Starting a fire in the woods, or during any camping trip is not complicated, but many people have no idea how to get started. You can use chemical fire starters, but even if you usually use lighter fluid, it is still a good idea to know how to start a fire if you are ever without that can of lighter fluid! A naturally-started fire is also healthier than a chemically-started fire (and if you’ve smelled the fumes from a fire started with chemicals you understand this). If you follow these basic steps, you will be well on your way to becoming an expert fire starter under any conditions.
Starting a Campfire: Choose a Location First
The location of your fire is important. Choose an area free of overhanging brush, and make sure it is downwind from your other camping equipment, since you don’t want sparks or coals blowing onto your tent. The fire should be in an open area, and several feet away from any other objects.
Now that you’re ready to get started, here are the basic steps:
- Prepare the Fire Space: Clean your fire area of any potential burning hazards, like leaves, grass, and twigs, and build a circle of stones around the fire area to help contain the blaze.
- Gather Suitable Wood: Look for wood for your fire, so you can get it started, and keep it going for more than a moment. You will need an assortment of dry kindling pieces, like strips of bark, twigs, pine needles, and pinecones; some small sticks and twigs for the initial blaze; medium-sized wood pieces for sustaining the fire; and larger pieces for long-term burning. Evergreen wood is ideal for campfires, and even smells pretty while it’s burning! Oaks and other heavy woods burn longer, but take much longer to catch on fire. Gather about three time as much wood as you think you might need. If you find only green wood or damp wood, try to find small, dry pieces that will catch fire better. Usually, there are at least a few pieces of dry wood near any wooded area.
- Start Your Fire Foundation: Lay one stick in the center of the fire pit, and then pile some kindling pieces along one side of the stick. Make sure there is plenty of air flowing between the kindling pieces. Ignite the kindling pieces with matches or another lighter. Gradually add on more pine needles, small pieces of dry wood, dry wood shavings, and pinecones until the stick catches fire.
- Build Up the Fire: Add larger twigs and sticks about the same width of a pencil stacked like a teepee around the first burning stick. When the sticks are alight, you can continue to add larger pieces of wood gradually until the medium or large pieces of wood start to burn. Leave plenty of room between each new wood addition for air to flow, since smothering the fire will put it out.
Troubleshooting Your Fire
If you are working primarily with green or damp wood, you can still get a fire going – it just takes longer. Spend longer at the kindling stage, using materials like paper and pocket lint to coax the fire to life. You can also use materials like stove fuel, or any other oil you may have on hand to help start the initial burning process. (Please be cautious when using oil or other fast-burning fuel, since your hands and clothes will burn too if you set them on fire.) You can also try using a chimney fire starter, which quickly ignites charcoal bricks or even sticks/logs for cooking without the need for lighter fluid or other chemical aides.
Once your fire is burning, place green or damp wood about 2 feet away from the fire in a circle, which will help the wet wood dry faster and become easier to burn when it’s time to put more fuel on the fire.
*Note – there’s a drought on, in many areas of the U.S. – please make sure there are no fire warnings or advisories in your area before practicing your firestarting skills!
What tricks do you use for starting a campfire?