In my younger (and dumber) days, some friends and I thought it would be funny to leave a large, sealed can of tomatoes in our campfire until it exploded. When the blast went off, it sent coals soaring through our campsite in a 20-foot radius. No one was injured, but there were some burn holes left in clothing, and we spent half an hour stomping out the embers. How can I atone for my mischievous youth? –Pyromaniac in Portland
Congratulations, you managed to hit the trinity of backpacking no-nos: leaving a trace, taking unnecessary risk, and wasting food. Not only did you tempt shrapnel wounds, but you risked starting a forest fire. Plus, the tomato blast radius probably attracted wildlife to your campsite. You should never burn anything besides wood in an open pit—it takes extreme heat to eliminate traces of food, and animals often scavenge from campfire rings (this is bad for the critters and for future campers). Further-more, humans have started 84 percent of wildfires in the U.S. over the past two decades, leaving more than a million acres scorched each year. Stick to the camp stove for cooking, and always open your cans before heating.
Do the right thing
Since your actions had the multiple consequences of wildfire risk and animal attraction, we’ll assign a two-part penance: Pack canned beans—no dehydrated food allowed—on your next backpacking trip, and forego campfires for the rest of the summer. Be safe out there.
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For more information about reducing your impact, visit LNT.org.