6 Ways How to Build and Start a Campfire

If you are looking for tips how to build a campfire, you came to the right place. We will show you different styles of campfires you can choose to build depending on the conditions of your surroundings.

It might be hard to conceive that some science goes behind building a campfire, especially if you notice how easily a fire can consume a home, be built by evening revelers on a popular beach (think bonfire) or turn a forest ablaze merely from a bolt of lightning or a shard of glass overexposed to the sun.

A campfire is more challenging in these respects: good, dry wood and starter debris; resistance to wind or rain; excessive smoke.

How to Build a Campfire

If you car camp, you already have a head start. Some drive-in campsites already feature iron and cement fire pits, some on pedestals and even under shelters. You can also carry as many campfire-assist tools as you like in a car.

However, you still need the knowledge of how to start the fire effectively and how to best arrange the fuel, which can be charcoals or certifiably dry wood because they are easily transported in your vehicle.

If you can’t drive to your campsite, you need to know the entire science to campfire starting and building. Let’s begin class.

First of All, Check Regulations

During the height of camping season, many national forest and state land agencies declare fire bans to minimize the chances of a forest fire. Be sure to check agency websites, signage at the campgrounds and park ranger offices for the latest news.

When fire is prohibited, be sure you are packing a gas stove. Also know whether forest regulations allow you to extract wood from trees and brambles in the zone you wish to camp. Designated wilderness areas, for instance, prohibit chopping of trees or their limbs and removal of vegetation in general.

Helpful Campfire Tools and Implements

1) Lighter or matches

Even luddites cringe at the thought of going back thousands of years when friction served the only means of creating a flame. Be sure you pack your matches – even waterproof ones – in a tightly capped or sealed container of plastic. Backpackers usually carry them in baggies. If you prefer a lighter, be sure to bring a waterproof lighter or keep it in a sealed container as well.

2) Fire starters

Whether reaching camp by four wheels or your own two feet, you can carry an effective starter. Kindling or tinder, of course, can be carried by car into the site. However, it can consume space and add weight in a backpack.

Hikers use this trick: Build up a collection of lint from your drying machine at home and stuff it in a small plastic bag to easily and almost weightlessly insert into your backpack. Of course, you can resort to retail products such as fire balls composed of preserved pine pitch and wood chips if willing to spend for your starter.

Depending on the terrain and ground cover of your chosen site, however, you can scavenge some pine needles, some dead fallen leaves or other dry woody and leafy debris around the site. This gives you a chance to explore the site’s surroundings while being productive.

3) Shovel

Campfire Tools: Shovel

Cars can easily carry short-handled shovels or collapsible ones a la marine surplus shelves. Hikers can buy light, plastic versions less than a foot long that can also be used as leave-no-trace tools for human waste where no restrooms or toilets exist. A shovel allows you to build the type of fire you think is best for the situation. In most cases, whether to build or extinguish a blaze, you need a shovel.

4) Grill

If you need to use your fire for cooking and not just a rallying point or warming station at night, bring a grill to build just the right type of cooking blaze below it. Backpackers need to improvise unless they don’t mind a lot of extra weight. You can construct a makeshift grill by crossing sections of branches from rock to rock in your fire pit or even from one edge of your earthen hole to the other if you dig a hole for the fuel.

5) Tongs or gloves

Backpackers often choose the latter because they are light and squeeze into a backpack pocket easily. Whether tongs or gloves, your fingers remain a bit safer and less blackened by ash.

6) Tinfoil

This proves indispensable if your meals depend on fire. You can even wrap whole potatoes inside of it for an outdoors version of baked potato. (Culinary tip: Ring the spuds in onions.)

How to Build a Campfire – 6 Useful Styles

The construction of a fire often hinges on the terrain around your site.

Is the ground firm or very sandy? This dictates whether a hole can be dug and if penetrable, the style of fire ring you can build.

Is the site strewn with boulders to use as fire walls? Is it exposed to wind or in a constantly windy location?

Depending on the immediate environment, choose the style of fire most suitable for you.

1) Lean-to

Advantages include the ease of building and resistance to wind. Don’t count on great charcoals for cooking or warmth. You can either use rocks to erect the lean-to or dig a moderate hole with an earthen high side into the wind.

Start by using long but narrow tinder on which one end rests on the ground and the opposite end leans against a larger piece(s) of kindling to look like a ramp.You can proceed to layer these ramps in the same sense you can layer teepee fires with your kindling or twigs. Just make sure the high side of your lean-to structure points into the wind.

