Wood fires are a camping classic that you just can't camp without. They provide warmth as well as a place to cook. When the sun goes down, there is not a better place to hover than around a nice, warm campfire. However, do be aware that not all campsites allow fires. Some wilderness parks prohibit them all together. If there is a drought and fire ban in a particular area you need to follow the rule for your safety and the safety of others. You even have to be careful with your grills.
There is an art to building a good campfire and to burn well, your fire needs fuel. The wood must be stacked in a manner that allows air to circulate. The fire will start small with burning paper, fire starters or other small twigs or “tinder.” As the fire builds, the larger pieces of wood will catch on as well. The goal is to get a good layer of glowing coals and a continuous heat supply.
Tinder must burn easily and produce enough heat and flame to ignite the next layer of fuel. Choose your tinder carefully as not all things that burn makes good tinder. For example, leaves are not good. If they are green they won't burn well. If they are dry, they will burn too quickly. Ideally, you will want tender that is made of dry, tiny twigs or pieces of birch bark. There are also fire starters that will help speed up the process. Another unique fire starter is to use paper egg crates, fill each hole with wax and some dryer lent. They do the trick every time.
Once your tinder is burning, you can begin adding kindling or medium sized pieces of wood. When that layer is lit you can begin feeding it your larger pieces of wood.
Firewood is not going to be accessible at many campsites, so you will need to bring some along with you. There is only so much wood that falls dead each year that can be used as firewood, and campers quickly use it up. You may be able to buy firewood at the campground or you can bring it with you. This is often better because you know that the wood is dry. Don't cut down a live tree and expect it to burn. The wood will be green and not burn well at all.
Choose the location of your fire very carefully. If you find an existing fire pit, use it instead of building a new one. If you must create your own fire pit, it is best to use large rocks. At the very least you can use large logs that are soaked with water. Wet wood does not readily burn. You can also control a fire by digging down into the soil to create a fire pit that helps to control the fire. Be careful not to do any unnecessary destruction to the area though.
There are a variety of ways to start fires and there are a variety of different types of fires that you can build. Here are a few types of fires that you can use. The type that you build will depend on its function such as warmth, light, cooking or all of the above.
With this fire, you will stack same-length wood pieces in the triangular shape of a teepee. Put tinder and kindling in the center of the fire. Place a narrow space on the windward side to get a breeze to aid in the starting of the fire. If you plan to hang a pot over the top of the fire for cooking, the big flames from this type fire make cooking convenient and easy.
This fire begins with a small teepee of tinder and kindling. Then you will position the logs in a square shape that resembles a cabin. There should be small squares between each layer. The fire will burn fast with a high flame, so you wouldn't want to use it for slow cooking.
This fire is similar to that of the teepee fire, however it is a flatten version. The wood is laid out in a starburst shape. It only burns the ends of the wood that are in the fire. As you need more flame, you gently push the logs in deeper. This fire is easier to control and is good if you need a slow-burning fire for cooking.
Fire Building Tips & Campfire Safety
- Always consider the wind direction. You don't want to smoke out your neighbors.
- Emergency tinder kits work even when they are wet.
- It is recommended that you don't use kerosene or fire starter liquid to hurry up your fire. This is due to the fact that the fluid burns very quickly and a spark or flame can easily travel up the stream of fluid and cause the container to explode.
- Waterproof matches can be purchased or you can make your own by dipping them in wax. Store matches in a watertight container. Butane lighters are handy as well.
- Bring a small handsaw or axe in case you need to cut wood.
- Keep your firewood in your car
- Use an old charcoal pan as a fire pit.
- You can always use a triangle shape as the base of your fire to keep the heat concentrated in one area.
- Don't add too much wood to the teepee fire until it gets going well.
- Keep a bucket of water or dirt nearby to douse your fire.
- Never leave your fire unattended.
- Small fires are easier to control, especially in the wind. Keep flames short but enough to heat and cook on. Control the fire by adding large pieces of wood that are harder to burn.
- Large flames will only burn food and not cook it thoroughly.