Outdoors 101: How to Build a Campfire

How to Build a Campfire: A campfire burning at a campsite during a dark night

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Get ready to embark on an outdoor adventure as we teach you how to build a campfire safely and responsibly.

From campfire etiquette to gathering firewood and lighting techniques, we’ll guide you through every step. Let’s get started.

Campfire Basics

Before we explore campfire building, let’s grasp the essential campfire basics.

Campfires aren’t just for warmth and coziness; they demand responsibility and respect for nature:

  • Campsite Campfires: Most campgrounds have designated fire rings or grills where fires should be built. Always check with the staff to confirm that fires are allowed, especially during dry periods when campfires might be prohibited.
  • Backcountry Campfires: In remote areas where fires are allowed, use existing fire rings when possible. Only create a new one in emergencies, and remove it afterward. Clear flammable materials from the fire pit and use sand, gravel, or mineral soil to protect the soil.

As a word of caution, when things go awry, seek immediate assistance. Campfires can lead to disasters, with a prime example being a Czech backpacker who accidentally burned down 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) of Torres del Paine National Park in 2005.

Gathering Firewood

How to build a campfire: collected firewood

In the world of campfires, firewood is the star of the show. To build a successful campfire, you need three types of firewood: tinder, kindling, and firewood:

  1. Tinder: Tinder is the starting point of your campfire and includes small materials that ignite easily. Think of dry twigs, leaves, needles, or forest duff. To spark, tinder needs to be as dry and finely shredded as possible.
  2. Kindling: Kindling consists of medium-sized materials that catch fire quickly once the tinder is burning. This category includes dry leaves, small twigs, and sticks or larger pieces of bark.
  3. Firewood: Finally, firewood is the larger, long-lasting material that keeps your fire burning into the night. For best results, find dead and dry pieces of wood.

Campgrounds: If you’re camping in a developed area, it’s essential to use local firewood. Often, nearby stores offer firewood for sale, and some campgrounds provide bundles or kindling for your convenience.

Backcountry: When foraging for firewood in remote areas, gather only downed wood. Never cut live trees or break off branches from standing trees, even if they are dead. Dead branches and snags are essential habitat elements for birds and wildlife. Additionally, avoid gathering or burning wood pieces thicker than an adult’s wrist, as they are challenging to burn completely.

How to Build a Campfire

How to Build a Campfire: Constructing a cone-shaped campfire in the sand

It’s time to dive into the fascinating process of building a campfire. There are various methods to choose from, each with its unique charm and functionality:

1. Cone Method: This method starts with a small cone of kindling, which surrounds a few handfuls of tinder placed in the center of the fire ring. Once the fire is burning strongly, you can gradually add larger logs as needed. The key is to maintain the cone shape and ensure proper airflow.


  • Quick and easy setup.
  • Requires minimal firewood.
  • Efficient at concentrating heat on the tinder.
  • Ideal for small campfires or when you need a fire started fast.


  • May require more frequent attention and maintenance.
  • Less efficient at producing long-lasting heat compared to other methods.

2. Log Cabin Method: Think of it as making a tiny log cabin for your campfire. Begin with two big pieces of firewood side by side, leaving space in between for the base. Stack two slightly smaller pieces on top, forming a square. Fill it with tinder, then add smaller firewood layers around, getting smaller as you go up. Put kindling and tinder on top, making sure there’s room for air to flow between the logs.


  • Provides a stable and self-supporting structure.
  • Excellent for cooking over an open flame.
  • Allows good airflow due to the square shape.
  • Can be easily adjusted by adding more logs to the structure.


  • Consumes more firewood compared to the cone method.
  • Requires more effort and time to construct due to the precise stacking of logs.

3. Upside Down (Pyramid) Method: Begin with three or four big logs side by side on the bottom. Then, stack slightly smaller logs on top, alternating layers while decreasing in size. Finish with kindling and tinder on top, forming a pyramid-like structure that gradually burns from the top down.


  • Creates a longer-lasting fire due to the gradual burn from top to bottom.
  • Requires less maintenance and fewer adjustments.
  • Less risk of logs collapsing into the fire.
  • Ideal for situations where you want the fire to burn slowly, such as overnight.


  • Uses more firewood initially to build the pyramid structure.
  • May be overkill for small fires or situations where you want a fast start.

Lighting the Campfire

With your campfire built, it’s time to light it up safely. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Ignition: Light the tinder carefully using matches, a lighter, or a fire starter.
  2. Providing Oxygen: Gently blow at the base of the fire to supply oxygen for better combustion.
  3. Adding Firewood: Gradually add smaller logs and sticks to maintain the fire’s size and heat.
  4. Managing Embers: Move embers towards the center for efficient combustion.

Extinguishing & Cleaning up

Responsible campfire management includes extinguishing and cleanup:

  1. Pour Water: Carefully pour water over the entire fire. Ensure everything, including embers and ashes, is soaked.
  2. Stir and Mix: Use a shovel or stick to stir the ashes and embers into wet soil or sand until cool.
  3. Deal with Charcoal Pieces: Gather charcoal pieces, crush them, and scatter the remnants away from the campsite.
  4. Dismantle Structures: If you built any structures, dismantle them and scatter the materials.

Always remember to leave no trace.

Campfire Tips

How to Build a Campfire: a cone-shaped campfire burning at a field campsite

As you get better at building campfires, here are some tips to improve your skills and safety, ensuring a great campfire experience:

  1. Firewood Preparation: Collect enough firewood before nightfall to avoid stumbling in the dark. Having a surplus of firewood ensures you won’t run out during a chilly night.
  2. Fire Safety: Keep a safe distance from the campfire to prevent burns. Avoid wearing loose or flammable clothing, and instruct others to do the same.
  3. Firewood Selection: Choose firewood that’s dry and seasoned. Wet or green wood can create excessive smoke and be challenging to ignite.
  4. Responsible Fire Size: Keep your campfire size manageable. A larger fire can be more challenging to control and may pose safety risks.
  5. Campfire Cooking: If you plan to cook over the campfire, bring appropriate (not plastic) cookware and utensils.
  6. Local Regulations: Be aware of any local regulations or fire restrictions in the area you’re camping. Some areas may prohibit campfires during dry seasons or in specific locations. Google is your best friend.

Final Thoughts

Congratulations on mastering the art of campfire building. Whether you’re a beginner or aiming to enhance your skills, we’ve covered everything from basics to advanced techniques.

Campfires offer warmth and connection with nature, but they also demand respect and responsibility. As you embark on your outdoor adventures, follow these guidelines for a safe and unforgettable campfire experience.

If all of this still appears too complicated, explore our guide on ultralight backpacking stoves, where you can find an excellent wood stove option.


What not to do when building a campfire?

When building a campfire, it’s crucial to understand what not to do to ensure both safety and environmental responsibility. Firstly, never start a fire outside designated areas or during fire bans in dry conditions. Avoid using gasoline or other accelerants, as they can lead to uncontrollable fires. Never leave a campfire unattended, and be cautious about its size, ensuring it doesn’t grow too large. Don’t use non-combustible materials like rocks from riverbeds to create fire rings, as they can explode when heated. Lastly, avoid burning trash or items that can’t be fully consumed by fire.

Should you put rocks around a campfire?

When deciding whether to encircle your campfire with rocks, exercise caution. While rocks can serve as a containment barrier, avoid using those prone to exploding when heated, such as riverbed stones. Opt for dry, heat-resistant rocks to enhance safety. Ensure secure stacking, allowing proper airflow for an efficient fire.

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