How to Start a Campfire

fire in the forest

In this guide, I’ll go over how to start a campfire in a number of ways, while also including information regarding structure types, what kind of wood you should use, ways you can keep a fire burning all night long, and important safety tips. There are many ways to make a fire, so you can choose a method that best suits your skills and the types of materials you have on hand, during your next camping trip with the family.

Is A Campfire Permitted?

When you’re researching campsite availability and making plans for your next trip, make sure you check whether or not a campfire is permitted. Some camping grounds will also have specific guidelines that you must follow, such as where a fire can be built and how long a fire can remain burning before it must be put out.

Basic Fire Safety

  • On your trip, you can gather dry brush and branches for your fire, both of which will help to get a fire going.
  • Avoid building a fire that’s under a tree that has low hanging branches
  • Never build a fire that’s close to a wooden structure
  • Build a fire that’s in a ring or in a fire pit. Using a fire pit or placing stones in a ring will help keep the fire contained.
  • Building a fire on gravel or sand is less damaging than building it on soil.
  • A fire should never be left unattended. In the morning, before you head out, make sure you pour water on the fire, sifting the ashes to fully extinguish it.
  • When building a fire, clear the area of sticks and dry leaves and make sure that all items, including tents, and vehicles, are placed at a far distance from the fire.
  • Make sure you check the weather forecast. It can be dangerous to build a fire in windy conditions, since it can blow live embers all over your camp and catch clothing and your tent on fire.
  • Any extra firewood should be stacked away from your firepit and upwind.
  • Avoid using any type of flammable liquid to start a fire. This includes diesel fuel, lighter fluid, and gasoline.
  • Keep your fire contained and small.
  • Avoid allowing pets and children to sit too close to a fire.
  • Have a bucket full of water on hand and a fire extinguisher in case of an emergency.
  • Teach your children about fire safety and how to stop, drop, and roll.
  • Every park and campground will have certain rules in place that are designed to prevent a fire. Make sure you follow all of the rules, which are crucial for park safety. A spreading fire can cost millions of dollars in damage. During a drought, many parks will put new rules in place to prevent a fire. Even if you’ve stayed at a specific park in the past, it’s always important to check the rules of the park before your trip, in the event that conditions have changed. This will ensure everyone remains safe.

Firewood Options

When it comes to choosing the type of wood to use, wood that’s drier will always be the best choice. Wood that’s wet will smoke and can be difficult to light.

When you’re building a fire you’ll need a few different types of wood:

  • Tinder
  • Fuel
  • Kindling

Tinder can consist of dried pine needles, leaves, dried moss, or small pieces of wood. Tinder is used to start a fire.

Kindling is small sticks or pieces of chopped wood that can be used to shape a fire.

Fuel is what gives a fire most of its energy. It often consists of logs or large pieces of wood that can help to sustain a fire.

When you’re gathering wood, look for firewood near your campsite. Speak with a ranger at the campgrounds prior to your trip and ask about bringing in wood. Many sites will often sell firewood, which is convenient since you won’t have to worry about firewood taking up any precious storage space in your vehicle.

When you’re gathering wood in a forest, avoid cutting live branches since this can damage a tree and the wood is often too wet to burn. Instead, search the ground for fallen branches.

Best Methods to Use to Build a Fire

friends around a fire

There are many methods you can use to build a fire. Basically, you’ll want to place the wood close enough together to concentrate the heat, but you also need to leave enough space to allow oxygen to enter. Every fire should have some sort of structure, for a longer burning fire.

Regardless of the method you choose, always be sure to start a fire using tinder, then kindling. Once the tinder has been lit you can start adding some kindling to keep the fire going. Once you have a nice little blaze going then you can add the fuel. If you make the mistake of adding the fuel too soon then you’ll end up extinguishing the fire.

Parallel Fire

To build this type of fire you’ll start by placing a couple of pieces of wood parallel to each other, then place a small pile of kindling and tinder between them. Next, you’ll add a couple more pieces of wood on top of the base, placed perpendicularly, to form a wall. Add another perpendicular layer then light the center of the pile and keep placing more wood on the fire as it continues to grow.

Platform Fires

For this type of fire, you’ll need to have a sturdy, solid base. Begin by using four pieces of wood, laying them alongside each other. Next, add a few pieces of wood on top of the base. Add a couple of more pieces perpendicular to the previous layer. Add some kindling and tinder on top of the base and light the fire.

