One of the best parts about camping is starting a roaring fire and just staring at it for hours on end, as the little red tongues kiss the sky in anarchic rhythm.
Oh yeah. The soothing crackle and pop of flaming embers. The sweet char smell wafting up on rolling whips of smoke. That’s man incense.
You know what I’m talking about. The kind of fire that will cause your kids to gaze upon you with adoring adulation as the conquerer of the elements while your marshmallow burst into flames.
A mighty fire is essential to the camping elements. You don’t bond over a flickering Sterno flame.
You need fire.
But how do you get it?
Here are a few tips to help you get that perfect campfire ablaze.
- Make sure fires are allowed: Most state parks and sanctioned campgrounds have rules for starting fires. Most of them will even provide a metal pit to get you started. If you are going primitive make sure to check with local regulations or the ranger to make sure campfires are permitted. Don’t be the jackass that ends up setting the entire forest on fire.
Do you really want this on your conscience? Your kids won’t love you after turn Bambi into smoked venison jerky now will they?
2. Clear a pit: Make sure to select an area for your fire that has no overhead trees and nothing flammable within at least a 10-foot radius. Also, make sure to pitch your tent far enough away that sparks and floating embers won’t land on it and catch fire. Setting your temporary housing is bad. If possible, try to create a three to four foot circle with large stones to help form a perimeter to contain your fire.
3. Find fire fodder: Now you have to find some stuff to burn. To get things started your going to need several baseball bat-sized branches, sticks, bark and twigs. Make sure the wood is dry so that it will be easier to burn burn easier. You will also need several larger logs, that are about half the diameter of your overall fire pit. If you are too lazy to actually cut your own wood with an axe, old shipping pallets can be an easy source of wood as long it hasn’t been pressure-treated.
4. Build a foundation: Create a teepee using your wood. Start with good amount of dried leaves and twigs (balled up newspaper is also helpful in this situation) in the center and place progressively bigger pieces of wood around it to create a cone shape. Don’t be afraid to use a healthy soaking of lighter fluid on your tinder. It’s not cheating. The only thing that matters in the end is a roaring fire.
(If you use too much lighter fluid make sure to keep a wet towel around just in case you set one of your children on fire. The smell of burnt hair can linger, ruining the scent of the great outdoors.)
As the smaller pieces in the middle catch fire they will consequently light the bigger pieces around the outside after a few minutes. When the larger pieces catch fire, place pieces similar in size around the outside. Don’t smother the top of your teepee. This is what allows oxygen flow to help the fire burn. You have to have a steady flow of oxygen for a steady burn.
5. Keep it burning: Once you have a good base of hot coals going, add the larger logs to keep the fire at your desired intensity. Hopefully, you collected enough wood to begin with, otherwise, have fun out in the woods in the pitch darkness of night.
6. Have a beer: You deserve it you mighty bringer of fire. Bust out the marshmallows and bask in the dual warmth of those beautiful flames and the unwavering adulation of your children.
Most importantly, make sure that your fire is completely extinguished when it is time to leave your campsite. Go ahead and pour the melted ice from your cooler and any half-empty beer bottle you might have accumulated. We won’t even judge you if pee all over the coals to help put them out (although your neighboring campsite might). Peeing on fire is fun. You can pretend you are saving the poor people of Brobdingnag.
After all the coals are no longer smoldering, smother the whole thing with enough dirt to cut off all oxygen. As Smokey the Bear says, “only you can prevent wild fires.”
Seriously, smoked rabbit too.