Building a campfire is one of the most essential aspects of camping. An effective campfire provides the campsite with light, warmth, and the ability to cook food. Campfires are often the centerpiece of any great camping night, as everyone spends the evening sitting around the fire laughing and enjoying themselves. So get out that acoustic guitar and get ready to start roasting some marshmallows. This step-by-step guide will teach you everything you need to know about building an awesome campfire from scratch. Impress your friends on your next camping trip, read along and learn!
How to build a campfire in 7 easy steps:
- Create a fire pit.
- Gather the fire wood.
- Lay your fire.
- Light the campfire.
- Build up and maintain the fire.
- Extinguish the campfire.
- Clean up the mess.
How to Build a Campfire
1. Create a Fire Pit
The first step is to find a good place to start your campfire. Your camp grounds will either have a designated fire pit or you will need to create your own.
Designated Fire Pits
Many popular campsites provide designated fire pits for campfires. If your campsite has a pre-existing fire pit, we highly recommend that you use it.
Creating Your Own Fire Pit
There will also be occasions where your campsite does not have a designated fire pit. In these situations, you will need to create your own. There are a few different things that you should consider when choosing where to build your campfire.
- Maintain a safe distance. Choose an area that is at least 10 feet (3 meters) away from your tent, chairs, nearby trees, or anything that can catch on fire. If possible, you want to find an area where the trees shelter you from the wind, but where you are still want a safe distance from anything flammable. This protects yourself, your fellow campers, the environment, and the campgrounds.
- Choose a suitable spot. Look for a spot with flat ground to build your fire bed on. Try to find an area that is exposed dirt and is not covered in grass or dead grass. If you can’t find a suitable dirt area, a good idea is to dig up the grass in a small area and create a dirt platform to build your fire pit on. If you are on a private campground, be sure to verify that this is okay first. For digging purposes, we recommend investing in a portable camping shovel.
- Clear any debris from the area. Be sure to remove any dead grass or branches that are close to the platform, as they are a hazard and may catch fire.
- Add a ring of rocks. To help contain the campfire, and prevent it from spreading, it is a great idea to surround the fire bed with a ring of rocks. Place fist-sized rocks around the fire bed, leaving a bit of space between each one. The spaces between the rocks will allow the air to still circulate effectively into the fire.
2. Gather the Fire Wood
In order to successfully build your campfire, you will need to gather three types of wood:
- Fuel wood
If you are at a campsite in the woods, all three types of wood can be easily gathered from the ground in the areas surrounding the campsite. It is important to remember to never cut down trees or branches, because live materials will not burn quickly or effectively. Depending on your location, there may be even legal penalties for chopping down trees.
Common types of tinder that are used for campfires include dry leaves, dry grass, very small twigs, wood shavings, needles, dry bark.
The purpose of tinder is to easily catch fire and burn quickly. Using tinder is the quickest and most efficient way to get a good campfire up and running. Some great examples of tinder are wood shavings, dry leaves, dry bark, and dry grass. However, many camping experts suggest bringing your own tinder substitute from home, usually in the form of dryer lint. Bringing your own tinder can prove to be extremely beneficial if the ground outside is unexpectedly wet, because wet leaves or wood shavings will not easily catch on fire.
For kindling wood, gather small branches and twigs.
Once the tinder catches on fire, you are almost ready to get rolling. However, you can’t just throw big logs onto the fire at this point because they will put out your small flames. Instead, you want to add kindling wood to the fire. Kindling wood is an important in-between step in the campfire process. Search the area and gather small branches and twigs, but make sure that they are completely dry.
For fuel wood, gather medium-sized branches that are around 4 inches wide.
When you think of a campfire, fuel wood is probably what you are imagining. This is the type of wood that keeps your fire burning bright and hot throughout the night. You don’t necessarily want huge logs though, especially not at first. Look for medium-sized tree branches that are up to about 4 inches thick. Logs that are larger than that will take a very long time to catch on fire, so if you use them before your campfire has gained some significant momentum, you will risk putting out the fire.
3. Lay Your Fire
At this point, it is time to lay your fire. You want to place the wood you have gathered into position to be lit. There are several different ways to lay your fire, but here are a few of the methods that are common methods avid campers:
The “teepee” is the most common type of method for laying a fire. Essentially, the kindling sticks and fuel wood are arranged in the shape of a teepee or a cone. The sticks point upwards, meeting at the middle and leaning on each other for support.
How to Build a Teepee Fire
The make a teepee, pile the tinder in the the center of the fire bed. Next, arrange the smaller kindling sticks around the tinder. Place them in an upright fashion where they lean on each other in the middle, creating the teepee shape. Now take the larger kindling sticks and arrange them around the smaller ones, in the same teepee shape.
When you are ready to light the fire, use a long lighter to light the tinder in the middle of the teepee. As the fire burns, the outside sticks and wood will fall into the flames and feed the fire.
