• Paul Wilson

9 Tips for Building a Campfire

Building the perfect campfire is one of the prerequisites of setting up a good camp. An excellent campfire provides both warmth and illumination. It also makes a great spot for telling stories or cooking camp food. No matter the reason, you need to be able to build a long-lasting and safe campfire.

It takes some skill to create a safe and durable campfire, as simple as it seems. Being an avid camper from my days as a scout has helped refine my campfire-building skills. Now I can confidently say I have discovered the ultimate tips on building a campfire which I will share below.


1. Know and Follow All Campsite Rules Regarding Campfires

Each campground has specific rules when it comes to campfires. Some ban it outright. Others allow it within a section of the grounds. Especially in the Southwest, on windy days, expect fire bans to be in effect. Therefore, before starting a campfire, check-in with the camp authorities to confirm that fires are permitted.

Also, if campfires are allowed, ask for rules regarding them. Know if firewood is available for sale or if you can scavenge for sticks on your own. Note that in most of the national parks of the Southwest, collecting wood is illegal. If in doubt, always refer to these general Leave No Trace principles.

Disobeying camp rules will get you and your camp party booted out of the campsite.


2. Use A Fire Pit

The job of a fire pit is to help keep your firewood in position and prevent the fire from spreading and getting out of hand. Most campgrounds in the Southwest come pre-equipped with campfire rings. Use them. If you practice dispersed camping, look for an area that already has a fire ring.

To make your campfire more efficient and contained, dig a pit in the ground that is about 2-3 inches deep and maybe 30 inches in diameter. Add a turf wall and stone around the pit.



3. Follow Safety Precautions

Whenever you are out camping, remember that safety is paramount. Before setting your campfire, you need to observe various safety precautions.

First, ensure that your campfire is some distance away from any vehicles, tents, or shrubbery. You don’t want your fire to spread by having flammable objects in close contact.

Also, check the wind direction before setting up your campfire. Change the campfire location if the wind is in the direction of where your tents are set up. Even after you set up the campfire, continue to check the wind direction

Having a bucket of water handy isn’t a bad idea. If things get out of hand, you can douse out the fire with a bucket of water.

Monitor the fire to ensure it doesn't grow into an inferno. Remove sticks from the fire if you think it's getting more prominent than you want.


pickup truck, tent, campfire on a beach
Campfire on the beach

4. Use Dry Kindling Sticks and Arrange in the Best Position

The primary ingredient for a campfire is firewood. You can easily find firewood bundles for sale at campgrounds, grocery stores, and gas stations all around the Southwest. Some bundles include tinder and kindling for the fire, which are small sticks to use as fire starters. If your bundle does not include kindling, you can buy fire starters separately.

Now, it’s time to start the fire. First, ensure that the kindling sticks and wood for the campfire are dry. Wet bars don't burn efficiently and produce a lot of smoke. Next, choose a way to arrange your firewood.

Here are the various ways you can organize your fire. Pick the way that suits you best:


Lean-To

The lean-to position is excellent if you are thinking of building a campfire on a breezy night. The lean-to protects your campfire from heavy winds.

Begin by placing a large log or rock against the wind. Next, lean some kindling on the log, on its wind-blocked side, and carefully shove your tinder underneath the lean-to. You're ready to light the fire starter. After a while, the kindling also catches fire. As the fire grows, add larger logs to it until the fire reaches the size you want.


Teepee

When the wood available for your campfire isn't much, you should arrange it in the star position. First, build a teepee with kindling, and start it. Then stand four or five logs around the fire to form an outer teepee.


Log Cabin

Arrange your wood in a log cabin position for a long-lasting, easy-to-maintain campfire.

To build the log cabin campfire, lay two logs on the ground parallel to each other. Lay another two logs perpendicular to the earlier two, and continue in that fashion. Place your tinder and kindling in the middle and light your fire.


Find more information on how to build a campfire here.



5. Use Thin Tinder

There's no campfire without tinder. To avoid confusion, no, we aren't talking about the app. We are talking about easily ignitable materials we need to build the campfire. Some examples of tinder include pine needles, cardboard pieces, dry leaves, or grass.

Try not to use a lot of tinder or make it too thick because it causes a lot of smoke.


6. Add More Logs at Vertical Angle

Adding more logs to your campfire increases the strength of the fire. Now, there’s a science to adding logs to your fire. No matter the position you start with, it is best to add extra logs at a vertical angle to the fire. Adding the logs this way ensures the fire is more controllable and lasts longer.


7. For Cooking, It Is Better to Let Fire Go Out First

I have learned that cooking over a full blown campfire often leads to burnt food because you can't control the heat. Wait for the fire to reduce to smoldering charcoal first if you want to cook over your campfire.

Reducing the fire to smolders means reduced heat, which makes cooking easier.


8. Never Go to Bed with Campfire Still Burning

Even if your campfire is far from the tent, there are many unpredictable conditions. For example a big wind can blow the embers to your tent or nearby shrubbery and start a wildfire.

Ensure that you put out your fire completely before bed to prevent a campfire from getting out of control while you sleep.


9. When Leaving the Campsite, Fill in Your Pit

If you created a new fire pit, please fill it back in before leaving your campsite. Practice Leave No Trace principles as courtesy to others and the environment. It's common courtesy and saves the campground from being littered with holes.


Conclusion

Surely, when you follow the above tips, especially when you pick the right position for your logs, you are guaranteed a good campfire.

Are there any tips you feel we have missed? Do let us know in the comment section.

 

Paul loves the outdoors and camping so much that he created cutecamper.com, sharing his tips and experiences. You can also follow him on Pinterest.


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