How To Build A Campfire Like A Pro

The fire has always been seductive for the human being. A lot of writers, philosophers, artists, etc. have been inspired by fire for ages. The most romantic thing on the earth is perhaps holding your love beside a campfire.

I was always fascinated by campfire since my childhood. But, building a flawless campfire may not be as easy as many people perceive it. I am telling this from my experience. It’s an art that you can perfect with expertise and proper knowledge.

As a teenager, I would invite my friends and set up a tent in our backyard when my parents were away for a few days. One day, I proposed to my friends that we should build a campfire, and they all agreed instantly.

We gathered some pieces of cardboard, dry leaves, few sticks & twigs. We piled those on the dry grass closer to a small tree with hanging branches. Then we lighted the fire, but it lasted for a short time until all the dry leaves burnt out.

We realized that the woods were wet, not completely dry. We got some more dry leaves and tried to light the fire again. After a few trials, finally, we had managed to fire it. It stayed for an hour or so, and we enjoyed ourselves a lot without knowing what damaged we had already done.

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There were already churred patches on the ground. The branches of the tree were burnt partially. Moreover, we didn’t extinguish the fire properly. I later realized how dangerous it was to leave the campfire in that condition.

Fortunately, nothing serious happened that night. The next day, my dad came back and found out what damaged we had done. You can assume how happy he was after seeing it! LOL!

In our next family camping, my dad showed me how to make a campfire correctly. But it took me a few more campfire outdoor to perfect it.

I have prepared a detailed and straightforward guide based on my experience over the years. It will help you build a campfire that’s safe for you and the wildlife.

Safety Is Paramount

You should consider safety as the most important thing while building a campfire. Would you really want to be someone responsible for a rampant wildfire in a forest?

Campfires are responsible for the majority of children’s camping injuries in the nation. It’s also the reason behind starting a lot of destructive wildfires. 

You have to be more careful if you are camping with your kids. According to a survey by the National Library of Medicine, 88% of children who had campfire-related injuries were under seven. 

The study also reveals the reasons behind the injuries. It’s either child falling into the campfire or walking into burning coals. You have to make sure that your kids always stay at a safe distance (at least four feet) from the campfire. Adults must not leave the kids unattended when the campfire is on. 

You should not consider playing with fire as a cool thing. You never know when the fire can catch something and go out of your control. It can burn someone or even take lives. So, it’s sensible not to be reckless with fire.

Follow the Rules & Regulations of Campsite Area

You must check the safety rules and regulations of the area of the campground. You’ll find that some of these do not allow campfire at all. Some prohibit only in the dry season. You can quickly get the information on fire safety and fire restriction from your campground host or county’s sheriff or local ranger station or national park.

Don’t forget to check the fire-danger level that you’ll find on the roads or ranger. Avoid burning the campfire if Signboard of Fire Danger Levelyou find the arrow directing towards yellow, orange, or red. You may end up paying a hefty penalty if you don’t abide by the fire restriction regulation.

If your campground is located in an underdeveloped area, you must check with authority like the U.S Forest Service Bureau of Land Management, etc. that manages it. You may need to obtain a campfire permit.

No Campfire under Branches or Wooden Structure

You must have a look at the campsite before you light any fire. Don’t build a campfire on dry grass or under low-hanging branches or close to any wooden structure.

Your campfire should be far from the bushes and trees. You should never use the grass as your fire bed. You can only use plain ground for it.

Use Fire Area for Campfire

You must use the fire area, if any, allocated for campfire by the campsite. In the rocky area, you are likely to have no area designated for a campfire. So, you have to make it yourself by digging and cleaning the branches, dry grass, etc.

Remember that your campfire must be at the very least 10 feet away from any trees or your tent. Your fire site should be all stone or dirt. It’s ideal to have a plain ground to avoid the sparks going down the hill.

Use A Ring or Fire Pits for Campfire

Find out if your campsite is having a particular place allocated for fire pits. You must use that if available. You may have to clean the trash inside the fire pits.

If you don’t find one, you have to dig your fire pits of at least 1 Ft. deep. Select a plain spot consists of sand or gravel. Avoid soil as it’s likely to get damaged easily.

Dig a narrow pit of around 6 Inch. Keep the dirt aside to use later for covering up the ashes once you finish off the campfire. Create a circular wall using the rocks to limit the fire and prevent the people from falling into it.

Avoid using heavy and wet stones. Leave some space for airflow. At the least, the distance between your fire pit and the tents, trees, etc. should be 15 Ft. Observe the direction of the wind to ensure that you have no explosive stuff in the same direction.

Time to Pick Up Your Wood

It’s imperative to have the dry firewood as it burns quickly and efficiently. You must avoid green or wet wood as it doesn’t ignite easily. For a successful fire, you need three types of fuel –

  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Firewood

Either you have access to the above materials at the campsite, or you’ve to get it ready in advance. You should check with the authority of the campground before you pack the stuff. It will help you avoid any inconvenience later.

