While it is no longer a vital component to our existence as it once was for ancient humankind, a campfire can still inspire discussion and storytelling among the group and is essential to a great camping trip. Don’t let your trip be a bore and know how to build a campfire worth remembering.
Create Your Fire Pit
It is crucial to be aware of your surroundings when building a fire so as not to start a wildfire. If your campsite has a designated fire pit, use it.
If you’re in the backcountry or a more rugged area, you will need to create your own pit. Choose an area that is clear of trees, bushes, and other plant material. Your fire bed should not be on grass, especially dead grass, but rather, on bare earth. If you cannot find a bare area, make your own. Do this by digging and raking away any plant material, ensuring you clear away all dry plant material, as it can easily catch fire.
Once you have an area cleared of plant material, make your fire bed. To do this, gather dirt and place it in the center of your cleared area, shaping the dirt into a 3-4 inch thick platform.
You will need three types of wood from the ground for your fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel. Do not cut whole trees or branches, dead or alive. Live wood will not burn and you’ll be damaging the forest, and dead trees are usually homes for birds and other wildlife.
Tinder: materials like dry leaves and bark, twigs, wood shavings, dry grass and needles, and fluffy fungi are considered tinder. You can also bring your own in the event that the surrounding tinder is wet. Homemade char cloth and dryer lint are good alternatives. Starting with tinder in your campfire is essential to building a great fire. Tinder catches fire easily, but it also burns quickly.
Kindling: typically small sticks, twigs, and branches, about 1” in width. Kindling provides more substance than tinder but doesn’t smother the tinder flame like big logs would. However, kindling also needs to be dry to burn.
Fuel: large pieces of wood. This is what will keep your fire roaring. These pieces of wood do not need to be exceptionally large, like the logs you would use in a fireplace. Instead, gather pieces of wood that are as wide as your wrist or forearm. Any larger and it will take longer for the wood to catch fire.
Lay Your Fire
Pile a few handfuls of tinder into the center of your fire pit, then add kindling to your preferred lay.
Teepee: Lay the kindling over the tinder like you’re building a tent, leaving an opening on the side the wind is blowing against. This method is best used for cooking.
Lean-to: Another method for cooking, stick a long piece of kindling into the ground at an angle over the tinder, pointing into the wind. Then lean smaller pieces of kindling against the longer piece in the ground.
Log Cabin: This method is best for long lasting campfires. Start with a teepee lay and then surround your pile of tinder with kindling, stacking pieces at right angles. The top should consist of the smallest kindling.
Once you have your fire built, ignite the tinder with a match or lighter, blowing lightly at the base of the fire. As the fire grows, add more kindling and fuel to keep the fire going. Always keep the fire small and under control, and never leave it unattended.