Secrets to a perfect campfire

Ever since the dawn of the grey nomad era, the humble campfire has formed an integral part of many travellers’ Big Lap adventures … but have they been making them the right way?

While some may say any campfire that offers warmth, or the potential for successful cooking, or one that generates happy memories is a success, a leading American scientist has taken a more clinical approach.

In a study just published in Nature Scientific Reports , Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, has crunched the numbers, drawn the diagrams and done the computer modelling … and concluded that all other variables being equal, the best fires are roughly as tall as they are wide. This pyramid shape apparently offers the ideal balance between generating heat and not burning too quickly.

 

Happily, it seems that from ancient Egyptians roasting a dripping cut of beef next to the Great Pyramid of Giza to a collection of Happy Hour loving grey nomads in the glorious Australian Outback, that’s the same basic shape that humans have instinctively been using for thousands of years.

”Our fires are shaped as cones and pyramids, as tall as they are wide at the base, and humans from all eras have been relying on this design,” said Bejan. “The reason is that this shape is the most efficient for air and heat flow.”

The study reveals that a tall, skinny fire will reach its optimal point when it burns down to a pyramid as wide as it is tall and, if you’ve got a wide stocky fire and you want more heat, then you’ve got to thrown on a few more logs. It’s obvious when an academic tells you how to do it, isn’t it?

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