Try to gather more tinder and kindling as those burns fast. You’ll never be able to get your fire going if you run out those items early.

Tinder

Excellent quality of tinder plays an essential role in building an outstanding campfire. So, you must pick up the right kind of tinder.

You are most likely to get the tinder at the campsite. If you aren’t sure about the availability of tinder, you always have the option to carry your tinder. You can start the fire with it without any hassle.

Bringing your tinder becomes even more imperative when the weather condition outside is wet. It’s complicated to ignite the fire with damp tinder.

Tinder includes the following –

  • Cardboard strips or pieces
  • Newspaper / Wadded up paper
  • Small Twigs
  • Needles
  • Wood chips or shavings
  • Dryer lint
  • Pine needles
  • Dry leaves or grass
  • Candle wax
  • Commercial fire starters, sticks or bricks
  • Shredded Bark
  • Dried Moss
  • Cattails
  • Cotton Balls with Vaseline

Kindling

After you ignite the fire by using tinder, now you need some materials to keep the fire continue. You can’t directly use large logs as it will stifle your flame. It’s when you have to use the kindling. 

Small sticks, larger than tinder and smaller than firewood, are often used as kindling. They should not be huge. It shouldn’t be more than one inch in diameter. You can even use paper towel rolls and pine cones as kindling.

Your kindling should be as dry as possible to make sure that it burns quickly.

Firewood

Now, you have the turn to use firewood. You can use the firewood as a fuel of a fire, which helps keep the fire going.

You can use any kind of significant size of wood as firewood. You can also use branches or logs that are as large as your forearm or wrist. Your firewood should be totally dry to achieve the best campfires. 

Before collecting the firewood, you should check the rules & regulations of the campsite. A lot of campgrounds generally sell firewood. You don’t have to take the pain to gather firewood in such a scenario.

Find below the types of firewood extensively used by the campers –

  • Oak
  • Birch
  • Maple
  • Beech
  • Cherry or Black Cherry
  • Ash

General Tips

  • It’s mandatory to use only local firewood in some campground to thwart the possibility of introducing new bugs into their forests.
  • Avoid carrying the firewood in case your campsite distance is more than 50 miles.
  • In case, you have to forage for firewood, gather only fallen wood far from the campsite. You must not cut down the live trees or branches of the live trees or even dead trees as it will affect the wildlife.
  • Avoid firewood thicker than wrist as those are generally not allowed to burn.
  • You should avoid wet or green wood as it will just produce a lot of smoke.
  • Try to stock more tinder, kindling, and firewood than what you may think you need.
  • You must follow Leave No Trace principles while gathering wood. 

Now Build Your Campfire

Now that you have gathered the materials for your campfire, it’s time to build the campfire. To make a campfire, you need a proper structure. The structure is not about putting your materials on the ground and expecting it to burn like that.

There are different methods of building a campfire. Each method has its effects. One may give you a long duration of the burn, while others may give you more heat. Another one may be ideal for cooking.

But, which technique should you use? It depends on two things – how much wood you have got and the objectives of your fire.

I’ll take you through all types of campfires to decide the one best suited for you.

Tepee or Cone Fire

One of the most popular techniques of setting up a campfire is the Teepee method. 

Follow the steps below to build a right Teepee Fire Lay –

  • Place your bundle of tinder like a small heap in the middle of your fire ring.

  • Construct a cone or teepee structure using your kindling around the tinder. Leave a small gap in the teepee for airflow and lighting. Oxygen is crucial for fire to burn.

  • Now place your firewood vertically leaning against each other to create a massive teepee.

  • Use a match or lighter to ignite the tinder in at least 2-3 spots.

  • The structure will, in the end, get tumbled, and you can add some more firewood. 

Pros

  • Very high temperature.
  • Easy maintenance.
  • Warm-up in a short period.
  • Can work with green or damp wood.

Cons

  • Woods burn fast which is why a lot of firewood needed.
  • Not ideal for cooking.

Log Cabin or Parallel Fire

Log Cabin or Parallel style fire is the one that’s easy to maintain and lasts long.

Follow the steps below to build the Log Cabin –

  • Start by placing two large pieces of firewood parallel to each other, allowing some space in the middle. It will form the base of the structure.

  • Now place two more firewood pieces, slightly smaller in size, on top of the base in the opposite direction. Put them next to each other like the first one to allow space in between and form a square in the central.

  • Put a lot of tinder in the open square of the firewood.

  • Repeat the steps to add a few more layers. The firewood should get smaller with every layer.

  • Keep adding more kindling and tinder on the top layer.

  • Now light in the middle of the structure through the gap.

