The Perfect Campfire Series (Part II): Where & How to Build a Great Fire

Not all campsites were created equal and some may not even allow you to dig a pit for a fire, so make sure to ask questions and read all the signs once you arrive. Better yet, if not being able to sit around a fire and toast marshmallows is going to ruin your fun, you should ask the campground’s manager before you make a reservation.

For part I of this series, visit: The Perfect Campfire Series (Part I): Choosing the Right Fire Wood for a Long-Lasting Campfire.

Picking the Ideal Spot for a Fire Pit

Now, assuming you’re permitted to make a fire at your destination, it’s time to pick the right spot for the fire. First, you’ll want to pick a spot that is completely dry and non-hazardous. The clearer the spot, the better. Try to give yourself some space from other campers who may get irritated by the smoke. With that said, ask the campground manager if they have designated areas for fires. Otherwise, you may be breaking their rules. If the campground does have an existing ring or fire pit, half your job is done.

Making a Fire Pit

Give yourself at least 15 to 20 feet from tents and RVs, trees (especially hanging branches and leaves), shrubbery and anything that could easily catch fire.

Make sure the spot you choose is level and away from logs, dry brush and leaves and other flammable objects.

Avoid any area that is very windy. This will fan the flames of your fire if you’re lucky enough to build one in the midst of all that gust.

Make your fire bed on earth. Avoid grass, both live and dead foliage too. If there are no areas that are bare, start digging (hopefully you brought a hand shovel). Clear the area of all plant life, grass and branches.

Next thing you’ll need to do is create the bed with a 3- or 4-inch platform made of dirt.

What You Need to Build a Fire

Tinder – Dry leaves, bark, wood pieces and shavings, grass and anything that will burn without being toxic can be used as tinder. Tinder burns fast. Some people bring their own tinder in case the campsite is wet from a previous rain. You can use the following as tinder and bring it with you when you go camping: char cloth (usually made of cotton, pine needles, bark, dryer lint, cotton balls, paper, paper towels, twigs, and even bird waste.

Kindling – Whereas tinder burns fast, kindling is the agent that keeps the fire burning. Many people skip this step and pile on the wood right away only to be disappointed. You’re just asking to put out a small flame if you skip the kindle, which is usually made of twigs and branches, just about the size of a pen. Again, you’ll need to use only dry material. Some people also bring their own kindling in case everything outside is damp from a previous rainfall.

Firewood – In Part I of this series, Picking the Right Firewood, you’ll get a primer on what kind of wood to use. Believe it or not, it makes a world of difference. Whichever type of wood you decide to use, you’ll need to split the wood so it’s not as thick and long as logs you’d use in a fireplace. As a general rule, the wood pieces should be about the length of the forearm of an average adult. If you throw in a piece of wood that is too wide, it will take forever for it to catch fire.

Building a Fire

There are 3 common ways to build a campfire. There are others as well, but these are the easiest:

Teepee Fire – You’ll recognize this type of fire, with the kindling forming a very distinct teepee shape. First, you need to place your tinder in the middle of the fire pit. On top of the tinder, form the teepee with kindling. Leave an opening for air to travel towards the side of the teepee that can catch wind. Add the rest of your kindling to the teepee and begin adding small twigs. Begin to add firewood over the teepee structure of the kindle in the same exact way. Light a match under the tinder. The growing fire will cause the teepee structure to eventually collapse. At this point, you can add more wood to the fire.

Lean-to Fire – Take one of your longer pieces of kindling and dig it into the ground at a 30- degree angle with the end facing the wind. Place your split wood next to this contraption so the kindling is “leaning” into the logs. Put a bundle of tinder under the kindling and add more kindling all around the bundle and stick. Add larger pieces of kindling on top. Light the tinder and allow the rest to go ablaze.

Pyramid or Log Cabin Fire – Create a small teepee with kindling and place lots of tinder in the middle of the pit. Place larger pieces of wood on opposite sides of the teepee. On the other two sides of the teepee, lay smaller pieces of split wood across the first layer of wood. Go a little smaller with each layer of wood. Make sure to leave space between the logs for oxygen. Continue placing smaller pieces to form either a cabin or pyramid. At the top, layer with kindling and tinder.

In the last series, we  teach you how to put out a campfire safely and securely so that you leave your campsite just as it was when you got there.


The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms, and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.

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