Since the beginning of time, man and fire have shared a primal link. For the primitive man, the fire was a requisite and indispensable part of their lives. Fire was a source of light in the darkness, provided warmth in cold, protection against wild animals and of course was used for cooking food. Though fire is not as vital to human existence today, fire- a luminous dreamlike force of nature still attracts men.
The picture of you and your friends sitting around a campfire, sharing stories, singing songs is a scene straight out of American TV show. Though very cliché, the idea sounds appealing to anyone and everyone.
For some camping is a beloved family tradition. The summertime is incomplete without backwoods gathering with a campfire, generations coming together, sitting around the campfire, making memories and enjoying a gala-time.
Campfires are also a must part of any hiking, trekking or camping trip. While some use it just to create a nice ambiance, mostly it is for survival like an ancient man. They need it for cooking, keeping themselves warm and keeping the wild animals away.
The smoky smell of wood burning, the comforting warmth and the luminous glow of flames- there is something about camp fires that just brings people together, inspires great stories and stirs uplifting discussions.
However, the process of lighting a campfire is not a child’s play. And if it’s your first time it can frankly be somewhat intimidating. When building a campfire, startingthe campfire is not that difficult.The real task is keeping it LIT for hours to enjoy its warmth.
But it is not as difficult as it seems.
This step-by-step guide on how to make a campfire will help you master the flame and ensure you can safely build a campfire when you are out in nature next time. There are fire building techniques that can be used in campfire design.
As mentioned earlier, lighting a fire though not very difficult can be quite tricky. The key is to be prepared. You must know what situation you can be in, the weather and must have the right supplies to build a fire that meets your requirements the best. Tinder campfire also works.
So you must carry sufficient newspaper, lint and cardboard boxes. You also should not have your hopes very high, for you may not be able to start a fire.
The next thing you will have to find out about are the rules and regulations regarding campfires on your campsite. Some areas prohibit campfires due to weather conditions like strong winds, archaeological reasons or maybe because the area is extremely dry. Fires could also be prohibited at certain altitudes.
Some places may prohibit certain types of fire or use of certain materials. Remember, fire by nature is volatile. So you must adhere to these regulations. You also must check for fire-danger levels of the site. You can find this information at ranger stations or on boards on public land. There are three danger levels – “high” which is marked in yellow, “very high” marked in orange and “extreme” marked in red.
You will need to carry a matchstick or lighter, tinder (such as newspaper, lint, cardboard boxes, etc., tinder catches fire). Make sure your matchstick & lighter are waterproof or carry them in an air-tight box to keep them from getting wet in case of rains. You must also carry a pack of fire starter.
You may require campfire fuel or fire starters. They are handy small sized flammable cubes that help start the fire. They save you time and effort and weight next to nothing so are easy to carry in your backpack. Use them alongside tinder. If possible you should also carry a fire extinguisher for safety.
First and foremost ensure complete safety, when lighting a fire. Be careful and take all necessary precautions. Some campsites have designated fire areas or rings. You can ask the ranger about them. Use these fire rings. It will lessen your burden and keep the fire is contained. Check with the ranger on the types of fires permitted on your campsite.
Check for ashes from previous fires, when using designated or pre-made fire rings. Push out the ashes to make room for your fire. You can store the cold ashes in a bag to dispose of later.
But why is it necessary to build a fire pit?
If you are camping in the wild or a site without a designated fire area you will have to build your own fire pit or fire ring.
For that, choosing the right spot is a very crucial to ensure complete safety. Make sure that there are no low lying trees, leaves or branches at the location you choose.
The spot you choose should not have anything in its 10-15 meter radius. It should be away from anything that can catch fire- trees, bushes, and tents. You would ideally want a spot that is protected from strong winds. Strong winds make it difficult to start a fire, as well as add to the risk of fire spreading once you start it.
The ground for fire or the fire bed should always be bare ground i.e. it should not have grass especially dead dry grass. If you can’t find bare earth, clear a spot that meets other requirements. Remove plants, dry leaves, branches and any debris within about 10feet area to get your bare flat ground. Now dig out several inches of soil and dirt to create a pit for your fire.
Create a firewall around the pit using the soil you dug out and small and large stones. This will help contain the fire and also ensure safety. However, don’t pack the stone too close. Space out stones a little for air circulation which will keep the fire going. Keep the soil removed close to smother the flames and extinguish the fire in case of an emergency.
