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How to Start a Campfire: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

How to Start a Campfire

Campfires are one of the best part of camping. Here are 5 fundamental things to keep in mind that will help you know how to start a campfire for your camping trip!

Campfires are one of the most iconic parts of any camping trip. If you are camping or even if you are at an outdoor summer camp, building a campfire is a must! The trick, of course, is how do you actually start a campfire.. regardless of where you are?

how to start a campfire


Step One : Build or find a fire ring

If you’re at a campground, there are usually designated fire rings, fireplaces, or grills to build fires. Most campgrounds have some version of the above. Using a fire ring it will keep your fire contained and reduce your impact on the environment. However, check with the campground first to confirm if fires are permitted. In some areas you will find that it’s prohibited to start campfires, especially during the dry periods. 

If you are car camping at a site that’s undeveloped, make sure to check with the land administer office in case a campfire permit is required. 

Before you start the fire evaluate the site first. If the site has branches that are hanging low, or is brushy, keep the fire small, or consider skipping it entirely. When conditions are dry, embers that fly-away from the fire may easily start a wildfire. 

If you’re in a back-country area where fires are permitted, if there’s a fire ring that’s been left behind- use it and clean it out before leaving. Only build a new one in emergency situations, and dismantle it afterwards if the situation permits. Remove all flammable material from the fire pit. Ideally the base of the fire should be made out of gravel, sand, or mineral soil. When you choose your campfire site, keep in mind that heat sterilizes healthy soil.

how to start a campfire

Step Two : Gather Fuel for the campfire

To start a campfire that’s successful, you’ll need three important types of fuel- tinder, kindling, and firewood. Tinder consists of needles, small twigs, forest duff, or dry leaves. Kindling consists of small sticks that are less than one inch around. Firewood consists of large pieces of wood, that keep the fire going for a long time.

If you’re at a campground, use the local firewood. You will find them at nearby stores or at the camp store. Many campgrounds actually require you to use their wood so they can guard against introducing non-native bugs or wildlife into their ecosystem.

how to start a campfire

If you’re in a back-country area, gather downed wood that’s far from your site. Never break off branches or cut live trees, or even dead trees. Wildlife and birds make use of the dead snags and branches.

Also, avoid using pieces of wood that are thicker than the wrist of an adult, as these thick pieces of wood rarely burn completely. This results in scraps that are blackened and unsightly. When gathering wood, keep in mind about the principles of Leave No Trace.

Step Three : Get the Campfire Built

There are four different campfires that you can try- Log Cabin Fire, Lean-to Fire, Teepee Fire, and Cross Fire.

The Log Cabin Fire is ideal for a long-lasting fire. Start by making a kindling teepee atop the tinder, thereafter add two logs on either side of the cone. Then add another two logs on top of the first logs to form a square. Continue to build up by adding shorter and smaller firewood pieces until a cabin is formed, then top it off with some light kindling.

The Lean-to Fire is ideal for cooking. Begin by sticking a piece of long kindling above your tinder and into the ground at a thirty degree angle, with the other end pointing towards the wind. Continue by leaning smaller kindling pieces against the long kindling piece on both sides, forming a tent. When the kindling catches fire, continue to add more along with your firewood.

The Teepee Fire is also ideal for cooking. Start off by arranging the kindling in the style of a teepee over the tinder, thereafter use firewood to build a larger teepee over the kindling. When the Teepee Fire is lit, the flames will rise up into the larger pieces of wood through the kindling. 

The Cross Fire is also ideal for a long-lasting fire. Begin by laying the kindling over the tinder in a crisscross style, thereafter add the firewood in the same way.

how to start a campfire

Step Four : Light the campfire

You can light the tinder using a lighter or match, and use fire starter to help the tinder catch the flame. Make sure that the matches are waterproof.

After the tinder is lit, lightly blow at the fire’s base to provide oxygen to increase the fires intensity and ignite the wood even more. While the first burns, start moving the embers to the center so that they can burn completely- which should ideally be reduced to white ash.

how to start a campfire

Step Five : Put Out the Campfire

It’s best to follow the recommendations of the local land managers, but in general you put out the fire by pouring water on it. Avoid standing too close, otherwise you’ll be at risk of being scalded by the steam. Stir the ashes and add more water, repeating as needed until the ashes are cool to the touch. The fire and embers should be out completely and cold before you leave.

how to start a campfire

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