We’ll teach you how to build a campfire several different ways. In almost all cases when camping the Critterz love a fire (when it’s allowed).
There are many uses for a fire when camping, being able to cook food, boil water, keep warm and provide light. Food is usually the main reason most campers start a campfire.
Think of all that delicious food you can make: S’mores, camper pies, tinfoil dinners, cobbler, hot dogs, etc. The list goes on and when you’re camping, food cooked over a fire seems to just taste better.
That said, packing the right gear for starting a fire and understanding how to build a campfire is important to a successful camping trip. The Critterz will go over what fire starters we like to use (practical and impractical) and how we do the actual fire builds.
When you’re starting your fire you want to make sure there isn’t dry brush nearby or dead branches over head. Always start your campfire in a fire ring.
Safety Note: Fire burns, be careful when handling and working with the fire. Have a bucket of water within reach to quickly put out any fire that spreads beyond the ring.
When you’re done with the fire, ensure it’s out. This is especially important in the dry months. Wind/sparks/etc. can do unpredictable things and you don’t want to start a forest fire. Have a first aid kit handy. Practice fire safety at all times.
How To Build a Campfire
Building an amazing campfire can be quick and easy if you follow these 5 steps.
Total Time Needed :
Steps to Building a Warm and Cozy Campfire:
How to Light a Campfire
Let’s start with the fun stuff, flames! When packing, you’ll have to decide what lighters and fire starters work best for you given the trip.
You may want to bring a couple forms of ignition in case one doesn’t work. Don’t rely on one lighter only to have it run out of fuel halfway though your camping trip.
If you want to pack light/compact, some of the options below will be too big, so bring a few of the smaller options.
- BIC Classic
The BIC, it’s simple and it works. This lighter is light weight, cheap, reliable, and boring. Boring is great when you need a fire.
No matter the trip, we always have one of these on hand just because it’s so easy and light. The only negative to the BIC lighter is wind puts it right out. If someone tells you that you need an expensive lighter for camping, find someone else to get advice from.
This isn’t to say those survival lighters aren’t neat/fun little tools (Daddy Critter very much enjoys all sorts of gizmos) but it’s just not necessary.
- Grill lighter
There are a lot of basic grill lighters out there. These are also simple, relatively cheap and reliable in our experience.
The grill lighter isn’t built for backpacking trips but if you’re doing some version of car/camper/cabin camping this is a nice tool. The length allows you to get the flame where you want which is a plus because you’re less likely to get burned.
This is a bit of a fancy choice and gets a bit closer to those unnecessary survival lighters. Not sure why but Daddy Critter really likes his Zippo. Ok, we know why, it gives him something to fidget with and practice all his cool lighter tricks (firebug).
However, Zippos do have a couple of practical features worth considering.
The Zippo flame is wind resistant which gives them an advantage on the BIC. Also, they can last forever because it’s easy to replace the flint and refill the lighter fluid. The first Zippo Daddy Critter got is over 20 years old now and has zero issues.
If for some reason the zippo doesn’t light, it’s likely you can still create sparks and in an emergency situation if you have dry tinder, you may be able to light it that way.
However, there is a downside worth mentioning, if the Zippo gets in water, it’s unusable until you can dry it out and add lighter fluid. The BIC doesn’t have that issue.
- Match book / Box Matches
Yep, that tiny folded matchbook or those little match boxes make for a cheap, reliable ignition source. No, they aren’t wind and water resistant but they work great the majority of the time. Also, if you want a little water resistance, you can put them in the ziploc snack pack bag.
- Strike Anywhere
A step above the book/box of matches, the strike anywhere really just adds a bit of fun. Now you can strike the match on the fire ring or the rocks that make the ring and amaze other campers! Yes, the box is right there and you could have done that too, but that’s not as fun.
- Waterproof / Stormproof
To be honest, we’ve had these water proof matches in the past but they’re brought as a backup or just for fun.
The good news is they are lightweight, you only need to bring a few and they work great for backpacking trips. Sometimes the coatings make it hard to light but with a little practice these work just fine. Try some out before you go just in case you need to use them.
Advanced Fire Starters
Both of the below options may be unnecessary, either rudimentary or overzealous, but can make for a fun time. If you’re beginning campers, we suggest sticking to grill lighters.
- Fire Steel
Ferro rods are a cool way to start a campfire. The sparks fly with each strike and they last a long time before you eat through the rod.
The best part, it works really well in our experience. This makes a good challenge when you have time to try it out. You have to be very cognizant of the tinder you’re using and build up slow but it’s pretty rewarding to get from a spark to a roaring campfire!
- Propane torch
Ok, so propane torches are totally unnecessary, I understand. But if you’re car camping or camper camping this is a fun little accessory that starts that fire right up.
If your wood is a little damp, it’s no problem. Forgot the fire starters and maybe the tinder is a little thick? This lighter doesn’t care. If you don’t want to leave the campfire to chance, this is the tool for you. This is the best tool for lighting a campfire with wet wood.
Depending on your tinder, maybe you don’t need these. However, it certainly is helpful to have them when the other stuff is a little damp or you’re having a hard time getting tinder/small pieces to get those logs burning. If you’re cost conscious, we recommend making your own, it’s easy to do. However, if you don’t want to take the time to make your own, here are the best fire starters you can buy:
- BlackBeard Fire Starters
Black Beard Fire Starters are versatile and waterproof. Each rope can start over 50 fires!
