If you’re new to camping, one of the first things you’ll need to learn to establish yourself as an outdoor adventurer is how to build a campfire. If the idea of building a campfire seems daunting, it shouldn’t be!
The Process, Start to Finish
In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through exactly how to make a campfire, keep it burning brightly, and extinguish it once you’re ready for bed.
1. Situate Your Campfire
The first step to build a campfire is to pick the spot where you intend to make it. As a rule of thumb, you should always situate your campfire location at least 10 feet away from any flammable things such as nearby trees or your camping tent.
In a perfect world, the spot you choose to build a campfire will also be protected from the wind. The important thing is to make sure there is sufficient distance to keep you and your surroundings safe. Flat ground is ideal for how to build a campfire because it hinders embers from heading off down the slope and potentially causing a fire hazard.
2. Make the Fire Bed
The next step for how to make a campfire is to make your fire bed. If the campsite you’ll be staying at already has fire pits for campers to use, take full advantage of those. On the other hand, if you’ll be camping out in the wilderness, try to find a fire bed that has already been made.
There will be times when you won’t have any option but to make your own fire bed.
You should position the fire bed on earth rather than grass (particularly dead grass which could be very flammable). If you are unable to locate raw earth to build your fire bed on, just dig the grass and plants away yourself or make a platform with dirt.
The fire bed needs to be large enough to give the fire sufficient space since any materials like plants, branches, or dry grass within the vicinity pose a real threat for flammability.
Be sure to double check the local regulations for campers in your area, to ensure that disturbing the grass is permitted. Also, check for relevant regulations if you’ll be camping in a federal forest or national park.
3. Build a Rock Ring
It is always advisable to construct a rock ring to contain the flames and reduce any risk of hazard. You should select dry rocks no larger than a clenched fist and situate them slightly apart to allow for proper air flow under the fire.
Take care to never build a rock ring around your campfire with large objects or stones, as the flames will significantly mar the boulders. You should also stay away from wet or damp stones as they can emit moisture and start to break when the flames heat them up.
4. Collecting Wood
You’re likely already well aware that you only should ever use dry wood to build a campfire. The wood shouldn’t be wet, green, or bend, as this means you won’t be able to build a proper flame. Collect wood that has already fallen, both for the sake of your environment and because this type of kindling actually burns better.
It’s a good idea to gather more tinder than you suspect you’ll need because the flames burn through it fast. If you run out of it too quickly, you won’t be able to maintain the fire, because tinder burns and catches the flame very quickly.
Tinder and Firestarter
You can use wood shavings, as well as bark, grass, and dry leaves for tinder. You may also want to consider bringing tinder from home to save time, like char cloth or dryer lint. Firelighters are another good option, which are essentially flammable cubes that will save your bacon if it’s wet outside and you can’t find dry kindling anywhere.
Any kindling you select such as branches or small twigs should be as dry as you can find, or they won’t catch fire well. The ideal kindling sizes are branches and twigs close to the dimensions of a pencil. You can always use a pen knife to cut down large branches and twigs to access dry wood beneath.
While your kindling and tinder need to be dry as a bone, it’s not a major issue if your fuel wood is slightly moist. You should still try to find dry fuel wood, but if you can’t, the fire should take care of it. Pick an array of logs and branches in different sizes for your primary fuel source, including ones that are as wide as your forearm.
5. Laying the Fire
You have a few different options to lay the fire, based on your preference and warmth needs.
Teepee Fire Style
- Take a bundle of tinder and position it in the middle of the fire bed.
- Build a teepee around the tinder with the kindling wood, but leave enough room to light the flame and let air circulate.
- Slowly build the teepee with your kindling and incorporate the fuel wood into the structure. The thicker sides of the fuel wood and kindling should be touching the ground.
Lean-to Fire Style
- Start by inserting a long kindling piece in the ground at a 30-degree angle to serve as your support stick. You can position the kindling against a larger log too if you need to.
- Take some smaller kindling and your tinder and bundle it beneath the support stick.
- Lay more kindling on the outside of the support stick.
- Repeat with a second layer of kindling.
6. Light Your Flame
At this stage of how to start a campfire, you must light your tinder quickly in the center of the kindling. Matches dampen and blow out fast. A utility lighter with a wind-resistant flame could be a worthwhile investment for this step if you go camping often.
7. Build and Maintain the Fire
After the flame is going, you need to build and maintain it. Simply repeat the teepee or lean-to methods we discussed previously, slowly and carefully as you go through your fuel. Start with the thinner, lighter branches and work your way towards using the bigger logs.
8. Extinguish the Campfire
A minimum of 20 minutes before you want to turn in for the night, begin to extinguish the campfire. By giving yourself sufficient time, the flames should be mostly died down when you go to sleep. Lightly douse the fire bed with water, then use a stick to mix the embers and ashes.
If you put your hand near the fire and the flames are still too warm to leave it there, it’s not yet safe to walk away from the campfire. Keep sprinkling more water and stirring the embers and ash until it is safe to go to bed.
As a final note, whenever you build a campfire, do your best to reduce the effect of the flames and correct the ground disturbed by your fire. Be sure to read up ahead of time regarding the fire regulations of the campsite(s) you’ll be staying at to ensure you don’t run into any unexpected issues down the line.