A campfire is one of the most central elements of camping and backpacking. It is where we gather to cook, eat, relax, stay warm, and tell stories. This step-by-step guide will teach you how to build a campfire like a pro.
Always be aware of local restrictions before making a campfire. In certain areas, dry periods can cause campfires to be prohibited in both the wild and in campgrounds. Involve your kids in the process of making a campfire. This is a crucial skill for anyone spending time in the outdoors. Explain each step in the process and go over the required tools. Explain the dangers and risk with fire. Emphasize the importance of having an adult present.
Always bring at least two different methods for lighting fire:
Matches: store them in a waterproof match safe.
Lighter: with non-opaque bodies so you can check remaining butane supply.
Gather materials needed to start a fire:
- Tinder: this is your fire-starter, small materials that will ignite easily with as little as a spark, such as dry grass, shredded bark, lint, or cotton balls.
- Kindling: medium sized materials that will catch flame from the tinder and keep fire going, such as dry leaves, small twigs and sticks, or bark. Make sure kindling is dry.
- Wood logs: used to keep the fire going once it has caught flame from the kindling. The wood should be dry. Use only local firewood to avoid introducing troublesome insects into a forest (http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/). If you need to gather firewood, only use downed wood. Never cut live trees or break off branches from standing trees. Gather various sized logs and use a knife to cut wood into smaller more combustible pieces.
Use an existing fire ring if available. If not, build a small fire ring with rocks. A ring will help contain the fire, provide shelter from wind, and help prevent little kids from accidentally stepping or falling on fire.
Building the Fire
There are two methods of building a wood campfire:
Tepee: place tinder in center of the fire pit. Stack the kindling into a cone around the tinder, and then lean the logs on the kindling. Don’t stack kindling and logs too close – leave room for air to get in, make sure the fire can breathe. Light tinder from the bottom in multiple places. Blow softly on the fire to help flames spread to the kindling and wood. If fire is stalling or goes out, add more tinder and kindling as needed. Make sure materials are not wet. Once logs are burning, keep adding logs to your tepee.
Log Cabin: place tinder in center of the fire pit. Stack the kindling into a log cabin (or tepee) around the tinder. Stack your logs a foot or less apart around the tinder and kindling in a log cabin pattern. This allows your fire to breathe.
The Tepee method is slightly more fail-safe than the Log Cabin; however the Log Cabin method is more suitable for cooking food.
Avoid building a fire too close to tents. Tiny flying embers will make little holes in any nylon materials – including clothing!
In addition to fuel (tinder, kindling, wood logs) and heat (flame), you need a third equally important component to successfully start a campfire: air (oxygen). Carefully monitor airflow around your campfire – especially while your fire is in its “infant” stage. Finding optimal airflow is both science and art. Not enough air will choke your fire. Too much air (wind) will kill the fire. The right amount of air depend on multiple variables, such as; what type of fuel/wood you are burning, how big your flame is, how tightly your logs are stacked, etc. If your fire is choking (lots of smoke, no flames), increase airflow by fanning. If your fire is burning too fast (not enough time/heat for bigger logs to catch on fire), decrease airflow by blocking wind.
Don’t rely solely on campfire as your source of heat for cooking. Always bring a cooking stove as backup.
Never leave a campfire unattended. Extinguish the fire using water. Stir the ashes, and then add more water. Ashes should be cool to the touch before you leave.
Tips & Tricks
- Waterproof Tinder: use cotton balls made from 100-percent cotton. Rub petroleum jelly into the outside of the ball – you want to leave the center dry. To light, tear open the ball, exposing the dry center, and light. Store balls in a film or pill vial.
- Place wet logs around fire to dry.
- Involve you kids by making fire-maintenance a team sport, with one child carefully feeding the fire fuel and another child “fanning the flames”. Use a camp-chair or magazine for a fan.
- Too strong wind can make starting a fire difficult. Building a wind break is usually a time-saver in the long run. Use a camp-char, backpack, rocks, or logs to block wind.
- If you are planning on camping in same location for multiple days, store logs in a dry area, in case it rains.
- In cold temps, before going to bed, carefully place a large, hot rock from the fire ring in your tent vestibule. The rock will keep your tent heated for most of the night. To prevent burn accidents, place the rock in shallow hole and cover lightly with sand.
Smokey Bear: http://www.smokeybear.com/
Don’t Move Firewood: http://www.dontmovefirewood.org/