Camping season is upon us and many people are thinking about finally going on that overnight adventure. First time campers often make a few mistakes that can turn a potentially great trip into a failed outing. Campfires are probably the area where most people make their biggest mistakes. These campfire tips will help avoid those pitfalls and make sure you spend your time soaking in the great outdoors rather than fighting it.
Roasting hot dogs or making s’mores has been romanticized in movies, television shows and is what many people think of when they think about camping. First time campers often think about the franks and marshmallows but forget about planning for the fire.
Are Open Fires Allowed in the Camping Area?
It’s important to know before you go if open fires are allowed. Does your camping area allow fire only in designated fire pits? Once you figure those out you have another couple of questions to answer. How am I going to start a fire and what am I going to use for fuel?
What Type of Fuel & How Will You Start the Fire?
A campfire needs wood for fuel and some places require you to pack in your own (which avoids people cutting down the trees in the area). Make sure you bring enough wood to last you the length of your stay. Make sure your wood is dried out and not green or damp. How much wood? For each meal you plan to cook over the fire I would recommend the amount of wood you can carry in your arms. It needs to be a mix of sizes as well (not one big log and not all small twigs).
TIP: Be aware of fireword restrictions in your camping area. There are tree killing insects and pathogens that can be moved from place to place in firewood. We all have a responsibility to conserve our forests, so be sure to check with your states DNR on firewood management rules. For more information on insects and diseases that can lurk in firewood, check out Don't Move Firewood.org.
To start a fire you can utilize premade starter blocks such as the Western Red Hot Fire Starter block, matches, a flint or a wand lighter. A flint is the most difficult so start with a wand lighter and a premade starter block. Starter blocks are typically sawdust bound with wax that will light like a candle and slow burn.
Tips for An Easy Way to Build a Campfire
My preferred method for building the fire is the nest and teepee method. I like to utilize some grass and small twigs to make a bird’s nest about the size of a soft ball. It should be fairly dense and have an indention in the middle for the starter tab or if you aren’t using a starter, just big enough to place a lit match in. The nest will go in the middle of the fire pit on the ground. Starting with smaller sticks, start making a teepee shape that covers the nest. The initial twigs and sticks should meet just a few inches above the nest. This will allow air circulation so the fire can draw in oxygen. After your small initial teepee you can place a few larger sticks to form an outer structure. Leave the larger logs for later, when the fire is burning very hot.
At this point you are ready to light the nest. If you are using a starter, place it in the middle of the nest, if not place a lit match in the middle of the nest. If you are using a wand lighter, try to light the middle of the nest.
Be aware that the dry grass and small twigs in the nest will ignite quickly so don’t linger with your hands near it once lit. The small twigs on the interior teepee should be getting licked by the flames at this point. If they aren’t you can place a few small twigs over the top of the nest to continue fueling the fire.
Within a couple of minutes you should start to see a pretty good fire. As the wood starts to burn the teepee may collapse; that’s ok. Continue putting wood on the fire in a criss cross pattern until the fire reaches the desired size.
What to do When it's Time to Put Out the Fire
Once you’ve had your fun around the campfire and it’s time to turn in, you need to put the fire out. Often first time campers will throw water on the fire. This can be dangerous. The water will hit hot coals and immediately turn into hot steam and rise, bringing ash with it. A simpler method is to bring a shovel and dump dirt on the fire. The dirt will smother the fire.
Don’t walk away from a fire until you can touch the ground where it was and it is cool to the touch. This may take a while so plan accordingly.
Make sure to carry away any trash that you have and thank the campground attendants on your way out.