While it’s relatively easy to build an average campfire, it’s another story to build a roaring fire that will last for hours and make your evening unforgettable. And just between us… it’s also great to impress your friends along the way, right? I did my researches, tested on the ground, and came up with this simple step-by-step method!
- Find the spot
- Gather wood for your fire
- Build the campfire
- Maintain and manage your campfire
- Extinguish the fire and clean the site
- [Bonus] Build a campfire in wet conditions
Just follow the steps, and you will be amazed by how easy it is!
1. Find the spot
Use an existing campfire ring or fire pit, clean the area if necessary, and remove any unburnt pieces of wood that former campers may have left behind.
- If there are no existing rings, pick a clear area of about 10-foot diameter. Make sure there are no tents, trees, shrubs, or any other flammable objects too close to the spot.
- Ideally, pick a place located on bare earth, sand, or gravel. A flat rock will also work perfectly well.
- Build a fire ring with stones to contain the fire and keep it safe.
You don’t want to be that person who started a devastating wildfire in a national park, right? Check out if campfires are permitted in the area you are visiting. If you have any doubt, just ask local guards or visiting centers.
Do not start any fire under hazardous, dry, and windy conditions. This is the absolute combo for forest fires. If you have any doubts, don’t do it. To back-up you researches, you can also check the fire danger forecasts , or the current active fires in the US .
2. Gather wood for your fire!
Gather 3 types of wood
- Tinder: Probably the smallest and easiest-to-find materials to build your campfire. This includes dry leaves, pine needles, grass, small twigs, or feather sticks. You can also use crumpled newspapers.
- Kindling: most common types of campfire kindling are small branches and twigs. Make sure your kindling is thin enough, so it will quickly catch fire from the tinder.
- Fuel: Now we are talking big pieces of firewood! They will fuel your fire all night long! They should be about the size of your wrist. Make sure the pieces you pick are not too big, as they could typically finish blackened and not completely burnt once the night is over.
Collect twice more firewood than what you think is needed. You will be surprised how quickly the wood will burn! Dry wood burns much better than green or wet wood. Make sure the pieces you chose snap and crackle easily! Consider buying the firewood in a shop close to the camp, as you will quickly notice how time-consuming it can be to find the perfect pieces of wood for your campfire.
An excellent trick to get high-quality tinder is to produce feather sticks using your knife. As long as they are dry, feather sticks are by far the best tinder I have ever tested. If you can, use soft woods, as they are easier to whittle and ignite. Hard woods require much more effort. You’ll have to use what you can find, but in a mixed tree forest, go for the softest!
Do it right!
Never cut any branch of trees, dead or alive, as you may damage the forest. Avoid dead standing trees as well, as they may be the homes of birds or other small animals.
3. Build the campfire
Let’s talk about campfire building techniques!
Form a pile of tinder in the center of the ring or campfire pit
Lay your campfire using one these 4 methods
Great for cooking:
- Teepee: Lay some kindling to build a teepee over the tinder. A teepee fire requires some agility, but you’ll be quickly rewarded with beautiful and steady flames once assembled.
- Lean-to: Put a long and piece of fuel wood along the ground and tinder. Then, lean some pieces of kindling against it to build a roof over the tinder.
Great for long-lasting fires:
- Cross: Simply cross the pieces of kindling over the tinder
- Log Cabin: Build a cabin by piling up the kindling two by two around the tinder, keeping a right-angle for each stage. Reserve the smallest kindling for the top of the cabin.
Light the baby up!
Ignite the tinder with a match or lighter to start your fire! You can also use a fire starter and place it in the tinder if you have one. After starting the fire, blow gently on the tinder to help the fire catch extra oxygen. As the fire grows, you can add bigger pieces of kindling and include some fuel wood.
Watch your campfire grow! This is the moment you get rewarded after your hard work!
Additional tips: 3 rules to build a campfire
Keep in mind that a fire need three things to start and survive:
- Fuel: Ideally dry woods, from small tinder to larger pieces of wood
- Oxygen: Your campfire will need space to “breathe”, if you make it too compact at the beginning, it will struggle to grow. Always make sure an air flow can circulate between the burning woods
- Heat: The flame source to start the fire. Once it touches the tinder and if you built the campfire correctly, it will grow quickly!
4. Maintain and manage your campfire
Keep it alive!
Now it’s time to enjoy and celebrate around the campfire you just built. You just need to make sure it will last!
We can’t stress it enough, a fire needs enough space to “breathe”. When you add more firewood or move embers to reshape the fire, make sure that you don’t make it too compact. Your fire needs oxygen; otherwise, it can smother pretty quickly.
If your fire loses strength, you can shift around the firewood to allow the unburnt parts of the woods to catch fire. It will give the extra boost your campfire need!
Keep it safe
A few basic rules that we would like to remind you here:
- First thing first: keep your fire to a manageable size! While it can be very appealing to build a massive fire, make sure it always stays under control and that you would have the ability to extinguish it.
- Never leave your campfire unattended or with children alone.
- Don’t burn your trashes. This will prevent you from polluting the soil with burnt plastic or inhaling any toxic vapors.
5. Extinguish the fire and clean the campsite
One basic rule here: If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!
The best option is to wait until the wood has completely burnt to ashes.
If not possible, pour lots of water into the fire; the goal is to drown all embers. Continue until the boiling sounds stop. If you don’t have enough water at your disposal, you can also pour sand or ashes to smother the remaining embers.
Once the party is over, dismantle any structure you might have built, and particularly if you are in the backcountry. Make sure you leave the camping site as clean as you found it.
6. [Bonus] Building a campfire in wet conditions
Your camping trip is becoming more complicated than expected? The weather is poor, and you may need a warm campfire even more than in normal conditions.
Here are some tips for building a campfire in rainy conditions:
- Expand your wood researches: your main challenge is to have access to dry firewood. The campsite is likely damped, consider seeking out wood sheltered under trees, huts, or heavy brushes
- Put an extra effort into tinder and kindling: Starting a fire when it rains is the trickiest part, lots of tinder and kindling is critical. You really need that fire burning!
- Hack away: Using a knife, strip the wet bark off of firewood to expose the dry inner layers. Peel this dry wood into feather sticks: you will get tinder and drier fuel wood at the same time!
- Consider using fire starters to light the tinder, and don’t forget waterproof matches!
- Dry it out: Lay the larger pieces of wood close to your fire to help it dry out as you go.
Maybe you’re beginning in the camping world or already an experienced outdoors aficionado, the ability to build a campfire is a skill every camper should learn. Remember that there are no strict rules (except when it comes to fire safety), so feel free to do your own experiences, enjoy, and you’ll get better just by doing!