Campfire Basics
Be Safe

Campfire Basics

Campfire Basics are common-sense guidelines to use when building, starting, or putting out a campfire.  This page covers the construction of the fire pit, building the fire itself, and some other useful campfire tips such as making your own fire starters.  The topics on this page are:

  • Selecting the right spot for the campfire
  • Building the campfire pit
  • When not to start your campfire
  • Basic campfire building and starting
  • Putting out the fire safely

Besides using the fire for campfire cooking, it can be used when telling campfire ghost stories or other campfire games.  One of the most important pieces of campfire cooking equipment obviously is the campfire coffee pot.  Nothing beats that first cup of coffee first thing in the morning!

Campfire basics-Selecting the Fire Pit

The first step is to select the right spot for your campfire pit. The pit location should follow these 3 simple rules:

  1. Distance - Make sure pit is at least 20 feet away from your tent and other sleeping areas
  2. Downwind - If there is a noticeable direction the wind is blowing, make sure the pit is downwind of your tent and eating area.
  3. Vertical Clearance - Make sure there is no hanging branches or other brush over the pit.  Allow for at least 20 feet if an open clearing is not possible.

Along with the vertical clearance, the earth where the pit is to be located is bare of any vegetation or roots.  If you are camping on hard rock with very little soil, then follow steps 1 and 2 and find a flattened area to build the pit.

Campfire Basics-Building the Campfire Pit

The reason for a protected fire pit is to contain the fire to a small area and give you a solid workplace to use when campfire cooking.

Building a Firepit

Now that you know where the pit is to be located, it is time to build it.  If you are on hard rock, all you can do is to build your rock circle around the center.  If you are on soft earth, take a shovel and dig down about 3 inches in a diameter of approx. 3 feet.  Place the dirt along the circumference of the circle.

If there are no rocks to build a wall, dig down a total of 8 to 12 inches.  It is also a good idea to make the diameter out to about 4 feet if bare earth is all you have.

By digging out your pit, you are creating an area that can hold water and this becomes very important when putting out your fire.  It also establishes a wind proof area that will help in getting the fire started and keeping it burning.

Building a campfire correctly

Now using rocks about the size of a football or smaller, build a tiered rock wall on top of the dirt you had previously removed.  With the dirt already raising up the base of the wall by a couple of inches, you should only go for a total wall height of about 8 to 10 inches.

The wall serves a couple of purposes.  First, it protects your fire and the surroundings by containing most of the hot coals in a protected area.  Secondly, the wall can be part of the support for your cooking and creating even areas to keep food warm while the rest of your meal is still cooking.

When NOT to start your campfire

There are going to be times when you should not start or restart your campfire.

  • NEVER leave your campsite with a burning fire, put it out first.

  • NEVER start a fire if winds are high or gusting.

  • NEVER let a fire burn through the night unless you will be staying up with it.

  • And NEVER let children tend to the fire without adult supervision!

Building & starting your Campfire

With a properly constructed fire pit, the next step is to build the fire.  This is one of the more important steps of campfire basics so attention to what you are doing is important.

First, find small twigs at least the diameter of a pencil and break into 6-8 inch pieces.  You will need about a handful for this.  Next crumple and ball up 2 or 3 sheets of dry newspaper and place in the center of your pit.  Now lay the twigs around the paper in a pyramid fashion until all twigs are used.

At this point, if you are planning to use charcoal briquettes for cooking, place these around the cone of twigs.  If you need to start cooking quickly, use lighter fluid on the briquettes.  Otherwise, place approx. 2 to 3 dozen briquettes in the pit.

An alternate method for starting charcoal is to use a charcoal chimney.  This hand held equipment is about the size of an over sized coffee pot and designed to start charcoal outside of the fire first.  When the coals are ready, you just pour them into the pit and start cooking.

The firewood itself needs to range in length from 1 to 1 1/2 feet.  Longer pieces can be used as a slow burning log, but only if they are laid down.  With a sharp ax, make about a dozen sticks about an inch or so in diameter out of a log.  Place them in pyramid fashion by placing them on the outside of the charcoal briquettes.

Building a Campfire

Now make the final logs for the fire by finding branches of around 2 to 3 inches in diameter and cut them to lengths of a foot and a half.  These will be what you will feed the fire once it has started and the amount depends on how long you keep the fire lit.  Campfire basics include all of these steps for a safe campfire.

If some of your wood is damp, place the logs inside the pit around the perimeter to help dry them out while the fire is burning.  Otherwise, you will constantly battle the smoke after putting on each log.

Finally, all it takes is one match to the paper in the center and touch it off in a couple of spots, not just one place.  If you are using a fire starter, follow the directions precisely to start the fire properly.

This type of fire is known as a pyramid or tee-pee style build.  It is the most common and the most reliable when starting a fire.

Fire starters can be easily made or purchased.  Anything that will burn such as lint, cardboard, cloth, especially when coated in candle wax, all make excellent fire starters.  Other types use the sun (solar starter), or down to the basics by friction (rubbing two sticks together).

Putting out the Campfire

Remember, it is your duty as a camper to leave a campsite better than when you found it.  If the rocks came from a riverbed, put them back where you found them. Putting out a fire is not as easy as you think.  If you have been burning hardwoods, the coals can burn and smolder for a long time.

Campfire Basics 2

The easiest way to extinguish the fire is to drown the entire area in as much water as you can.  The area you dug out when preparing your pit will now be filled with as much water as possible until all remaining logs are covered.  Finally, kick the dirt back into the hole and make smooth.

The above information on campfire basics is provided in the hopes of having a safe camping trip.

If you have any questions regarding building a fire pit or want to share your own fire pit building techniques/photos, email us using the Contact Us page.

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