How To Build a Campfire [Advice From A Survivalist]

Most campers will agree that the best part of the camping trip is sitting around a big comforting campfire. Warming yourself by the campfire and watching it crackle as everyone comes together brings a great end to the day. Usually, campers will sing songs, roast smores, and share stories around the campfire.

Making a campfire is not as simple as you might think; you cannot just throw some logs together and light a match. There is an art behind building the perfect campfire; it requires the correct supplies, patience, experience, and knowledge.

Step-by-step guide for how to make a campfire safely 

This article will take you step-by-step through building a campfire, selecting the spot, the type of wood to use, the method to set up the fire, how to keep the fire going, and how to put out the fire. These tips will give you the edge, even if you are a first-timer or an expert.

Tools and materials required to build a campfire

Tools and materials required to build a campfire
Tools and materials required to build a campfire

These are the first things to consider because you must pack a few items. You will need an igniter, so pack matches, a lighter, and a shop-bought fire starter. Don’t forget to carry these with your camping gear. If you purchase your firewood, you will also need to pack this before the camping trip.

Choosing the perfect location to make a campfire

Firstly you need to check if campfires are allowed on the camping grounds. During the summer, it gets dry, and many camping sites do not allow any campfires as this may spark an uncontrolled fire and result in devastation and destruction. Always check with the local ranger station, the camp host, or the park visitor center for information on fire safety and bans.

Campsites that allow campfires usually have designated fire pits or an existing fire ring. You will have to create one when camping in an area without a designated fire area. The most straightforward way is to make a fire pit.

Choose an area that has an open clearing around and up as well. Your tent should be a reasonable distance from the fire, as it consists of highly flammable material.

The fire pit

The fire pit

You may need to make your fire pit when camping in the backcountry. Firstly, create a fire bed; it should not be on grass but on mineral soil, sand, or gravel. If no soil is exposed in the area, you will have to dig and clear up space, a ring about 10 to 15 inches big. Extreme heat can sterilize healthy soil, so pick out the spot carefully. Gather dirt and create a platform of sorts, about 3 inches thick.

Most campsites will have metal fire rings available; use them if available. The base for a fire ring should be exposed directly to the soil.

Campfire safety tips

Campfire safety tips

Safety is paramount when dealing with fire, especially outdoor fires, which could result in a forest fire. Forest fires destroy entire ecosystems, including animals and trees. Campsite hosts will usually provide fire safety rules that campers should follow.

Firstly, the location is essential; make sure it is clear. It should avoid bushes, branches hanging over, and wooden structures. Where possible only use designated fire pits or locations for your camping fire.

A campfire should not be left unattended, and keep a close eye on pets and children on site.

Putting rocks around the fire

Make a campfire in a fire pit or a fire ring; if those are not available, make a ring around the fire using stones. A fire ring will keep the fire contained.

Do not leave your fire unattended.

This particular tip is crucial as it covers the environment’s safety and everyone camping. An unattended campfire can burn out of control.

Sand or water to put out the fire

Do not leave your campfire unattended; when you are going, ensure the fire is completely extinguished. Have a container of water or sand on hand for when you need to put out the fire. You can also let the fire die and check the ashes for any live coals to make sure.

The fuel you need for a campfire

The fuel you need for a campfire

A successful fire requires the following types of fuel to get it started and keep it going;

  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Firewood

Tinder 

 It would be best to have tinder to start a fire; tinder catches the flame but burns fast. Dry leaves, wood shavings, dry grass, pine needles, and dry birch bark are all tinder. They are easy to find around the campsite, especially in warm weather.

Campers that like to plan to bring their tinder with their camping gear, things like wadded-up paper, cardboard pieces, empty toilet paper rolls, dryer lint, and commercial firelighters along in case the weather is terrible. Wet tinder is useless; bringing your guarantees a fire that starts quickly.

 Kindling

Tinder burns fast, and the firewood will not catch fire from a small burst of flames. That is where kindling comes in; it’s in-between tinder and wood.

Kindling consists of small twigs, sticks, and branches roughly the width of a pencil. Tinder and kindling must be dry; otherwise, they will not light up.

 Firewood 

These larger pieces of fuelwood keep the fire going for extended periods. These pieces of firewood should not be too large. Larger logs of wood will take too long to catch fire. If you are foraging for firewood, look for dead branches about the width of your wrist. Do not cut down any living or dead trees, as they are usually home to some animals.

Preparing for bad weather, bringing your firewood, or purchasing it from a local store near the campsite is good. Call ahead and find out if the camp sells local firewood and if you can bring your wood.

Wet wood is tough to ignite, and it will emit a lot of smoke when it does burn. So make sure you can purchase dry wood or carry your own if you are car camping.

When gathering wood, you may not choose the type of firewood you use. However, you need to know about the different kinds of firewood around.

  • Oak – This is the most popular firewood. It is a slow-burning wood that gives off a fire with minimum sparks.
  • Maple – A dense hardwood provides a long, burning fire.
  • Birch – A softwood that burns quickly. It gives off excellent heat for a bright campfire.
  • Ash – A lightweight wood that burns slowly and steadily and gives off a high-heat fire.
  • Cherry – This wood has a fantastic aroma and emits very little smoke. It is the choice of firewood to cook food and smoke meat.

