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Campfires have kept people alive for thousands of years.
They provide warmth and comfort, cook your food, and can keep predators at bay. We’ve already covered how to start a fire, but that’s just the first step.
If you want more than just a small flame, you have to build that fire up, there is more than one way to build a campfire.
- Do you need something easy, for a few marshmallows with friends?
- How about one that will keep you warm throughout a wintery night?
- Or do you need to cook an animal you just trapped?
Below are seven different ways to build a campfire that suits your purpose.
Remember that when making a campfire, it’s always a good idea to know your surroundings and inspect the area where you intend to start your campfire, as well as the pieces of firewood you intend to burn, and the ground or dirt where you’re going to be building a campfire.
Teepee Campfire – Easy to Make
Chances are, you already know how to make this type of campfire. To make this type of campfire, you lean logs against each other so they form a pyramid shape.
It’ll look like a teepee.
You can build them over unlit fire starter kindling (or these homemade firestarters) or put the fuel wood in place after the fire has started. This is a good type of fire for making a lot of warmth however, as it burns, the logs can come crashing down, sometimes away from the fire!
Lean-To Fire – Wind Resistant
Instead of leaning all of your branches and sticks into each other, let’s lean them on top of a large log.
Figure out where the wind is coming from then place your biggest piece of firewood perpendicular to the wind.
Start your fire on the downwind side of the log by adding pieces of kindling wood and small twigs right next to it, and then light the tinder bundle.
It’ll block the wind from putting out that fire.
The fuel wood (branches or twigs) should be leaned on the top of that big log and over the kindling. By the time the big log ignites, your fire will be big enough to withstand the wind.
Plus the smaller pieces of firewood and kindling are much less likely to fall away from the fire when they collapse. You can add larger pieces of wood as needed.
What if you only have small pieces of wood?
You can use a large stone as the windbreak, make sure that it’s dry wood, though.
You don’t want any trapped moisture to heat up and cause the stone to shatter!
Remember when starting a fire in a windy location to keep a close eye on any stray ember and don’t forget you can always continue adding more firewood as you go.
Star Fire – Small and Easy
If you don’t have much fuel wood or are making a fire for shelter, you want something small.
A star fire, also called an Indian fire, produces a small flame that doesn’t use up fuel too quickly.
Get your tinder kindling going, then stick the ends of several logs into the fire.
As the logs burn, push them into the fire.
This type of campfire won’t produce a big roaring campfire, That’s a good thing as you don’t always want the biggest fire possible.
You can be warmed just as well by a small fire as by a large one.
You’ll just have to sit closer!
Dakota Smokeless Fire Pit – Wind Resistant and Smokeless
Also called a Dakota fire hole, this camp fire method is used by the US military.
The design takes a bit of work, but produces almost no smoke or light and is protected from the wind.
This makes it a good choice for when you’re hiding from an enemy or, you know when there’s a lot of wind.
To make a Dakota smokeless fire pit, you need to dig two holes.
The first one is straight down. It contains the fire.
The second starts away from the first and slopes down to meet the first hole at the bottom.
This method allows the fire to draw in air through the second hole to make the burn more efficient which in turn produces less smoke.
Also, since the fire is in a hole, the wind has a harder time putting it out.
You can partially cover the first hole with stones or place it near a tree to further disperse the smoke.
Log Cabin – For Campfire Cooking
Let’s go back to something a little bit easier.
A log cabin campfire is made a lot like, well, a cabin, You get the tinder kindling going, then stack firewood around it.
- Place two of about equal size, parallel to each other, next to the burning kindling, and then place two more sideways, to form a box.
- Continue stacking until you have it four layers high or more.
This is an excellent cooking fire, for two reasons.
The first is that the logs at the top can support the weight of your pot or pan.
The second reason is that this type of fire burns slowly.
A slower fire is better for evenly cooking your food or catch.
However, this type of fire can be tough to get started.
You can overcome this by building a tepee fire in the middle and then building a log cabin around it.
