he classic summer night-- sitting around a burning campfire listening to music playing softly as the crickets chirp in the background. Someone is always tending the fire. Has it ever been you? Well, if you have been yearning to be the main person in charge of the campfire, or even just want to learn how to start a campfire, you’re in the right place. It takes practice and patience, but you’re one article away from being the next Survivor champion. You’ll read and learn the following in this article:

  • The number of ways to start a campfire
  • Common problems and ways to overcome them
  • Ideas for how to enjoy your campfire with family and friends-- roasting marshmallows or cooking hotdogs and mountain pies
Campfire in a firepit
A firepit such as this one can help keep the fire contained and safe.

A number of ways to start a campfire

These can range from the type of wood you use, the type of initial flame, and how you keep the fire burning

Having a campfire is the perfect way to spend a summer night, as well as a chilly fall night to help you keep warm. In addition to cooking on a fire, you can use your fire to light up the night and see your friends as you play games or tell ghost stories.

If you don’t have a firepit to build your fire but you have the space and ability to dig a hole, that is another way where you can build your fire. First you will need something that is easily ignited, which may consist of a commercially bought or homemade firestarter, or natural products found in the woods. For commercial firestarters, there are various types you will find in a store and you can experiment to determine which you find most success from. The idea with a firestarter is that you can directly light it with a match, and skip the small sticks and paper to build up to larger wood. Once the firestarter is lit, it will get hot enough to light medium to large logs.

If you choose to skip the firestarter and go the natural route, which would be considered starting from scratch, you will first need to start with tinder, which is small twigs and leaves. You can also use newspaper, egg cartons, or torn up paper bags. This is the smallest stuff that lights first because it doesn’t require a very high kindling point to ignite. Next you need little twigs and kindling, which are small sticks. Then you need medium sized wood and larger logs to keep the fire burning.

To get the fire going, you can use a variety of methods and you can figure out what works best for you. One of these methods is the teepee log cabin combination. You may want to use one of these methods or a combination of both. To do this, first make a log cabin with small sticks. Place some scrunched up balls of paper (or whatever type of tinder you have) in the middle. Then build a teepee with other small sticks around the existing log cabin. Build another log cabin around the teepee with larger sticks about the width of two or three fingers. The method may seem precise, and it is, but there is wiggle room for your personal twist. As long as you start with the smallest wood and work way up, you will be good to go. The idea is that the flame has to be hot enough to light the bigger pieces of wood.

To start the fire, you can use a match or a lighter. If you are camping where it may be wet, you can use a waterproof match or a propane torch. A propane torch is a stronger, hotter flame that can get your fire started faster.

Other types of firestarter include Duraflame logs, sticks, or candle types. Make sure the wood is very dry. If you hear a sizzling sound, similar to a whisper, it means the wood is damp and it won’t light as easily. Damp wood may also produce a smokier fire which can be a pain and leave your clothes smelling like the firepit for days to come! So the day before, check your wood to make sure it is dry and that it hasn’t rained for a couple of days.

Using lighter fluid when starting a fire can be risky if you plan to cook over the flames. It can give your food a bad taste and just be unhealthy for you overall. But if you plan to have a fire that isn’t for cooking and are having trouble getting it started, you can use some lighter fluid to get the process going faster.

Small campfire on the beach
A campfire on the beach can be a romantic evening or a fun late night activity.

Common problems when starting a campfire and ways to overcome them

You may run into a number of problems when starting or during your campfire experience

These problems are usually related to starting your fire, or keeping it going. Weather conditions can oftentimes be iffy, so you probably don’t want to start a fire in the rain or if it is too windy., On the other hand, sometimes the fire size can get too large. Make sure you have the right tools to get the fire going, and maintain a fire size that is manageable.

Sometimes, certain types of wood don’t really catch. This can be solved by avoiding this iffy wood, and rather finding wood that is solid yet flammable. It can be touch and go with some wood, so test it out and go from there. Additionally, you can try to rebuild your fire if your kindling is lighting but the bigger firewood isn’t. Do so by retrying the teepee method or going for the log cabin technique.

Windy conditions and rain are weather to avoid. Wind can make it difficult to start the fire, but once you’ve started it, the fire can get a little out of control due to excessive oxygen feeding the flames. Extra smokey or ashy fires are another common occurrence. To avoid this, make sure you are using completely dry wood, and conditions that are not too windy.

Sometimes, you are having so much fun that the fire can get too large. Getting too fire happy can be a good thing if you are maintaining the fire at a good size, but if it starts to get too large, cease adding more wood to the fire until it is back down to a manageable fire size.

Not tending to it is another problem that can be easily solved-- tend to your fire and make sure it doesn’t get too small before you put another piece of wood on. So a fire that is too big is a problem, as well as a fire that is too small. Have a fire that is a happy medium between the two for a safe and manageable campfire.

Roasting marshmallows on a campfire
Make sure you keep some marshmallows handy, not only to make s’mores, but also because some places require that to have a campfire, you must be using it for cooking. Also make sure you have a jug of water handy in case an emergency arises and you need to put the fire out quickly.

Enjoy your campfire with friends and family

Cook around the fire, listen to music and play your favorite games, or tell ghost stories late into the night

Some fun activities to enjoy around the campfire while it sizzles and burns away as it lights up the night include making s’mores, grilling mountain pies and hotdogs, and telling stories, whether you enjoy scary ghost stories or funny jokes and games. Make the perfect s’more with two graham crackers, a piece of dark or milk chocolate, and a marshmallow roasted to perfection. To roast a marshmallow, place one at the end of a long skewer or stick that you find. If you like your marshmallow gooey and warm with a lightly browned exterior, make sure you don’t put it directly into the flame. Rather, set it near the coals, the extra hot logs at the bottom of the fire, and hold it there for three to five minutes. If you don’t mind a bit of char on the marshmallow, setting your treat alight can scorch it and cook it perfectly in the interior while giving it a blackened exterior. Then, have your graham cracker and chocolate ready to grasp the marshmallow off the stick.

Mountain pies and grilled hotdogs are other treats that you can enjoy for dinner and dessert. Mountain pies can be savory or sweet. Use a contraption that holds your delicious goodies so you can rest it on top of the fire and cook everything to perfection.

Find a big stick for a poker, and tend the fire with it. Make sure you know how to extinguish the fire before you leave it for the night. Let the logs burn out as you wait, or use water to put out the flames.

Once you’ve mastered cooking on your campfire, you will surely want to continue to do so throughout the summer. Having a campfire can be the perfect way to spend your night. With the right technique and information on how to solve common problems, you will be well on your way to having a great time!

Sep 2, 2020