free web stats

The Basics of Building a Campfire

One of the first things that come to my mind when I think of going camping is a roaring, crackling campfire. A campsite just isn’t the same without a campfire.

I would even venture to say that a campsite is at least ten times more inviting after building a campfire.

Building a Campfire

Hmmm…keyword there…building. Why build a fire? Why not make a fire? Well, it is not that easy. Even with the convenience of liquid starter fuel, lighting a fire can be difficult.



Just ask anyone who has ever burned through a full can of lighter fluid only to end up with blackened, steamy logs and no fire. This is the reason why it is called building a campfire, and it is just that. It is a form of a building.

As with any building project, a campfire needs materials. Rather than being put together to create a finished product, however, these materials are burned in sequence to create a finished product.

The burning of one material paves the way for and is replaced by, another material to-be-burned. This pattern of succession ultimately culminates in a relaxing finished product everyone can enjoy.

Parts of a Fire

There are three parts to a fire. You need tinder, kindling, and fuel. Logically you want something that catches fire easily so it must be dry. I make fire starters out of a paper egg carton, dryer lint and melted candle wax. Kindling is smaller twigs or splits of wood about the size of a pencil. This is the stuff your small flame from the tinder with the catch too.

wood for campfire

The next size up is your regular wood for your fire. Split wood burns easier than round logs. Knowing how these three parts work makes it easier to start a fire or keep one going no matter what the weather. It may not be important to a backyard party but it could save your life in an emergency situation. Be prepared.

Three materials are:

Tinder – This can be any light, dry, fast-burning material.

This includes fuels such as pine needles, grass, hardwood leaves, wood shavings, and dry moss.

Kindling – This includes small twigs and branches (<2” diameter), as well as bark and pine pitch.

You could say that kindling creates the fire that lights the final campfire.

Fuel Wood – This is the actual firewood: large diameter wood intended for use as fuel for the main campfire.

This is usually the wood of trees such as oak, hickory, mesquite or pinyon.

Use Rocks to Encircling the Fire

The campfire should be built in an enclosure constructed well enough to contain it, such as a steel campfire ring or a campfire ring made of rocks.

In areas where there are no rocks, a mound of earth can be built encircling the fire.

You can also encircle the campfire with a simple trench, anything to prevent the campfire from escaping and causing a wildfire.

Check your local fire regulations and local weather conditions for current fire danger status before attempting to build a campfire.

Devastating wildfire can occur in mere minutes during red flag conditions.

Now it is finally time to build the actual campfire, but before you get started, make sure your array of fuels is within reach. The first task is to light the tinder. Tinder burns quickly, so you will want to have some of your smallest diameter kindling in hand.

You will want to place a small amount of this kindling over the flame, gradually adding more as flame intensifies.

Continue adding progressively larger pieces of kindling as the campfire continues to grow. Do not add too much as this will smother the fire.

Once the largest kindling is well ablaze, the fuelwood can be ignited.

The campfire can now be maintained by adding additional fuelwood as needed.

Enjoy your roaring campfire!

Remember to maintain your campfire and monitor its enclosure to prevent the occurrence of a wildfire. Campfires are extremely dangerous. Always use caution when using any type of fire.

Save any leftover tinder and kindling to restart your campfire, and remember that building a campfire is building at its most basic. You start with light, feathery fuels and end up with a roaring blaze of comfort.

Campfire Safety

Always make sure you light the fire in a safe place. Dig away any grass or combustible material with a ten-foot circle of the fire pit. Lay down sand or pea gravel deep enough to wiggles your toes in on a hot summer night.

Make your fire pit at least 3 or 4 feet across and surround the pit with stone, brick or precast concrete fire rings. The look is up to you as long as the function is safe.

Keep a couple of buckets of water or a garden hose handy just in case the spark show does spread beyond…

Always make sure you have the required permits or notifications suitable for your location. Be aware of any local fire bans as well.

Tips on Fire Starting

Make sure you have a clear site and lots of fuel and kindling before your even start lighting the fire. Nothing is worse than starting the fire and then running around looking for more wood. The rule of thumb is to gather what you think is enough wood then triple it.

Build the fire with the wind at your back. This will do two things. It will keep the smoke out of your eyes and it will push the flame up into the campfire you are laying.

If you gather tinder in the wild to start to make sure it is dry. Most conifer tree bark can be stripped into pieces by hand. You can then rolled them between your palms to loosen up the fibers into a ball of wool like consistency. Birch bark is good but only peel the outer papery part that is flaking naturally, don’t cut into the tree to strip the bark.

Fire Starters

Normal matches get wet, stay lit for only a few seconds and are easily blown out. Hikers, backpackers, and campers need a reliable lightweight and compact means of starting a campfire or a way to light their canister stove. A survival fire starter is a must have, to ensure a fire can be started in all types of weather conditions.

