Best Way To Start A Campfire

Common Mistakes While Trying To Start a Camp Fire

First I’d like to thank Howcast and YouTube for this great Video

My name is Tom Lincoln and I am an Eagle Scout with two Gold Palms. That was a long time ago and I do not say this to brag only to emphasize the fact that I have made a lot of campfires in my lifetime.

It has come to my attention that the thing I just do naturally, is a source of frustration for others. This post will hopefully help you have really nice and easy to understand camp fires that you and your family and friends can enjoy.

It was listening to the people around the fire last night that made me realize.  People do not understand how to make a camp fire the easy way.  Below are some of the common misconceptions:

  1. Not understanding the fire triangle.  For a fire to start anywhere and particularly in a camping situation you need three things and they are a source of heat, oxygen and fuel for the fire to burn
  2. Misusing any of the three criteria for a fire is always the cause of the fire not starting, typically this results in smoke instead of a clean flame.
  3. Not having dry fuel(green wood or wet wood)
  4. Not understanding the tree types of fire structures to build in a camping situation and what each one can do well
  5. Not using the right source of kindling (usually has some sort of chemical or tar on it) 
  6. Example young pine needles are bad, they contain tar, which is an excellent accelerant, but causes way too many sparks which makes for an unpleasant and an unsafe fire. Paper with too much of a coating is bad.
  7. Building a fire that is the inappropriate size for the situation.  I tend to do that.  Once my fire took off so quickly and with such force that I almost burned down the cabin we rented
  8. Not giving whatever type of fire you use the proper spacing between the kindling and the fuel source or wood.
  9. Placing pieces of wood on the fire that are too big too soon before a proper amount of heat has been established to cause a good fire. This usually happens when people do not establish a bed of red hot coals made from the burning of smaller starter pieces
  10. Use some sort of chemical accelerant which is the amateur way and quite frankly is unsafe in most cases and leaves a bad taste in the food you are cooking if this is the reason for the campfire being set up in a particular way.

When I am asked to build a fire, or like last night, when I decide that we need a camp fire to calm everyone down a bit from the stresses of life, this is what I do:

I look for dead branches in the trees. This is called squaw wood and it gets its name from the stories passed down through the generations of a young boy(squaw) in a Native America culture having been given the task of collecting fire wood for their camp fires. They would not get the wet wood on the ground in the morning when the wood was wet from morning dew.  Instead they would look up in the lower branches of the trees that a boy could reach, and usually if not always be able to find dead branches in the trees that would easily snap when pulled.

You can easily, in most if not all cases, find this dead wood.  You know it is dead because it easily snaps when you pull it down.  If you pull it and it bends leave it alone.  It is part of the living tree and you wouldn’t want to hurt it.  After all we are there to unwind and distress and enjoy nature and the woods or forest we are camping in, not destroy it.  In fact, we always want to leave it better than when we found it.

Squaw wood usually comes in all shapes and sizes so it really is all you need for any size fire. You want to collect enough to last into the night.  Now you are ready to construct you fire. For the purposes of this beginning level post we will use any friction methods to start our fire, just plain matches will work fine.

If you want to learn about friction methods bear Grillis is the best that I have ever seen.  He has a lot of the same training my old Green Beret Vietnam veteran, assistant scout master used to have.  Nothing says hike like being ambushed by a booby-trapped trail, complete with water balloons grenades and branches claymores! Ah child hood memories.

But I digress, we are talking about building fires here. There are three type of fires you can build for the beginner, and quite frankly, these will work for most any situation you will encounter in any season:

  1. The teepee or tripod fire
  2. The Conestoga Wagon trail fire
  3. The Lean to or directional fire

Teepee – Great for Cooking 

Each has its own purpose.  If you want to start a fire with dry kindling and small sticks to heat up a cup of liquid in a hurry nothing beats a teepee fire.  It gets its name from the shape.  Simple place three small to medium small sticks leaning against each other. Place one end of each of the sticks in the ground and form a teepee or a cone if you will.   Place the kindling(small)  pieces of wood or rally dry newspaper shredded up or crumpled up but leave some air in the crumple not too tight You need the heat to hit the fuel and get oxygen no matter what type of fire you build) in the center of the teepee or cone or on the ground or a piece of dry bark if the ground is wet. Place smaller sticks big enough to lie nicely on the tripod or cone you built all around it.   Now you should have the tripod with sticks around it with the kindling in the middle.  You have fuel and it is placed nicely so that oxygen

Conestoga Wagon Campfire -Quick Starting Campfire

Ther reason that this fire works so well is it capitalizes on each point in the fire triangle, and emphasizes the oxygen component.  This Campfire set-up builds a chimmney effect the fire can follow.  Place a plus sign on the ground and stack other plus signs of wood on top of the other about 4 to 5 stacks high and place tinder inside the plus sign tower,  Use dry tinder.  I prefer crumpled up newspaper.  You should only need one match.  But nowadays you can use those candle lighters too.

LeanTo Campfire – Directional Heat

There are a couple of ways to build this Campfire.

The last Campfire set-up is the Leanto or Directional fire this is built by having a big log and leaning row of sticks and middle sized wood sticks onto the bigger log on it’s side.  The tinder is crumpled up newspaper.  One match is all you should really ever use for any campfire.

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