Do you like a campfire?
Camping in the great outdoors is a great way to spend time with family, friends, and a few strangers. It is also a great way to get back in touch with nature. However, one of the main threats to the pristine forests that cover most of the wilderness, like a pointy green blanket is forest fires.
Actually, the politically correct term is wildfires. When you think about it, when a forest is ignited, it can quickly run wild. The term ‘wildfire’ brings a sense of urgency to the situation and subliminally hammers home the fact that fires cost us all a great deal when they run out of control.
The Only Five Campfires You Need To Know
How is it possible that you only need to know how to build five campfires? Well, that’s because each of the following serves a very different purpose related to what your needs are at the time you require a campfire. Of course, there are probably a few of you out there scratching your heads and thinking that there is just one way to build a campfire if your usual chant when camping and cooking on a fire is something along the lines of “More gas! More gas!” then you really have not paid much attention in Boy Scouts as to the safe and manageable methods used in building a good, warm and sufficient campfire. With this in mind, here are the five types.
1 – The Teepee
We’ll start with the easiest of the structures to build to become your campfire. You’ve probably used this method for most of your life and had no idea it actually had a name. The teepee part is the kindling that you arrange standing up in such a fashion that each piece leans against a center point at the top. The bottom of the kindling sits on the base of your fire pit and forms a circular pattern and resembles the shape of a teepee. Inside the teepee, you stuff your tinder and light it up. As the fire grows, you lean larger pieces of firewood into the teepee shape. Within minutes you’ll be telling campfire stories.
2 – The Log Cabin
For a fire that you won’t have to spend a lot of time keeping an eye on and adding to, this is your best choice. You start with a teepee and then build four walls around it with firewood lying on its side. Eventually, the structure will look like a log cabin. Don’t stack too high until it starts to burn well. If you stack properly, the campfire will burn a long time without needing much attention. The key is to use dry wood and that the teepee ignites correctly to start off the chain reaction. With this one fully involved, you’ll be making s’mores before you know it.
3 – The Platform
For those of you who would much rather have a big enough campfire to cook on, this is your best option. You start by building a pyramid of firewood in much the same fashion as the Log Cabin only in this case you would use larger logs on the base and smaller ones on the top. The hook here is where you light it. In order for the Platform to be properly executed, it has to be lit from the top. What this does is it forces the fire to burn down through the logs you’ve stacks creating a bed of hot coals in the process. Once it burns completely down, you’ll be ready to start cooking up a pot of beans. The bonus here is that if your camping gear includes cast iron cookware, you can put that pot directly on the hot coals.
4 – The Star
For a change, something out of Hollywood was not smeared with special effects. If you are a fan of Western movies – we call them dusters – then you’ve probably seen more than enough campfires that have employed The Star method. It is not only a fire that won’t require a ton of firewood, but it is also your best option if you are in the mood for an all-night fire to provide light and heat on a chilly night. Plus, if your campsite happens to have a fire pit, this type of campfire works well in that setting.
In fact, The Star could have been designed for use just in fire pits, but since it’s such an awesome method, it gets used a lot in other applications. So, in order to build it, you start with your standard teepee in the center. Then circle that with logs in three or five points. As the logs burn, push them into the center. If you really want to make it even easier, build your fire in a small dug out hole. That way gravity will just pull the logs into the fire as they burn down.
5 – The Lean To
We know. The weather is not always as perfect as you’d like when you are out camping. Wind and rain can really spoil a campfire, but with The Lean-To you can have a fighting chance at saving the fire and still getting something roasted to eat. You start this type of campfire with a big log that you lay down to act as a windbreak. You follow that by leaning progressively larger pieces of wood off of it. The key to igniting this is the small teepee you build underneath the lean-to logs. Essentially, the teepee is protected and has a chance to grow large enough to start burning the firewood that you’ve learned above it. Eventually, it will burn to the point where the leaning wood will fall into the fire. This is part of the plan because once the fire gets to that temperature, wind and rain won’t have an effect on it whatsoever.
Which Is The Best Of The Five Methods?
Um, well, you’ve heard of trial and error, right? The premise behind that is you try something out for a while to see how it works for you and your needs. Maybe you will find a way to tweak that process as you more or less experiment with it to see how it works. The same basic principle applies to these five different campfire types.