Inverse Campfire – For Sleeping
Let’s say you’ve been in the woods for a long time now, and it’s time to go to sleep. However, it’s cold enough that you’ll need a fire burning to keep you from freezing.
Most fires require additional fuel added every so often to them as they burn.
However not all. You could always build a self-feeding campfire.
Fire prefers to burn upward since that’s where the flames go, but the coals at the base still produce heat that travels downward as well.
Let’s take advantage of that.
For this to work, you need to have fuel wood in a variety of thicknesses.
- Take your thickest pieces of firewood and lay them on the ground, parallel to each other.
There should be enough to roughly form a square.
- Lay your second thickest firewood pieces on top of those, perpendicular to the bottom layer.
This second square should be slightly smaller.
- Keep layering up until you have no more wood. Everything should still be pretty much flat.
- Build a small teepee fire on top of the pyramid of firewood with your dry tinder bundle and kindling wood.
- The teepee fire will burn into coals, and the coals will burn down through the fuel pyramid through the night.
Now you won’t have to get out of your sleeping bag to put another log on the fire!
Sideways Campfires – Good for Wet Ground
We’ve turned campfires upside down, so why not sideways?
There’s a type of camp fire called the Swedish torch, but it’s a little difficult to do in the woods. With a Swedish torch, you lay a log on its end, then use a chainsaw to cut down into the top to create wedges.
- Only cut down about three-quarters of the way.
- Start a fire on top, where the wedges meet, and it will burn down.
The log will burn from the inside out.
This type of fire is also an excellent option for cooking.
But, if you’re like me, you don’t take a chainsaw with you when backpacking.
You can do a similar type of fire by bundling together your fuel logs.
Use something natural, such as cotton, twine, or vines, to tie up the bundle.
Turn it on one end and start your fire on top with the help of a little tinder and kindling.
You can even place your fire in a stream and it will still burn for quite a while!
So, it’s good for starting a fire on wet ground.
Which One is the Best Method?
All of the fire building methods above can be useful for certain purposes.
The teepee fire is good for spending a casual night outdoors with friends and it’s probably the most common way of building a perfect campfire.
But in a survival situation, you need a much better fire.
The Dakota fire pit is an excellent choice when you plan on staying in one place for a while. It’s efficient, good for cooking, and is stealthy but it requires more work than the other methods.
If you are going to be on the move but need a little fire, I recommend building a star fire. However, if you’re done for the night and need a long-lasting fire, try the inverse camp fire.
The log cabin fire is a good choice for cooking.
Sometimes the weather can work against you, If the ground is wet, try a sideways fire. But if the wind is blowing, try a lean-to fire
The best type of fire depends on your current situation and environment.
That’s why it’s important to know how to make more than one type of fire.
Safety & Suggestions
We would suggest following some basic fire safety tips.
Be aware of your surroundings, embers from your fire could reach dry branches or your camping equipment (which may not be fire retardant) and catch fire.
You should never leave your fire unattended or add dangerous accelerants like gasoline or aerosol cans.
Try to ensure you always have a way to extinguish your fire. You could use dirt or water but make sure that you always have a way to control the fire so it doesn’t get out of hand. You always want to keep your fire under control.
Adding Water, Dirt, or Starving the fire of air will help extinguish it quickly.
The center of the fire may stay warm even after you add water or another extinguishant.
You can find more safety information here.
BONUS: Types of Tinder
Here are a few options for tinder that you can easily find in the woods or around your house:
- Dry grass
- Dry leaves
- Dryer lint
- Wood shavings
- Small pieces of wood (from chopped wood)
- Cotton balls soaked in lighter fluid
There are many types of campfire construction methods.
The seven (eight, really) methods of making a fire here are but a sampling of the methods possible.
If you learn how to make these campfires, you’ll be set for most conditions.
It’s a good idea to practice how to make these fires before you’re subject to those conditions and learn about the different wood and flame starting materials that you have at your disposal.
Oh, and if you can’t get a fire going, why not use a solar cooker?
Remember, practice your skills before you need to rely on them for your survival! And don’t forget to take some matches.