How do I Build a Campfire?

A.E. Jaquith

Whether it's a family camping trip or a survival situation, a campfire can be both enjoyable and a necessity. With enough willpower and experimenting, almost anyone can start a campfire. There are several tried and true methods that can increase the chances of success. With the correct preparations and procedures, one should be able to build a great campfire in no time.

It is best to build a campfire away from pine trees.
It is best to build a campfire away from pine trees.

The first order of business when building a campfire is to choose a suitable location. A flat, open area away from highly flammable trees, like pine trees, is preferable. It is important, when building a campfire, to clear the area of dead leaves, brush, and twigs to avoid starting a wildfire. A rounded pit should be dug to the desired size, as this will direct the heat from the campfire upwards, making it easier to ignite heavier wood.

Use matches or a lighter to light the kindling.
Use matches or a lighter to light the kindling.

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The second step in building a campfire is to gather kindling. Many household materials work exceptionally well, such as old newspapers, pizza boxes, etc. If these are not available, some dry leaves, bark, and small twigs will work just as well. The more flammable materials should be placed on the bottom, and small sticks and twigs added, progressing upward. The kindling should be placed in the area designated for the campfire.

Firewood is a necessity for any campfire.
Firewood is a necessity for any campfire.

Next, larger sticks should be gathered and used to erect a pyramid. Leaning the larger wood towards the center, a rough cone shape should be created around the kindling. This will ensure that the heat from the fledgling campfire will be put to use efficiently. An opening should be left so that, when the time comes, the pile of kindling in the center of the pyramid can be accessed to start the campfire. Ideally, several openings should be left so that the kindling can be lit in several different places.

Before lighting the kindling, additional fire wood should be gathered. Enough should be stocked nearby so that it isn't necessary to go foraging through the forest after dark to find adequate wood to keep the campfire burning. Larger branches and logs should be gathered to place on the fire once sufficient embers have been established. These will burn longer and require less attention once they catch fire.

The final step to start a campfire is, of course, to light it. Just about anything that produces flame can be used; lighters and matches are the most readily available. The kindling should be lit at several locations, and it may help to blow lightly on the pile if necessary until it ignites. As the kindling burns, it should catch the larger wood of the pyramid on fire. Once the pyramid burns enough to collapse, progressively larger wood can be added as the fire grows.

It is not recommended to use kerosene, gasoline, or any other combustible liquid to start a campfire, as this can result in serious burns. Before leaving the area, campers should remember to extinguish the campfire. The pile of embers and ash can remain hot for several days, so it should be doused with water. If no water is at hand, the fire can be smothered with dirt.

Old newspaper makes great kindling.
Old newspaper makes great kindling.

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