How To Build A Campfire

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Learning how to build a campfire the right way will ensure you're spending more time enjoying your fire and less time messing with it.

Whether you're camping at a state park or just enjoying a campfire meal in your backyard, everyone enjoys the beauty and warmth of a hot fire.

However, a campfire that smokes heavily and needs constant attention to stay lit isn't enjoyable for anyone.

Building the perfect campfire doesn't have to be difficult, but it does require a little planning and general fire building skills.  

One of the biggest mistakes people make when building any type of fire is using wet firewood.  

We all know that using wet firewood indoors can lead to creosote buildup in your chimney, but burning it outside typically leads to a slow burning fire that creates more smoke than flames.

Do yourself a favor and use dry, seasoned firewood for any fire you create.

The difference is unbelievable.  

Choosing A Safe Location

If you're going to build a fire outdoors, the first step is to choose a safe location to construct the fire.  

A designated fire pit that's away from overhanging branches and structures is ideal.

If you don't have access to a pre-made fire pit you can scrape the grass away down to bare dirt and line the outer edge with rocks.  

Never light a fire directly on grass, leaves or other debris since the fire could spread out of control.  

Also, never attempt to build a campfire on a windy day since hot embers can easily be blown into a neighboring field or woodline and create a forest fire.

How To Build A Campfire - Fuel Types

Once you have a safe location prepared, the next step is to gather the fuel you will need to build and sustain the fire.  

Gather enough firewood to last the duration of your fire to prevent searching for wood later on.

To build a fire you will need 3 basic types of fuel:

  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Fuel Wood

Tinder consists of small wood fibers, leaves, pine needles, dry grass or any other light debris that lights easily.

Kindling is slightly larger and heavier than tinder.  

Small twigs and sticks work great as kindling.

For campfire purposes, taking some time to clean up all of those small sticks laying around in your lawn will work great for a pile of kindling.  

Thinly split cedar shingles, poplar or pine will also work well.

Fuel wood consists of larger pieces of firewood that will make up the majority of the wood you will use.

The tinder will light the kindling and the kindling will light the larger fuel wood.

There are a large variety of firewood types that work well for fuel wood, just make sure it's dry. 

How To Build A Campfire - The Best Way

I've experimented with a variety of different ways to build a campfire.

While some methods might work better for an indoor setting, the teepee fire or tipi fire is my favorite.  

The teepee fire is easy to build, it creates a lot of heat for people sitting around the fire and it's mesmerizing to watch!

To begin, take your tinder and loosely place it in a pile in the middle of your fire pit.  

I like to criss-cross the larger pieces.  

It's important to have air flow to your tinder and make sure it's not tightly packed together.

Next, take the kindling and form it in the shape of a teepee over the tinder.  

You can stick the ends into the ground or simply lean the sticks against each other for support.  

It might take a little practice, so don't be discouraged if your teepee structure falls down a few times at the start.

Once you have the teepee frame built, place some of the larger fuel wood on the teepee in the same manner making sure to leave enough space between the wood for airflow. 

How To Build A Campfire - Lighting The Fire

Once you have the teepee structure built the final step is to light the fire.

Using a match, light the tinder in the center of the teepee and the fire will slowly ignite the rest of the wood.

As the fire burns the teepee structure will collapse upon itself which is one downfall to the teepee style.  

That's fine, just criss-cross more wood over the pile and the fire will continue to burn for as long as you need.

How To Build A Campfire For Cooking

A campfire meal is a great way to fully enjoy the camping experience.

Whether you're cooking fish over a campfire or simply roasting some hotdogs or smores, cooking a meal over a campfire is always enjoyable.

Although the teepee fire we talked about above will work for roasting marshmallows or hotdogs, if you're going to cook a more elaborate meal, like hamburgers or use a Dutch oven, the log cabin fire works a lot better.

The main advantage of a log cabin fire over a teepee fire is how the coals are dispersed.

A log cabin fire generally has more evenly spread out coals due to its square design as opposed to the teepee fire that will be very hot in the center and cooler on the edges.

Having even heat throughout your fire makes cooking a campfire meal a lot easier.

As always, make sure you let the fire die down a little before you begin your meal.

Ideally, you want to cook over hot coals and not an open flame.

These hot coals work great when using a campfire grill or even if you're roasting some fresh vegetables inside of aluminum foil.

Overall - How To Build A Campfire

Learning how to build a campfire is not difficult but there are a few important steps to follow that will make your fire much more enjoyable for you and everyone else nearby.

So go ahead......make a fire pit, find some fuel wood and build yourself the perfect campfire!


About the Author

Nick Greenway

Obsessed with firewood, Nick is behind over 350+ of Firewood For Life's articles, as well as countless reviews, guides and YouTube videos to help readers like you reduce heating costs and create the perfect fire.