Scientists reveal secrets of perfect nomad campfire

Published: June 10, 2015

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

Grey nomads of Australia given lessons in campfires

Instructions for fire building grey nomads. PIC: Courtesy Duke University

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?

  • What shape do you build your campfires? How do you measure the success of a particular campfire? How important are they to your Big Lap? adventure


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Russell W
7 years ago

Oh heaven help us. Tape measures will be out for this too…

7 years ago

“A professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University” Would that be an over educated idiot, looking for something to write about? Why on earth would it need a professor of mechanical engineering, to tell the average camping enthusiast what shape a camp fire should be. Camp fires usually automatically take that shape. The only thing one really should concentrate on is: Is it safe.

Nigel Scott
7 years ago

very interesting. So if its too hot just dont ad any more wood!!!


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