Fire Pan vs. Fire Blanket
Fire pans are metal trays with raised sides (1 to 3 inches) made of cast iron, steel or aluminum alloys that act as a platform for your campfire. The pan is either mounted on a stand or is set on rocks and filled with mineral soil (void of organic material) that prevents heat transfer to the ground. But fire pans are bulky and heavy. In contrast, fire blankets are woven from heat-treated fiberglass with Kevlar stitching to withstand high temperatures, and are lightweight, foldable and waterproof. As a weight-conscious backpacker, you will want the smallest and lightest of three sizes: 2 by 2 feet (11 oz.). The downside for both is that mineral soil must be disturbed and is sometimes hard to find.
Preparing the Fire Blanket
Locate a site clear of combustible material around a wide perimeter. Lay the blanket out flat with no roots or lumpy rocks underneath. Use a cook pot or stuff sack to collect mineral soil, sand or gravel from an area already disturbed such as the soil at the base of a fallen tree, rodent's burrow, or dry stream bed. Mound the soil on top of the fire blanket 2 to 6 inches thick, shaping a dish on top. Do not use a fire ring because it causes ground scarring and blackens the rocks.
If there is an existing fire pit, clean it out and apply the fire blanket there rather than in a new spot. Collect only downed wood no thicker than your wrist, and select it from a large area. Break it into small pieces that will burn completely to ash.
Burning the Campfire
Keep the fire small. Avoid putting trash such as Styrofoam, aluminum foil or plastic in the fire. It can collect on the blanket, causing it to become hard and stiff, or it may be improperly discarded with the ashes.
Ideally, drown the campfire, stir it and drown again. Water will not harm the fire blanket. Regardless, make sure your fire is completely out and that the ashes are cold. Check the fire for any non-combustible trash, and pack that out. Lift up the blanket by its four corners and dispose of the ashes by scattering them thinly over a vegetated area well away from camp that will conceal and absorb them readily. Do not discard ashes in or near any watercourse or body of water.
Article Written By Vaughn Clark
Living in Boise, Idaho, Vaughn Clark has been a freelance writer for 18 years. His articles have appeared in "Backpacker" magazine, "The New Times," the "Ventura County Star," and "Santa Barbara News-Press." He has also published poetry and written three full-length adventure screenplays.