If you have ever been camping as a child or have seen people camp on tv shows or movies you know that a campfire is one of the most popular camping icons. A campfire is more than just a place to cook a creative and tasty meal; it provides heat on chilly nights and a gathering place to enjoy everyone’s company.

To some, starting a campfire seems a bit intimidating if you have never done it before, but with these tips you will find it is actually pretty easy. You will be enjoying a nice crackling fire, in an approved campfire pit of course, in no time.

Gather The Supplies

While building and starting a campfire is pretty simple, it takes a bit more than putting some wood in a pile and tossing a lit match on top. You will need the right items to be successful.

– Tinder: this is the smallest burnable items you will put in the pit first. The following items can be used as tinder: wood shavings, wadded paper/newspaper, pieces of cardboard, fire starters you purchase at a store, dryer lint, and wax.

-Kindling: this is the smallest pieces of wood. The next item up in size from tinder. This can be twigs or small branches from an 1/8 of an inch to a 1/2 inch thick. You can also purchase pre-cut kindling from anywhere that sells firewood.

-Firewood: this of course is the regular logs and the largest piece of the campfire. Firewood can range in size from whole logs to pieces split from a log, ideally measuring from one to five inches in diameter. It is very important that your firewood is completely dry.

*Note: do not obtain firewood and kindling from breaking branches off of live trees. This is damaging to the environment. In some parks campers are permitted to use fallen branches, but make sure to check with the ranger first. Usually you will want to purchase firewood or bring it from home if you have access to it.

-Matches or Lighter: This provides the actual flame to get your fire going and stay that way. Yes there are some really cool outdoorsy tricks to get a flame going on your own, but to save some time we are just going to use a match or lighter.

Building the Fire

The right construction of your supplies will help to determine the ease and success of your fire.

In a Designated Pit: their will probably be a lump of ash or coals left behind from previous campers. You will want to push any of this to the outer edge of the pit. If the ashes are cold consider shoveling them into a bag and putting in the camp dumpster.

No Fire Pit: Clear away any grass and plants for an 8 to 10 foot radius to only bare dirt. Dig into the cleared space several inches and keep the dirt handy in case of emergency. Mound the dirt up to use as a fire wall or place large rocks around the edges of the hole. This helps insulate the fire.

  1. Once you have a location to build your fire begin by placing the tinder in the center in a mound about a foot in diameter.
  1. Next you will want to set up the kindling over the tinder. This can be done in a number of different ways. The easiest in our opinion is a simple crisscross fashion over the tinder pile.
  1. Now that the kindling is in place it is time for the firewood. There are also several different configurations for this, the most simple being a sort of teepee stack around the whole pile of tinder and kindling. Try to start out with just a few pieces of smaller wood and once the fire is burning well you can add the larger logs to keep it burning.


Before lighting remember safety first, check to ensure all kids and pets are at a safe distance. When you are clear to open the flame, light your match or start the lighter and touch it to the tinder on the bottom layer of the pile. Light the tinder in several different spots to get it going. Once the fire is at a good burn you can add more wood.

Safety Tips

-Always make sure the fire is completely out before leaving it: You can do this by sticking around until it dies out or sprinkling water on it. Sprinkle water do not douse a fire, you don’t want to soak it and make it harder to build another fire later. While sprinkling stir the embers to get every bit of them wet. When the steam has stopped and there is no more hissing noise place the back of your hand just a few inches over the coals, if you feel no heat the fire is out.

-Keep a close eye on all children and pets at all times when the fire is burning. Studies have shown that a person is injured every 30 minutes by a fire.

-Be aware of your surroundings: make sure that camp fires are allowed and there are no burn bans in effect. Also be aware of weather conditions (windy conditions are not fire safe) and make sure you have proper equipment nearby to put out the fire quickly.

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