I have been researching how to make a campfire for three days, and I have built three types of fires. I will now teach you what I have learned.
Without further ado, let’s begin with step one.
#1 – Pick a spot
- Safe spot. The first step to build a campfire is to find a safe spot. Stay clear from windy, or dry areas, because campfires can become forest fires under these conditions.
- Unsafe spots. You should not build campfires in banned locations. Especially avoid areas high in elevation which can be both dry and windy.
- Learn the rules at your campground, and talk to a campground operator if you have any questions.
- General safety. Use a fire-pit if one is available, if not, find level ground, preferably on mineral soil, sand, or gravel. Make 10-15 ft of space away from anything flammable.
- 5 feet circle: Make a circle five feet away from the fire, and explain to your children the purpose of the circle to keep them safe.
- Get a fire permit if you are making a campfire in an undeveloped area.
- Use pre-existing fire beds if possible.
#2 – Preparing a pit
- Inventory checklist:
1. Ignition tool
2. dry rocks
3. dry wood
4. Tinder: cotton balls coated in petroleum jelly or laundry lint, wood shavings, dry leaves
5. reserve kindling
6 .bucket of water
7. a little shovel, axe, knife, or cutting tool
- Kindling: Circle pit with dry fist-sized rocks, then select your kindling. Kindling should snap, not bend. You should start your fire with finger-sized kindling, not a huge log that will smother your tinder and flame. After finger-sized kindling, move up to wrist-sized kindling
- Do not cut live or dead trees, live trees don’t burn well, and dead trees are often habitats for wildlife. Instead, collect dry wood off the ground.
- Use wood higher off the ground for kindling, because higher wood is drier wood.
- Do not burn poison ivy, construction boards/treated wood, driftwood, or greenwood.
#3 – The Fire Triangle
- The fire triangle is good to keep in mind when constructing a fire. What is the fire triangle? The three essential elements which make campfires possible, air, fuel, and ignition
- Air: Fires need to have openings to allow oxygen to reach the base of the fire. If your fire is becoming smokey, then it doesn’t have enough oxygen. Smokey fires are often caused by an excessive amount of kindling, which smothers and eventually extinguishes the fire.
- Fuel: Obviously, a fire needs fuel, but remember that dry natural wood is the best, and the safest to burn.
- Ignition: This part is obvious, fires cannot begin without heat. Ignite the tinder first, then the fire should spread to the kindling.
- Winter tips. Pine needles make great dry platforms during winter campfires.
- Campfire in a nutshell. The whole art of fire-building is just the art of structuring the fuel so that oxygen can flow in.
- Remember oxygen is usually the missing ingredient to your fire
#4 – Techniques
- Time to learn about the three commonly used fires in camping. The Tipi, log cabin, and the lean-to fire.
- Pros Tipi: Easiest fire to build making it good for beginners, and it has a high heat output.
- Cons: High maintenance since there is high heat output, kindling burns easier, and must be regularly replenished. Quick burnout time also due to its high heat output.
- Use: good for roasting marshmallows.
- Pros Log cabin: High heat output, looks nice
- Cons: Might need tools to give your wood proper symmetry. Also, the Log cabin has the longest setup time compared with the other two fires. Once again, since there is a high heat output, kindling must be replaced to keep the fire alive.
- Use: Keeps you warm, and Looks cool because it’s basically a burning Jenga tower
- Pros Lean-to: Easy setup, good for windy conditions
- Cons Lean-to: Kindling burns quickly, and bigger pieces of kindling must be added to grow the size of the fire. Not a great fire if there is no breeze or wind, the lean-to burns best when windy air can fuel it. Do not build this fire in dangerously windy conditions, or if you think embers could blow away from the fire ring and into the woods.
- Use: Good for cooking, and for warmth during windy weather. The Log in the lean-to can act as a shield against wind.
- Tipi support. Wedge the first two tipi kindling pieces into the dirt for strong support.
- Stick. Use a poker stick to move your kindling around the fire while it’s burning.
- Tinder tip. Put petroleum jelly on your cotton balls as tinder, it works, I know from firsthand experience.
- Twigs. Place some twigs on top of the cotton balls for extra tinder, but do not completely cover the cotton balls.
- Log cabin tips: Use about 8 cotton balls, put some in the center or on the sides. Give yourself access to the sides of the log cabin so you can ignite the fire.
- Lean-to-tip 1: Use 8 cotton balls along the side with vaseline. Replenish kindling with larger sticks, eventually getting to wrist-sized kindling. Remember to add them slowly to avoid smothering the fire.
- Lean-to-tip 2: Use split wood.
- Lean-to-tip 3: Best for a windy day. The lean-to can act as a shield against the wind and provide warmth.
#5 – Maintain/Extinguish
- Never leave the fire unattended, make sure someone is near the fire at all times.
- Burn wood only. Aerosol cans, containers, or glass can explode, shatter, or create toxic fumes. Never use fire accelerants, such as pouring gasoline into your fire, making your fire difficult to control.
- Sprinkle. If you plan on using your fire again, sprinkle water on it so it is still usable the next day. Also, it is good camp etiquette to leave behind a usable fire bed for other fellow campers, so don’t completely flood your fire beds.
- Stir. Use a stick to find buried embers by stirring them into the ash. Also stirring allows the water to reach any hot ashes and cool them. Pour water, and stir the ash with a stick until the hissing fire sound stops.
- Do not pour dirt on your fire, instead, use water to extinguish your fire. Stay clear from the steam, and tell others in the campsite to stay clear from the campfire to avoid the scalding hot steam.
- Start earlier than later. Extinguishing fires can take 20-30 minutes until they are safe to leave. The first thing you should do before leaving your campsite is to fully extinguish your campfire, because it may take the longest.
- If the fire is too hot to touch then it’s too hot to leave. Test the fire’s heat by placing the back of your hand near the fire. Don’t touch the fire until your backhand is no longer warm. If you have been sprinkling and stirring for 20-30 minutes, and your backhand is no longer hot from the ash, carefully touch the ash, if the ashes are cold, then you can safely leave your campfire.
- Protect your food, fires attract hungry animals.
- Moss and Fungi. Make sure moss and fungi have burned off your wood before cooking over it.
What to do next?
Now that you know some more about how to make a safe campfire, go to a campground and build one. Which one will you build, the tipi, the log cabin?
You decide! Have fun!