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
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.
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Page last updated: November, 2020
Step 2: Gather 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
Step 4. Light the Campfire
Step 5. Enjoy the Campfire
Step 6. Extinguish the Campfire
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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