How to Build a Campfire

Here's how to light a roaring campfire on the first try, then put it out when you're done.

Time

A few hours

Complexity

Beginner

Cost

$20-50

Introduction

Gathering around a fire pit ring with friends and family can be wonderfully bonding. Building a campfire also connects and grounds you to the natural elements of the earth. Getting it lit can be frustrating, but it doesn't have to be. Here are a few tips and techniques to start a campfire and keep it burning.

Tools Required

  • Hatchet
  • Long stem lighter or stick matches
  • Small camp shovel
  • Water container

Materials Required

  • Fire starters
  • Firewood

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1
  • Always build campfires in designated fire pits and fireplaces, away from flammable grass or trees.
  • Always keep a source of water, a bucket and a shovel readily available before starting your campfire.
  • Never cut down living or dead trees; standing dead trees often have wildlife living in them.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.

Three Types of Fuel

Tinder (fire starter)

  • This can be anything that ignites easily, including small twigs, dry leaves, birch bark, pine cones and pine needles. You can also purchase fire starters or make your own DIY fire starters with dryer lint, empty toilet paper rolls and newspaper.

Campfire Tinder

Kindling

  • Sticks one inch in diameter or smaller. You can split small strips of kindling from a dry log with a sharpened axe or hatchet.

Campfire Kindling

Firewood

  • Dry logs three to four inches in diameter and about 16 inches long. You can use gathered branches or limbs. Otherwise, you can buy firewood near the camping area.

Firewood

Step 2

The Tripod

  • Start with a pile of tinder loosely arranged in the center of the fire pit.
  • Create a cone shape with kindling over the tinder, allowing space for air and oxygen to flow.
  • Place three pieces of firewood on end leaning against each other in the shape of a tripod or tent (see photo).

Campfire Tepee

Step 3

The Pyramid

  • Place three or four of your largest pieces of seasoned or kiln dried firewood in the center of the firepit, side by side.
  • Lay another three pieces of firewood in the opposite direction on top of the first three. Continue to layer with smaller-sized wood as the pyramid gets taller, ending with kindling.
  • Top the pyramid with a handful of tinder or a few fire starters.

Campfire Pyramid

Step 4

The Log Cabin

  • Similar to building walls for a log cabin, start with two larger pieces of firewood lying parallel to each other about 12-inches apart in the fire pit.
  • Next, place two smaller pieces of firewood on top of the first two at a right angle creating a square.
  • Fill the inside of the square with a liberal amount of tinder (or a few fire starters) and kindling.
  • Continue layering firewood. ¬≠The space between each log will allow air and oxygen to flow.
  • Top off the cabin with a layer of kindling and tinder.

Campfire Log Cabin

Step 5

Start the Campfire

  • Use a match, long stem lighter, or fire starter kit to ignite the tinder or fire starters. Longer matches save your hand from burns.
  • Once the tinder ignites the kindling, lightly blow or fan the flame. The air further ignites the wood.

Campfire Lighting

Step 6

Extinguish the Fire

  • Extinguishing your campfire is more important than starting one. Always scope out a nearby water source and bring a large container like a bucket or milk jug to transport water.
  • Ideally, separate the logs from each other and let the fire burn out on its own in the firepit.
  • Extinguish the fire by slowly pouring water on the burning wood. Do not stand over the top of the fire as you douse it; the rising steam may burn you.
  • Smother any remaining embers by shoveling dirt onto the fire.

Campfire Extinguishing With Water