How To Build A Campfire

By Everest Active Gear | March 31st, 2018 | Camping, Hiking

How To Build A Campfire

When the word “hammock camping” is mentioned we imagine pleasant scenery, relaxing settings and abundant surroundings of nature immediately comes to mind. The most iconic experiences when setting up camping hammocks is the thought of that warm welcoming campfire.

There is something so hypnotic about a campfire. A campfire is more than just to ward off the crisp chilly nights air, a campfire is a place where family and friends gather to chat, roast marshmallows, sip hot chocolate or simply stare into the glowing coals and let the mind wander.

How To Build A Campfire

There’s a bit more to building a great campfire than just placing a few logs in a heap and throwing in a match. There’s a few essential considerations before creating a campfire.

Campfire Personal Safety

Safety is the up most important factor when starting a campfire. If you are camping with children, you need to be very attentive as studies have revealed that a person is injured by campfires every 30 minutes. Stay alert as those hypnotic dancing flames have a magnetic quality that draws not only adults.

Safety Tips for Campfires

Environmental Safety

Climate change is affecting our natural forests and grasslands, to the point where just one spark can cause a wildfire and irreversible environmental damage. Before you even think about starting a campfire you must consider.

Check Campfire Permissions?

Look for posted signage, ask a ranger or camp host. A campsite may have a fire ring, this does not automatically mean fires are permitted. Use an existing fire pits to avoid creating a new fire scar. Don’t ring the fire with rocks because this will scar them. Adopt the Leave No Trace principles.

Fire Restriction Permit Sign

Check The Site Properly Prepared?

Campfire Preparation

Be sure there’s at least 8 to 10 feet of bare dirt surrounding the fire ring. Take the time to clear away any flammable debris that can catch fire. Make sure there are no tree branches overhanging the area, they can catch fire more easily than you think from combustible heat alone.

Never build a fire on top of dead logs, tree roots or mossy areas. Use only dead wood found lying on the ground. Do not break off branches or use saws and axes.

What About Weather Conditions?

Observe forecasts and rising winds conditions. An approaching storm can easily fan the smallest campfire out of control. If there’s even the slightest doubt, don’t light a campfire!

Campfire weather observation

Do You Have Fire Safety Equipment?

Always make sure you have a shovel nearby and a few gallons of water. While water is preferred, shoveling loose dirt can keep the fire under control. Just be aware that coals can stay dangerously hot beneath the soil many hours after you’ve put the fire out. Never leave fires unattended.

After breaking camp, make sure the fire is out by feeling the ashes with your bare hand, fire pits can retain heat for up to 12 hours. Take the ashes into the woods and scatter them so they won’t be visible or alter the soil’s natural balance. Return soil to fire pit, replace the sod and fill in the edges with soil.

Cool The Coals

Do You Need a Campfire?

It’s always recommended to use a fuel camp stove (burner) in preference to a campfire. The advantages of a stove are its quick to set up and it’s just like cooking on the stove at home. Much better control of heat.

If your camp stove doesn’t work or an emergency necessitates the use of a fire, follow the techniques below.

Stages For Fire Lighting

Ignition  

The most common way to start a fire is with matches. Others are the flint and steel and the bow drill.

Establishment 

This stage involves using the most effective method to light the required type of fire with the fuel available. Fine and coarse kindling’s are ignited, which in turn ignite sufficient fuel of the right quality so the fire will continue to burn even in wind or rain. Establishment is a critical aspect of firefighting under adverse conditions as there are often many problems to overcome.

Establishment 

This stage involves using the most effective method to light the required type of fire with the fuel available. Fine and coarse kindling’s are ignited, which in turn ignite sufficient fuel of the right quality so the fire will continue to burn even in wind or rain. Establishment is a critical aspect of firefighting under adverse conditions as there are often many problems to overcome.

Application 

Fire arrangements vary depending on the application and burn fuels available. There are fires for cooking, warming, drying, repelling insects, signal fires and so on.

Maintenance & Moderation 

A fire can be made to burn at a desired output with a minimum of smoke. Knowledgeable maintenance will allow you long periods between adjustments or stoking’s.

What is Kindling?

