Expert Tips On How To Build A Campfire: Beginner’s Guide

by Jason | Last Updated:   November 14th, 2021
Expert Tips On How To Build A Campfire: Beginner’s Guide


So, you’re planning to go camping, and one thing you know for sure is you want to build a campfire.

The problem is…

You don’t know how to build a campfire safely and effectively. Well, luckily for you, I’m here to help.

There are many different ways of starting/building your fire, and which one you should choose depends on what you need for the campfire.

And these are the types of things I’m going to be taking you through today. So, without wasting any more time, let’s get started:

What Your Fire Needs

Years ago, I used to teach survival lessons to children, so we had to make the principles of building a campfire as simple as possible.

To do this, we taught the kids two things:

  1. The fire triangle 
  2. Fires are like babies (I know this one sounds weird but bear with me)

Let’s talk a little bit about the fire triangle:

There’s a good chance you may have heard about this when you were at school, but if you’re anything like me, that was a long time ago.

how to build a campfire

The idea here is like a triangle; your campfire needs three main points:

  1. Oxygen 
  2. Heat
  3. And fuel

If your campfire lacks any of these three things, it’s set to fail. Let me explain a little bit further:

If you starve your campfire of oxygen, the flame will start to die out. Just think about when you put out a candle with a douter. The flame goes out because there’s no oxygen to keep the candle burning.

When we talk about heat, we’re talking about some sort of ignition for the flame. And this should speak for itself. If you can’t create heat, you’re never going to get the fire going.

And finally, you have to think about a fuel source, and again, this should speak for itself. If you haven’t got anything to burn, how are you going to start a fire? 

Most people will use sticks, logs, or coal as fuel.

Okay, we’ve covered the fire triangle, but now we have to talk about “fires are like babies.”  I know it sounds strange, but it will make sense by the end of this section.

So, just like babies, a fire needs a bed to lie in. A tiny little hole with some tinder in there will keep it happy.

The bed will keep the oxygen flowing for your baby and help it get started. Another thing babies need is food and so does fire. The thing is…

You can’t feed your campfire a huge log straight away, so you need to start feeding it small things before it can handle a big meal, just like a baby.

Okay, we know what a fire needs to survive, but let’s talk a bit more about the materials you need:

Materials You Need For Building A Campfire

If you’re leaving to go camping, you need to make sure you have the right stuff to build a campfire or at least have access to it. 

Before leaving, you should check two things:

  1. Are you allowed to have a fire there? (Some campsites don’t allow campfire)
  2. Can you find some of the material you need there? (Again, some camps don’t allow you to forage for material)

If you’ve covered these bases, it’s time to think about the materials you need to build your campfire. Let’s take a look: 

Bed

You can think of the bed as your fire pit with a small hole to place your tinder in. Making a fire pit prevents your fire from spreading where it shouldn’t. You can also use the fire pit as a safety line so you don’t burn yourself.

Tinder

After you’ve got the bed sorted out, it’s time to pad it out with some tinder. For the tinder, you need to find materials that can cath easily. Here are some great examples for tinder:

  • Dryer lint
  • Dry leaves
  • Dry grass
  • Cardboard stripes
  • Firestarters
  • Toilet paper
  • Wood chips
  • Silver Birch peelings

Most of these things you can find relatively easily around your campsite, the rest you’ll be able to find at home. The most crucial aspect of tinder is that it needs to be extremely dry if you want it to help you start your fire.

Kindling

Once the tinder is on fire, you need to start placing the pieces of kindling down, but what makes good kindling? 

Ideally, you’re looking for small twigs to help build a fire while slowly building up to small sticks. The critical step here is to not put too many sticks/twigs on in one go; you don’t want to starve the campfire of oxygen.

Firewood

The firewood is fuel to the fire and one of the essential parts of having a successful campfire. To get your fire raging, you need to ensure the fuelwood is completely dry at the beginning.

There’s an abundance of wood you can use to keep your fire burning throughout the night. And you might find that some campers prefer to bring their own pieces of firewood. But each style of wood brings its own benefits.

So, what can you expect from the different styles?

