Nothing beats a good campfire while you’re out in the wilderness. Whether it’s the warm glow of the dancing flames, or the smell of the burning wood and embers, it’s a staple of your outdoor experience. Besides the romantic sentiment of it, the campfire is also one of your greatest multipurpose tools, good for light, heat, and cooking. Prepping for and building it takes a little worthwhile effort, and Timber Ridge® wants to introduce you to the basics of building your campfire.

A lot of the process is pretty common sense, but things we might easily forget. First off, you need a fire ring for a safe place to build a fire. Next, you’ll need your fuel, because something’s got to burn. And finally, you need to know how to build it in order to have a roaring flame for hours. Sounds simple so far, but we’ll go into a little more detail, step by step.

Location, Location, Location

Some campgrounds will already have established fire pits for campers, so your worries are whittled down to the fire, itself. But other places won’t have them, and that’s when you need a few ground rules. Find a flat space, because you don’t want to chance burning logs rolling down a hill. Keep it away from your equipment, trees and brush, and at least 100 feet from a natural water source. This minimizes the chances of starting a forest or brush fire, and keeps contaminants out of the water, where they could harm the living inhabitants.

Once you’ve got a spot picked out, make sure you have room for your fire ring (a ring of rocks to help contain the fire—you’ll want it as wide as you intend to build the fire). Try to find or dig a barren spot, free of vegetation and other items that could catch. You want the only things burning to be what you put in there.

Gathering the Fuel

Once you have your fire ring/pit set up, you need to gather fuel for the fire. Firewood can also be purchased and brought along, but some places don’t allow it, due to possible infestations from unwelcome outside insects that could harm the natural area. Whether you bring it along or you collect it on-site, you need three basic components for a successful fire:

-Tinder: Small, dry starter materials that’ll catch easily from sparks or a small flame. Examples are leaves, bark shavings, newspaper, and dead grass.

-Kindling: Material a little larger than tinder, such as twigs and sticks, and even pieces of bark.

-Firewood: The long-burning fuel for your campfire, consisting of larger sticks, logs, and branches.

Ideally, all of these materials will be dead and dry, so it catches faster and burns easily. When you’re gathering, you want to opt for the downed wood that’s already fallen on the ground. Try to avoid cutting wood off of living and even dead trees, as birds and other animals may use it for their homes and other purposes.


Building Your Campfire

Now you’ve got your firewood and your fuel, so it’s time to get ready for s’mores and ghost stories. All you need to do is get the fire going, and there are two general examples of structures that we’ll go over: the teepee build, and the log cabin build.

  • The teepee build looks how it sounds. Start by putting your wadded-up tinder in the center of the ring, and form a cone of kindling around it, keeping it a little open for air and a free spot for you to light the tinder. Next, continue the teepee shape with some of the smaller firewood. Once you’ve lit it and the fire is going strong, you can add bigger pieces of firewood for a longer burn.
  • The log cabin build also looks like it sounds. Start with your tinder in the center, and build a base of kindling around it, close enough to touch. Then, stack the firewood criss-crossed on either side of the kindling, like you’re building small, four-sided cabin walls with a few pieces loosely on top. Keep enough gapping between the wood so the fire can breathe easily.

When you light the tinder, blow on it gently to feed oxygen to it and fan the flames, and that will help the fire catch and spread. Now you have a roaring campfire, ready for making dinner, or just providing a cozy spot on a cold night.

Remember: never leave a campfire unattended. If it’s burning, someone should be there to watch it. And, always keep water or sand close by, in case of emergency.

Putting Out the Campfire

When it’s time to extinguish the fire, you always want to pour water on it, and plenty of it. Stir the ashes to get water into every nook and cranny, and then pour more water onto it. Repeat this as many times as you need. You want to make absolutely sure all the ashes and embers are cold and dead before you leave it.

Cleaning Up the Campfire

When you’re ready to go home, you’ll need to leave the campsite just as you found it, if not better. That includes cleaning up the fire ring. Start by dismantling any kind of structure you built with the firewood, such as the remnants of the log cabin build. Pack up any trash you have, including cans, bottles, and even foil from cooking the night before. When it comes to trash, you shouldn’t burn anything that won’t be fully consumed by the fire, and NEVER burn plastic or other materials, like the bottles, cans, and foil mentioned before.

As for the leftover charcoal and wood remnants leftover in the ring, you want to crush up what you can and scatter it across the area away from your campsite. You should not leave a wasted pile for the next camper to have to clean up.

And that’s the basics of a campfire. On your next campout with family or friends, you can safely get the flames going and break out the marshmallows.