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How to Build the Perfect Campfire

Science confirms that the best way to build a campfire really is the best way to build a campfire

Surprise, surprise. The best campfires are as tall as they are wide. (Martin Cathrae/Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Whether out in the wilderness or in your own backyard, nothing beats a good campfire. Across different environments and civilizations, humans all seem to build fires in a similar way, argues Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineer at Duke University. Cones or pyramids seem to be the go-to general shape, and Bejan wanted to figure out why. Earlier this week, Bejan published his results in the journal Scientific Reports.

Adding heat to a fire is less about size and more about ratios. "The reason is that this shape is the most efficient for air and heat flow," Bejan explained in a statement to the press. Bejan crunched the numbers on how air and heat could flow through different fire structures and found that the hottest fires are as tall as they are wide. Tall and short fires compared to base of the blaze can't hold as much heat, he told Beth Mole for Science News.

So, what does the illustrious structure of a perfect fire look like? Basically, an equilateral triangle. If you've ever built a fire before, it's a structure that's probably pretty familiar.

While the finding might be a bit obvious to the boy or girl scout (or any practiced fire builder), at least you now have some science to back you up.

About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.

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