Mastering the art of starting a campfire is an essential skill for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re going on a primitive camping trip, backpacking through the wilderness, or just hanging out with friends and family and craving some s’mores, knowing how to start a campfire will go a long way towards having more fun in the outdoors.
This guide will provide a detailed overview of the necessary steps on how to start a campfire, including gathering supplies such as firewood and kindling, choosing an appropriate location with proper ventilation, and keeping water or a fire extinguisher close at hand.
We’ll also dive into three easy methods of building campfires including teepee, log cabin, and pyramid structures. Lastly, we will cover lighting techniques along with a few tips on maintaining the flame so it doesn’t suddenly go out on you.
By following these simple steps on how to start a campfire, you can stay warm during chilly nights and enjoy memorable moments around the flames with friends and family.
Gather Your Supplies
Before you can even think about lighting the fire and roasting some s’mores, you need to gather all the supplies you need to not only get the fire started but also to keep it going. Having everything at hand will make the process smoother and more enjoyable for everyone involved.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that trying to build a fire without having everything you need is a quick way for frustration to boil over into your adventure!
Here are some key items you’ll need:
As you can probably guess, the single most important thing that you need to build fires is a bunch of firewood. Look for dry, seasoned wood that has been split into smaller pieces as these will catch fire more easily than larger logs or green wood.
If you notice your wood smoking a lot instead of lighting after a while, that’s a good indication that it’s either wet or not getting enough oxygen.
In addition to firewood, you’ll also need kindling, which is typically small twigs and branches that can be used to get your fire started. These should be dry and easy to break apart with your hands; avoid using damp or wet materials as they won’t ignite properly.
Kindling is basically like nature’s own lighter fluid – it’s easy to light and burns quickly, and your hope is that it will catch all of the firewood before burning out.
A reliable source of ignition is crucial when starting a campfire. Pack waterproof matches or a lighter so you’re prepared even if conditions aren’t ideal. I’m sure you’ve seen in the movies where people will rub sticks together to start a fire.
While possible (more so by spinning than rubbing), this is a technique that’s tough to learn and takes a heck of a lot longer than just clicking the button on a lighter!
To help ensure success in getting your campfire going quickly, consider bringing along some type of fire-starting material such as newspaper, dryer lint, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, or commercial camping-specific fire starters. You can even look around your campsite for some dried moss if you didn’t bring anything with you.
These materials burn hot and fast which helps ignite kindling effectively. Don’t be afraid to just go with some fire starters from your local grocery or camp store. Good firestarters are designed for this exact purpose, and I still use them today since they easily ignite and make everything go much more smoothly!
Gathering the right supplies for your campfire is essential in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Once you’ve obtained everything you need, selecting a suitable location for your campfire is essential to guarantee an enjoyable and safe experience.
Choose a Safe Spot for Your Campfire
Before you start building your campfire, it’s crucial to select an appropriate and safe location. The perfect spot should be clear of debris, have proper ventilation, and have easy access to water or a fire extinguisher in case of emergencies. By following these simple tips, you’ll keep your campsite safer while also helping to prevent forest fires.
Clear the Area of Debris and Flammable Materials
To minimize the risk of accidental fires spreading beyond your campfire area, make sure to remove any flammable materials such as dry leaves, twigs, or grass within at least a 10-foot radius around where you plan on building the fire. This will create a safe buffer zone, reducing the chances of embers igniting nearby vegetation.
This also includes things such as keeping a safe distance between your tent, backpack, hammock, blankets, pets, or anything else nearby that you don’t want to get burned. You’d be surprised at some of the things I’ve seen over the years when people light a fire up right next to their tent!
Select an Open Space with Ample Ventilation
A well-ventilated area is essential for maintaining a healthy campfire while also ensuring that smoke doesn’t become overwhelming for those gathered around it. Look for open spaces away from overhanging branches or dense foliage which could potentially catch fire due to rising heat or sparks from your campfire.
Additionally, consider factors like wind direction when choosing your spot so that smoke blows away from tents and other camping areas. As awesome as a good campfire is for everyone to enjoy, sitting downwind of the smoke and being bombarded by it all night is not something you (or anyone else) is going to enjoy.
Make Sure You Have Access to Water or a Fire Extinguisher
Having a way to put out your fire at a moment’s notice is vital for the safety of anyone around and also the environment. Sometimes this isn’t exactly possible, but when you’re just learning how to start a campfire, it’s essential.
Here are two simple things to consider keeping near you:
- Water: Always keep water close by when starting a campfire; this can even just be in the form of bottled water if no water sources are available nearby. In case things get out of hand quickly — which they sometimes do — having water on hand will allow you to douse the flames immediately.
- Fire Extinguisher: If you’re camping in an RV or have access to a portable fire extinguisher, make sure it’s within reach while building and maintaining your campfire. This is especially important if water sources are scarce or not readily available at your chosen location. A properly functioning fire extinguisher can be a lifesaver in case of emergencies.