Kindling is any material that will light easily with the application of adding flame. Kindling is not the same as tinder. Tinder is a material that will glow when a spark lands on it, such as by flint, steel or rock. The tinder is combined with a fine kindling to produce a flame with breath or  by wind. If the kindling is too close together in mass of material the kindling absorbs too much of the ignition heat before it can be effective, this typically suffocates oxygen.

The oxygen, or combustion vapor mixture is then too lean to catch fire and produces only smoke. If the convective heat is not allowed up through the kindling because it’s dense mass, its suffocated and pre-heating action is less efficient. It’s helpful to light your kindling well off the ground. The coolest, dampest air is near the ground and there is also more obstruction to air flow needed for combustion.

Types of Kindling

The best fuels are the ones that are high in carbon and hydrogen content. The most common elements in all living organisms are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Oxygen is not a fuel, but it supports combustion. Nitrogen is not a fuel and it does not support combustion, in fact, it tends to interfere with oxygen.

Combustion ceases when the oxygen level drops below 15 percent.

Pine Needles

Pine Needles When pine needles are at least partly red, they can burn as well as birch bark. Use a compact but not tight bundle of needles.

Birch Bark

Birch Bark  This is the best kindling. The bark contains an oily substance that makes the bark impervious to moisture and causes the bark to burn with considerable intensity. Finely or coarsely shredded bark is easy to ignite in any weather.

Bark of Black Poplar

Bark of Black Poplar Inner Bark is an excellent rare kindling when dry. It is found on trees cut down by beavers in winter and early spring. The inner bark of aspen is also good but of a poorer quality than black poplar.

Dry Grasses

Dry Grass Tinder

Dry Grasses This is a good kindling and is readily available in winter and scarce in summer. Dry grass is the best kindling for the flint and steel method of fire lighting.

Old Man’s Beard

Old Man’s Beard This is not a good kindling in wet weather, it absorbs moisture. It is fairly good to use in winter and can be easily dried when placed inside a shirt for a couple of hours. In dry weather it burns like gasoline. It is good enough to use with bow drill and the flint and steel methods.

Old Man’s Beard Tinder

Feather Stick

Feather Stick Tinder

Feather Stick Use a thumb-sized piece of knot free wood. Support the bottom of the stick on the ground or a log and cut with the grain. Shave the edges down as thinly as possible. A minimum of six feather sticks will start a good fire.

Wood Scraping

Wood Scraping These are small pieces of wood scraped off instead of shaved off of wood. Willow can be scraped into a fluffy mass of material that will ignite from an ember.

Wood Scraping

Dead Pine Branches

Dead Pine Branch Tinder

Dead Pine Branches Lower branches, if snapped off near the trunk of the tree, are often saturated with resin. The brittle resinous wood can be chipped and made in into fine feathers.

What About DIY Kindling?

Egg Carton Fire Starter

Egg Carton Fire Starter Use the egg cartons made of paper pulp instead of the foamed plastic. Fill each egg holder with dryer lint or cotton balls and fill with melted paraffin wax. When cooled, break apart and place one in a survival kit.

Egg Carton Fire Starter

Tuna Cans & Cardboard Candle

Tuna Cans & Cardboard Candle

Tuna Cans & Cardboard Candle Use a cleaned, empty tuna can. Cut strips of corrugated cardboard the width that the tuna can is deep. Coil the cardboard strips around a wick. Keep coiling and place snugly but not too tight into the can. Fill with melted paraffin wax. Can use as a candle to start a fire.

Electric Fire Starter

Electric Fire Starter Use a battery from a flashlight, 9-volt battery works well. Place steel wool between the positive and negative terminals, the steel wool will heat up and start to burn.

9v Battery Fire Starter

Flint & Steel Kits

Flint Magnesium Starter

Flint &  Steel Kits Use dryer lint or cotton balls and flint and steel. Place both in a film container or pill bottle.

What Is a Ferro Rod?

A Ferro Rod an abbreviation for Ferrocerium. Its a rod used as a fire starter tool for campers, survivalists and other outdoor enthusiasts as quick fire starter. It works without lighter fluid, and it works even when wet. A Ferro Rod looks like a small steel rod, which is probably why some people refer to them as “fire steel”.

What Wood Makes for Good Fuel?

  • Willow Very tolerable smoke, good coals, easy to gather but comes in small pieces.

  • Aspen Comes in bigger pieces but is a little “smokier” than willow.

  • Black Poplar Outer Bark Exceptionally good coals but burns up quickly.