You won’t know which works best for you if you don’t start using them and honing your fire building skills. You may find that one works extremely well when you are camping in a group, and another works best if you are camping alone. The location, whether or not you are building a fire to cook on or to provide warmth will also factor into the choices.
So to answer the question as to which is the best method to use, you will have to figure that one out on your own. While that may sound as if we are not interested in helping, you’d be wrong believing that. If anything, we strongly encourage you to play with fire and check ‘em out and read this guide.
The Ultimate Survivor
There is a lot more about campfires we’ll get to in a moment but first, here’s a bit of a reminder as to why you would want to experiment with different fire building methods while enjoying the great outdoors.
1 – There’s No Electricity
Maybe it’s obvious, but if you live in the Big City and camping is new to you, it won’t be long before you discover that the power lines you see in the distance are to supply power to the towns down the line. There are not going to be a lot of plug-in options for you if you are camping somewhere other than in a private campground with hook-ups. In order to truly experience the wonders of nature, you have to be setting your camp up somewhere off-grid in what we like to call a rustic setting. In other words, there won’t be a coin-operated shower or a place to plug in your hair dryer anywhere nearby.
As a result, the nights are going to cool down to the point that unless you have another warm body to snuggle with, you will find a campfire to be your best friend. Just don’t light it inside of your tent. In fact, keep the fire and your tent a reasonable distance apart, and if you build your campfire correctly, you should feel some heat from it, and if you don’t, you can always sit by it to warm up. You won’t be able to use an electric heater.
2 – You Get To Practice New Skills
Hey, it’s true. If you are just learning how to build a bitchin’ campfire, nothing improves your ability like the opportunity to try and try again. If you get good enough at it, you can train yourself how to build a campfire with minimal supplies. By improvising, you start to see things differently. For example, if there are no small twigs or dry grasses to start your teepee with, maybe some dried out moss or fur from an animal that got stuck in a thorny bush will do.
When you are able to improvise and still create what you were trying to in the first place, you end up gathering vital survival skills. As hard to believe that this could come from building a simple campfire, getting lost in the woods won’t be as daunting if you can still build a fire to stay warm until the search party finds you.
3 – It Impresses The Crap Out Of Girls And Your Kids
Want to be the hero on your next camping trip? Nothing scores points like being able to magically build a fire out of just a handful of items. It will most certainly show those with you that you have a hidden talent that shouldn’t be taken lightly. For example, the girl you’ve been dating will be somewhat impressed with your survival skills. Not only will she feel safe with you around, but she’ll also dedicate herself to keeping you warm tonight.
As for the family camping trip, nothing makes you appear more and more like the superhero in your children’s eyes than being able to manage the fire building chores at the campsite. You will not only win their admiration, but you’ll also be spoiled come Father’s Day like you have never been before.
A Couple Of Good Campfire Ideas To Tuck Away Until You Need Them
Okay, now that you’ve reached this part and we’ve convinced you that being the expert fire builder in your circle of influence is a good thing, here are a few extras you may want to save for the right time.
1 – How To Increase The Heat Of Your Fire
Again, we are hearing someone chanting, “More gas! More gas!” but that would be incorrect. The best way to naturally increase the heat of your campfire is to make use of a reflector. You do this by building your fire near a rock wall, a large boulder or the back of a shallow cave. You then set up between the fire and the reflector. The heat will bounce off of whatever the structure is behind you, which will make the fire appear to be warmer.
To increase the warmth, even more, build a reflector on the other side of the fire. You can stack logs for this. What happens is the heat basically bounces between the two reflectors keeping you toasty and warm in the middle.
2 – Cooking Over A Fire Without The Right Tools
If you are into minimalist camping, you are not about to haul in a lot of extra weight just so you will be fully decked out at your campsite. In fact, thanks to improvisation, you can get away with leaving a few of your cooking essentials at home. For example, you’ve just finished building the best possible Platform campfire known to Mankind. Your goal is to use it for cooking, but you don’t have a grate or some other implement to put over the fire to sit your cast iron cooking pot.
It’s okay. All you need to do is either build that fire in a narrow trench that can support your cooking pot over top of the fire or place two green logs on either side of the fire wide enough for your pot to straddle. As for hanging a coffee pot, all you need is three green sticks. Lash them together to form a tripod, and now you have something you can hang your coffee pot from.
