Campfire 101

By Thomas Ray

Campfire 101

When it comes to having a safe and comfortable camping experience, the ability to make a fire is critical. Whether it’s aiding in an emergency situation or it’s simply making you a little more comfortable on a chilly evening, building a fire is one of the key features of a camper’s skillset. This life-saving skill can help you cook a meal, keep warm, or dry off wet clothing, among other tasks. Here’s what you need to know about how to make one. 

1. The Fire Triangle

All fires need three things to burn: fuel, air and an ignition source. If there are issues with any of these, your fire might go out or it might not ignite in the first place. 

2. Fire Safety

Clear all debris, leaves, twigs and the like from an area at least 10 feet in diameter and build your fire in the middle. Never use flammable liquids to start or maintain a fire and always have a reliable way to put it out. Never leave a fire unattended and make sure it is dead out before you leave camp. For essentials of fire safety, visit the Smokey Bear  website.

3. Fuel

Wood usually has to be dry to burn. It also needs to be small enough at first so that when the fire is started, the wood added to it can catch. The biggest mistake people make when building a fire is putting pieces of wood on it that are too big to be ignited by the fire that is there.  

All wood is not created equal. When it comes to building and maintaining a fire, some wood has a hard time staying lit, while others burn hot and fast. Learn more about the types of firewood from this Eagles Nest Outfitters article. 

4. Fire Prep

First, gather larger wood. Choose dead wood that that is not so big that it can’t be broken into smaller pieces, about three inches in diameter. Stack up a supply beside the fire site. Next, build a little platform about 10 square inches made of pencil-sized twigs. It will protect your tinder and kindling from ground moisture and will allow better air circulation. If available, place some tinder on the platform first. It could be dry cedar or birch bark, dry pine needles or even a paper napkin. For kindling, you will need two to three handfuls of twigs no bigger than toothpicks. Place these on top of the tinder. Next, gather three handfuls of pencil-size twigs. Place these aside for use once the fire is lit. Finally, gather an armload of wood about an inch in diameter and then another about two inches thick. 

5. Ignition and Air

Place a few of the pencil-sized pieces of wood on top of the toothpick-sized pile. Leave plenty of interspaces so that the fire can breathe. Light your tinder. The toothpick and pencil-sized pieces should catch quickly. While the fire is blazing, add the rest of the pencil-sized pieces. Don't add wood too quickly, or air will be restricted, causing the fire to go out. Next, slowly add the one and two-inch diameter pieces. You now have a fire that you can build as big as you like. 

6. Fire Lays

Different fire lays can be used, depending the purpose of the fire. Once a foundation fire is going, a teepee of sticks can be built over it. This will help build the fire up quickly and produce the flames and coals needed to ignite bigger wood. You may want to build a log cabin fire around the teepee once it is going. This is a good way make a warm fire or to quickly build up a thick bed of coals suitable for prolonged cooking. The log cabin fire is also a good way to dry out larger pieces of wood that are wet so they quickly catch fire. If the wood is not so wet, a variation of the log cabin fire called the waffle fire can be used to produce even more heat and coals. There are dozens of different types of fires and fire lays. Experiment, practice, and master them to suit your purposes.

7. When It's Wet

There are some tricks to getting a fire going when it's wet. One way is to gather your kindling from the dead branches of the cedar. These are protected from rain by the foliage above. You can also carry pre-made tinder with you if it's wet out. Tinder cubes can be bought commercially or you can make your own of cotton balls and petroleum jelly. For information on how to start a fire in the rain, check out this Scouting Magazine article. 

8. Ignition Sources

Regular strike-anywhere matches used to be the standard for lighting campfires, but today there are more options. A good, brand-name disposable lighter is a reliable choice. Back it up with some Stormproof matches in a waterproof match safe and a ferrocerium rod with striker. Learn more about Stormproof matches on UCO Gear’s website.

Master the art of the campfire and stay safe and comfortable in the outdoors!

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