A campfire is an outdoor tradition that every family wants to experience. It attracts positive force from nature, which has served as the center of backyard gatherings for many generations. Below are the steps on how to build a campfire and tips on fire etiquette, whether you are backpacking or car camping.
STEP #1 CREATE A FIRE RING
You don’t just build a fire anywhere you want. Make sure that you do it only in designated fire rings, fireplaces, or grills. You can find some versions of these in most developed campgrounds. The effects of the fire are reduced and will keep it restrained if you use a fire ring.
Consult the campground operator to make sure fires are allowed. During the dry season, there are areas that do not allow fire since it might cause other fires.
For undeveloped car camping sites, consult the agency that administers the land in advance. It might require a campfire permit.
Assess the area before creating a fire. Keep the fire minimal in bushy areas or with low-hanging branches, even skip it. During dry seasons, flying embers could easily cause a wildfire.
Fires are permitted in backcountry areas where there is an available fire ring that you can use if you left yours at home. You can create one if needed, and if the situation allows, dismantle it after using it. If you use the existing fire ring, make sure to clean it out before leaving the area.
Get rid of all flammable material from the fire pit. Use sand, mineral soil, or gravel as your base. Extreme heat can sterilize healthy soil, so pick the site carefully.
A mound fire can be used instead of the fire ring. With the use of your sanitation trowel, create a cylindrical platform of mineral soil around six to eight inches high, which will serve as a base for your fire. Building the platform on a flat rock is a good idea. Dispersing the mound once finished is easy.
STEP #2 COLLECT FIREWOOD
To successfully create a fire, you will need the following types of fuel:
- Kindling. This includes small sticks, usually less than one inch
- Tinder. An example of this are dry leaves, forest duff, or small twigs
- Firewood. Bigger than wood and will keep the fire going throughout the night.
Only local firewood is allowed. You can purchase some in a nearby store. Sometimes, the campground hosts sell bundles of kindling or firewood.
If your distance is around 50 miles away from the campground, do not bring wood with you when traveling. Campgrounds may ban you from bringing fuel. It does not matter how far or near you go. This will prevent the introduction of unwanted insects in the forest. It is best to call the local ranger or campground office ahead of time regarding this matter.
If you will look for firewood, collect only fallen wood away from the site. Do not cut healthy trees or remove branches from living trees, even on old or dying trees. They are still useful for birds and other animals.
Do not burn or collect pieces thicker than an adult wrist. This is because thick wood is not burned entirely and usually left behind as scraps.
Do not forget the “leave no trace” principles when collecting wood.
STEP #3 BUILDING A CAMPFIRE
1. The Cone
Place a loose pile of a handful of fuel in the center of the fire ring. Then put a small cone of kindling around it. Light a fire. If you notice the temperature increases and the fire is going strong, you can add bigger logs one at a time as needed.
2. Log Cabin
Position two pieces of firewood parallel to each other and leave some room in between for the base of your structure. Next, form a square. To do this, turn 900 and position two smaller pieces on top and perpendicular.
Inside the square, add lots of ignitors. Add more layers of firewood around the area, add smaller pieces as you go on each layer. Complete the layering with kindling and wood on top. Make sure there is space between the pieces of logs, so the fire can get the oxygen it needs.
3. Upside Down (pyramid)
To create an upside-down platform, start with 3 or 4 big pieces of wood side-by-side as your base. Then, turn 900 and add another layer this time with smaller wood on top. Continue adding more layers, add small pieces as you go, alternating the wood as you add them. Put your tinder and kindling on top.
4. Light the Campfire
With a lighter or match, light the ignitor. The fire starter is designed to ignite fast and help the tinder catch the flame.
Reminder: Use waterproof matches and a Firestarter. The Firestarter materials are included in the Ten Essentials.
Once the tinder starts burning, blow lightly at the base to provide oxygen, which will help increase the flame intensity, and ignite the wood more.
Move the embers to the center, so it will burn completely. The idea is to reduce them to white ash.
STEP #4 EXTINGUISH THE FIRE
Talk to the local land managers to see if they have a specific process to extinguish the fire. If they have, you need to follow it. If not, you can use water to extinguish the fire, stir the ashes, and then pour more water. Redo this process as needed. Before leaving the area, make sure that the ashes are cold.
Note: Using sand or dirt to extinguish a fire is not recommended as it can heat CoA, which later could start a wildfire if left uncovered.
STEP #5 CLEAN AS YOU GO
You can burn your trash if it can be entirely consumed by fire and turned into ash. Burning foil, plastic, or cans is not a good idea. If you add these items into the fire, don’t forget to collect the remains once the fire is out and pack them or throw them in a trash receptacle.
If you are in the backcountry, make sure you bring any trash in your pit with you. Don’t forget to dismantle the structure you have built. Extract the remaining charcoal pieces in your ring, take them away from the site, crumble the chunks, and then scatter the remaining ashes into a broad area.