How to Build a Fire in Any Situation

Before you head out on your next adventure, make sure building a fire is added to your repertoire of skills. It could very well save your life.

The phrase “since the beginning of time” may begin quite a few high school term papers, but these days there are few human activities to which the phrase actually applies. Building a fire is one of them, though.

Whether you’re out to keep warm in a survival situation, roast marshmallows after a day on the river, or just sit around a flame and wonder about the universe in the outdoors, we’ve got you covered.

Here is our definitive guide on how to build a campfire.

Ingredients of a Fire:

1. Air

All fires require air to burn. Make sure any fire you build is well ventilated, and gently blow on the flame to encourage it to spread.

2. Tinder

Tinder is the small stuff that lights easily: leaves, dry grass, birch bark, newspaper, moss, pocket lint, potato chips. Make sure it’s dry enough to light with a match or a spark, and you’ve got enough to burn long enough to catch the twigs stacked on top of it.

3. Kindling

Everything between tinder and fuel. You’ll want a range, from twigs and fractures of split wood to pieces slightly thicker than your finger. Remember to add gradually; too big to quickly and the fire won’t be hot enough to catch what you’ve added.

4. Fuel

The stuff that burns long and slow. Pieces of wood about as thick as your wrist will keep you warm and can be enough to boil water, and thicker logs will burn well into the night.

5. A Ring

Clear the ground around the fire of leaves and grass to prevent it from spreading. A ring of rocks can help contain it, and a wall on one or two sides can help direct heat. Don’t use wet rocks: the water can heat to steam and make them explode.

To Get Started: TeePee Method

The teepee is a fast, simple fire building method that directs heat straight up. It’s also a good starter formation for other types of fires. Stack kindling in a teepee formation around your tinder.

To create structure for the kindling, you can lash a few sticks together at the tops to form sort of a skeleton, push the bottoms of those sticks into the mud, or use a pile of dry leaves that you can lay the kindling against.

Make sure there’s enough space between the pieces of wood for air to get in and feed the flame, and keep a small opening on the upwind side when building it so you can reach in and light the tinder.

For Cooking: Log Cabin

The log cabin is an easy way to get large logs involved and provides a sturdy base for cook pots. Once burning, it also creates a well-distributed bed of coals that can heat a grill plate evenly. Lay two pieces of fuel wood parallel and build a relatively small teepee between them, then stack parallel pairs of smaller pieces on the bottom logs at right angles.

For a Long Burn: Top Down

If built big enough, this fire will burn continuously for a while without you having to add wood. It’s great for bonfires and for keeping warm through the night. Throw down a layer of your biggest pieces of wood on the ground, parallel to one another, as a platform for the rest of the structure.

Then add a perpendicular, slightly smaller layer on top of that. Repeat and keep going, until you’ve got a platform of your smallest kindling on top. Build a teepee up there and light it.

As it burns, the fire will move down and burn the larger pieces below. It also creates a solid self-containing structure on which to lean massive logs, in the event you’re forced to partake in an all-night beach rager.

To Feel Like a Cowboy: Star Fire

Legend is this method was popular with cowboys in the American West. It creates an even bed of coals for cooking, and can be fed and regulated without much effort. Dig a small pit and build a teepee or log cabin within.

Place five or six logs so that one end of each is hanging over the edge of the pit (think like they’re the spokes of a wheel). As the interior fire burns, the ends of the logs will catch and they can be pushed in towards the center from the outside as needed.

In High Winds: Dakota Fire Pit

If you’re serious about concealing your fire, need to conserve fuel, or are facing seriously high winds, turn to the Dakota Fire Pit. Always make sure your fire is fully out before leaving camp.

Use water, sand, or dirt to extinguish it, and stir repeatedly as you put it out to expose buried coals that may still be burning. If you put a green leaf on the remains of the fire and it curls up, it’s still too hot to leave.

Know any other tips on how to build a fire in any situation? Let us know in the comments below.

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