  • Continue adding more wood as the fire intensifies.

  • The firewood will collapse on one another and provide new wood to the coals steadily.

Pros

  • Ideal for cooking.
  • Less attention needed.
  • Produces a lot of hot coals.

Cons

  • Less temperature than a teepee.
  • It takes more time to build.
  • Need more wood.

Pyramid or Platform or Upside-Down Fire

Pyramid Campfire is also known as Upside-Down or Platform Campfire.

Usually, when you build a campfire, you would begin with tinder, kindle and, then firewood. You’ll do the reverse here. You’ll start with placing logs firmly and move way up to kindling and finally tinder. Fire starts at the top instead of bottom in this campfire.  

It’s easy to set up and can last a long time without much supervision.

  • Place three or four of your massive logs or firewood side by side to form the bottom layer.

  • Add a second layer on top of the first layer at 90 degrees. The logs of the second layer should be a little bit smaller than the first layer. 

  • If you like the fire to stay long, continue adding a few more layers. Alternate and decrease the size of logs as you go.

  • Once you achieve the size you want, place kindling, and pile of tinder on top.

  • Ignite the tinder and enjoy your campfire.

Pros

  • The pyramid campfire is ideal for cooking the food. By starting the fire at the top, it creates a sturdy and smooth platform of hot coals. You can place your pans or pots straight on it.
  • The fire last for a longer time.
  • Needs very little attention.

Cons

  • Needs more woods.
  • Creates longer fire which may not be safe for wildlife.
  • Not as fun. Who would want to start a fire and then not to be able to add to it?

Lean-to Fire Lay

Have you ever tried to ignite fire in breezy conditions? If so, you must have realized how frustrating and annoying it is! You may need continuous fire to keep yourselves warm. You also need fire to make the food during camping. But it’s a real struggle to achieve the same in high winds.

Lean-to Fire Lay is the ideal campfire in blustery weather. It uses its own wood as a windbreak to shield the fires from the heavy breeze.

Follow the steps below to start Lean-to Fire Lay –

  • Place a large log as the basis of Lean-to Fire Lay. It will work as a windbreak.

  • Now lay the bundle of tinder and small kindling underneath the log.

  • Lean larger pieces of kindling. Then put small sticks against the log that come over the top of the tinder. 

  • Now you can ignite the tinder. Little by little, the fire will reach the kindling.

  • Start adding some firewood. You can use a little bit larger and thicker sticks.

  • Increasingly the large log will start burning, and even you can add more logs of larger size slowly. 

Pros

  • Ideal for breezy weather.

Cons

  • Temperature is somewhat less.
  • Not suitable for cooking.

Star Fire

When you don’t have a lot of wood, you should opt for star fire. It burns the entire logs bit by bit and produces an extended and efficient fire.

The Star Fire is popular among western Native American tribes where the supply of wood is low. This style of fire is considered to be the best option where you don’t have enough amount of wood.

It burns the whole log gently and creates a long-running and resourceful fire. You can use the logs of any size.

Follow the steps below –

  • Place the tinder in the middle.

  • Make a small cone with kindling, which will create a coal bed.

  • Now put the logs in either a three-point star or five-point star around the cone you just have created.

  • Light the cone in the center, which will later ignite the one ends of the logs. Continue pushing the logs towards the center slowly as they burn.

Pros

  • You can achieve a consistent fire that can burn for an extended period.
  • If you want to sleep under the star and next to a fire, this is ideal for you as you need more heat. You wake-up in the mid-night, you only need to push a log or two or maybe three into the coals. 
  • It’s quick and easy to get extinguished. Simply pull the logs away from the coal.  

Cons

  • It’s not the best fire for cooking.

Time to Light the Fire

Not that you have built the base of your campfire, it’s time to light the fire. You shouldn’t have any issue if you have created your foundation well, and the weather is smooth.

Matches or Lighters are the best tools to light the campfire. Cigarette lighters are not ideal for firing the tinder. You should carry waterproof matches or fire starters

Don’t ever think of using diesel, gasoline, etc. to light the fire. It’s not only a stupid idea but may prove to be very dangerous. 

Now set the tinder and kindling on fire  by using your matches or lighter. You should light it from all the sides to get the best result.

After you ignite the tinder and kindling, you should blow softly at the base of the fire. It will boost the flames’ strength by serving oxygen and help burn the larger pieces of wood.

You may need a few attempts before the firewood catches the fire from tinder and kindling. So, don’t be disappointed or give up on the very first attempt.

While the fire is on, don’t forget to push the coals to the center so that it gets reduced to ashes.

You must keep a watch on the fire as you need to keep it under your control and continue to feed it. You need to keep adding the tinder and kindling unless the larger logs start burning. So, it’s always wise to keep extra tinder and kindling ready.