2) Classic teepee

Other than hot dogs or marshmallows on a stick, this style of fire serves as a social or warming hub more than it does a cooking stove.

Classic teepee campfire
  • Simply start the small teepee first: four to six small sticks of tinder (even slightly wet wood works with this design) leaned against the tops of each other.
  • Then start leaning the larger pieces of kindling over the top of the initial tower. If you need to stabilize them, shim some small woody particles or gravel beneath the shaky sticks.
  • Keep adding teepee layers commensurate to the lasting power you demand from the campfire, though this style generally burns quickly.
  • You can buttress the downwind side with thicker tinder and more of it on the final layer. Once one layer falls, it serves to expedite ignition of the next layer.

3) Jenga style

If you remember the Jenga game or Lincoln logs from childhood, you get the picture. This fire is easy to build because you don’t need to dig a hole (lest you want to compile hot embers and ashes) and with the right sizes of tinder, along with many small, thin twigs, it takes less than five minutes to build.

  • Start by scraping two impressions in the soil with the heel of your boot or otherwise and in accordance to how wide a fire you desire. You must possess two sections of small logs, 3-6 inches in diameter and the same length of your impressions.
  • Place them parallel to one another in each impression. Bridge the logs with your twigs, which should be long enough to cover the expanse of your impressions or logs.
  • Now start piling your starter tinder (woody or leafy debris) on top of the twiggy bridge.
  • Next, stack two chopped pieces of kindling at a right angle on top of the base logs and at the edge of the twig bridge.
  • Repeat the process until your miniature log cabin reaches a height of 12-16 inches (use your own judgment).
  • Keep extra, dry kindling to drop into each void as twigs burn to lengthen the life of the fire, which is ideal for cooking but not as nifty at keeping you warm.

4) Inverted

As the name suggests, you start this fire from the top down, unlike all the other styles. The structure is built in pyramid fashion.

  • Place three or four logs or chopped kindling of 3-5 inches in diameter on the ground.
  • Then lay slightly shorter pieces of chopped kindling on top of these and perpendicular to the base pieces.
  • Continue to stack with increasingly smaller kindling until you form a pyramid of desired height.
  • Now pile your starting tinder or twigs in teepee or pyramid fashion atop the last platform of chopped kindling. Light ‘em up as you form a windbreak with your body, if necessary.

This kind of fire lasts long and keeps you toasty with little maintenance. Its coal pile at the end serves exceptionally well for cooking marshmallows, smores or hotdogs on the end of a stick. Food items can even be wrapped inside of foil amidst the coals for baking. Just make sure to use your tongs.

5) Tunneled chimney

This style involves some time and technique, but actually leaves a lesser footprint on the environment than traditional campfires while providing a low-maintenance heat source and cooking stove. It is not for shindigs around the fire, however.

  • Use your shovel to dig two holes about 5-8 inches apart. They need to be deep enough to hold the fuel for the fire and allow a tunnel a few inches beneath the ground surface.
  • In one hole goes the tinder or fuel while the hole at the other end serves as a chimney.

This type of fire uses less wood or fuel than the other options and provides a longer burn per square inch of fuel. It also doesn’t leave debris or a burnt-in fire ring on top of the ground, as long as you cover the two holes with the soil before you leave.

Moreover, it’s practically windproof. Additionally, you can place a makeshift grill across the top of the fueled hole for cooking or boiling while doing the same over the chimney to keep something warm. Voila!

Tips how to start a campfire

6) Good ol’ rock ring

If your site features plenty of boulders, you can create a circular perimeter of them. If windy, try to find a very large but manageable rock with a flat side that can be erected on the upwind side as a shield. You can either dig or not dig a slight hole inside the ring.

Then, proceed with almost any traditional style of fire. This kind of fire works well in wind, exudes heat, proves versatile for cooking and especially works as a gathering point for fellow campers.

Final Note: Wet Wood

Wet wood is not a game ender. It just poses more challenge and time. Much old, weathered wood remains dry inside. You just need to either chip or burn off the moisture and layers on the outside. To burn it off, you need to apply a lot more starting tinder and kindling than your usual fire. Persistence is the name of this game.

Source: Gizmodo

About the author

Chris Berger

Outdoor expert, avid hiker and camper in his late 30s. He also enjoys plenty of watersports activities. Enough of the third person talk :-) Me and my team have done extensive research for each article and can guarantee it will save you time and effort to find exactly what you need. I only recommend products I would recommend to my mom and closest friends.