  • Pine Black & White Spruce Smoke induces headaches, wood is sparky especially Black Spruce.

  • Tamarack (Larch) Produces the most heat of all woods but is not common.

  • Birch Seldom found dry, it’s either green or rotten, must be burned in the green state when other fuel is scarce.

  • Driftwood Regardless of origin, tends to burn fairly hot and fast. Sodden or dripping wet driftwood is very hot once ignited.

Cooking with Campfires

A cooking fire can be a small or as large as the number of pots required to feed the group. Pots can be supported over the flame with grills, rocks or by suspension from lashed sticks.

Suspending Pots

An ideal suspension system must be safe and easy to raise and lower a pot to control heat. Most quick set-ups consist of three components, Suspension, Pivot and Anchor.

Suspending Camp Cook Pots

Anchor

Dutch oven suspension pot.jpg

Secure the far end of a suspension pole. The anchor must be secure so that it will not release accidentally. The pivot can be adjusted according to the situation and ground conditions.

Suspension

Suspension holds the pot or a pot hook over the fire. It should have a notch for the pot handle. If a suspension pole is too close to the fire, it will burn up. A tripod is useful as a pivot when the ground is frozen or rocky.

Camp Cook Pot Suspension

Preparing Meals

A three-course meal is quite easy when camping to feed a hungry hiker. It manly consists of a soup, entree or main course followed by dessert. There are many resources on outdoor camp cooking. Keep a record of your favorite recipes, how they were cooked, length of time and how many the recipe fed for you next hammock camping adventure.

What is Dutch Oven Cooking?

A Dutch Oven is a black cast iron pot with a cover, the pots come in a variety of sizes and are very heavy. These can be too heavy if you a lightweight hammock camping or backpacking.

  • 2 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

  • 1 packet dry mushroom soup mix

  • 4 cups diced root vegetables, potato, yam, carrot, parsnip, onion, turnip.

  • 2 cans condensed, low-sodium cream of mushroom soup

  • 1 soup can water

Spray a cold cast iron Dutch oven with cooking spray, and scatter bacon on the bottom in an even layer. Cut chicken into bite size pieces and put it in a clean bag with the soup mix. Shake to coat all the pieces. Cover the bacon layer with your marinated chicken, discard the bag and arrange your root vegetables over the chicken.

Spoon the mushroom soup evenly over your vegetables and pour a can of water over the top. Cover your Dutch oven and nestle it in hot coals for 50 to 60 minutes. Check every 30 minutes until it’s done. Continue to stir and add water if needed.

Seasoning a New Pot

Cast iron requires a certain amount of care also. Seasoning a new pot is a way of protecting the pot for many years of service.

First, scrub the inside of the pot with steel wool and a bit of soap. Continue until the water is clear. Wipe and dry then apply a thin layer of cooking oil to the inside and outside of the pot.

Place in an oven set at 250° for two to three hours. It’s ready to use. After each use, clean the pot and apply a thin layer of oil to the inside to prevent rusting. Never soak your Dutch Oven in detergent as it will remove all the seasoning.

Coal Cooking

The fire for coal cooking must provide coals from fire wood, it takes time to cook with coals. Some of the best coals are from the black popular, 1/2” to 1” thick.

Finger-thick willow or aspen sticks also produce coals. Use coals to cook food in Dutch Ovens or wrap food in aluminum foil and place on top of coals. Use two layers of light-weight or one layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. The foil should be large enough to go around the food and allow for crimping the edges in a tight seal.

When the foil is folded, make a double fold over on all the seams, this prevents the juices will not leak from the foil package.

How to Build a Warming Fire.

A wall back fire, formerly known as the reflector and re-emitter fire, is a fire for warmth. A fire in an open area emits radiant energy in all directions. With a wall back or log wall a considerable portion of this radiant energy can be redirected in a more beneficial direction, thereby using the fuel more efficiently.

The wall back fire described below was evolved through Mors Kochanski’s considerable use and experience. Built properly, it is like a large fireplace radiating heat and light. If it is not very cold, the wall back is built of green logs so that it lasts longer. A commonly available slow burning green wood is Black Poplar.

How Long Will it Burn?

Logs 10” to 12” in diameter should last at least one night for any condition above 0°f. The colder the weather the more massive the reflector should be. If the weather is very cold, then the wall back can be built of dry logs, which become a source of fuel themselves, their burning surfaces tend to radiate more intensely than green wood.

