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How to Start a Campfire

How to start a campfire

So you want to learn how to start a campfire?

Good.

You came to the right place because sitting around the fire is an essential part of any camping trip. The sound, smell, and sight of the wood burning sets the mood and is often one of the main things we remember when we go home. 

All campfire starting methods are not the same, however.

This guide will teach you more about the items you’ll need, the types of wood you’ll want to use, and how to stack your firewood for success. 

What You Need To Start a Campfire

To build a proper campfire, you will need:

  • Permission. Before you start building a campfire, make sure you are permitted to do so. At a campground, check with the staff to be sure fires are currently permitted. During dry seasons, they may be restricted. If you are camping somewhere undeveloped, contact whoever owns the land before you go camping, whether that is the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. 
  • Fuel/wood. You will need three different types of fuel for your fire: tinder, kindling, and firewood. More information on these types of fuel can be found below.
  • A lighter or matches. You will need these to start your campfire. Make sure you have a waterproof option for camping.
  • Water. You will need a safe way to extinguish the fire when you’re done. Having a bucket of water nearby is an easy solution.

The Three Types of Fuel For Your Campfire

To start your fire, you will need tinder, kindling, and firewood. 

Tinder is small and used to get the initial flame started. It can be things like dry leaves, tree bark, or twigs. Some people bring lint from the dryer to use as tinder. A combination of options is also acceptable. 

Kindling is used to strengthen the size and heat of the fire. It is usually around one inch around in size. You’ll want to have a good number of these small sticks to get the fire going.

Firewood is larger and what will be burning longterm in your campfire. This is any piece of large wood you can burn.

The Best Types of Wood For Campfires

Many campgrounds will ban you from bringing your own firewood. They will sell wood within the campground itself or approve locally purchased wood at a nearby store. The reason behind this ban is that they do not want insects unnatural to the area to be brought in on your firewood. 

For this reason, you may need to purchase whatever firewood they have available at your campground. 

When camping in the woods, it is acceptable to forage for your campfire instead of bringing wood with you. When you do this, look for already downed trees. This way, you won’t be negatively affecting the ecosystem where you’re camping. 

If you have choices for the types of wood for your campfire, you’ll find that some woods are better than others. Below is some information on the popular choices with a few notes on how they burn. 

  • Oak. Oak is a classic choice for a campfire. Oak is dense, so it takes a long time to burn. This means less restocking the firepit.
  • Maple. Maple is another dense wood. It takes a long time to burn and doesn’t have a lot of smoke. It’s dense enough that it can be difficult to chop.
  • Hickory. This popular choice burns hotter than oak or maple. This dense wood is tough to split, but is a very popular choice for cooking over your fire.
  • Ash. This will burn even when it’s green with very little smoke. It burns easily.
  • Birch. Birch will burn fast so you’ll need to check your fire more frequently, but it puts off a lot of heat.
  • Cherry. Cherry wood will smell great. It isn’t very easy to split and it doesn’t burn particularly hot. People choose this wood specifically because they enjoy the smell as it burns.

Three Ways to Build Your Campfire

There are three popular methods for building a successful campfire. 

1. The Cone Method

Place a large handful or two of tinder in the center of your fire ring. Then use kindling to loosely build a small cone around the tinder. Light the tinder, and once the kindling is burning strong, add one piece of firewood at a time to the cone shape. 

This method requires you to add firewood frequently to keep the campfire burning.

2. The Pyramid Method

This method burns longer. You are going to stack your firewood, kindling, and tinder in a pyramid shape, getting smaller as you build up. 

Begin by placing four of your biggest pieces of wood on the ground, close together. Then, turn 90 degrees, and stack on the next layer of two or three slightly smaller logs. These logs will have more space between them.  

Continue stacking the wood, turning so each layer is perpendicular to the one below it and slightly smaller. You will likely have three or four layers of firewood. 

Now, on top of the firewood, pile on some kindling. On top of that, place a couple handfuls of tinder and light them up. Once the fire gets going, it will slowly burn down through the layers of firewood. It will last a long time. 

3. The Log Cabin Method

Place two logs in the center of your firepit with some space between them. Then, place two pieces of firewood on top of that, perpendicular, creating a square of space in the center. This is your space for airflow. 

Take a handful of kindling and drop that in the center of the square. 

On top of this, perpendicular to the layer below, stack two or three smaller pieces of firewood. This should create an open roof for your log cabin. 

Drop some tinder down between this top layer. Light the tinder, and you’re ready to go! 

To add more wood to this fire as you go, push the coals into a pile toward the center and add the wood on top of the coals.

You’re Ready To Start a Campfire

Now you know how to start a campfire, the types of wood to look out for, and what you’ll need to make sure you bring with you. You are all set to have a successful campfire! 

Refer back to this guide whenever you want to try one of the other methods.

You’ll soon see the differences in how stacking the wood changes the longevity and intensity of the fire.

You may also be interested in learning how to keep mosquitoes away for you next read.

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