How to Build a Camp Fire

How to Build a Camp FireA blazing campfire is a defining feature of a night out in the woods or desert. Countless methods exist for starting and maintaining a fire, but whatever your personal style, your main considerations should be building a fire using minimal effort and resources (try to create a "one-match fire"), and keeping the environmental impact of your fire low. Poorly attended campfires can quickly spread out of control, and they give all campers a bad name, so make sure you're in command at all times.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

How to:

Things You’ll Need:
  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Wood
  • Matches, lighter, or other fire-starting tool
  • Plenty of water for dousing purposes
Step 1
Dig a pit for your campfire if your campsite doesn't have a designated fire ring. Use a shovel, knife, stone or other appropriate tool to dig a hole 8 to 12 inches deep and a couple of feet in diameter. Wall the pit with displaced soil, and clear the surrounding area of flammable material. Of course, use an official fire ring if you can; or, in a backcountry setting, previously used fire pits.
Step 2
Harvest a small pile of tinder, the fuel you light first to begin the fire. Although wadded paper works well, some of the best tinder is natural in origin: dry grass, pine needles, bark, moss and small twigs.
Step 3
Begin constructing a teepee of kindling---stouter twigs, small branches, large chunks of bark---above your nest of tinder. Set a match to the tinder and blow softly but steadily upon the sparks. Continue adding kindling as the flame spreads to the teepee. You can also set down a larger log behind the tinder nest and lean kindling against it.
Step 4
Once the fire catches, start layering heavier wood atop the flames. Maintain the teepee shape or simply lay logs and large branches atop the kindling---taking care, of course, not to smother the blaze. Campfire structure tends to break down somewhat as the fire grows, but that's all right---keep turning the wood and adding new fuel where necessary to support the flames.
Step 5
When you're done with a campfire, douse it liberally with water. If you've dug your own fire pit, collapse the soil walls after dousing and smooth over the site.

Tips & Warnings

Careful campers can bank a fire by allowing it to reduce to coals, spreading these in a thin layer, and then laying large logs across in tight configuration. The logs will feed the embers while preventing a conflagration, and you'll be able to restart the fire without much effort.
Although campfires have aesthetic and practical appeal, they alter the landscape. If you can do without one, use an alternative method of cooking (for example, a camp stove) to minimize your impact.
Always double check local regulations. For example, limited gathering of downed wood is often permitted, but in some places, even the use of leaf litter and other tinder is prohibited. Fire restrictions are sometimes imposed in national and state parks and forests, and in refuges when the risk of wildfire is high (for example, in dry, hot, and windy conditions).
Don't build overly large fires, which are more difficult to control. Always keep water, sand and other dousing tools at hand throughout the fire-making process.
Construct campfires well away from tents, and keep an eye on errant sparks.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.