If you've ever wondered how to build a campfire, you're in the right place, and that bag of marshmallows in your pantry should be very scared. At the end of the long outdoor day, there are 3 primary ways to build a campfire, each of which we'll go over below. Whatever type of campfire you make on your next camping trip, we hope this guide to campfire building gets your fire burning with the brilliance of nuclear star fire.
How to Build a Campfire (The Right Way)
To build the best campfire ever, you'll want to put fire safety first. After all, the outdoor code is and ever will be "leave no trace," which includes fire signs. Moreover, the last thing any camper wants is to start a backcountry wildfire that becomes a devastating forest fire that destroys their favorite national park. As such, consider these tips and tricks that would make your old pal Smokey the Bear incredibly proud:
1. Always build your rager in a fire ring or fire pit of some sort. If your campsite doesn't already have a ring of its own, you can form one out of rocks and/or dig a hole in the ground to facilitate it. This will help block excessive airflow and, more importantly, keep rolling bits of burning mass contained in their rightful place.
2. Keep a bucket of water and/or sand on hand to douse rogue flames. Even better, if you can manage it, camp with a fire extinguisher. Life pro tip: always keep a fire extinguisher in your car.
3. As tempting as it may be, don't run, jump, or play around your campfire. While waltzing on hot coals and leaping over raging bonfire pits might seem fun, burns and other injuries definitely aren't.
4. Keep your distance, especially if you're wearing poly-fabrics. We've seen shoes melt and socks turn to napalm without much warning, so be sure to stay a respectable distance from campfires, particularly if you're wearing anything flammable. Better yet, don't wear flammable clothing while camping. This goes for your tent and other camping gear as well.
How to Start a Campfire
There's one more thing we need to go over before we get to the types of campfires themselves: fire starters. These include both the smaller flammable bits of material that will catch fire, known as tinder, as well as fire-starting agents. Below are some standard options:
- Firestarters: Lighters, matches, waterproof matches, flint and steel, magnifying glasses (requires strong sunshine), a long piece of kindling that's been set on fire by a stove or other source, and if you're really ambitious, rustic techniques like hand drills
- Tinder: Kindling (i.e., small pieces of dry wood), small twigs, wood shavings, cotton balls, dry leaves, dry grass, dryer lint, homemade tinder bundles, store-bought options (e.g., Duraflame logs, Lightning Nuggets, and many others), lighter fluid (best used in combination with other catchers)
Building Different Types of Campfires
To build a campfire, you're always going to need larger pieces of firewood and smaller bits of tinder, as discussed above. For better or worse, the most popular styles are named after different human habitats, which isn't always very reassuring. They are as follows.
1. Log Cabin
Did you ever play with Lincoln Logs growing up? Building a log cabin fire is a lot like that.
- First, add kindling or whatever tinder you've chosen. Your smaller, drier bits of matter will essentially live inside the cabin like a little flammable family.
- Next, place two pieces of fuelwood on both sides of your tinder, parallel to one another, anywhere from a hand's width to a foot apart (it really depends on the length of your pieces).
- After that, place two more parallel pieces on top of the first two, perpendicular to those. You should have what is more or less a tic-tac-toe board with your tinder in the center.
- Continue this process until you have a decent size heap, but avoid building so high that your log cabin becomes unstable (depends on the circumference and shape of the wood).
Whether you spell it "tepee" or "teepee," this classic design is just as good as the log cabin approach, depending on who you ask.
- Just like the log cabin, start by putting small sticks or whatever tinder you've chosen wherever the center of the fire will be.
- Lean your larger pieces of wood against each other, end to end, at about 45 to 70 degrees each, forming a small teepee. This might take a few tries, as split logs aren't exactly built for balance.
- Make sure to leave enough gaps for airflow. You're not trying to build a solid cone.
While the above approaches are considered by many to be the preferable choices, lean-to-fire is still a viable option. It's also straightforward:
- Set your primary fuel log on its long side.
- Place your tinder right beside the log.
- Lean a combination of more logs, kindling, and/or long sticks against the log, creating a slope that covers your tinder. You should now have a flammable family that's living a little more like hobos than their teepee and log cabin counterparts. Pro tip: a lean-to actually makes a decent outdoor shelter for humans, as long as you don't set it on fire.
What's your preferred campfire method? Share your tips and tricks on Our Wide Open Roads Facebook!