And you don't have to worry about not being able to light a fire in wet weather since Black Beard Fire Starters are waterproof!
With an infinite shelf life these are a perfect addition to your bail out bag!
We love Blackbeard fire starters for starting campfires. They work wet or dry, in warm weather or in snow. Daddy Critter got some for Father’s day one year and we love using them. They’re a great US based company and we obviously love supporting small businesses whenever we can.
BlackBeard Fire Starters are so great, Momma Critter sent them an email about how awesome their product is and they got us a code so we can get you 10% off! Use code: CampingCritterz at checkout or use this link!
- SOL Fire Lite Kit
This one comes with the sparker but the tinder fire starters are waterproof and lightweight. A great option for backpacking.
- Coghlan’s Fire Sticks
These fire sticks are a bit bigger than other one-time use options, but we keep them in our car camping gear (in addition to the home made ones). They work every time. Honestly, I think Daddy Critter got the ones we have now as a stocking stuffer.
You can always keep an eye out for bargain camping gear and find fun fire starting equipment for cheap!
Wood Types You Need for a Campfire
There are 3 types of wood you need to start a camp fire. In the beginning the tinder and kindling are the most important.
You want your tinder to be as dry as possible so it catches fire right away. Have kindling ready to go, so the tinder doesn’t burn out and go to waste without lighting something more stable on fire.
Once the fire is established, slowly add fuel in the form of bigger logs to keep the fire burning evenly.
Tinder can be wood shavings, grass, pine needles, paper, etc. You’re looking for things that light easily and stay lit for a bit. Fire starters are really tinder that you bring with to help you along the way. This stuff you can get or make on site. For example, grab a camp axe and just start taking off small shavings from the wood you have. Pretty easy.
Kindling is small to medium sticks, typically the size of your thumb. All you’re trying to do with this is to build up from your tinder and/or fire starters so you can catch those medium and large pieces of wood on fire.
This is your bundle of wood you purchased, or scrounged up. For this, a split log always works better if you have the option.
3 of the Easiest Campfire Styles
The below are three examples of builds to start a fire. In my experience, Teepee type campfires are the go to but it depends on what wood is available and how big of a fire we’re having.
In all builds, make sure you don’t pack in the fuel too tight. Remember, air is a critical part of having success with a fire. Without air flow, you can’t have fire and you’ll just end up frustrated.
The tee pee campfire style is the Camping Critterz go to for a quick basic fire.
Start by leaning 2 sticks together, a forked stick is key to starting this off. Then keep balancing more sticks to create a larger fire. Place the tinder in the middle and build a mini-teepee over that to ensure the tinder catches something else on fire as it burns.
Light the tinder and keep adding on bigger pieces of wood until you’re at the size of fire you’re looking for.
Eventually teepee fires fall over, so be aware of Young Critterz being close to the fire. Once it does tip over, you can convert it into some kind of lean-to fire by laying sticks against the biggest log.
A lean to fire is great for blocking wind from a specific direction since you’re building a wall on one side.
Take a large log and lay sticks against it making a triangle shape. Put the tinder at the base of the large log ensuring that there are bigger sticks above it to catch on fire. You can also lean smaller sticks on top of the tinder to give the tinder something to catch fire as it burns.
To be honest, we don’t use this often because we are already in a fire ring of some sort. However, if you have a large log to start with and want to build off the side of it, this is a great option.
The log cabin fire is for those larger fires. When you’re talking big bonfires, this is our go to. It’s fun watching a good log cabin campfire burn down.
Daddy Critter loves the campfires you don’t sit right next to, he prefers the ones you gather and watch the fire from a distance.
It’s easy to build this campfire. Grab 2 similarly sized logs and lay them parallel to each other. Then stack 2 more similarly sized pieces of wood 90° to those, making a square. Keep going to create about 4 levels. Place the tinder in the middle and create a tiny log-cabin with smaller wood in the middle.
If you stack it too high, it can fall over, so watch the Young Critters. Keep stacking wood as it burns down.
Campfire Building Tips
- When building a campfire, pick your build and start with the fire starters and/or tinder in the bottom/middle. Build up from there with your kindling and into larger sticks/logs. Try lighting it in several places at first to give it a better chance.
- Add bigger wood little by little, being careful not to add too much and snuff it out. It’s better to keep things a bit smaller and feed the fire more often. You’re there to enjoy so there’s no reason to dump a bunch of logs on the fire all at once.
After a while the coals will get hot enough that tossing another log on the fire won’t be a big deal at all.
It’s just fine to build the fire little by little as you learn. Eventually you’ll get able to create a full build and light it from the start.
A challenge you can try (but has no award) is to spend the time building it just right and seeing if you can light it with just one match. If that fails, try again… or get that Propane Torch out and show it who’s boss!
Note: For Minnesota, harvesting downed trees or dead wood isn’t allowed at state campgrounds. Be sure to understand local regulations. In those cases, we find it easiest to just buy a bundle of wood at the campground.
Frequently Asked Questions
Be safe and watch those firebugs in your family. A stick that goes in the fire stays in the fire.
We hope this helps you figure out how to build a great campfire! Tell us about your favorite fire starting method in the comments!
I was a scout, from Tiger Cub to Eagle. I’ve done the day camps, the weekend trips, and the high-adventure, week-long outings. I love any and all camping and I’m always looking for the next adventure with my family!