How to Start a Campfire – A Comprehensive Guide

Heat and fire are symbols of life whereas cold relates to silence and demise. Traces of history tells us that signs of controlled fire dates back to 1.7 million years ago whereas the scholars from other side claims that the life of controlled fire is not more than 600,000 years.  In the modern world, the first match was invented in 1805 by famous scientist, Jean Chancel. The modern day match is a combination of potassium chlorate, sugar, sulfur and rubber.

There is a diverse range of fire uses. Most important of these are: cooking, lighting (Torch), communication through signaling, clearing bushes from meadows, producing steam, heating (warming shelters) etc. Out of all these our focus is on “How to start a campfire?” in relation to recreational camping.

Have you ever been on an adventure trip and felt the need of starting a fire? Well it may seem easy at home with a match stick. But once you are in the woods, to start a campfire you must have some useful tricks on hand. In this article we have illustrated several techniques on “How to start a campfire”. We hope this will be helpful for you.

friends standing around a campfire in the forest and learning how to start a campfire


How to start a campfire

Starting a campfire is a combination of technique and art. Lets create a situation first. Suppose you are in the forest and there is a terrible need of fire. Also you have limited resources on hand.  In such situations, the best way to start a campfire involves following steps:


Laying the Bed First

A well cleaned dry platform without grass is an ideal site. Remember the bed should be away from trees and bushes, to prevent a wildfire spread. Most of the times, flames from burning fire become a cause of fire initiation in the forests. If you are not able to locate a bare area, the best solution is to dig a hole. And once you are done with the digging, throw bushes and grass at reasonable distance.

Its more preferred that the platform has a thickness of 3 to 5 inches into the ground. This will prevent the air to directly infiltrating into the fire. But if you are not able to locate such spot,  flat bed will work too.

preparing ground for campfire


Covering the Bed with Pit

Second step in starting a campfire is to build a pit around the bed. To form a pit, collect few stones from surrounding and place them in circular formation around the fire bed. Apart from forest, if you are in a desert, build a small wall of up to 3 inches with sand. This will work as an alternative to stones. The covering pit with limit the excessive air flow.

fire pit covered with stones


Now its Time to Collect Some Wood

Burnable material for campfire is categorized into three categories:

1- Tinder

2- Kindling

3- Firewood


Tinder Fire Starter

Materials which are easily burnable and smaller in size are considered finest tinder for fire starter. These materials catches fire very quickly but don’t last very long. The smartest technique is to sprinkle tinder over the bigger logs. Most suitable tinder fire starter materials are: wood shavings, cotton roll, strips of paper or cardboard, dry leaves, commercial fire starter sticks.

If you are not able to locate tinder material, you can also create one. Use your knife or dagger and strip few thin slices from larger wooden logs. Just make sure that the strips are dry.

tinder and kindling for fire starting



After gaining confidence from tinder, kindling is the second stage. Kindling materials include substances which can withstand the structure and last longer relative to tinder. Generally, cedar and pine are considered best kindling wood. And wooden sticks of medium size or pine cones are favorable for fire kindling.

There are four famous shapes of campfire structure:

1- Tepee

2- Lean To

3- Cross Ditch

4- Pyramid

tepee fire formation structure


Tepee Fire Pit

Tepee is the most famous and practical campfire structure of all. The idea is inherited by American Indians who used to put up their living tents in this conical shape.  But the idea became famous during early 90s. In the following structure, the bed is covered with tinder followed by kindling and eventually larger wooden logs. The smoke from tinder dries the fire kindle and larger logs.



Final stage of “How to start a campfire” is the crown in shape of larger wooden logs. Basically its the tip of the iceberg. Remember, its not the tinder or kindle, its this fuel wood which is going to cook your meal. So place the logs carefully in tepee structure.


Important Safety Tips  

  • While collecting wood, give preference to broken pieces laying on the ground. Trees and forest are precious. If we utilize them efficiently today, it will be beneficial for generations to come.
  • keep yourself at a fair distance from the fire. It has no emotions, so be cautious.
  • Keep a bucket of water, sand or commercial fire extinguisher nearby for safety.


Other Fire Safety Measures

According to a fact sheet published by Ameriburn, 486,000 people received treatment for burn injuries. Out of these 43% of the incidents were caused due to direct fire or flames. You definitely do not want your name in the list, and surely we do not either. Please follow these fire safety measures as life is precious and you only live once.


Observe Air Pressure

Several incidents reported in the past were caused due to blowing winds, which caused the flames to hit the camp. Always put the camp in opposite direction to wind. Also camp site should be at a fair distance from the fire bed. Secondly, never forget to put out the fire before sleeping.


How to Put Out Campfire is as Important as How to Start a Campfire

Follow These Steps for Putting Out the Fire

Putting out fire seems pretty easy job. But remember that’s where most of the mistakes occur. You should put out the fire at least 15 minutes before going to bed. Once its done wait for a while to observe.

Sprinkle water over fire slowly, don’t just pour in a single go. Sprinkling  will ease down the fire and will fade it eventually. In case of pouring you may flood the place while leaving the ashes warm in hidden corners.

Stir ! once the fire is out, stir the remaining logs / ashes with a stick and sprinkle water again. Stirring will let the water to disperse evenly on the remains.

Use your foot and disperse the remaining into the sand. This will not only spread the ashes but will also clear the bed. The temperature feel will also give you a signal, that is it the right time to go for bed.


Camping Instructions by the Concerned Authority

The National Park Service (NPS) is the authoritative agency for National parks in USA. It operates under federal government and was established in 1916. You can get all the relevant information about America’s National parks. Rules and regulations, seasons to visit, park tickets etc.

Our comprehensive guide about “How to start a campfire” concludes here. We hope this was helpful to you.

Also check our list of RV Parks in Florida

We all have experiences, sometimes good other times bad. But all these experiences leave us with results. If you have any suggestion or story to contribute, please share it with us in the comments. Your stay on this planet is a blessing, Live to its best ! So long readers 🙂

Mian Abdullah

Writer is currently working as Research Associate at Glow Digest. He is an MBA degree bearer and takes keen interest in writing about Geography, Travel and Home Interior.

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