You need three kinds of materials to start a fire- tinder, kindling and fuel. Maje sure you don’t se anything that is green or wet. Using live plants and trees is considered a poor form. You must not harm live plans if possible. Also they don’t burn easy, so they are not a great feul. Gather only fallen wood, branches and leaves. One, they burn easy and long and second, it’s better for the environment.
Things like cardboard boxes, lint from dryers, char cloth and newspaper make for a good tinder. You can also use wax and commercial fire lighter or fire starters.
It goes without saying that your kindling needs to be dry, just like tinder.
In case you can’t get dry kindling, use your pocket knife (you obviously have a pocket knife on a camp or trek right?) to whittle damp areas or bark off and get the drier timber underneath.
Unlike tinder and kindling your firewood can be a bit damp. The heat from the fire will dry it off. Though not ideal, you can work with it in case you can’t find a dry log.
PRO TIP- Always gather more tinder and kindling that you think you need. You’ll be surprised to see just how fast they burn especially when you’re starting the fire. So if you run out of them in the beginning you won’t be able to keep the fire going ahead.
There are various techniques to lay and start a fire. These depend on the size of the fire you want and how long you want to keep it burning. However below are the three most common lays that are used.
The simplest and most commonly used lay, teepee campfire is great for beginners who are building a campfire for the first time.
If you’re camping in breezy conditions or have strong winds that will make it difficult for you to start a fire, try this lay.
LOG CABIN CAMPFIRE
If you want a campfire that burns longer, gives you warmth and is easy to maintain, you should go for a log cabin lay.
Remember, you are responsible to put out the fire you start. So once you are done with the fire you must make sure you put it out thoroughly. At no point should the fire be left unattended.
Putting out a fire takes longer than you think. So start at least 20-30 minutes before you go off to sleep or leave. This will ensure that you leave no smoldering pieces of wood behind and have enough time to get things right.
You must have a bucket of water near you or your campsite when lighting a fire for safety reasons. Don’t just pour the entire bucket of water on the fire to burn it out.
I know it’s quick and convenient but that’s not the correct way to do it. This will flood the pit and you or someone will not be able to use it again.
Start by slowly sprinkling water over the fire. Use only as much water as you need to put out the embers and ashes. Now using a stick stir to ensure all embers and charcoal get wet. Once you see no steam coming out or hissing sound, it means the fire is near to being extinguished.
Do a test by placing your hand over the pit, palm-side up. If you feel no heat, the fire is out. However you still feel the heat, it means that fire is not entirely extinguished and should not be left unattended.
The basic rule of thumb is ‘if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.’ Keep adding water and stirring it till its cold. Keep repeating the hand test to be fully sure that fire is entirely extinguished. It's better to be safe than sorry, right?
Once the fire is out and cold you need to clean up the pit and dispose of the ashes. If you are using a campsite’s designated ring you need to leave it clean for next camper. If you have built your own pit then you need to leave the ground as it was.
Start scooping out the ashes using a shovel or your hands into a plastic bag. Spread the ashes across the campsite as you walk away.
Also, in case you made your own pit, remember to disperse the fire ring rocks and not to leave any traces of your presence. Fill the pit back with soil and dirt and leave it as you found it.
Fire is volatile in nature. If not handled with the utmost care it can easily get out of control and quickly cause disaster and havoc. You must take heaps of precaution at all times when building a campfire.
Yours and your fellow camper’s safety should come first and foremost. So follow the rules and guidelines of the area and campfire safety in general. Stick with tried-and-tested methods only. Do not try and experiment with newer techniques if you’re unsure about it.
Knowing how to build a campfire is a must-have skill for any camper or hiker. But having a few tricks and hacks up your sleeve can make the process a breeze and also will help you impress fellow campers. Also in case you are ever stuck in an unfavorable situation, these hacks and tips will come in super handy.
As mentioned above you must always carry tinder in case you don’t find any dry tinder. Here are few tinder hacks and DIY fire starters’ that you can use to start a fire and keep it blazing for long
Keep 2 things in mind though. The cork should not be made of plastic and the container must be airtight or else the alcohol will evaporate.
When camping out in the wild, there is such a thing as ‘too prepared’. You never know what nature throws at you and hence should always be prepared for the worst.
Hopefully, now you know everything you need to know about starting a campfire, no matter what situation you are in.
SO READY, SET AND FIRE!