How to Build a Campfire


What is a camp without a campfire?

Building a campfire can be tricky. But with a few tips, even a caveman can do it.

Fire needs three things: heat, oxygen and fuel.  Heat will become abundant once you get your campfire going.  Your first concern is fuel:  wood.

Where to find wood?  Right on the ground, under trees.  But if the weather has been wet, sticks from the ground are for later.  Get some drier ones.  Trees naturally “prune” themselves as  they grow by letting their lower branches die.  Break those off.  If a branch doesn’t break, it’s still green.  Leave it.

There are three stages of your campfire and three types of fuel: early, middle, and late.  Your early fire will want some very thin sticks and even wood shavings (if it has been raining, the dry center of a stick or log is your best bet).  Get or make pencil-sized sticks for your early fire, too.  Your middle fire stage will take sticks about the diameter of your wrist.  A mature fire will burn logs.

You can burn green wood once you have a roaring fire, but it will sizzle and steam.  You are much better off with dry or “seasoned” wood.  Dead branches and whole dead trees are seasoned.

A lighter, or Flint Striker can get fine material started.

Paper or cardboard make fire starting much easier.  With enough newspaper you can start just about any dry wood.

Purists use dry wood shavings and carefully selected twigs.  Here’s how.  Find a dry surface, cleared down to soil for several feet in all directions.  Using a sharp knife, whittle a pile of shavings about the size of your fist.  Light the pile of shavings at the bottom, and quickly start arranging dry twigs into a tiny “teepee” or /\ shape over the flame.

In campfire building, your purpose is always to create a draft

A properly constructed campfire draws in air from the bottom and guides it upward in a predictable stream of heated air.  The teepee shape creates that draft, very much like a chimney.  You will notice the flame “prefers” to come up at certain spots.  Without blocking those flames completely, place twigs over them so that the flame is required to flow around and heat the twigs to their kindling point.

This is the critical stage of campfire building.

mystical fire creature

This is going to sound mystical but here goes.  

Be the fire.

You will intuit your fire’s needs for air and fuel. This is your birthright as a human. Your ancestors mastered fire.  

A young campfire is fragile.  Treat it like a tiny home where your flame lives.  Don’t throw on sticks. Place them. And watch.

As Yogi Berra said, “You can see a lot by observing.”

After you have a small teepee fire, add slightly larger, pencil-sized sticks.  Don’t rush it, but don’t let your fire burn out either.

You can feed a fire pencil-sized sticks all night.  But it’s easier to get some bigger branches going.  If wood is scarce, intentionally keep your fire small.

If you have logs, you can build a box or log cabin around and over your fire.  Even easier is to arrange two logs on both sides of your fire, as close as possible and put a third log on top running in the same direction.  Again, always make sure the fire can draw air.  When flame is licking around the top log in spots, the draft is happening.  If it isn’t, gently adjust the logs to make the fire draw.

how to build a campfire photo

Photo credit: d3designs

After that it’s just a matter of placing another log on the fire as needed.  If your goal is cooking, once you have a bed of hot coals, pull most of the unburned logs out of the fire to reduce flame and smoke.

How to “bank” a fire

When it’s time for bed and if you want hot coals to start the fire in the morning, bury a pile of coals and partly burned wood with ashes.  This is called “banking” a fire. The ashes nearly smother the coals but let them smolder all night.  Just make sure the layer of ashes is thick enough to keep out oxygen.

campfire coals for how to build a campfire

Photo credit: matthewbridges

There’s nothing quite like waking up to a “banked” fire.  You just blow off the ashes, get the coals glowing again, and add some fuel to re-kindle your fire in a few seconds.

This article was kindled at an amazing site called Jiffy Articles.  Jiffy Articles lets you create articles in a few minutes with topics, each with an editable introduction and a story outline.  Jiffy Articles really works!  The site is currently in beta test and you can try it for free!

This article, How to Build a Campfire started with the Jiffy Article “How to Start and Maintain the Perfect Campfire.”

You might want to see other ways to make your campsite more comfortable.