For example, the Magnesium Fire Starter with a flame source of 5400 degrees will provide hundreds of shavings for fires. Or the Primus Ignition Steel with a heat source of 3000 degrees Celsius works in rain and snow and can be used thousands of times.

Tent campers and RV campers enjoy sitting around a campfire at night telling stories or just talking about the day. It’s very relaxing and can be rewarding. For these type campers, weight and size for a fire starter is not an issue. The Black Rock Powder Co. has excellent fire starter logs made from sawdust that burn up to 30 minutes.

I make fire starters out of a paper egg carton, dryer lint, and melted candle wax.

Types or Styles of Fire

Teepee Fire

A teepee fire where all the wood is piled up like a teepee starting with tinder, kindling over the tinder and wood over the kindling. When you light the tinder the flame naturally goes up into the waiting wood. This is a quick burning fire that is great for cooking, roasting marshmallows etc.

Crisscross Fire

A crisscross or log cabin fire starts like a teepee fire with tinder and kindling. But the fuelwood is laid flat close together and stacked alternately like a log cabin. This is a slow cooking or a long-lasting fire. It is also the best way to make large coals used for cooking.

Star Fire

A star fire is used when camping as an overnight heating fire. Once the fire is going the fuel logs are spread out radially as pushed in towards the center when they burn down. This way you can have long logs reducing the amount of firewood cutting needed.

Combination Fire

The combination fire is what I use all the time for a backyard fire. I lay down a solid layer of wood with a second solid layer laid down on top crossing the first. This makes a raised platform keeping my tinder out of any leftover ashes from previous campfires.

Then I start a teepee fire in the center of that and then circle that teepee with fuel log cabin style up around the teepee. This starts quick and casts many dancing shadows as the teepee fire burns inside the cabin. After a while, the cabin burns merrily and crumbles in on itself in a show of sparks. This is the beginning of story time as after the big spark show the fire dies down to low embers and tiny flames of the solid base.

Exactly How to Create a Swedish Fire Torch

The Swedish fire torch is an excellent and effective technique to set up a fireplace that can easily be put to use for a wide range of needs. Also regarded as a Canadian Candle, in substance, it is a solo log position upright. It has got a level cooking surface area and is self-feeding, a fire burning up inside. When lit up, it appears like to a torch/candle.

Based upon the dimensions and the dryness of the log, the fire can burn up between one to five hours without having any kind of notice. Throughout the thirty years warfare in Europe, 1618 – 1648, troops are well-known to implemented these types of torches for the heating system, lighting, and food preparation. In locations where timber resources are minimal and difficult to get, you can just make use of it like a campfire.

The Swedish Fire Torch is wonderful for cooking food whenever you are camping outdoors. This is because it is quick to fire up, it requires a small amount of area, and is likewise a fantastic open fire to make it snow. The primary portion of the structure is held off the wetland surface.

Get a moderately sized log, which has a level top and the base. You can slash two perpendicular cut about three-fourths straight down into the top of the log, this is the major fuel for the fire. It is very crucial not to break up the log from its bottom.

Fill up the cuts with kindling. The tinder, which usually will catch a flame and set off the fire, ought to be positioned at the top of the torch and may also be inserted erratically in between the kindling. The ashes and fire flames of the tinder will once be lighted, fall down into the lower levels, triggering them to also fire up.

This helps to establish fire to the four sectors of the divided log. The tinder can be lit up using a lighter or match. Oxygen from the cuts on the area will be drawn into the log to maintain the fire if carried out the right way. When setting up, the fire can burn off easily without having any additional attention.

Tip: If you’re making use of a larger log you may create two, four or six cuts. It’s much easier to try to make the cuts when the piece of timber is still connected with a long log.

Selecting the Proper Wood for Your Campfire

A story opens on a small group of first-time campers in the picturesque American backcountry.

Excited about spending their first-night camping in the great outdoors, they’re hard at work preparing their campsite.

Among the many tasks involved in this endeavor is that of building the campfire.

To them, this will be the fun part, so they put extra effort into it. They carefully prepare the fire enclosure and they begin gathering wood.

Finding wood was easy. There were pieces all around the campsite. They wondered why other campers had not used it already.

“Maybe most of the other campers that camp here is yuppies who buy all their firewood.” One of them says.

This being said, they begin building their campfire.

Fortunately, one of them has learned how to start a campfire before and he did print out the how-to manual with him. So getting the fire started is no problem at all. The problem, in fact, is the fire itself.

In addition to producing ungodly quantities of thick white smoke, the fire hisses, pops and crackles loudly while sending sparks and small embers as far away as fifteen feet. Everyone begins to run for cover.