  • Beech: Beechwood is very heavy and dense, which means it needs to be seasoned for a long time before you can use it. The good thing about beech firewood is it can burn for a long time and burns very hot.
  • Oak: Now, oak is by far the most popular type of firewood out there. It’s a very dense wood, which means it burns for a very long time. To make things better, it burns very hot and is very easy to get going.
  • Birch: The problem with birch is it’s very softwood, which means it burns very quickly. The good thing is it burns very hot and doesn’t require a huge ignition source to get things burning.
  • Ash: It’s another excellent option for firewood. It’s very lightweight and provides a slow and steady burn. Another great thing is the wood is light and can be split into pieces of firewood relatively easily.

Top Tips: Make sure you check the policies of your campsite before collecting wood; you don’t want to get in trouble. 

If some of the pieces of firewood are a bit wet, you can leave them in the heat of the campfire to dry them out a little bit before using them.

Ignition Source

The last thing I want to talk about in this section is the ignition source. There’s plenty of ignition sources you can use to get your campfire started, but some are a lot easier than others. 

So in this section, I’m going to list a few ignition sources you can use from easiest to harder:

Okay, rubbing two sticks together isn’t for everyone; it takes a lot of time to learn, but it is a great survival skill to know. For the average person, they’d stick to matches and lighters; it’s a lot easier.

Different Types Of Campfires

In the opening paragraph, I mentioned there are many different types of campfires. And which one you choose really depends on what you’re looking for.

So, in this section, I’m going to list a few of them and let you know what each style is good for. Sounds good?

Great, let’s take a look:

The Teepee Fire

This is the most commonly used campfire among campers due to its versatility. As you can imagine, it resembles the shape of a teepee shelter.

The broad base of a teepee fire allows the oxygen to be drawn into the campfire, which helps it burn out and keeps it going. 

How to build a campfire: Teepee campfire

The trick with teepee fires is to start small and build it up with bigger pieces of firewood as the fire begins to get going.

Once the fire is going, it’s a simple case of maintaining the campfire, which basically means feeding the logs slowly.

The great thing about this style of fire is it burns very hot, which makes it great for tasks like boiling water. The downside is that because it burns so hot, it’s not great for cooking meat on.

If you do want to cook with it, you’ll have to wait for the fire to collapse before you start cooking food. Basically, when the tip collapse, you’re good to go.

The Lean-To Fire

Okay, this type of fire is what you should be looking at if the weather is a little bit breezy. As you can imagine, it’s no easy task getting a campfire going when the wind is blowing hard,  which is where a lean-to fire comes in handy.

A lean-to fire also resembles the lean-to shelter. The easiest way to get this fire style started is to find an old thick log or a big rock sticking out of the ground.

You then need to lean your pieces of kindling on the log/rock, so it covers your tinder. Once everything is burning, it’s time to start building the logs to get your campfire going.

If you want to start cooking on it, you’ll need to let the logs collapse on themself before you start cooking.

The Upside-Down Pyramid Fire

This style of fire was designed for cooking food, which is due to the shape. With this fire style, the logs are crossed over each other and kind of resemble a Jenga tower.

Pyramid campfire

The strange thing about this style of fire is you start it from the top instead of the bottom. I know it sounds odd, right?

The thing with this style of fire is because it burns from the top, it makes a more stable base for the coals, which is perfect for cooking.

The Log Cabin Fire

The style of fire I want to talk about is the log cabin style. It looks very much like the upside-down pyramid, except you light the fire from the bottom.

So, how do you build this style of fire?

It’s all about stacking pieces of wood as if you were building a log cabin. You need to place two logs on the floor parallel to each other. And then stack two more logs perpendicular to each other. You then need to continue this until you’re happy with the height.

You should start the log cabin with thick logs and then get thinner as you get to the top of the fire. Because of the design of the fire, the smaller logs fall down, creating hot coals for the logs below. 

The fire burns slow, and it’s easy to maintain, making it a great fire if you want it to last for a long time. 

How To Build Your Camp Fire

Okay, so you know what styles of fire there are, but how do you build it safely and get things going?

For this section, you’ll have to think back to the fire triangle. Do you remember the three points?

Well, just in case you don’t, they are…

  1. Heat
  2. Oxygen 
  3. Fuel

If you don’t want your fire to die out, you need to ensure you have these three things. But I digress, let’s start talking about how to build your fire:

Choosing A Safe Spot

The first thing you need to do is find a safe place for your fire, but what does this entail?

