journey. We'll be talking about everything from hiking and camping, to guides, reviews and tips that we're sure will help any avid adventurer no matter what walk of life. So relax, grab a cup of coffee and we hope you enjoy the read!