One member even burns its way into one of the campers’ pants, sending him into a tribal-like fury-of-a-dance and bringing much laughter.

This same story unfolds at countless campsites across the country. It can, however, be prevented by selecting the proper firewood.

Not all wood is created equal. Some burn hot and even, while others burn cool and patchy. Some wood puts out noxious black smoke, while other wood just smokes excessively. Still other types of wood crackle and eject tiny embers.

Selecting the proper firewood is crucial to having a pleasant campfire experience, and it is simple if you know what to look for.

Good firewood has four main characteristics. The first characteristic is that it burns cleanly, that is, it does not put out more smoke than flame. The next characteristic is that it burns evenly. This is especially important for cooking.

Another characteristic of good firewood is that it must have a high overall heat value. Now, don’t get mind-boggled. All this means is that it must “burn hot.”

The flavor of the smoke produced by the firewood is only important if you plan to grill over your campfire. While this is largely a function of preference, there are some woods that are poor choices for grilling (southern pine, for example).

Three common wood species that are favorable for use as firewood include:

Oak – A worldwide favorite, oak wood generates excellent and even heat when burned and imparts a pleasant flavor on the food.

Mesquite – Coveted in the desert southwest, mesquite wood burns. It has tremendous even heat and imparts an excellent flavor on the food.

Pinyon Pine – Pinyon pine is favorite firewood in the mountain southwest. It burns with a good even heat but leaves a bitter taste on food.

Three common wood species to avoid when collecting firewood include:

Southern Pine – This is a horrible choice for firewood as it produces noxious smoke and tends to coat everything in thick, black soot.

True Fir – Known in some locales as “piss fir.” True fir is undesirable firewood for the same reasons as southern pine (above).

Elm – Elm would probably not be such bad firewood if it were not for the excessive popping and ember-shooting that takes place when it is burned.

There are many other species out there that are both desirable and undesirable for use as firewood. This is just a guide to a few of the more common species encountered on the North American continent.

When using unidentified wood as firewood, it is best to give a few pieces a “test burn” for both smoke and heat value. Always use the wood of larger tree species and never grill over unidentified wood.

Campfire Poker Required

The other days, my friend, John, from the United States told me a story about campfire too. He has loaded up his campfire poker two days ahead of time for his semi-annual fishing trip because he did not want to forget it.

This was his first trip of the year, so he was very excited about it. When packing for a trip to haste, something is usually forgotten and he will not forget to pack his wrought iron campfire poker.

It is believed there are two categories of campers:

  • Those who travel light by packing minimal supplies and few necessities just enough stuff to get by.
  • The other category packs up everything they might need or want or feel they should have including the kitchen sink. Oh, wait…they make portable sinks now, just for camping.

The category my friend fall into is in between the two. Haven’t got a name for it, but he likes to travel light, with a couple of exceptions…his wrought iron campfire poker and a lighter. Why?

Last year, as an example, his fishing buddy decided it would be too warm that weekend to have a campfire. He packed up his camp stove and said they could cook their meals on it…he even had all the pots and pans. What his friend did not pack was the fuel for the stove. He forgot, and there they were in the middle of the woods…very hungry with a great stove that they could not use.

His friend tried to make up for the blunder as John watched him scurry about, gathering sticks and leaves…fuel for the fire. Talk about frantic haste. He was a little upset when asking John for his lighter as John stood there with a crooked grin on his face.

Some of the gatherings his friend collected were slightly damp and as he attempted to light this little pile of what would be their campfire for the weekend, His friend got down on all fours, getting his face in close and blew on the sparks to help with ignition.

Well, wouldn’t you know, the breeze shifted just then and his friend ended up with soot and sparks in his hair, eyes and in all probability up his nose. John told him this is enough and to simmer down. John had also packed some kindling.

Yes, John had taken his campfire poker along on that trip. It came in very handy in maintaining the campfire that they ended up cooking on.

Actually, they used the campfire poker all weekend, keeping the campfire stoked, to keep warm, because the weatherman changed his forecast. A four-day cold snap had encroached from the North. But the fishing was great.

John would not go on any camping trip without his wrought iron campfire poker. He could tell more stories about why, but the end result comes up the same. Plainly spoken, it is just a great tool to have.

The campfire is the heart of the campsite…used for light, warmth, cooking, and conversation. It should at all times be maintained properly…and safely. How can you safely move burning wood and embers by using an old wooden stick or kicking the fire with your shoes? John wonder…

Get yourself a good campfire poker that will do the job you intended and always take it with you on every camping trip. Oh, and remember the lighter too.

You can download the campfire equipment checklist to ensure all the necessary items are in place before start your campfire.

Leave a Reply