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.
BEST WAY TO BUILD A CAMPFIRE
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.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH – In order to know what supplies you will need or what type of campfire you can make, you need to do your research. The first thing you need to know about is the weather condition in the area. In case you are expecting rain or drizzle, the grounds will probably be wet or damp. That means the wood/fuel you will need to start the fire will also be damp.
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.
- CARRYING ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES – If you are out on a camp or trekking expedition, you must carry a few essentials you will need to light a fire. It’s a part of the top10 essentials for trekking or hiking. While you can get your pieces of firewood and smaller branches on the site itself.
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.
BUILD A FIRE PIT
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.
- GATHER THE WOOD
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.
- TINDER – Tinder is small fire-starting materials. Anything small, flammable and can burn easily- can be used as tinder.A good tinder will help start an effective fire. It includes materials like dry leaves, bark, wood shaving, dry grass, etc. A smart camper will always bring tinder from home, especially if you are camping n monsoon when everything outside might be wet or even in regions prone to sudden rainfalls.
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.
- KINDLING– Tinder burns away quickly. It is only useful to start. So you need something more substantial to keep your fire blazing. But you can’t move directly to wood logs for they will smother your tiny little flame. That’s where kindling plays a role. Kindling includes material like twigs and small branches that will burn and help light the fire. Collect twigs and branches of about ½ inches or the size and width of a pencil to get your kindling.
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.
- FUEL WOOD- Fuel wood or firewood is what keeps your fire hot and burning. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need large logs for your fire. Wood logs of about 1 to 5 inches in diameter or the size of the wrist of your arm will work perfectly for your campfire. Big logs take longer to burn making your task difficult. They may also smother your fire all together. So look for small broken branches or split bigger longs into smaller chunks.
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.
LAY YOUR FIRE AND LIGHT IT
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.
- Start by placing your tinder in the middle of the campfire site.
- Then use your kindling to form a teepee of sorts over the kindling. Remember to leave an opening for you to start the fire by burning the tinder.
- Keep layering your kindling and move onto large wood logs to form a big teepee.
- Remember to leave spaces between the wood so that air can circulate and keep the fire burning. The wind will also help in carrying the fire from tinder to the fuel outside.
- Once your teepee is ready, ignite your tinder by placing a matchstick under it or using a lighter. As the flame rise up, your kindling and then logs will start burning.
- Keep some extra kindling and fuelwood to add later when the teepee eventually falls apart.
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.
- Start by taking a kindling branch and stick it in the ground at about 30degree angle. You can also use a large thick log in place of this. The log will break the wind and keep the fire from going out.
- Place your tinder and kindling under the branch you stuck in the ground. In case you are using a log, place them on the opposite side of the wind.
- Now start placing your kindling against the lean-on branch or log. Use pieces smaller than your lean-on kindling.
- Once your lay is ready, use a matchstick or lighter to light this baby up and watch it burn.
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.
- Start by putting a tinder in the center of the fire pit.
- Form a small teepee using kindling branches around your tinder.
- Now take two wide wood logs and place them on either side of the teepee. Take two more fuel log and stack it over the first two perpendicularly to form a square around your teepee.
- Now start layering smaller and shorter pieces in the same manner to form a cabin-like structure. Continue till it reaches the desired height.
- Remember to leave an opening for you to burn the tinder and for air circulation.
- Once you are happy with the lay, ignite the tinder and enjoy the warm blazing fire.
EXTINGUISH THE FIRE
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?
- CLEAN UP
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.
- Do check the local laws and regulations regarding campfires. Certain areas may be prohibited for fires for various reasons.
- Do check the weather forecast. Build a campfire only if the weather and wind conditions are favorable.
- Do look for designated campfire rings or areas. If there are not existing rings, build one within the safety guidelines.
- Choose a spot 10 to 15 feet away from tents, trees, bushes or other flammable items.
- Do clear out 10 feet of the area around the pit. Remove any excess wood, dry leaves, dry grass or anything that might add to the fire or spread it.
- Do keep the campfire small and contained.
- Do keep a bucket of water and fire extinguisher in case of an emergency. Teach children basic fire safety.
- Do remember to extinguish the campfire completely. Remember, if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
- Don’t start a fire in dry and windy weather conditions
- Don’t leave the fire unattended.
- Don’t build a fire without a source of water nearby or a shovel or extinguisher.
- Never leave kids and pets unsupervised.
- Never use flammable liquids such as gasoline, diesel fuel or others to ignite a fire.
- Do not use synthetic materials like plastic in the fire. They release harmful smokes. Also do not add hazardous things like pressurized cans or glass as they may explode and/or create harmful fumes.
- Do not go too near the fire or sit on the ring of rocks. They might be hot and can hurt you.
- Do not remove sticks from the fire. Also do not burn all wood together. It can make the fire bigger than you want it to be and can even get out of control.
TIPS, TRICKS & HACKS
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.
DIY FIRE STARTERS
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
- Cotton pads dipped in wax/ Vaseline- Simply melt Wax or old candles on a double boiler. Then using tongs cover pads completely in the wax. Let them dry off on a foil paper. And there you have a portable fire starter. You can also use Vaseline as it’s petroleum-based and highly flammable.
- Pine cones dipped in dried wax – If your area has a lot of pines cones or you have leftovers from the Christmas décor, you can use them to make your fire starter. Put the pine cones in the oven at about 180℃ to dry them up. Then melt wax in a double boiler and just like cotton pads dip the pine cones using a tong, dry up on the foil and store them in a container.
- Dryer lint & toilet paper roll- Next time you remove fuzzy lint from your dryer, don’t throw it away. Collect it in a zip lock bag. Fill your TP rolls with it and you have an incredible fire starter for your next camping trip.
- Wine cork soaked in alcohol- This is another great hack especially for wine lovers. Also, a great way to put your wine corks to good use after a big party. Collect all your wine corks and put it in an airtight jar with rubbing alcohol in it to let the corks soak.
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.
- Pencil Sharpener- In case you don’t find enough or dry tinder on your campsite, this trick will be very useful. Simply sharpen small sticks to get wood shavings and voila, you have the tinder you need.
FIRE STARTING TRICKS WITHOUT USING MATCHSTICKS
When you are going out in the wild you must always be prepared for the worst. Say you are in a situation where you don’t have matchsticks or lighters or they have become wet, these fire starting tricks will prove useful and keep you toasty.
- Battery and steel wool– Take a batter (preferably 9-volt or more) rub steel wool against the terminals. This will heat the steel wires and ignites them eventually. Once your wool has sparks, blow it a little to nurture the flame. They put it on tinder and kindled it to start the fire.
- Flint and steel– Take a flint (rock that emits sparks) and put a char cloth or a small tinder coil on it. Hold them between at a 30degree angle. Now using the back of a knife and steel striker rub the rock till you see sparks and the char cloth begins to glow like an ember. Quickly transfer it on the tinder nest and blow gently to induce the flame.
- Glass or Mirror– A simple technique we used as kids to melt toys or bother bugs. Simply gold a magnifying glass or a mirror above the tinder to focus the sunlight on to it. The white beam will generate heat and slowly ignite the tinder. The only downfall to this hack, you can use it at night.
- Hand drill – This technique is a little more exotic and sophisticated. Take a piece of wood slab or board. Using your knife make a small hole in the center. Place a wood bark under the hole. Now put a stick through the hole and, using your palms twist and turn the stick like a spindle. The movement will create friction and heat, eventually igniting the bark. Once you have embers transfer them onto your tinder and kindling and start that fire.
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!