Putting Out Your Campfire
Leaving your campfire to burn itself out is not an option. If you have forgotten why that is, go back and read the first few paragraphs of this article again. Even if you are the most diligent camper on the face of the planet, fires have a way of messing up that kind of reputation. So, to avoid starting a wildfire or getting fined for not putting your fire out, there is a right way to ensure it is completely out before you pull away from the campsite.
1 – Burying It With Dirt
The idea here was that if you removed the oxygen supply, you had a good chance at killing your campfire. However, with the woods as scary dry as they are these days, we don’t recommend you digging dirt and covering up your fire. Remember, those coals are still pretty hot, and you don’t want to risk anything getting out of hand long after you’ve returned home and unpacked your vehicle.
2 – Quit Feeding It Wood
Any idea why they usually nickname someone who plays with fire ‘Sparky?’ Well, if you just quit adding firewood, the fire will eventually die down. Yes, it could go out, but it won’t be immediately. Eliminating the source of fuel will help, but the fire is far enough along that you have to use a better idea than that to put it out correctly.
3 – Pee On It
Well, this is not entirely a bad idea. However, you are onto something here. The most effective way to extinguish a campfire is to pour water onto it. Then stir it around to get all the hot coals underneath. A hissing sound will tell you that there are still some hot spots in that fire. Keep adding water and stirring until you can stick your hand into the campfire soup and not feel the heat. It may take a considerable amount of time to complete this, but at least when you get back on the Interstate you know you won’t hear about a wildfire started by a campfire where you had just been.
The Basic Stuff You Should Already Know
What three things does a fire need in order to function properly? If you guessed fuel, heat, and oxygen, you would be correct. But there is also a bit of chemistry involved as the exact ratio of each of these three components will determine what kind of fire you will have. In other words, the scale runs essentially from a smoldering mess to a towering inferno. The mixture of fuel, heat, and oxygen is what you use to contain it.
1 – Tools
Let’s say you are not one of those entitled city slicker types. You know your way around the campsite and can pitch a tent like a pro. However, you didn’t pack prepared firewood or a commercial fire starter, so you have to improvise. With the right tools, you’ll survive and be roasting wienies in no time. But you need some tools to make that happen. They include the following:
– A Ferro rod
– Vaseline-coated cotton balls
2 – Wood
If you happen to be camping on the tail end of a short dry spell, you could be in luck. By gathering some small twigs that snap as you step on them, you’ll be alright. If you are camping after a torrential downpour, during monsoon season or in a winter blizzard, your search for dry firewood could take a bit of extra work. However, standing dead trees should be your main target and with your axe or saw, you’ll be able to chop and cut what you need.
3 – Grass
We are talking about the wild variety that grows in and around the woods and not what you are thinking. Dry grass is a great fire starter. When you strike out in this department, you’ll still be able to improvise if you brought along those coated cotton balls. Just by pulling them apart, you will end up with the same basic type of tinder that fine, dry grass would provide.
Well, sadly, the majority of wildfires these days are classified as ‘human-caused’ which points the finger at all of us. With the forests so dry in recent years, thanks to that thing called global warming or climate change, humans pose a serious risk to the land. Not only do some of them still flick lit cigarettes out of moving vehicles, but some will also park overheated vehicles on the side of the road far enough to spark a grass fire. Then there are those who – for whatever the reason – neglect to douse their campfire after packing up and leaving their campsite.
Oh, and we can’t forget those defiant humans who view camp fire bans as a restriction that does not apply to them as they are experts at building and monitoring campfires. Campfire bans are meant to protect the woods and you from the actions of those few nutty humans who do not take instruction well.
But we have digressed.
Now that we have basically gotten all the bad stuff out of our system regarding wildfires and the connection to humans let’s take a look at campfires. Only this time around we will cover the basics you need to know to build the perfect campfire and share with you the cheats you’ll need to build one of the five different campfires you only need to know how to create.
Campfires Are Fun, But You Have To Beware
These tips on campfire safety should give you some general guidelines. Be sure to check with authorities where you plan to camp to find out what the local burning regulations are and whether or not a campfire ban is in effect. Have fun, and stay safe!
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Campfire tips infographic
Types of Firewood
Logs are in a Cord
Firewood Go Bad
Rick of Wood
Bundle of Firewood
Types of Campfires