Building a Campfire

Building a camp fire

Is there anything better than building your own camp fire, cooking on it and then staring at it for hours? Probably not.

Lighting a fire is not something you do every day and requires a bit of practice and patience. Most people struggle to light a fire in wet and windy conditions.

We all remember being taught in school that 3 ingredients are needed to make a fire burn:

  1. Fuel
  2. Heat
  3. Oxygen

But how do you make that work in reality? As always, preparation is key and by following these simple steps (and with a little practice), you should end up with the perfect fire:

1, Choose your spot

The first question is….am I allowed to light a fire? Assuming you are, you need to select a spot that is free from overhanging branches, tents, roots and anything else that you don’t want to set light to. Be particularly careful of pine trees as their root systems can ignite if they come into contact with heat from a camp fire.

If there is an existing fire pit – great. If not, then make your own. If the ground is grassy then dig out some turf as you will need to find bare earth if possible. And consider the wind direction - where are people sleeping and eating? You don’t want tents filling up with smoke.

Take some time for a quick safety check. How will you stop the fire from spreading? If you have some stones handy then place a few in a circle. A sensible precaution is to have some water or a fire shovel near you so you will be able to put the fire out easily if necessary. Be particularly careful during periods of hot, dry weather.

2, Collect fuel

Without the right fuel, you are not going to have a campfire. Look for dry, dead wood that will burn well, rather than green wood that contains lots of water. A good source of dry wood is dead branches that are still attached to trees. Often wood on the floor can be damp and wet even in summer.

Try and collect different types and sizes of wood for the different stages of your fire:

Soft woods
Better for starting a fire and making kindling. They burn hot and bright and are easy to light.

Hardwood
Slow to start burning but give you a good long lasting fire with lots of heat. Good for cooking on.

And you’ll need a few different sizes of fuel.

Tinder
Highly flammable, your tinder gets the fire started. The easy option is to use paper but if you’re feeling more adventurous then try wood shavings, bark, or dead nettles. You can even buy packs of tinder to take camping so you don’t have to find your own.   

Kindling
Try and find small sticks and twigs between 5mm and 15mm in diameter. Softwood is great for kindling. Another option is to make your own kindling by splitting larger logs using an axe or bushcraft knife.This can be a better option because the wood inside a log will generally be dry and small pieces of wood that you pick up from the floor can often be wet.

Logs
To generate a decent amount of heat you’ll need small to medium size logs. Nothing too big as you want a nice controlled fire and it’s better to make your wood supplies last. If your logs are slightly damp then you can place them around the fire to help dry them out in advance.  

3, Types of fire

A campfire can keep you warm and cook your food but there are a few different styles of fire that you can experiment with. 

 

Teepee
This is the first type of fire to start with. Very good for cooking and easy to build.

 

Cross
Lay your kindling and logs in a criss-cross shape. This provides a longer lasting fire to use wood more efficiently.  

 

Lean to

Put a long piece of kindling in the ground at an angle and then lean your kindling against it. As the fire takes, lay large logs in the same way. A little bit tricky to set up but good for cooking once you’re underway.

 

4, Lighting the fire

Firstly, don’t be tempted to light the fire until you have a good amount of fuel handy. Otherwise your fire will go out and you’ll have to start all over again.

You have a number of different ways to light your fire. Do you want the easy option or do you fancy trying something more adventurous?

Using matches or a lighter is straightforward. Using a fire steel or friction requires more skill and patience. But whichever option you’re going with, make sure you are aware of what’s around you before you start. Follow these steps and you should be well on your way to a roaring, warming fire:

  1. Lay some kindling on the ground to create a base layer for your tinder. This keeps it off a potentially damp surface and allows air to circulate.
  2. Place your tinder on top of your base and ignite it.
  3. As the tinder takes light, place a small amount of kindling on top without smothering the flames. Tinder burns quickly so make sure your kindling is ready to go
  4. Once the kindling has taken, start to add more, making sure that air can circulate
  5. Start to add larger pieces of kindling until you have reached a point where the fire is established and is ready to take larger pieces of wood
  6. Once you have a good fire going make sure you keep adding fuel as it will soon go out without a sufficient supply of wood

Putting out your fire

Once you no longer need your fire, put it out using water and spread the ashes. If you will need a fire the following morning (and if safe to do so) let the embers die down so that you can restart the fire the next day quite easily.

A few safety tips

 Have fun, keep warm and stay safe.