How to Build a Campfire

How To
A step-by-step guide on how to build, maintain, and put out a campfire, along with safety tips.

Rohit Farmer


September 11, 2023

Photo by Elvis Bekmanis on Unsplash

Building a campfire can be both a skill and an art. Whether camping in the wilderness or just wanting a cozy fire in your backyard, understanding the basics is essential for safety and efficiency. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you build the perfect campfire.

1. Choose a Safe Location

  • Ensure the spot is away from tents, trees, and shrubs.
  • Check for overhead branches that could catch fire.
  • If there’s an existing fire pit, use it. If not, clear a 10-foot diameter area down to the soil.

2. Prepare the Ground

A metal or stone fire ring. Photo credit: REI
  • Dig a shallow pit about a foot deep in the center of your cleared area. This will contain the fire and keep it from spreading.
  • Surround the pit with a circle of rocks. This serves as a wind barrier and a boundary for your fire.

3. Gather Materials

Tinder, kindling, and firewood. Photo credit: REI

There are three main types of materials you need for a fire:

  1. Tinder: Small, dry materials that ignite easily. Examples are dry grass, leaves, paper, or cotton balls.
  2. Kindling: Small sticks and twigs, usually less than a finger’s width. They catch fire easily from the tinder.
  3. Firewood: Larger logs and branches. Once the fire is going strong, these will be your primary fuel source.

4. Constructing the Fire

There are various methods to build a fire, but two of the most popular ones are the “teepee” and the “log cabin.”

Teepee Method

Teepee campfire configuration. Photo credit: REI
  1. Place a small pile of tinder in the center of your pit.
  2. Arrange your kindling in a teepee shape over the tinder.
  3. Add a larger layer of kindling around the first, followed by your smallest pieces of firewood.

Log Cabin Method

Log cabin campfire configuration. Photo credit: REI
  1. Start with a small pile of tinder in the center.
  2. Place two pieces of kindling parallel to each other on opposite sides of the tinder.
  3. Add two more pieces on top, perpendicular to the first two.
  4. Continue in this manner, building up like a log cabin, with the larger firewood forming the outer layers.

5. Lighting the Fire

Lighting the fire using a ferro rod. Photo credit: REI
  • Light the tinder using a match or lighter. If you’re using the teepee method, the flames will rise, igniting the kindling and then the firewood.
  • If you’re using the log cabin method, you may need to add some additional tinder and kindling as the fire grows to ensure it spreads to the logs.

6. Maintaining the Fire

  • Add firewood as needed. Always place, don’t throw, to avoid scattering embers.
  • Rearrange logs occasionally using a stick or poker to ensure good airflow.

7. Putting Out the Fire

Put out the fire with water. Photo credit: REI
  • Let the fire burn down well before you intend to put it out.
  • Pour water slowly over the fire to douse the flames. Be prepared for steam.
  • Stir the ashes with a stick to ensure all embers are wet.
  • Feel with your hand above the wet ashes to ensure there’s no heat left. (Never touch directly.)

8. Safety Tips

  • Always keep a water source or fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended.
  • Avoid building fires on windy days.
  • Ensure your fire is completely out before leaving the site or going to sleep.

With practice, building a campfire becomes second nature. Whether for warmth, cooking, or just ambiance, a well-made campfire can enhance any outdoor experience. Always prioritize safety and “Leave No Trace” principles to protect yourself and the environment.

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