Selecting a good area for your campfire is critical to lower the chance of unnecessary risk. For some more tips on fire safety, check out our complete list of camping hacks and tips, which includes a full section on campfire safety!
Now that you have chosen the right location, it’s time to really learn how to start a campfire from the ground up.
Build Your Campfire Structure
Before you can light your campfire, you need to build a solid structure that will ensure the fire burns efficiently and safely. Building a campfire requires careful consideration of the various approaches, each having its own pros and cons.
In this section, we’ll discuss three popular techniques that are easy for anyone to learn: the Teepee Method, the Log Cabin Method, and the Pyramid Method.
The Teepee Method is one of the easiest ways to learn how to start a campfire. It involves arranging small sticks or kindling in a cone shape around your fire starter material like tinder or dry leaves. This allows plenty of oxygen to flow through the structure while concentrating heat at the top of the teepee.
- Gather some small sticks or twigs as kindling.
- Place your fire starter material in the center of your designated fire area.
- Create a cone-shaped structure by leaning your kindling against each other over the fire starter material.
- Add larger pieces of wood around the outside once you have built up enough heat from smaller materials inside.
Log Cabin Method
The Log Cabin Method, also known as the “square method,” provides optimal airflow (i.e. more oxygen) due to its open design. The log cabin style consists of stacking logs on top of one another in alternating layers with space between them for air circulation, similar to playing with Lincoln Logs when you were a kid:
- Select four logs similar in size and lay two parallel logs about six inches apart on either side of where you want your fire to be.
- Place your kindling and fire starter material in the space between these two logs.
- Lay two more logs perpendicularly on top of the first pair, creating a square shape with an open center for airflow.
- Continue stacking additional layers of logs, alternating directions as you go up. Leave some gaps between each layer for proper air circulation and kindling as you go.
Lastly, let’s look at the Pyramid Method, which is ideal for longer-lasting fires that require less maintenance. This technique involves building a pyramid-shaped structure by placing larger logs at the base and gradually adding smaller ones toward the top:
- Create a solid foundation by laying three or four large logs parallel to one another in your designated fire area.
- Add a second layer of slightly smaller logs perpendicular to the first layer, leaving small gaps between them for airflow.
- Continue this process until you have built up several layers with increasingly smaller pieces of wood toward the top.
- Place your kindling and fire starter material on top of this pyramid structure.
No matter which campfire building method you choose, it’s essential to prioritize safety, efficiency, and proper ventilation. Experimenting with different techniques will help you find what works best for you so you can get out there and learn how to start a campfire.
Light Your Campfire
Once your campfire structure is ready, ignite it and enjoy the warmth. Thankfully, you’ve done most of the hard work by the time you’ve gotten to think point. Especially if you took my advice earlier to bring some matches or a lighter, you’re in the home stretch.
How to Start a Campfire with Matches or a Lighter
To begin with, you’ll need a reliable source of ignition. Both matches and lighters are ideal for this – it sure beats rubbing a couple of sticks together! If using matches, opt for waterproof ones, as they will still ignite even if damp from humidity or rain. When using a lighter, choose one designed specifically for outdoor use rather than a basic cigarette lighter.
Once you have your ignition source ready, carefully ignite the fire starter and kindling in your campfire structure. Ensure that the flame catches onto the fire starter material, and you should be off to the races.
Add Kindling and Smaller Pieces of Wood to Keep the Flame Going
Getting the fire started is one thing, but keeping the flame going long enough to catch the firewood (and stay lit after that) is another. Here are some tips for each building method:
- Teepee Method: As soon as your kindling starts burning within your teepee structure, gently add more small pieces of wood around it without collapsing the entire formation. This helps maintain airflow while providing additional fuel for sustained combustion.
- Log Cabin Method: Once flames engulf the layers of kindling inside your log cabin stack-up; start adding smaller logs on top at right angles until reaching desired height/fuel load – always leaving gaps between them so air can circulate freely.
- Pyramid Method: As the fire spreads throughout your pyramid, you can add more wood to the top of the structure. However, be cautious not to smother the flames by adding too much at once.
Remember that patience is key when keeping the flame going, especially if you’re just learning how to start a campfire. It may take some time for your fire to grow and become self-sustaining, so don’t rush it. Keep an eye on it as it grows in size and intensity to help ensure its safety and longevity.
Building a campfire goes pretty much hand-in-hand with going camping. With the right materials, location, and technique it can be quickly ignited and you’ll have a roaring fire in no time. Once it gets going, add kindling as needed, make sure there’s plenty of air, and it should quickly be able to keep itself lit if you occasionally add a bit more firewood.
Now that you know how to start a campfire with confidence, grab some friends or family members and sit around the fire on your next camping trip telling stories, roasting marshmallows, and soaking it all up.
It doesn’t get much better than this.