Having a campfire for warmth, cooking, s’mores or just enjoying the embers as they glow is something all campers should experience. This article explains the essentials you should know for when you want to have a campfire and the key steps to make a successful fire. Always remember to have a source of water and a shovel nearby for when you need to put the campfire out.

Step 1: Find or Build a Fire Ring

Camping in Campgrounds

camping in a campground

Most developed campgrounds will already have a fire ring (metal or made of stones). Use the designated fire rings when they are available. By using the already existing fire ring you will reduce your impact on the campsite.

Additionally, in developed campgrounds, there may be a fire restriction depending on how dry it is and the current fire danger. Make sure to check with the official campground host or check the message board (usually at the entrance of the camping area) for information about being able to have a campfire. Many times the official campground host will also have wood for sale (usually around $5 a bundle).

For car camping in an undeveloped site such as some BLM land, make sure that you can have a campfire by asking the government agency that manages the land (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and so on). You may even need a campfire permit in some areas.

Even if there is an old fire ring be sure to evaluate the area for anything nearby that might catch on fire if a hot ember lands on it or if the flames get to close. Even though there is an old ring it does not mean the area is safe for a fire as the surrounding foliage and trees could have grown in.

Camping in the backcountry


Having a campfire in the backcountry: If you can have a fire where you are, try to use an existing fire ring if you can find one. If you need to build one make sure that build a ring out of rock and make it substantial enough to contain the fire. Try to avoid round river stones when making the ring as they can have air pockets within them and when heated can explode. Remember to clear away all flammable material from around the fire pit. This includes dry grass nearby and also avoid tree branches above.

Once finished with your campfire and it’s time to leave the campsite, remember to dismantle if it is wise to do so or clean it out before you leave. It’s important to keep the backcountry pristine for our future generations and your next camping trip.

How-to: Build a Campfire Overall rating: ★★★★★ 5 based on 1 reviews.
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Page last updated: November, 2021

Step 2: Gather Firewood

gathering firewood

To create a campfire you will need to use different types and sizes of fuel (usually wood and leaves). The general idea is to ignite the small and dry items and as the flame grows it will start the larger wood on fire. We like to group the fuel into three categories: tinder, kindling and firewood. When gathering firewood, don’t gather green or wet wood as it will not burn well.

  • Tinder – leaves, twigs, dry pine needle and so on.
  • Kindling– smaller dry sticks, try to keep the thickness similar to that of a pencil.
  • Firewood – larger sticks or the blocks of wood you’ve purchased.

Don’t transport firewood from location to location as it can spread insects and other problems from forest to forest. If you can, buy local firewood. Often times nearby stores and campground hosts sell firewood.

If you’re camping in a designated campground, sometimes it is not allowed to gather firewood on your own near the campsite. Make sure to check with the camp host on what the rules are.

For those camping in the backcountry, if permitted gather only wood that is on the ground. Don’t cut into live trees or even break down dead trees and often times the dead trees are great homes for birds. Please follow with our Leave No Trace principles while in the backcountry.

Step 3. Build the Campfire

how to build a campfire
We prefer to build a self feeding fire which is also known as an upside down fire. We find this method superior because it tends to burn longer, you can start it without kneeling down as far, is generally easier to start, and you will not have get up and add more wood as often. To make a self feeding fire, start with three or four of your largest logs next to each other to make the bottom layer, if you are using purchased firewood, try to ensure the wedge or thin part (think the opposite side from the pizza crust where most people take their first bite) facing upward. After that, stack another layer similar to the first on top. Be sure to rotate the wood 90 degrees like you are building a log cabin.Try to use smaller logs as you build upwards. After that layer, it’s time to add the kindling and tinder on the top.

Step 4. Light the Campfire

how to start a campfire
Light your tinder while it is within the fire ring with a match, lighter or flint. If you want to make starting the fire easier, use a fire starter or similar item (sometimes paper towels or newspaper will work fine). After the tinder starts on fire, blow on the flame to provide oxygen (fuel for fire) to help start the burning process and ignite your kindling.

Step 5. Enjoy the Campfire

put out campfire
Sit back and enjoy the warmth. As the fire dies down you will need to add more logs. It’s helpful to have a log nearby that you use as a fire poker and log adjuster. Adjust your camping chairs to be upwind so that the smoke from the fire does not get in your eyes. Never leave your campfire unattended! Also, watch for embers flying out of the fire and extinguish them.

Step 6. Extinguish the Campfire

put out campfire
To extinguish the fire start by pouring water on it. Be careful because the hot coals will create hot steam and kick-up ash. Do not lean directly over the fire while pouring water on it. After pouring some water on it, stir the fire and then add more water. Repeat this process until the fire is out and the coals are cold.

Step 7. Clean up the Campfire

It is okay to burn trash only if it burns completely and is not toxic to burn. Burning plastic, metal and similar items is something you should not do. Once your fire is out and you see trash, collect it and dispose of it properly.

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