This type of fire may have to be rebuilt or readjusted as well as being stocked every four to six hours. If large logs, 16” are used then a wall three logs high is adequate. With smaller logs, four logs high is more satisfactory in performance. Ideally the wall back should be about as high as the waist of the user.

A simple measure for the length of a log used is the distance from fingertip to fingertip. For stability the logs can be flat, on the top and bottom. This operation is more conveniently done before the logs are cut into sections.

How To Build a Wall-Back Fire

With the three-log wall back fire, a brace can be used to hold the stacked logs in place by its weight, or logs may be piled behind the reflector for added support. Wall’s are generally built vertically. If the log wall is leaned toward the fire so that if it collapses, it will fall on the fire, and a few stoking sessions in the night may be avoided.

The wall back fire must be built parallel to the wind, the wind direction may vary 15° or so either way, but it must blow across the front of the log wall to properly carry away the smoke and sparks. The heated air is not what keeps you warm in this instance.

It’s the radiant energy that you intercept that warms you, much like the warmth you receive from the sun. It should be noted that the fire must be built against the face of the wall for maximum effect.

How to Build a Mound Fire

A mound fire can be built anywhere, on top of the ground or on top of a camp’s makeshift kitchen counter. All you need is a trowel or shovel, a large stuff sack and a round cloth which is optional.

  • Locate a good source of mineral soil. Collect soil from an already disturbed area, for example, a stream bed, beneath tree roots or sandy areas.

  • Fill the stuff sac with the mineral soil.

  • Carry the soil to the fire site.

  • Lay the ground cloth down and create a circular, flat-topped mound with the mineral soil about 6” to 8” thick. The mound’s circumference should be larger than the planned fire size. The ground cloth is not essential but helps with cleanup after the fire is out. The soil mound insulates the ground from the heat of the fire.

  • Build the fires on top of the mound. The heat may kill the grass underneath but it will not sterilize the soil.

  • Let the fire burn down to a white ash before dousing with water. When the fire is out, all the wood should be burned completely. Do not put your hands into the ash after it has been doused with water. Ash and water make caustic lye which can give you chemical burns.

  • Scatter as much ash as possible and return the mineral soil back to its original location.

How to Build a Fire Pan

A fire pan is a metal pan that is placed on the ground upon which a fire is built. When finished, bury or scatter the ashes as noted previously.

Fire Stoves

A simple wood burning stove is more effective than an open fire. There are a number of commercially produced fire stoves ranging from simple, collapsible boxes to units with battery-powered fans, and convenient compact camping fueled stoves.

Jetboil

How to Start a Fire in Cold Weather

When starting a fire in cold weather, the pile of finger or wrist thick sticks piled on top of the burning bundle should be at least knee high. This will produce enough heat and coals to start the fire properly so that when any fuel is added it starts to burn immediately with a minimum of smoke.

Starting a fire properly is particularly important when only poor fuel is available. A common error is using too large pieces too soon.

Common Errors with Fires

  • Fire is too small.

  • Wood is too thick.

  • Not enough fine materials to start fire.

  • Wood is packed too closely together.

  • Wood is too widely spread apart to produce effective inter-reflective action.

  • Allowing a thermal cavity to develop under long logs as they burn.

Tips

  • The cure for a smoky fire is to add more good dry fuel.

  • If you want an irritating smoky fire for signal or insect control, use green pine, spruce or wet wood.

  • A good fire thrives on attention, you adjust frequently.

Fires are much like humans, they thrive on attention.

Frequent adjustment of a fire will keep it going at its best. Often, the cure for a smoky fire is simply proper adjustment. A spread-out fire with inferior fuel will always smoke. Adjustments usually consist of, moving together pieces of fuel that are too far apart. Parting the pieces of wood that are too close together, filling voids under the fire.

What Types of Fires Are There?

Trench Fire

A trench fire is good in times of drought, windy weather or where the ground is strewn with dry leaves or pine needles. Dig a trench in line with the prevailing wind to create a good draft. The windward side should be wider and deeper and sloped upwards on the far end.

Place rocks on sides as they will retain heat and also bolster the walls which have a tendency to crumble when the earth dries due to the heat. A small chimney of flat stones or sod on the leeward side will improve the fire.

