Best Ways To Build a Campfire
You’ve gone back to the wild – well, at least for a night or two – and are camping out beneath the stars. You’re kicking back and enjoying the simple pleasures of time under canvas and soaking up the great outdoors. After a hard day hiking or biking out on the trail, you’ve settled back in camp and your thoughts have turned to a nice cold strong beer, the evening meal and keeping night-time warm.
Making the campfire is second nature and you’ll have it whipped up and blazing in no time. Or will you? The last thing you need as the sun goes down is a mad scramble to set the fire before it goes too dark. If this sounds like you, then have no fear. All you need to do is follow Gear Hungry’s flamingly effective tutorial on fire-starting techniques and guide to building a campfire the right way so you can go back to eating your S’mores in no time.
What you will need – the campfire basics
When planning ahead and packing for your camping trip, there are a few camping essentials you should bring with you to make your fire-starting efforts more of a long-lasting spark than a total damp squib. Yup, it is a nice idea to be striking a flint or rubbing two sticks together to make fire like a Wild West pioneer but to be honest, if you can make your life easier, then do.
Find room in your backpacking backpack for a quick-fire source – we’re talking a box of matches, a sufficiently filled lighter or a firestarter but make sure they are packed so they can be kept dry. Add to your essential list some super dry tinder to get the embers going – newspaper, cardboard, lint from your clothes dryer or fire sticks are good – and you’re on your way.
Create your fire bed
You’ve set up camp and are quickly getting back to nature. You now need to turn your attention to where you want to put your fire. First things first, ensure that fires are permitted – signs in the campsite should tell you or ask the ranger. Fires may well be allowed but there could also be some restrictions on the type of fire and the materials you can use.
Some campsites will have established rings for building a fire but if yours doesn’t then you need to choose the right spot for your campfire and create it yourself. When picking the location, these are the essentials to bear in mind: the site for your fire needs to be at least 15 feet from the nearest blow-up tent and well away from surrounding trees, bushes, greenery or any other potentially flammable objects. Also, choose a spot that is sheltered as much as it can be from any gusts of wind.
Now, to creating your fire bed if the site doesn’t have ready-made fire rings. Your fire bed should always be on bare earth so no grass – you may need to clear an area and if so, take extra care to clear away any dry plant material that could ignite. Next, you need to dig your fire pit by scooping away a couple of inches of dirt to create a nice dip. Top tip: you will need the scooped out dirt to smother flames in an emergency and also to fill in your pit at the end of your camping trip so keep it close to hand. You could use the dirt to create a ring around the pit to also provide extra insulation and act as a ‘firewall’.
Gather your wood
There’s no fire without wood, so you now need to go gatherin’. Here are a few firewood selection tips. First, the three types you will need to set a roaringly good fire are tinder, kindling and fuel wood.
Tinder is the starter for the fire ignition so if you haven’t brought any of your own, look around for alternatives – dry leaves, dry bark or dry grass work well. Next, you will need some kindling – with the tinder most likely to burn up quickly, you will need something a bit more substantial that can keep the new flame going without smothering the fire. Look for small twigs and branches, ideally the width of a pencil. Your kindling needs to be really dry so it can burn easily – if your twigs are damp, scrape away the wet bark with a pocket or camping knife.
Finally, you need the main fuel for your fire to keep it burning long into the evening. Look for medium-sized branches about the width of your forearm so it can catch when you put it on the fire – too big and it will take an age to ignite. Collect enough kindling, tinder, and fuelwood to set your fire, and then more to keep it burning. Another top tip – look for wood that snaps easily, this way you know that it is dry enough to burn.
Lay and light your fire
The quickest way to lay a good campfire is with the ‘teepee’ – which is also the most recognizable and easiest to maintain.
If you can find some, place a decent sized piece of dry bark in the center of your fire pit and put a good bundle of tinder on top before creating a teepee shape over the tinder with some of your kindling. Keep adding more kindling until you have a good, strong pyramid shape, allowing for some space between the twigs so air can get in. Now arrange some of your fuelwood around the outside, layered and piled but not smothering the central teepee or the tinder.
You’re now ready to ignite! Place a lit match under your tinder and allow it to take flame. The teepee structure helps to direct the fledgling flame upwards and into the dry kindling where it should take hold. The air venting spaces you’ve created in the teepee will also help to fan and grow the baby flame. If all goes well, the burning tinder will then ignite the fuelwood to create your campfire. If needed you should nurture the growing flame and slowly add more kindling or fuelwood to get it burning bright. As the fire takes to hold the kindling teepee will eventually collapse and will keep feeding your merrily blazing campfire. You’re totally up and running!
With your reserve kindling and firewood close to hand, keep an eye on your campfire as it will eventually start to burn low. Catch this in time by feeding the flames regularly but just be careful of putting on too much at once or you could knock out the fire back to embers and you will need to stoke it up once again.
You’re now all set to hang out around the campfire, so open those camping chairs, crack open a beer, pop a marshmallow on the end of a toasting stick and enjoy stargazing and the sheer magic of being outside and around a blazing fire after dark.
Don’t forget to put it out
Try to plan a little ahead as a campfire always takes longer than you expect to be totally put out and leaving glowing embers or smoldering ashes as you head off to bed is a total no-no.
Start by sprinkling water on the flames of your campfire. As tempting as it might be, don’t pour a whole bucket of water on the fire as you don’t want to flood your fire pit, especially if your camping trip still has a few nights to go. As you sprinkle the water over the dying embers, stir with a stick to make sure all the ashes are wet. Stir deeper into the ashes to bring any stubborn embers up to the surface and then sprinkle some more with water until they are gone. When you don’t see any steam or hear any fire hissing you know you are there.
Do one final rake of the ashes to make sure you are happy your campfire is dead, then head for your backpacking tent.
Clear your fire pit and get on your way!
It’s the morning after the campfire-heated night before and the end of your awesome camping trip. Before you pack up your solo tent and move on, you will want to clear your tracks and leave the campsite as you found it. You will also need to dispose of the ashes now that your campfire is stone cold. Dig them out and here’s a good tip, pop them in a plastic bag or backpack liner and slowly spread the ashes on the ground as you do your final hike.
But before you do head off, you have just one last task and that’s to fill in your fire pit. Use the soil you dug out and used to create a fire break around the pit to refill the hole and replace any turf or grass you may have removed.
Then walk away, safe in the knowledge you are now officially a king of the campfire!
- How to build a campfire – WikiHow