8 thoughts on “How to Build a Campfire”

  1. Well, now I know how to build a campfire . . and love that steel wool tip (never heard of that). I wonder if Buckley’s cough syrup (which contains camphor, menthol, Canadian balsam and pine needle oil) would make a good accelerant?

    Speaking of HOT, I’ve featured you on my latest: 30 more HOT Men of Squidoo

    Keep well,
    Rose (aka sousababy)

  2. Great article on fire building. You did a very good job explaining the process and why it works. I have had success with a couple of other items that may add to this. I like to find dried moss on the pine trees where I live, it gathers on the northside of the tree, and it does a wonderful job catching a spark from the flint to get started. If I can’t find any moss I also carry char cloth with me for the same purpose. Char cloth is very easy to make, I used a small Campbell’s soup can and 1. cut squares of t-shirt material (an old t-shirt) small enough to stack inside the can, fill it up to about 1/2 inch from the top. 2. Cover the can with tin foil and put one small hole in the middle of it. 3. Fire up the BBQ on high and put the can on the grate. 4. Wait, as it heats up you will see smoke coming out of the hole, when the smoke stops, it’s ready. 5. Let it cool down, all of the pieces of material are basically burning and when they cool down you have a stack of blackened (still flexible) material. I just throw a small stack in a ziplock bag and carry it in my pack. I hope this is helpful for anyone reading and can help get your fire started the next time you brave the great outdoors. 🙂
    Seth Lyman recently posted..Does nono work? Answers to your questions on the no!no! 8800My Profile

    1. Seth, can’t thank you enough for this detailed comment. Gee whiz, it’s almost a guest post! Charred cloth is easy to make and will catch a single spark from flint and steel. I’ve made it in a completely sealed can. Here’s another spark catcher: very fine steel wool. Surprisingly, blowing on a spark in the fine steel wool will generate a very hot flame. For either charred cloth or steel wool, it helps to place it in “nest” of fine material like pine needles, cup it in your hands and blow gently. Never tried dried moss and had no idea it was so flammable. Great campfire tips, buddy!
      Astro Gremlin recently posted..Biggest Camping SecretMy Profile

    2. That’s a great tip Seth I hadn’t heard about making char cloth before. Making and maintaining the campfire in my opinion is one of the best parts of camping.

  3. Thanks, Tim. Firebuilding becomes much more challenging under wet conditions. Even a wet stick is often dry inside versus a green (bendable) twig that is wet all the way through. Green sticks in fact are great for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows because they *don’t* catch on fire. Seasoned maple is an excellent fuel, although, like any hardwood, is not quite as good as pine for starting a fire. But one uses what one has. The best firewood log if you can get it? Hickory. Highest total BTUs per cord, and coals well, unlike coniferous wood which quickly goes to ash. A bed of hickory coals radiates a tremendous amount of heat.
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  4. Yeah one tree that I have noticed drops some really nice twigs to use at the early-middle stage of the fire is a maple tree. I have one in my backyard, but I never knew it was so good for starting fires. I would always start fires at the playground grill near my house. I would always pick up sticks that from a tree (I don’t know what it is called) that dropped a ton of sticks, but they were always soggy, damp, and they bended instead of breaking. I highly recommend using maple twigs for starting fires. You can use them at every stage of a fire.

  5. Nice post Astro!

    It sure is wonderful to learn so much about campfires and how to go about building one. I remember my school days when were went out camping and did similar things. I guess you do need to start with the smaller twigs and gradually let the air do its work, before adding more wood or bigger logs to the fire. It does build up gradually and similarly, it ends up well gradually as well.

    Thanks for sharing the link about Jiffy Articles as well, this sure seems like a wonderful site that I am going to check up right after commenting here. 🙂
    Harleena Singh recently posted..What Moves You?My Profile

    1. Harleena, thank you for taking the time to comment. Jiffy Articles appears to be a substitute for “spinning” articles, which substitutes words in an original article. Instead, based on a list of paragraph ideas an original article gets written. It worked for me. Didn’t really need an article on how to build a campfire, but now I have one!
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