Trench Fire

Teepee Fire Lay

A teepee fire lay is made by forming a teepee of kindling around the tinder bed. In windy weather, the teepee can be put against a log on the lee side. Larger fuel pieces are added to the teepee to maintain its shape. As the fuel underneath burns down, fuel is added underneath. The teepee fire needs go regular adjustment.

Log Cabin Fire

The log cabin gets its name because the larger fuel is laid like the alternating pattern of logs of a log house. The size of the log cabin pattern can be large at the bottom and become increasingly smaller as the fuel gets higher. As the fire burns down, fuel is added in the overlapping log cabin pattern.

Log Cabin Fire Stack

Fire on Top of Deep Snow

Fire on Top of Deep Snow

In winter, pile of fuel should be at least knee high. Start by building a platform made from green logs on the snow. The platform can have two layers, each layer laid in opposite directions. The fire is made on top of the platform. The best fire for winter is the parallel log fire. It should be hot enough so that you have to take one step back.

Building A Signal Fire

Lay down the bundle, fine ends to the wind. Pile a few sticks, thumb or broom handle thick in a teepee fashion over the bundle. Cover this with 4” to 8”of spruce boughs, or leafy green branches, teepee fashion, with the butt ends down.

If boughs are not available use moss or grass or the organic material on the forest floor. The fine ends of the bundle should be uncovered, or left uncovered, to provide easy access for lighting the signal fire.

Signal Fire

Standard Signal Fire Fuel Support

Signal Fire Set Up 1

Select three dry or green poles that are approximately 2” in diameter in their thin ends. Start by building the main frame Teepee style which is a tripod out of the wooden sticks. Set up the poles about 10” to 12”. This arrangement provides an easy access for lighting the kindling and allows for an unrestricted oxygen supply.

The kindling can be a bundle of twigs as is used in the simple signal fire. If this type of kindling is used, a grate is made by laying four or five sticks of thumb thickness across the pole ends. This keeps the bundle from falling through as it burns.

If a knife and axe are available, the bundle can be replaced with 5” to 8” feather sticks. The feather sticks can be stacked in log cabin fashion with the feathers to the inside. To help sustain the fire, thumb stick fuel is loosely stacked behind the feather sticks or bundle. The more fuel the fire has the better the smoke out-put will be as well as how long it will burn.

The Framework

With the base fire built under the middle of the tripod start covering the tripod with leaves. Use branches with leaves, secure larger branches by lashing to the tripod frame. Place other branches through the leaves and continue this until you cover the entire structure.

Leave a small void access so you can light the fire inside the tripod. To support the boughs over the feather sticks and to keep the signal fire from falling over as it burns the framework stems must be pressed into the ground. If larger branches are not available, saplings or any straight poles can be used.

Signal Fire 2

Tactics

Signal Fire 3

If time and energy permits, a number of signal fires may be built and kept in reserve. If the first signal is missed, another aircraft may pass overhead before you have built a new signal fire.

On clear days you can light a signal fire in the mid-afternoon, to attract a fire tower or forestry personnel. If no one is aware of your plight, you may have to light three signal fires in a triangular pattern or mark an “X” which means “I am not able to proceed.” near your signal fire or camp, otherwise your signal fire can be mistaken for a large campfire.

Leave No Trace Campfires

We can have fires where there is no visible trace. The following methods are traditionally used to leave no trace.

  • Never use rocks to ring a fire unless there is a fire ring already existing. A fire will permanently blacken rocks.

  • Dig the top sod and put aside, dig down approximately 1’ to 2’ to the mineral soil. Put all soil to the side.

  • Burn fire down to an ash and soak with water.

  • Replace organic soil, place sod back on top. Scatter with organic debris such as cones and twigs to disguise the spot.

The fire will kill micro-organisms in organic soil that are responsible for breaking down organic matter. The upper part of the pit will sterilize roots and other organic material. The sides of the pit and may smolder after the fire is out and buried. Ensure the fire is completely extinguished.

Summary

Campfire Rule of Thumb, If smoke goes high, no rain comes by, If smoke hangs low, watch out for a blow.

Smoke rising from a campfire in a thin, vertical spiral reveals a high pressure system. Therefore good weather. If smoke stay’s close to the ground then this indicates presence of a low pressure system, which may mean rain.

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