The perfect setting to tell a ghost story or to roast marshmallows and make s’mores, it is almost sacrilege to not have a roaring campfire when you go camping.
If you are a novice camper, or if you have never been responsible for the oh-so-important task of getting the fire started and are suddenly thrust into the spotlight - we’ve got you covered with this easy to follow step-by-step guide on how to build a campfire.
Read on and make sure you’re fully prepared and enjoy a hassle free campfire on your next trip. Experienced camper? Don’t miss the section on how to start a fire without matches.
Regardless of whether your fire is for cooking, staying warm or warding off the creatures of the night, there are a few basic steps to safely and efficiently get that roaring fire started.
Selecting a suitable location for your fire is crucial, and can mean the difference between an unforgettable night of warmth and fun and a shiveringly cold and miserable one! Keep the following in mind when making your decision:
Once you have selected a good location, start clearing the space of shrubs and flammable debris. This is the best insurance against camping fun turning into tragedy for nature, wildlife, property and other campers.
When gathering wood for the fire, you need to keep in mind that you will need three to four different types of fuel to get your fire started and keep it going:
It is best to search for the fuel for your fire further away from your camp first and work your way back toward the camp as you gather. Look for deadfall trees and dry branches, which will burn better. By doing this, you are actually performing the function of cleaning up the woodland.
Locating your fire in a rocky area is one of the best ways to help ensure that your fire doesn’t spread. Some people like to dig a pit to lay their fire in to help with cleanup as well as keep it contained. Using a steel fire ring is ideal, but you can also gather rocks and create one yourself. Selecting flat rocks is especially beneficial for providing a place to sit pots and skillets while cooking.
Starting a fire is a step-by-step process of its own and starts out with the first two types of fuel which you gathered; tinder and kindling. Depending upon how you plan to lay your fire, there are different methods of laying your tinder and kindling, but the most common way to start a fire is by forming a teepee.
Your fire starter should create enough flame to ignite the tinder you’ve laid over it. As the tinder produces flame, it will begin to ignite the kindling teepee. You have now started your fire!
Patience is the key to building up your fire without smothering it. Placing too much heavy wood over the top of a fire too soon is what typically kills it. Keep in mind that a fire needs oxygen as well as fuel in order to stay lit. Add two or three fuel wood branches about the size of your wrist, in one of the patterns we’ll describe in a minute, in order to build up your fire.
As the flame becomes healthier and burns hotter, you can add larger, banking wood, branches and split logs in order to keep your fire burning while you roast your s’mores and tell your ghost stories late into the night. Just be patient and don’t add on too much wood too fast.
There are a number of different ways to ‘lay’ your fire, which is basically a fancy way of describing how you construct a more substantial campfire.
A teepee lay is what we described above with the kindling. As you build up your fire, you simply lean the tops of the fuel wood and split logs together at the top. This structure tends to breakdown as the fire consumes the fuel, at which point one of the other two fire lays becomes necessary.
This type of lay tends to make use of a large rock or other non-flammable object a one end of the fire ring. A larger branch or log is laid across the fire ring and other branches are leaned against it. This creates space underneath for oxygen to keep your fire burning. Depending on the thickness of the center log, this fire structure may last all night or begin to break down…
The third type of lay is actually the one which tends to replace the other two as they break down, so many people simply begin with this structure. A log cabin lay is constructed in a similar fashion as placing logs for building a cabin. Two logs are placed parallel to each other with ten to twelve inches of space between them. Two more logs are laid across the first two logs. The next logs stacked on the pile are place in the same direction as the original two and so on, building up the ‘walls of the cabin’.
Regardless of which lay you use, keep in mind that air flow beneath and around the logs is essential in order to keep them burning and keep that roaring fire a-roarin’.
OK, so now you know the basics. But building campfires is not always plain sailing. Just ask anyone who’s gone camping in harsh weather conditions - strong winds, heavy rain, sleet or snow can be a nightmare for even the most experienced campers. Here’s a few pro tips to make sure you’re prepared for all possibilities.
Getting to dry tinder and kindling is the key to getting a fire started in wet conditions. It is there if you know where to look. Additionally, if you set up your fire right, you can dry out the wood you will need to keep your fire burning. More below:
Some of the best features of using cotton balls dipped in Vaseline as fire starters is that they don’t take up much space, they weigh next to nothing and they burn long enough to allow you to get plenty of tinder and kindling lit and burning before they burn up. The following video shows you how to make these fire starters.
Like the cotton balls above, rolling up newspaper and dipping them in paraffin wax is an easy, lightweight and waterproof way to get a fire started. Though they can be rolled a bit smaller than shown in the following video, you will get a pretty good idea on how to make these fire starters.
A handful of dryer lint by itself will usually light and burn long and hot enough to get the tinder going. The video below will show you how to pack them in the pods of an egg carton and add was as a means to make dryer lint even more effective when it comes to lighting a fire.
Choosing and preparing the location of your fire is the first step in staying safe. Here are several fire safety tips to keep in mind:
To have the least impact on the environment where you are visiting, the concept and principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) camping should be an essential part of your camping experience. Before you go camping, and especially before building a campfire, make yourself familiar with the Seven Principles of LNT and follow them while you are camping.
When you cook, you want to cook over coals rather than flames. The best style of campfire to layout for cooking is the log cabin layout. Another, which begins in similar fashion to the log cabin layout, is the platform fire. You lay out your first two logs as with the log cabin, but rather than laying two logs across it, you lay logs all of the way across the first two logs creating a platform. As it burns and collapses, this fire layout creates a nice bed of coals to cook on.
First of all, you should never be out in the wilderness without a few basic survival items in your pack. Those survival items should include matches, a lighter, a flint and steel set or some other means of starting a fire in an emergency situation. Should you find yourself in a survival situation, there are a number of ways to start a fire without matches or a lighter. Learn and practice these 10 ways to start a fire without matches before you find yourself in a survival situation.
Congratulations if you've got this far - you're now a bonafide expert on how to build a campfire! Well, almost...there's really no substitution for getting out on the trail and getting first hand fire starting practice. Like all outdoor skills, the more you do it the better you'll get. Remember to stay safe and leave no trace! =ZIP=