Star Fire

Use crisscross pieces of kindling, placing it over the tinder in order to make a star shape. While it’s similar to a teepee style fire, this fire is placed in a pile instead of standing upright.


This is a classic style that many campers swear by. You’ll start by leaning some sticks together in a circle design that will come together in the center to form the teepee shape. Inside the teepee you’ll add some tinder and light it. Next, you’ll place more wood around the teepee, vertically, in order to keep the fire burning longer. This method is a good choice if you plan on cooking over an open fire.

Inverse Fire

This fire is perfect for sleeping. In most cases, you’ll let a fire die out by bedtime, but if you’re camping in colder conditions, then you’ll need to keep the fire going so you don’t freeze. Most fires will need some additional wood added to them, so they have the fuel they need to burn throughout the night. A fire burns upward, however the coals will continue to burn downward. In order to create a self-feeding fire, one that will burn all night, you need to use wood in a variety of thicknesses. Thick logs should be laid parallel to one another. You’ll need a total of four to form a square shape. The next layer will consist of the second thickest logs, which will be placed perpendicular to the bottom logs. These logs should be slightly smaller than the logs used for the base. Keep adding layers until you’ve used up your stockpile for the night. Next, you can build a small teepee fire on top, which burn down into coals, which end up burning through the layers of wood throughout the night. This type of self-feeding fire will keep you warm all night and will also prevent you from having to get up from the warmth of your sleeping bag to add more wood to the fire.

Swedish Torch

This type of fire is perfect for camping on wet ground. This fire is built by laying a log on its end. You’ll then need to use a saw to cut down into the top of the log to create some wedges. You should cut down into the log approximately 3/4 s of the way. You’ll build the fire on top of the log, where each of the wedges meet, so that the log will burn down and burn from the inside out. This type of fire not only works well if the ground is wet, but it can also be used for cooking. If you don’t have a saw on hand, then you can create a similar type of fire using logs that have been bundled together. For this type, you’ll need some natural material such as vines, twine, or cotton to tie the bundle of logs together. Then you’ll place the logs on one end and start the fire at the top of the bundle, just like you would with the single log method.

How to Keep a Fire Going

While your fire continues to burn, make sure you continue to add wood to the pile. This should be done slowly. If you add too much too quickly then you can end up smothering the fire and cause it to go out.

Avoid burning any trash in the fire. You should only burn wood and paper. Empty food boxes are often coated with a type of plastic which can be dangerous to breathe in.

How to Put Out a Fire

putting out a fire

If you’re done with your campfire then you need to ensure it’s properly put out. Most people don’t realize it can take some time to put out a fire, so you’ll want to get started doing so early. Make sure you put the fire out approximately twenty minutes before you leave or go to bed.

Keep a bucket of water near your fire for safety. When it’s time to put the fire out you can use the same bucket full of water. Never pour the whole bucket on the fire at once. Doing so will flood the pit which can make it impossible for you or another camper to use it later. Instead of pouring, sprinkle the water on the fire instead. As water is being sprinkled on the embers, stir them up with a shovel or a big stick. Doing so ensures that the ashes are coated with water. Once you don’t hear any hissing and don’t see any steam then you know the fire is extinguished.

Once the fire is completely out you’ll need to dispose of the ashes. Don’t leave behind a bed of ashes for the next camper. If you didn’t build a fire in the fire pit and instead built it on the ground, make sure you leave the ground in the same condition that you found it. Use a shovel to scoop up the ashes and place them in a bag, then spread the ashes all over the campsite. If you made your fire on the ground, then you should also patch the ground up and replace the sod and dirt you dug up.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to start a campfire is an important skill and one that you’ll rely on every camping trip. Because of this, it’s also important that you practice your fire building skills before your trip, so you don’t become frustrated and end up left with no fire at night, which can be dangerous in freezing temperatures. Fires can be used to keep you and your family and friends warm at night, when the temperature drops, but it will also allow you to cook a nice meal and keep wildlife at bay. As you can see, there are many different types of fires you can build, so choosing the right type for your campsite will depend on your needs, the weather, and the temperature. You should also choose a method that matches your skill level, so you can easily and quickly build a fire before the sun sets.