How to Build a Camp Fire by Michael Gardner

October 10, 2017
By michaeltg BRONZE, Louisville, Kentucky
michaeltg BRONZE, Louisville, Kentucky
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Do you love camping?  Do you love the great outdoors?  I bet you don’t like it when it gets cold or when you have no way to cook your food.  I’m here to help.  I will explain the purpose of three different common types of camp fires and how to build them.  You don’t need to be an Eagle Scout to build a good camp fire.  All you need to do is follow these simple instructions. 

First, before I tell you how to build a camp fire, you need to learn a few safety tips and some basic camp fire terminology.  Knowing your environment is very important. If you're not careful, you can start a HUGE forest fire.  Before you build any type of camp fire, you want to find a clear area with no trees overhead.  The best area is one that is dirt, sand or rock without any grass around.  It is best if you can dig a shallow, wide whole to start building your fire.  Having a hole will make it easier to put the fire out.  You will want a circle with small to medium rocks to surround the hole.  This will ensure that no one will accidently step into the fire pit.   You should have a large bucket of water near the fire circle in case you need to quickly put the fire out.  It is important that you stay with the fire at all times to make sure it doesn’t start to spread.  Also, you need to stay with the fire until it burns completely out or you put it completely out.  You want to keep this in mind when you are thinking about how large you want your fire to be.

Here is some camp fire terminology to know before you start.  Tinder is small shreds of wood such as a small twig.  Tinder is important to get your fire started.  Tinder burns fast and easily catches fire to other pieces of wood.  Kindling is bigger than tinder.  It can be large twigs and other small sticks.  This is necessary to catch your fuel and get the fire going.  Kindling burns longer than tinder and helps create a big camp fire.  Kindling that you gather for your fire should all be about the same size.  Large pieces of wood are called fuel.   Fuel is a must have if you want a large camp fire.  However, if you want a smaller camp fire, you do not need much fuel.  

Before you start building your camp fire, you need to decide the purpose for making your camp fire.  All types of camp fires can be used for heat and for cooking, but there are some preferred camp fire designs that are a better fit for the different purposes.  This is explained more in the manual.  One important thing to remember is to make sure the wood is not damp or wet when you are gathering the tinder, kindling and fuel logs to start building your fire.   If you are a novice camp fire builder, you will also want to bring matches to help get your fire started.  Experienced camp fire builders may be able to start a camp fire with flint and steel to create sparks.  However, if you are experienced in starting and building camp fires, you probably can stop reading this now.     


Teepee fires are used for heat.

To make a tepee style camp fire you must first start with a pile of tinder. For a bigger fire, you will need to start with a bigger pile of tinder.   Then gather 3 similar sized pieces of kindling.  Balance them into the shape of a 3 dimensional triangle or pyramid shape that is standing up over top of the pile of tinder.  This is called the base.  One tip that I like to do when building this type of fire is to impale one of the pieces of kindling into the ground so it is more stable, than balance the other 2 kindling sticks against that one. After that, balance the rest of your kindling against the 3 base pieces leaving an opening so you can get to the tinder.  Make sure that your tinder is touching the kindling so it will catch the bigger pieces of wood on fire. Start your fire by lighting a match and then lighting the pile of tinder.  Once the tinder catches fire, it will start to burn the kindling.  If you want a larger fire, you will start to add the fuel logs.  Just lean the large fuel logs onto the kindling.  Keep adding more fuel logs the larger you want the fire. 

Log Cabin

Log Cabin fires are best for cooking and even firing pottery.
Like the name of this type of camp fire implies, it is much like building a mini log cabin. You start with put two kindling parallel from each other 6-12 inches apart.  Stack two more pieces of kindling parallel but opposite direction of the first two kindling.  It will be in the shape of a square.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect square.  Continue to stack parallel kindling on until you have a decent sized mini log cabin.  You will need at least 5 levels to get your fire started.  Then place a pile of tinder in the middle of the log cabin.  The tinder should come up about ¼ of height of the log cabin.   Keep in mind that some kindling may fall off, this is ok, just put it back as best as you can. After that, light the tinder using a match.  Remember to keep putting kindling onto the fire in the log cabin design to keep the fire going as long as you want.  If you want a larger Log Cabin camp fire, follow the same steps but use fuel logs instead of kindling.


Lean To

Lean To fires are best for heat.

A Lean To camp fire is very simple.  Find a good large log that will be easy to drag to your fire circle.  If you can’t find a large log, you can use a large rock instead.  This will be needed to start your Lean To fire and will be used to block any wind that may possibly put out your fire.  Put a medium to large sized pile of dry tinder up against the large log.  Lean kindling over the tinder so that is touching the large log.  Make sure there is an air pocket between the tinder and the kindling to continue to feed oxygen to the fire.  Light a match and catch the tinder on fire.  As the fire progresses, add progressively larger sticks until you start putting fuel logs if you want a large fire.  If you do not want a large fire, you should not add the fuel logs. 


Once your camp fire time is over, you need to put out your fire.  This can be done a couple different ways.  You can pour water onto the remaining wood from your camp fire.  This will help put out the fire and ensure that any unburned wood does not catch fire since it will be wet.  If you do not have access to water, you can use a shovel to add dirt or sand to the fire.  This will put the fire out by smothering it since oxygen will not be able to get to the fire to allow it to continue to burn.  You will know that your fire is completely out when there is no more smoke or heat coming from the fire circle.

I hope you have learned how to make a proper camp fire safely.  Always remember to be safe around fires.  Happy Camping (even when it’s cold)!

The author's comments:

I am a Boy Scout Second Class. This is a how to manual for building a campfire.

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