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How to Start a Campfire: 7 Tips for a Successful Fire

If you’re looking to learn how to start a campfire, whether in a fire pit or just on the ground, you’ve come to the right place. We are going to break down the 7 tips for a successful fire which will teach you how to easily start and tend a fire and how to safely extinguish it.

We will also walk you through how to start a campfire in wet or dry conditions and what safety considerations you should keep in mind.

Keep reading to learn about lighting a campfire!

A log cabin design fire. How to Start a Campfire.
A log cabin style campfire.

Tips for Building Your Campfire

Tip 1: Picking your Campfire Spot

The first tip for how to start a campfire is to pick a spot where you can safely and easily build and maintain your fire in. You will want to find a level, open area. You should clear away logs, branches, or decaying leaves to ensure that you can control your fire. You should also choose a spot protected from gusts. You also need to be a minimum of 15 feet from tent walls, shrubs, trees, or other flammable materials. These conditions will help ensure you have the best chance for a safe fire and minimize spread.

You will also need to make sure there is no fire ban in place before you light any fires. You can find this information online. Some states allow you to start a campfire only during certain months or in certain designated locations, while others allow you to build a campfire at your campsite, wherever that may be.

Tip 2: Prepare your Campfire Pit

The next tip on how to start a campfire is to prepare your pit to ensure success. Preparation is key to anything you do – better prep work will result in a better end product.

You want a containment area for the fire, so you’ll need to utilize some sort of barrier. It should be fairly easy to prepare if you have an existing fire pit, just clean it out and collect any dry leaves.

A fire pit.

If you do not have an existing pit to use, you can build a ring out of rocks. This is a great way to make a barrier and ensure your fire does not spread. You will want to grab rocks bigger than your first and arrange them in a circle, giving you a 6-8 inch buffer between your fire and the rocks on any side. Keep them close together so they can stop any embers that may blow off.

If you’re on a beach, you can make a buffer of sand and gravel which will also help compensate for wind. In snowy landscapes, it’s best to dig a put down to ground level and build a small wood or stone platform as a base to help negate some of the damage the wet ground may do.

Tip 3: Gather Supplies

Now that you have your area prepared and ready to go, it is time to gather the supplies needed to light a campfire. You will want to gather logs for your primary fuel and kindling made of dry leaves, cardboard/paper products, and branches as well. You’ll also want to gather some extra logs for additional fuel so that you’ll be prepared to keep your fire running for as long as you need it.

Kindling sticks and logs for a campfire.

The kindling will be your starter fuel, allowing you to get extra heat. You will want to gather some large sticks and logs, dry leaves, wood shavings, or other kindling material. If your logs are large, like ours were, you can split them using the Fiskars X7 Hatchet to make them a more usable size. Make sure to keep enough extra branches to keep your fire going for as long as you need. Make sure also to keep your igniter close by, such as matches or a lighter.

Using a hatchet to split logs into thinner pieces.

Make sure also to have your extinguishing material nearby, we recommend water primarily, but a good amount of sand will work as well. Usually, you do not want to use chemical extinguishers for a controlled fire outside.

Tip 4: Building Your Campfire

When learning about how to start a campfire, you will want to learn about a few different designs to work with. Each has its own pros and cons, and we went with the teepee style for our fire – this is the easiest to start and build.

Classic Teepee

The teepee design we used is simple to set up and maintain. It burns hot and fast and is a great campfire for those that are less familiar with starting campfires. We recommend this style when you’re a beginner.

The teepee’s downfall is that it needs a lot of fuel because it burns so quickly, so you need more supplies to keep it going. It is ideal for cooking because it burns hot and can be done quickly, but less so for sustained heat. However, it can work great if you’re looking to dry clothes or warm up quickly.

To make a teepee, you’re going to start with a wide circular base of dry leaves or cardboard/paper. Next, place branches over and on top of your cardboard/leaves/paper in a cone shape so that the tips of the branches meet in the middle and your entire pile. This will help ignite the logs. Try to keep these branches as upright as possible since we want the flames to reach the logs.

