No camping trip is complete without a campfire. This is the social center of any camping trip. It is where the events of the day are recapped. This is where the food is prepared. It is also where most memories are made like the telling of a good story right before bedtime. Sitting around an open flame is a tradition that goes back thousands of years and one that is still cherished by all campers to this day.
Just as important as the campfire is also the method that goes into building it safely and sustainably. If the campfire is not built correctly it will fail to do its job of staying on. Worse yet it can put the people around it and even nature at risk by spreading.
This article will discuss the safest way to build a campfire.
Here are the 9 easy steps to building a safe campfire:
· Make sure you have permission to start a fire
· Build a fire pit or prepare one that is provided.
· Gather or bring your tinder
· Choose kindling wisely
· Source the firewood
· Three ways to stack the wood properly
· Fire safety while the campfire burns
· How to safely extinguish a campfire
· Practice campfire etiquette
Campfires take a bit of work to maintain but they are worth it and you will be happy to know how to handle a fire properly next time you are out in the woods.
Making Sure You Have Permission to Start A Fire
Everyone enjoys a roaring fire when they go camping. They keep you warm during the chilly nights out in the woods and they help make the perfect s’mores during the summer. But before you pull out the matches, before you even leave the house you should check with the campgrounds you are heading to or with the local land authority and see if they will allow campfires.
There could be a dry season or brush fire warning that could be in place while you are planning to camp. If those things are an issue or there are warnings on their website or the actual campsite once you arrive, then you will not be starting any fires this trip. Remember these warnings are for the safety of the land as well as yourself and other campers. No one wants to be responsible for starting wildfires or the damage that comes with them.
Fire safety is key and if a Park or other campground does not want you starting a fire that is something that cannot be ignored. Fires are hard to hide and dangerous to handle if you do not do them properly or put them out incorrectly. Pay attention and respect the rules put in place by the authorities.
Build a Firepit or Prepare the One That Is Provided
After all the essentials for the fire are collected you will also need the things you need to prepare the firepit and to put out the fire and control it. A shovel is needed in case you have to dig your fire pit as well as to use when you are putting out the fire.
You will also need to have a water source and a bucket of water nearby as well. Fires can be very dangerous so you should always have water on standby in case anything happens. The same bucket will also be used to put the fire out at the end of the night as well.
If you have to make your fire pit, then you will need to collect rocks to create a perimeter around the fire to ensure no one gets too close to the fire or falls directly into the flame while it is on. This is only necessary if the location you have picked is in the wild or the campsite does not already have a place designated for fires already. If your location has a place already then feel free to skip this step.
If you do have to make your fire put, dig the hole in a clear area void of any grass or foliage and without any low hanging branches or power lines over where the fire will be. Dig the pit until you have dug through any topsoil and reach a layer of sediment or gravel. Doing so ensures you don't start a fire in a layer that may have roots growing through it that can catch fire.
Also, the fire will burn the soil which will ruin it for any future growth to take place there. Be sure to dig properly and keep an eye out. You need to give the fire a ten-foot clearance to be safe and then set up all tents and keep anything flammable an additional five feet away from there. This is to make sure if the wind picks up and a few embers go flying then there is nothing that can catch fire within reach of the flame. Once all this is settled then the fire building can begin.
Gather or Bring Your Tender, Kindling, and Firewood
Before you get to start the fire, you need to make sure you have everything in place to start, maintain and stop it. First, make sure you have a lighter or matches to light the fuel for the fire. Then you need to gather the materials you will be burning, starting with the tinder.
Tinder is very small dry foliage like pine tree needles, leaves, or small twigs you will use to start the very base of the fire. A neat trick to use is to bring some dryer lint from home to use as tinder. It is super dry and will catch fire quickly. This tip is especially helpful if you end up going camping right after it has rained, making finding dry tinder nearly impossible.
Choose Kindling Wisely
Next, you will need to choose kindling. Kindling is going to be pieces of wood or brush that is under an inch in size, about the size of a pencil is a good way to visualize it. If you can't find any around or can’t get enough you can always make some from wood lying on the ground and shaving some small pieces off with a knife or hatchet. You will use the kindle after the tinder.
Source the Firewood
The final pieces of fuel you will need will be the actual wood. These will be medium to large pieces of wood that vary inside. You cannot start with large logs or it will smother the fire. You want to get wood about as wide as your wrist and as long as your forearm.
You can try to get some larger pieces, but the most important thing is that the wood be dry. If the branches snap when you try to bend them, they are good to use. If the branch bends that means it is wet and will burn poorly. If the logs are slightly damp it is ok, they will just take longer to burn and should be thrown in last, once the fire is fully going.
The rule of thumb is to collect more tinder, kidding and fuelwood than you think you will need. Once the fire is started it will take a good amount of all these to keep it going.
Please be sure to use wood from the area you will be staying. If you bring wood from where you live or outside of the campgrounds you run the risk of bringing bugs and other harmful pests to the area that can be very bad for the environment.
If you cannot find wood at your site, then you can purchase some from a nearby camping good store or from a park store. This is very important in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem and making sure that the area is there for future campers to enjoy.