Building different campfires 

There are many options for building a campfire, and below are the step-by-step instructions on the methods you can use.

Teepee or Cone fire

Teepee or Cone fire
  • Place a tinder bundle in the center of the campfire pit.
  • Build a teepee over the tinder using the kindling, leaving space for airflow.
  • Continue adding kindling and building the teepee with kindling.
  • Start adding larger portions of firewood.
  • Ignite the fire by lighting up the tinder right at the bottom. The flame will rise to the kindling and then to the firewood.
  • Continue adding pieces of firewood to keep the fire going.

A tepee fire is the most effective; it is easy to maintain and build and suitable for cooking. A tepee fire concentrates heat in one spot and is ideal for burning wet and greenwood.

Log cabin

  • Begin by making a square at the base of the, placing two large pieces of firewood parallel to each other, leaving space between them. Then take two more slightly smaller pieces of wood and place them perpendicular to the first two, forming a square.
  •  In the center of the square, you made put a few handfuls of tinder, then continue building the log cabin fire, using smaller, thinner pieces of firewood as you keep building upwards.
  • As you build upwards, make the square smaller, like building a log cabin.
  • Finish off at the top with lots of tinder and kindling. You are now ready to get this campfire burning!

Upside-down pyramid or platform fire

  • This campfire starts with a solid foundation; place about four of your larger logs next to each other at the base, creating a layer.
  • Place the next layer perpendicular to the base layer; the logs should be slightly smaller than the first layer.
  • Continue building layers using smaller and smaller logs of wood.
  • Place your tinder and kindling at the top, and ignite the fire.

Lean-to fire

The simplest method and the best when the weather is windy. A lean-to fire uses the wood as a windbreak, making the fire more manageable.

  • Place a thick log at the base against the wind, then place the tinder next. Place kindling over the tinder and cover it completely.
  • Once you ignite the tinder and kindling, it will slowly burn the log.
  • As the fire grows lowly, start adding bigger pieces of firewood; when the campfire is big enough, you can add another large piece of firewood.

The star fire

  • Start off with a tinder base, then place the kindling in a criss-cross arrangement over the tinder.
  • It is similar to a teepee fire, but this is the flat ‘version’. Layout large pieces of firewood in a star shape from the center outwards.
  • Place more tinder and kindling over the center and light it up. Continue feeding the fire until the logs catch on.
  • To keep the fire going, push the logs into the center.

How to build a campfire for cooking

How to build a campfire for cooking

Your outdoor cooking needs and how you cook will determine what kind of fire you require.

A platform fire will work best; it creates a solid, flat platform on which to place pots and pans.

When you use skewers or sticks, you want to use a tepee fire or a lean-to fire as they burn hot, making for a quick meal.

Cooking your food in a foil package does not require a specific fire structure and will work well.

Starting the fire

Once you have built your fire, you need to light it up. There are quite a few options available for campers; these are especially useful when the weather is not favorable.

The fire-making tools are among the top ten camping essentials. It is vital to bring along waterproof matches; they will not be affected by the weather. A lighter is another ignitor option; this is a camper’s go-to.

Using a fire starter will help your tinder and kindling light up faster. Once the tinder and kindling catch fire, blow gently at the base of the fire to increase the oxygen circulation and ignite the rest of the wood.

How big should a campfire be?

Decide on what kind of fire you need, a large fire to keep a large group of campers warm or a small cozy fire for a more intimate setting, or maybe you want a fire to cook on and then cozy up around it after.

These are some of the deciding factors for the size of your fire. You will also need to follow the fire regulations for the campsite.

Keeping the fire going

While your fire burns, slowly add firewood to the campfire ring and feed the fire to keep it going. Do not add too much firewood at once, as this may smother the fire and put it out.

Do not burn plastic and other garbage like cans in your fire; these need to go in the trash.

How to put the fire out correctly

You must completely extinguish a campfire, which can produce intense heat, and if you do not put out the fire completely, it could damage the surroundings and other plant material. Using a campfire ring will minimize this risk; however, ensure the fire is put out.

Ashes must be cool before you leave the campsite. Putting out a fire takes longer than you may think; it will take about 20 minutes to put out the fire.

  Let it burn out completely.

It is best if you let the fire die a while before you want the fire out entirely. You stop feeding the fire, pull out any big logs, and put them out with water. The rest of the fire you can leave to die down completely. You can use the back of your hand to check if the fire is out. Just put the back of your hand near the ash; if you feel any warmth, it is not out yet.

 Extinguish it completely

When lighting the campfire, keep a bucket of sand or water close. Start by sprinkling the water; avoid pouring out the entire bucket of water. Please do not flood the fire ring if someone else will use it later.

Sprinkle water, and mix the embers with a stick until all embers and coals are completely out. Once you no longer see any steam coming from the coals and the hissing has stopped, you are closer to an extinguished fire.

Once the fire is out, clear up the area. Leave the space the same way you found it, especially camping in the backcountry. Clear up the ash and scatter it around a vast area. If you had to dig up a fire pit, fill it up with dirt.

Next time you are out on a camping trip, and after the entire camping experience, you now have the knowledge and valuable tips to make you an expert at building a campfire. You can light up a fire within minutes and keep it alive. You also know how to practice safety while enjoying the ambiance a campfire gives.

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