How to Build a Campfire for Outdoor Camping
How to Build a Campfire – Outdoor Campfire Tips
There are hundreds of link resources on the Net about how to build an outdoor camping campfire, so I won’t go into those details here. (but I will provide some of the better links below, along with a campfire checklist for your trip)
The most important campfire tips concern campfire safety:
- You should have at least a 6’ circle, (10’ is better), of cleared ground around your campfire – no combustibles like leaves, paper, tents, or camping gear
- No low over-hanging branches that can catch fire.
- The campfire should be enclosed by a: fire-ring, rocks, or large chunks of firewood. This will keeps hot coals or flaming wood from rolling out of the campfire, and wandering toes from stepping into the fire.
- A bucket of water and a camp shovel nearby for emergency fire control, and to put out your fire when done.
- DO NOT try to have an open campfire in extremely windy conditions, you cannot control where hot ash and embers will be blown! Always think safety before comfort!
- Always have a designated, well marked, (roped off), chopping area so no one accidentally walks into a swinging axe or flying piece of chopped wood.
Always have a supply of firewood ready before
starting the fire. Save the frustration of having the tinder burn out before you have more firewood to add.
What type of campfire do you want?
Fast heat and light;
- Use teepee construction – make a mound of tinder over the fire starter, (wad of paper, homemade or commercial firestarters), stand all your kindling on end, like a teepee shape, around the tinder. (make sure to leave access to the firestarter). As the kindling starts to burn, add more “thumb-size” pieces of firewood. As they catch fire begin adding larger pieces, (bulk fuel), of firewood. The fire will burn upwards faster and brighter, and will produce a lot of cooking coals quickly.
Primarily for cooking;
- Start with the teepee as above, but when the first supply of bulk wood burns down, stack larger pieces of firewood around the base, like a log cabin, but with each layer closing in over the burning pieces already there.
- Start with the teepee method above, but when the first layers falls in, just drop one or two of your largest pieces on top of the coals. These will burn slower and last longer
Campfire cooking tip: use a key-hole campfire layout. It will give you the best of all the above. Especially for cooking your favorite campfire recipes.
Transporting wood diseases and harmful insects is a real problem that most campers don’t understand. Firewood from your area may contain things that are harmful to trees in other areas, so many states have laws against transporting firewood across state lines. Be safe, don’t try to take your own firewood, plan on buying or gathering it in your camping area.
Always make sure it is ok to gather fallen firewood in your camping area. Never cut living green wood for your campfire without permission.
Building and lighting your campfire:
I like the teepee method of campfire construction for the tinder and kindling, surrounded with a pyramid of larger fire wood. Largest pieces on the bottom with gradually smaller pieces stacked until 3 sides of the pyramid enclose the tee-pee. (one side open to reach the tinder)
But I don’t like the recommendations to use newspaper or pine needles under your teepee for tinder. (what if your newspaper gets damp or it’s raining?) A chunk of some type of fire-starter makes the job much more reliable and easy. Fire-starters are so easy to make, (see a Boy Scout example), and inexpensive to buy, (see commercial fire-starters),
Lighter or matches – Have both if you want, but ALWAYS have waterproof strike-anywhere matches. You will be surprised how much harder it is to try to “Flic-a-Bic” and then poke it into your tinder to start the fire. You almost always singe the thumb holding the lighter tab, and heaven help you if your lighter flint wheel gets wet. So just strike a match and go!
You can make your own waterproof camping matches just by dipping strike-anywhere kitchen matches in some candle wax.
Have a good supply of firewood ready and nearby before you light your campfire. You would be surprised out how many campers just start with the kindling, and then discover their fire has burned out while they went to look for more wood.
- Your campfire will be a gathering area, so pick a location with room for campers to gather around, (with chairs), but not upwind of your tent entrance. (if you are using an in-place fire-ring, then consider the wind direction when you place your tents.
Putting out your campfire;
A campfire should never be left burning unattended! And just kicking apart the burning pieces of firewood and leaving it to nature to burn up the coals and put itself out, is not smart, safe camping. It is an irresponsibility that should bar you from ever having an outdoor campfire again.
Follow these steps to put-out your campfire:
- separate the burning firewood pieces to the edge of your fire-ring
- stir and spread the hot coals to get the layer as thin as possible
- Sprinkle water with your hands or a cup; don’t just dump it, over the coals and smoldering firewood pieces of the campfire.
- Stir coals and repeat this. Until you no longer see any glowing embers or rising smoke.
- Roll over any remaining big pieces of partially burned wood to make sure they are not still smoldering.
- If this is your last campfire of the trip, and you are sure it is completely out, cover the ashes with dirt or sod so you don’t leave a campfire scar at the campsite.
An outdoor campfire is big part of your camping experience. It can provide; light, heat, and a way to cook your food, but best of all it will be the gathering point for campers to gather around and share the camaraderie of the outdoor camping experience. So take time to plan your campfire, and campfire safety. Your camping trip will be better for it.
Campfire items checklist for your camping trip.
How to build a Campfire – video
How to build a Campfire – article
ps. here are some campfire supplies I use that have become standards of my camping gear. Once you have one of these camp tools you will wonder how you ever did without it. Especially when you see how inexpensive they are when you buy them online.
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