3 Ways to Stack the Wood to Start a Camp Fire
Once your fire pit is ready and you have all the supplies ready then you are now set to start your campfire. First, you will make a small pile of tinder in the middle of your fire pit. Do not pack it too tightly as the main component to keep a fire going is oxygen. You will light the tinder and as it starts to burn you will gently blow on it as you pile the burning embers.
If you are using a match to light the fire dispose of it carefully so you don’t accidentally start a fire anywhere else. You can either throw the whole match into the fire pit or once the flame has gone out of the match drench it in water and make sure it is out. Once the embers are hot and ready you will introduce the kindling, and this can be done a few different ways.
The first way to pile the kindling is called the cone to teepee. You take a few small branches of kindling and arrange them around the pile of tinder, so they all lean over the flame and onto each other in a cone shape. The kindling will catch from here and start to burn. Then you can pile the fuelwood in much the same way once the tinder has begun to burn.
The next method is called a log cabin. This one starts differently than the cone method. You start with placing two pieces of wood o at the base of the pit parallel to each other. Then you place two smaller vices of wood on those pieces, so it forms a square and continues to do this to build a “Cabin.”
Be sure to leave room on the inside and on the sides for air to enter and fee the flame. Then you place kindling inside to help feed the same and top it with more tinder. The flame will build from the inside and may take a little longer to get a fire going but the slow progress will pay off. By the time the fire reaches the fuelwood that makes the frame, it will be burning well.
Finally, there is the pyramid method, also known as the upside-down method. Like the cabin method, you will be using fuelwood to build the base of the fire. You will place the larger logs on the bottom and stack gradually smaller logs up. When you reach the top is when you add the tinder and kindling to start the fire.
The most difficult part of any campfire is getting it started. Tinder typically burns up pretty fast. The drier it is the faster it burns and that be helpful and harmful to the process, which is why it is recommended to gather extra tinder and kindling. The tinder will start to burn once it is lit so you will need to immediately need to add more and blow on it gently to keep the embers going.
Once you feel they have caught on well and will keep the flame going then add the kindling slowly so as not to smother the flames. Once the tinder has begun to burn on its own and the fuelwood is going the fire will only need to be fed and prodded occasionally to keep it going.
Fire Safety while the Camp Fire Burns
While the campfire burns, be mindful of the size and intensity of your flames. Not every campfire needs to be a roaring blaze. Be aware of your surroundings to make sure there are no low-hanging branches, vines, or moss that can catch on fire.
Also keep in mind the wind, before during, and after the fire is lit. A strong wind or gust can kick embers up and send them flying onto the nearest flammable substance so if need be, be ready to move the wood that is feeding the flame if the wind changes directions or intensity. Also, be sure to have the shovel and water bucket nearby at all times.
The fire should never be left alone. As long as it is burning there is to be at least one person watching it at all times. A campfire is still a fire and it is burning in the wilderness which can be very dangerous. Make sure that any small children and pets are kept a safe distance from the fire as well. The stones you set up prior should keep most people away from the fire, but it is better to keep the little ones away from it altogether unless they are on an adult's lap.
How to Safely Extinguish a Campfire
Putting out a campfire is more than just dumping a bucket of water on the flames and walking away. This is an involved process that will take some time if done correctly so give yourself about twenty minutes to make sure you did the job properly. The smallest ember could be hidden in the ashes and start the fire all over again once you have driven off or started on a trail.
The first thing you will do is sprinkle the water over the fire. Do not pour the water. While doing this you still need to be aware of the wind and where it is blowing. There will be steam coming off the fire and it can burn very badly if you are caught in the steam cloud.
Now using the shovel, you have kept handy you will stir the ashes to ensure they have cooled down and there are no embers hidden. Continue the process of pouring water and stirring the ashes until the whole fire is out and the ashes are cool to the touch. You will check the ashes by touching the pile with the back of your hand.
Once they are all cooled you will shovel the ashes into bags and sprinkle them about the ground. If any large pieces of charcoal did not break up in the fire make sure that you crush them with the shovel and use the water mixing method on them as well. Often these large pieces retain a lot of heat on the inside for a while.
Practice Campfire Etiquette
If you dug a hole to make your fire pit, please be sure to fill it again. Leaving the campsite as it was before you got there should be your main goal after fire safety. Do not use the dirt or sand you dug up to put out the fire.
There is a good chance this will only insulate any coals or embers left by the fire and they will continue to burn instead of going out. If you made a ring out of rocks and stones be sure to put them back as well and leave the clearing as it was when you arrived.
Make sure any time the fire is not being attended to, you must use this process of wetting and mixing. It is easier to restart a fire when you get back to camp than to put out a forest fire.
Do not use the fire to burn your trash. Things like plastic bottles and soda cans will not burn well and will be harmful to the environment. Take anything you brought with you and bring plenty of bags for any remaining items to throw it away at the nearest trash can.
These are just standardized rules to keep everyone safe around a campfire and putting it out. If you are going to a formal or regulated camping area be sure to check their guidelines to see if there are any specific regulations, they have in place for fire safety.
Some places may be different and require you to do different things. As long as everyone is safe and you abide by the rules, it is a guarantee that everyone will have a great time camping.
All the best,
P.S. Have you ever tried Solo Camping, if not you should give it a go!