If you’re staying at a campsite, chances are you’ll already have a fire pit built into your pitch, which makes things very easy. That being said, you should still check for overhanging branches.

If you’re in the backcountry and you’re allowed to build a fire, you should try and use an existing fire pit.

If you haven’t got one available, you’ll have to build it yourself. The bottom of your firepit should be soil, gravel, or sand. You should also make sure you clear any twigs and leaves from the pit and place rocks around the hole.

You should also ensure it’s a safe distance away from trees, cable, bushes, and overhanging branches.

Creating The Bed For Your Fire

So, you’ve found a spot for you to start a fire; now it’s time to get things set up. You need to make use you leave enough tinder on the floor, so the flame doesn’t burn out too quickly. You should also protect the tinder from the damp and the wind.

If your tinder gets wet, it’s going to make your life extremely difficult for it to catch fire. Make sure you check out my list of tinder to find the best materials.

Adding The Kindling

Once you have a pile of tinder, you need to start adding your kindling and fuel. The way you place your kindling will depend on what style of fire you choose from the list above.

Once you have your kindling set up how it needs to be, it’s time to move on to the next step. 

Building Your Campfire 

Again, at this point, you need to think about the style of fire you’re building and stack your logs accordingly. The critical part here is to make sure plenty of oxygen can reach your tinder if you want things to get going nicely.

Once the logs have been set up, it’s time to light the tinder and watch it catch fire, which, let’s face it, is the best part of the experience. 

Starting A Fire

We should probably teach you about starting a fire once you’ve got your campfire layout.

If you’ve built it correctly, you should only need a match or a lighter to the pile of tinder, and things should get going. Unfortunately, things aren’t always that easy.

Sometimes things get wet, or the breeze is a little bit too strong, making it hard to light the tinder, which is why you need a backup plan.

Some people like to use waterproof matches to help get the tinder going. Others want to use broken candle wax to help the tinder burning.

If things are smoldering, a few gentle blows should help things get going nicely.

Staying Safe Around Your Fire

Okay, the last thing I want to talk about in this section is staying safe around the fire. The first thing I want to say is don’t use petrol to get things going; it’s so dangerous.

The next thing is to keep a safe distance from the fire. Some logs can pop sparks at you, and you don’t want to get burned.

And when you’re placing logs down, make sure you don’t burn your fingers. And finally, don’t pick up a burning log. If it needs moving into the fire, use another log to move, so you don’t burn yourself.

How To Extinguish Your Campfire 

Okay, before I leave you to it, I just want to spend a few seconds explaining how to put your fire out when you’ve finished. And this is very important if you’ve made your fire in the woods.

Here’s a quick guide:

  1. Wait until the flames burn out.
  2. Spread the coals with a stick or a shovel.
  3. Douse the campfire with sand, soil, or water.
  4. Stir the raiming embers.
  5. Repeat the process until the coals are cold.

And there you have it, you’ve correctly put out your fire and safe to get going. It really is that easy.

Key Insights & Takeaways

It takes a bit of effort to build a campfire, but the end result is very satisfying. The main thing to remember when building a campfire is the fire triangle. If you keep that in mind when building your fire, you should have no problems.

Keep in mind, it can get frustrating when the fire keeps going out, but if you keep the tips I’ve given you in mind, you’ll have no problems.

If you’re looking for more ways to stray warm while you camping, check out this article about how to heat a tent without electricity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are 3 General Fire Building Tips?

I’ve already mentioned it in the article above, but the three main things a fire needs to survive are heat, oxygen, and fuel. If you build a campfire outside, you’ll have no issue with the oxygen part. As for heat and fuel, all you need is some sticks and a lighter.

How Hot Is A Fire For Cooking?

Campfires get very hot, which can make it tricky to cook outside on. When it comes to temperature, you’re looking at around 600°F (320°C).

How Long Does A Campfire Last?

It can be hard to say how long a campfire can last due to there being so many variables. But here’s a worthy guide. For ½ inch pieces of wood, you can expect it to burn for about an hour. For a 6 inch piece of wood, you can expect about 6 hours of burning.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.