Before you even go away on your camping trip, you should always check the weather. The last thing you want is to get your hopes up about building a fire, to only find out that all of the fire wood and timber are wet! In this case you would need to pack some dry timber or newspaper with you to get the fire started.
There are a few steps to constructing the perfect campfire. Following these steps will ensure that you have a campfire that is big enough to cook on and keep you warm whilst containing the fire to ensure that you and your tent are safe.
How to build a campfire: step by step guide
1. Creating a fire bed
A fire bed is a cleared out area which is away from trees, bushes and other plant material. Try to find a piece of ground that is solid and won’t catch fire (essentially just dirt). Definitely don’t light your fire on dry grass, things could get out of hand and before you know it you have a forest blaze to deal with.
If you are staying at a campsite, they may already have pre-made fire pits/fire rings for you to utilize. If not, you can create your own fire bed by raking away any debris and digging a shallow pit.
2. Create a fire ring
A fire ring stops the fire spreading, and keeps it contained, this is very important in areas which are dry and densely populated with timber. If you don’t have a pre-made fire ring, then it’s essential that you construct one. Gather medium sized rocks from the surrounding area and form a ring around the fire bed. Make the fire ring 6-8 inches high, this will ensure that if any burning wood collapses or falls over the edge, it has a higher chance of remaining off the ground.
If you are wild camping in areas that are popular, chances are there will be a pre-made fire ring around somewhere. Only build one if you must. An alternative to a rock fire ring is to build a mound ring, which is 6-8 inches high and made from sandy/light-colored dirt which won’t catch fire. This is a great alternative if you can’t find any suitable rocks. You can always just disperse the dirt back over the burnt fire bed once you are finished.
3. Gather your campfire wood
There are 3 forms of fire fuel which contribute to the successful lighting and maintenance of a campfire. Tinder, Kindling and Firewood. Let’s explain each in more depth:
Tinder: Tinder is the easiest of the 3 to light, it’s main purpose is to get the fire ‘going’. It comes in a few forms with the most common being small twigs, dry leaves, dry needles or forest fluff.
Kindling: Small dry sticks are referred to as kindling, they are usually 1inch or less in diameter. You can find kindling as is, or use your hatchet to chop up larger logs into kindling.
Firewood: This is the form of fuel you place onto the fire last. It’s used to keep the fire burning for a long time. Firewood is your larger pieces of timber, if you have chopped down a tree using your saw and created logs, this will be your firewood. Firewood is great for keeping your fire roaring into the night.
If you are sleeping on a campsite, always ask if the owners have a wood store which you can use. More often than not they will say yes, as this wood will be locally sourced in a sustainable manner.
If you are wild camping then always forage your wood in a respectable manner. Never chop down healthy, live trees. Try to get your wood off the forest floor once it has broken away naturally. Also don’t try to burn very thick pieces of wood (bigger than your forearm) because it’s likely that it won’t all burn away and you’ll be left with black, unsightly scraps scattered around the forest floor.
4. Build the campfire
Now let’s talk about constructing your campfire. There are a few methods to choose from when it comes to design and shape. All work well and it’s your personal preference for which one you choose.
There are some fundamentals you must follow to ensure a successful fire and it applies to all fire shapes. Firstly, build your fire within your fire ring, also don’t build it so high that it can fall over and land outside of the ring. Secondly, always leave gaps between logs to allow oxygen in between them – this ensures a clean burn and will get your fire started much faster. And thirdly, start small, although you may envision a huge roaring fire, it’s impractical to get there straight away. Lighting a small fire is much easier than a large one, you can always add more wood to an already lit fire.
Cone: Start with a bundle of tinder and small kindling in the center of your fire ring, light the fire and start to build up the cone using longer pieces of kindling. Overtime you can start resting larger pieces of firewood around the kindling once it is burning well.
Log Cabin: Form a mound of tinder and kindling in the center of your fire pit. Using 2 larger pieces of wood, lay them parallel to each other on either side of the tinder. Lay two more pieces perpendicular to the first two on top. Repeat this process around the tinder until you have a structure that resembles a square log cabin. Keep adding kindling into the center once the fire is burning hot.
Pyramid: Lay two large pieces of firewood parallel to each other on the ground, and place a mound of tinder in the middle of them. Start to layer wood above the tinder, rotating the wood 90 degrees with every layer. Also use smaller pieces of wood with every layer to form a pyramid shape. Remember to leave small gaps between every piece of wood to allow oxygen to flow through the pyramid easily.
5. How to light a campfire
Now the fun part! Lighting the fire is exciting as you can finally see the results of your hard work whilst foraging, cutting and building a campfire. Remember to alway safely light a fire and never use fuel such as diesel and flammable liquids as they are really bad for the environment! If you have used proper tinder and kindling then you shouldn’t need any additional fuel.
Light your tinder using a match of lighter. If you are struggling you can use natural firelighters which ignite easily to help the tinder catch fire.
Always remember to carry some waterproof matches or lighter with you, as fire-making items are considered one of the essentials on our camping checklist.
Once your tinder is lit, blow gently at the base of the fire to provide oxygen. This will increase the intensity of the flame and help to quickly ignite the firewood.
If you are starting a fire in the rain it may be worth checking out this great article.
6. Extinguish the campfire
To extinguish a campfire, the common practice is to carefully pour water over the burning wood. Make sure you aren’t standing downwind of the steam as it will scald you. Once the initial flames and embers have gone out, stir the ashes around with a long piece of wood and pour on more water. Repeat this process until the fire is completely extinguished.
It doesn’t matter if you are left with a pool of water in your fire ring, it will dry out eventually.
7. Cleaning up the area
Remember that once you are done camping, always remember to take all items of rubbish home with you. You’ve been successful if you can’t even tell you were there!
If you built the fire ring and bed then dismantle any remaining structure, place the rocks back where you found them, crush any remaining charcoal pieces and scatter the ashes in a broad area. Also try your best to level out your fire bed.
If you stayed in a popular wild camping spot and found the fire ring already assembled and used, then leave the rock ring as it was. Just remember to clear out the ashes and charcoal for the next person to use.