Key Essentials Of How To Build A Campfire
For many, the campfire is a beloved and indispensable outdoor tradition—a kinetic, luminous, dreamlike force of nature that for generations has served as the centerpiece of backwoods gatherings.
Whether you are camping in an RV park with the whole family or off in a wilderness of solitude on a solo hike these fire-making essentials are sure to spark just what you need at your campsite…rest, relaxation, conversation, and ADVENTURE.
Here is how to build a campfire: simple essentials to spark the best fire possible!
Tinder - is the first step when building a good wood burning fire
Tinder is the material that will take the first sparks of your fire and ensure this thing can actually be lit. When we talk tinder ideally we are looking for something that is:
To get the job done we recommend using a ball of tinder the size of a grapefruit. Here are some of the best tinders we’ve used!
From Home –
If you are bringing tinder with you, in my experience nothing beats a few toilet paper rolls stuffed with dryer lint. I know this feels like cheating on many levels, but a little bit of lint takes a spark off of a flint and steel strike or a match every time. Cotton balls also will work well.
From the Wild –
Dry grass, leaves, mosses, and bark all get the job done. Our top choices of tinder to look for around your campsite are:
- Cattail Fluff: That’s just really fun right?
- Pine Straw: Especially the longleaf pine straw from down south.
- Birch Bark: The natural oils in Birch will light even when damp.
- Pine Sap: Find a pine tree oozing resin…it always lights.
Get The Campfire Going With Kindling
Kindling is also used to start a fire, but it is larger than tinder. Its main job is to burn wood logs and keep the fire going after it is started. Don’t waste your time starting a fire with tinder and only watch it go out by not using kindling.
Kindling takes the spark and short-term fire of your tinder and makes it last. DO NOT burn up all your tinder because you don’t have kindling ready. A fire that has time to grow properly will reward you by lasting longer and it will be hot enough to cook over. With kindling, we are looking for bone dry sticks that are about the thickness of a pencil.
Let's Talk About Campfire Fuel
The best fuel in the wild is not what you find on the ground. Standing deadwood that can be broken or cut off of an existing tree is where it’s at.
The best way to add fuel to your fire is to have small fuel, your main fuel, and your lasting large fuel piled up near your fire. Take the fire from the kindling stage to the fire stage by adding in the small stuff. Wood the thickness of a broom handle is perfect. Then work your way up to small logs, and when the fire has been burning hot for around an hour add in larger logs so your fire can persevere through the night.
How To Build A Tepee Style Campfire
There are numerous ways to actually construct a fire. Today, let’s go with the classic Tepee and then add in some options.
- If you don’t have a campfire ring where you are building your fire we recommend removing a square of turf and putting it to the side. (out in the wild you can then cover the site as you leave the next morning) Lay a platform of green sticks in the hole as a base to build your fire on.
- Begin building a tepee shape first with 4 sticks that are 18 to 24 inches in length. After you get these four balanced continue to fill it in completing your tepee structure making sure it’s sturdy. (the tepee doesn’t have to be very big).
- Put your tinder inside the finished tepee. Ignite the tinder adding your dry kindling. As the flame builds up your tepee (small fuel) will catch fire and eventually collapse upon itself creating hot coals that will continue to burn medium and large-sized fuel. If you are intending to cook over the fire continue adding small fuel and cook over the coals for best results. If you are planning on cooking, check out these great cast iron camping recipes. If you are planning to have a beer and relax, throw bigger stuff on.
Tepee Fire Options –
WIND: Dig a trench about a foot deep to build your fire in.
-Make a rock wall surrounding 3/4 of the fire to block breezes.
ALL NIGHT LONG: If you want the fire to burn for warmth or ambiance for the entire night consider using dry logs 6 ft or so in length. Place the end of 3 or 4 logs in the fire in a star pattern. Occasionally push the logs in throughout the night for continued burning. This method alleviates the need to find and gather more wood.
Campfire Safety Things To Remember
Be sure to check with the campground to ensure that campfires are allowed at the time because sometimes if the area is under a dry spell, campfires may not be permitted. Usually, they will post signs if this is the case. Another resource to use is Weather.com that will let you know if there’s a wind or wildfire advisory.
Many campgrounds place campfire rings in a specific place within the campsite based on what’s safest for that campsite, considering trees or overhanging branches. Some campgrounds have the campfire ring leaning on the picnic table and allow their campers to move it where they want within the campsite.
In these circumstances, be aware of your surroundings and the fire’s proximity to your tent or RV awning. Looking around, you can usually tell where others before you have placed their campfires to help you choose a safe location. If the campfire ring was not leaning on the picnic table, but you wish to move it, always ask the ranger or campground manager whether you can move it. You can usually tell if the campfire ring was moved around the site or if the campfire ring is in a permanent spot. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Do not leave your fire unattended and keep a watchful eye on children and pets. Fill a bucket with water and leave it nearby in case of emergencies. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and you will need it at the end of the night anyway so why not fill it up now?
Extinguishing Your Campfire
Burn your firewood down to embers and ash. When done, extinguish the fire by pouring water on it. Be mindful that in doing so, hot steam will rise, so avoid standing over it. Keep pouring water until it stops hissing.
Stirring the ashes between pours helps put out the fire faster. Again, we recommend packing a collapsible bucket water pail. Make sure no embers are still smoldering, and as Smokey the Bear would say,
“If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
Campfire season is upon us! Wherever your “middle of nowhere” is, we hope these simple how to build a campfire tips help you enjoy your time around the fire.