Don’t add too much kindling or firewood in haste. Keeping the fire under your control is the most important aspect of the campfire. An ideal and  suggested size is 2’ x 2’ x2’. 

Campfire with wet wood

Building a campfire in challenging weather like light rain is a different ballgame altogether. It’s very much possible to start a campfire in light rain with wet wood if you follow the following tips. 

Try these tips if you’re stuck in the rain on your next camping trip –

Carry Alternative Fire-starters

  • Fire-starters like an old newspaper.
  • Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly.
  • waterproof lighter or matches etc.

Use a waterproof container for packing these materials.

Keep the wood of Needle-bearing trees

Keep dead leaves, spruce, pines, or other needle-bearing trees ready. The wood of those trees catches the fire very quickly. Dry wood beneath the awnings of the evergreen trees can be handy to light the fire in wet conditions.  

Split the Kindling & Firewood

Split the kindling and firewood. It will ignite faster. If you cut the twigs or more giant sticks, it will expose the inner wood, which is dry and catch fire smoothly.

Remove the Bark from Kindling

Check if your kindling has the bark. The bark is not flammable. Remove the barks from the kindling so that you have the dry wood.  

Make Teepee Style Campfire

The flat layout is not ideal in rainy weather. Make teepee style campfire. The heat of teepee style fire dehydrates the wood without difficulty. 

Light the Fire from the side wind blows

Light the fire from the side wind is blowing. It would help the fire travel through the kindling. As a result, kindling catches fire fast. You should try to keep the fire low.

Raise the Campfire

Try if you could raise the campfire off the damp ground. Check if you can find some flat stones or large wood or branches. You can use these to increase the height of the campfire.

Place the Firewood around the Fire before burning

Collect the firewood as dry as possible. Place them around the fire to dry them out before putting them on the fire. It would dry the firewood enough that you can burn it effortlessly.

Best campfire for cooking

Many people think cooking during camping is limited to roasting some hot dogs or marshmallows. Even if you aren’t a great cook, you can still prepare many things using the campfire. You would realize that all that you cook under the sky tastes incredible.

You have to choose the type of fire for cooking with care. It would depend on what you are going to cook and what tools you are carrying with you.

Cooking with skewers

Lean-to or Teepee style fire is ideal for cooking with skewers or sticks.

Cooking with pots and pans

If you are carrying pans and pots with you, you should use a Pyramid or Platform type fire.

Cooking with foil or naked

Are you not carrying skewers or pots or pans? You can still cook some great stuff on the fire bed of coals. You can roast the potato covered with foil. You may also like to cook a lot of veggies like eggplant, onion, garlic, and different fruits naked under hot ashes or on the bed of coals.

Time to Put the Campfire Out

According to a statistic of the National Interagency Fire Centerhumans cause nearly 62,000 fires each year across the United States. Because of this, we have to ensure that we handle our campfire very cautiously. 

It is the part of the evening you would wish never come – extinguishing the campfire. But you have to do it as it’s crucial for the safety of your family and the wildlife.

Allow yourself an ample amount of time before you begin to extinguish the campfire. It takes longer than you think. It should be at least 20 minutes before you slip under the sleeping bag.

Fire can get out of control very fast, so if no one is actively using it or monitoring it, you need to put it out.

The fire has the ability to go out of your control at any point of time if you don’t monitor it while it’s burning. So never leave the fire overlooked. Extinguish the fire if you aren’t overseeing or using it.

Let the wood burn completely to ash if you could.

You must keep a lot of water with you for safety. You cannot wait for the fire to burn down itself, use water to extinguish it. You should sprinkle the water needed to put the fire out. Resist the temptation to pour all the water on the campfire. It may flood the pit and cause inconvenience to the next campers.

Sprinkle water on the fire and then stir the ashes with a stick or shovel. Sprinkle more water and stir the ashes. Continue this until the hissing noises stop, you see no fires or burning ashes, and you can touch the ashes. 

You can use dirt or sand in case you don’t have enough water to extinguish the fire. Make sure that you don’t bury the burning coals, which may get exposed later and could become a reason for wildfire.  

Leave No Trace

Last but not least, you must follow the seven principles of “Leave No Trace” and other local rules and regulations. 

  • Pack all kind of left out trash from your pit before you leave.
  • Avoid burning any trash that can’t be turned into ash.
  • Never burn cans, foil, or plastic.
  • Demolish the structure you have erected.
  • Put the ashes in a bag and scatter them around the campsite.
  • Collect the left out charcoal pieces away from the site, break them, and spread in a far-reaching area.  

Leave the campsite in a condition that you would have liked to see if you had to build your campfire.

A campfire can be an incredible experience and entertaining if you handle it with responsibility and follow the guidelines mentioned in this article.

Now it’s time to build the campfire and roast some great food!

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