Hickory and oak are both great choices of firewood, but which is best for your purposes? In this guide, you’ll get to know more about the two types of wood, including where you can find them, how easily and how long they burn, whether they produce smoke, and more. Ideally, this will help you decide whether oak or hickory is best for you when it comes to making a fire in the wild.
Are Oak and Hickory the Same?
Oak and hickory are both very good woods for burning, but they aren’t quite the same. The first difference regards their geography. Oak is extremely common in the Northern hemisphere, while hickory can mostly be found in India, China, Indonesia, and a few areas of the United States. The two trees have different lifespans too; hickory trees live for up to 200 years, while oak trees can last up to 500!
When it comes to bushcrafting, the most relevant differences between the two trees relate to their density and the way they burn. Oak is a very dense hardwood, while hickory is even denser and harder—it has dense bark and is very dense inside. Hickory thus outshines white and red oak in terms of durability and toughness.
When used as firewood, oak burns slowly and produces a bright, steady flame. Hickory, meanwhile, produces a cool crackling noise when burning, as well as more heat and a longer-lasting, sweeter-smelling flame. So, now you know a bit more about oak and hickory, it’s time to see which is best for your bushcrafting needs!
What Is the Best Type of Firewood Between Oak and Hickory?
Neither oak nor hickory is necessarily better than the other when it comes to lighting a fire. Ultimately, it depends on what your needs and preferences are. Let’s go through those variables now.
Tip: Whether you go for hickory or oak, it’ll be most effective as firewood if you look for pieces that are clean, dry, and dense (rather than wet, lean, and green).
Availability of the Wood
Particularly in the Northern hemisphere, there are far more oak trees than hickory trees. Look for oak, then, if you really want (or need) to save time and energy.
If you are bushcrafting in winter or in a cold climate, you’d do best to opt for hickory because—compared to oak—it’s easier to light when damp, it burns slowly for hours on end, and it burns very hot. These are ideal conditions for a fire in cold, wet weather.
Longevity of the Fire
Both oak and hickory burn for a long time, but hickory can burn for several hours longer. Hickory maximizes a campfire duration. Hickory also produces charcoal which can keep your fire going even longer. (Alternatively, you can store the charcoal as kindling for future fires!). Thus, if you want an especially long-lasting campfire, hickory is the better option.
Smells, Light, and Sounds
If you really want that authentic experience, where you can huddle around the fire and breathe in its sweet smell and listen to it crackle as you cook food, chat, and relax, then hickory is the firewood for you.
Conversely, if you’d rather have a more discreet fire that produces little sound or scent, then oak is an excellent choice. Oak also burns with a brighter, steadier flame, making it very practical when camping in the dark.
Since hickory has a stronger aroma than oak, it can give foods a smokey flavor when you cook them over the fire. If you like that effect, then go ahead and use hickory! But if you want a more neutral taste, then you’ll do best to cook on an oak fire instead.
Smoke and Pollution
Oak gives off more smoke and emissions than hickory—so if that’s a concern for you, you’d do best to go for hickory for your fire.
In the end, both hickory and oak are excellent woods and you’ll make a great fire using either of them. But if you want to get nitty-gritty and find the perfect firewood for you, then this guide should have hopefully helped you work out whether you prefer the properties of hickory or oak.
Why not now try making a fire out of hickory or oak in the wild! Enjoy your next campfire experience.
I am Bruno. Navigating the urban rush by day, I find peace under the stars by night. Alongside my loyal companion and co-adventurer Lilith, we explore the balance between city life and nature’s embrace. Through writing and films, I delve into bushcraft and the wild’s allure.
GointheWilderness is my bridge between these two realms, guiding you to reconnect with your innate wilderness.
Eden is here and now; join us in rediscovering it.