Teepee Fire: Pros & Cons
- Pros: The Teepee is the easiest method, especially for beginners. It is simple to make and lights very quickly.
- Cons: Although it is easy to get started, keeping it lit will require a lot of attention and a lot of wood.
Log Cabin Fire
Log cabin campfires are excellent for cooking food. The fire will burn for a long time and requires little attention to stay lit. Additionally, the frame of the log cabin provides great support for cookware, whereas cooking with other types of campfires often requires you to manually hold the cookware over the flames.
How to Build a Log Cabin Fire
To create a log cabin fire, place a tinder pile in the center of the fire bed. Essentially, you are going to build a small log cabin. First, take two kindling sticks and place them parallel to each other, with one on each side of the tinder pile. Next, take two more kindling sticks and place them on the other two sides of the tinder (forming a square around the tinder pile). The ends of that pair of sticks should rest on top of the first pair of sticks that were placed. Repeat this process a few times, but use progressively thinner kindling sticks as you reach the top of your log cabin.
Log Cabin Fire: Pros & Cons
- Pros: Does not require much tending to, so it is easy to keep the campfire burning. Burns for a long time. Great for cooking and the frame can hold cookware.
- Cons: The log cabin method requires more wood. It also requires some skill and takes longer to build.
Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather. If the wind picks up during your camping trip, it can make building a fire a very difficult and frustrating task. The lean-to method is a great way to build a campfire in windy conditions.
How to Build a Lean-to Fire
To build a lean-to fire, first place a large log flat on the fire bed. Next, determine the direction that the wind is blowing. Now place a mound of tinder on the ground right next to the long-side of the log, but make sure that the log is in between the tinder and the wind. Essentially, the large log is going to shield the fire from the wind. Next, place small kindling sticks over the tinder and position them so that they are leaning against the large log. Position larger kindling sticks in the same fashion, on top of the smaller sticks and also leaning against the log.
When you are ready to light the fire, use a long lighter to light the tinder beneath the kindling sticks.
Lean-to Fire: Pros & Cons
- Pros: Good for windy weather because the wind is blocked by a large log.
- Cons: Creates a smaller fire than with the other methods.
4. Light the Campfire
When it comes to lighting a campfire, we recommend that you use long lighters. With a regular lighter or a match, it can be very difficult, even impossible, to reach the tinder beneath the kindling wood. A long lighter is great because you can slide the end through the sticks you’ve laid and easily reach the tinder.
When you’re ready, carefully ignite the pile of tinder.
5. Build up and Maintain the Fire
Once your fire is successfully lit, it is time to build it up into a real campfire. It is important to remember to build the fire slowly and steadily. First, begin by adding thin sticks to the fire. After a while, you should begin slowly increasing the thickness of the sticks, and eventually work your way up to the larger logs. Remember, it is important not to rush this process or you will suffocate and extinguish the flames. Add the sticks slowly and steadily, and pace yourself.
6. Extinguish the Campfire
When the party is over, it is time to extinguish the campfire. This is a crucial step in the process. Allow yourself plenty of time to make sure that the fire is completely out before leaving the area or going to sleep. It is extremely important to not leave the campsite or go to sleep before the fire is completely extinguished. An unattended fire can quickly spread, injure you, injure animals, and destroy the campgrounds.
Stop Adding Wood
Allow the campfire to die down for a while before you start the process of extinguishing it. To do this, simply stop adding wood or fuel to the flames, and let the size of the fire dwindle down naturally.
Use Water and Stir
Once the fire is reduced to a manageable size, carefully begin dump some water onto the fire bed. Use a long stick to move the embers and ashes around. Repeat this process, carefully adding water and stirring with a stick until the fire goes out completely. This process will need to be repeated several times, so allow yourself between 20-30 minutes of time to extinguish the fire completely.
7. Clean Up the Mess
Cleaning up the mess that you have left is another important part of camping. If your camp fire was built in a designated, pre-existing fire bed, simply make sure that no debris is inside or around the bed.
If you created your own fire bed from scratch, your best course of action is to follow the “leave no trace” principle. Clean up and remove any debris, whether it’s inside or outside of the fire bed. Remove the rock ring, any unused wood, and any trash that is in the area.
Regardless of whether your at a campsite or in the wilderness, it is important to respect your environment, respect nature, and respect your fellow campers.
Best Campfire Method for Cooking
If you are planning to use your campfire to cook food, we recommend that you build a log cabin fire. This fire is very low maintenance and slow burning, so you can focus on food preparation and cooking rather than maintaining the fire. The frame used to build a log cabin fire also provides great support for your cookware so you do not have to manually hold your pot over the flames the entire time.
That’s it guys, go build that awesome campfire! Did this guide help you build a great campfire on your camping trip? Did we miss a great method that you think we should include? We would love to hear your fire-starting tips and tricks. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Do you have any of your own tips or tricks for starting a camp fire? We would love to hear about it! Let us know in the comments section below.