Kindling sticks  and starter material arranged in a teepee campfire style.

Next, arrange your logs around the kindling in the teepee shape. We suggest leaning three up against each other to start, as this will help prevent your logs from constantly falling. After that, lean more logs all around so that you have logs on every side. Make sure to leave gaps for air and a place to stick your lighter, matches, or other firestarters. You should also keep more kindling around if it does not ignite immediately.

Logs arranged over the kindling.

Tip 5: Igniting

Now that your fire is arranged, you have reached the step of igniting. The easiest method is using a long lighter. Simply stick the lighter into the center of your teepee and light it. This can be done easily and precisely. If you only have a short lighter or matches, you may not want to reach into the campfire.

Another option is to try a kindling starter. To do this, you can take a fist-sized stack of tinder (wood shavings, twigs, and dry leaves) or a piece of firm cardboard as an ignition point (we used stiff cardboard, which we lit one side of and stuck in our kindling). Just make sure you leave room for oxygen flow. If done correctly, your fire should start to ignite after a few minutes at most.

Closeup view of starter material burning within teepee campfire design.

Tip 6: Add Fuel

Now that you have figured out how to start a campfire, it is time to keep it going. The next tip is to add fuel and monitor your fire. In the beginning, before your logs are fully engulfed, you should add more tinder and gradually larger sticks to keep your fire growing.

Once you have a good base campfire, you can start adding more logs that measure around the width of your wrist. At this point, it should be feeding off your primary logs. Gently blow on the flames to add oxygen if you feel your fire is suffocating. Only add more kindling like paper, cardboard, or leaves if you need a quick burst of heat. We do not recommend using accelerants as they can lead to out-of-control fires, are not allowed in many states, and are dangerous.

A campfire burning.

Tip 7: Extinguishing your Campfire

Our last tip on how to start a campfire is actually how to put out a campfire. Just as important as all the steps in getting your fire going is being able to extinguish it quickly.

You have to ensure your fire is out before you depart your campsite, so make sure you fully drench it. This is one of the most important tips on how to start a campfire because it can help prevent forest fires and keep everyone safe. Once extinguished, stir the remains up with a stick or shovel to ensure all embers are out. Lastly, dismantle your fire by spreading your pile of kindling and moving your logs away and fire ring (which is required in many states) before you leave.

Special Conditions and Safety

Wet Conditions

If you are trying to figure out how to start a campfire in wet conditions, know that it is significantly more difficult. You will need four times as much kindling and should ideally work under a tarp. You will need to continually feed the embers you start with kindling and oxygen to ensure they do not go out as a result of damp wood.

Generally, a specialized fire starter is going to be best for starting the ignition, such as a Ferro rod, but a lighter can work too. Of course, you want to try and find dry kindling, so look for dead branches that are off the ground, or get enough kindling made of cardboard and paper to start the fire and dry out the branches.

Dry Conditions

While starting a campfire in dry conditions isn’t difficult, ensuring that it is done safely is incredibly important.

Throughout our tips on how to start a campfire, we have touched on spreading flames, but in dry conditions, this becomes much more important as a stray ember can easily start a wildfire. Dry conditions exist when it has not rained for a prolonged period, and brush, live plants, and other materials become much more flammable.

You should double up on the ring around your fire and keep extra extinguishing materials nearby.

Summarizing the Steps and Safety Tips

Group of people around a campfire.

These tips for how to start a campfire will help guarantee a strong and safe fire. You want to find a good spot (following all local laws), prepare the site or fire pit, collect supplies to last the entire time you want your fire to burn, and build a design that will work best for you. Once you have done that, ignite your fire and add fuel so your primary logs catch. Lastly, make sure you are ready to extinguish it fully.

Remember the safety tips we reviewed and prepare accordingly for conditions outside the norm, such as wet, windy, or overly dry settings. This will help prevent the spread of your fire.

For more great camping tips, check out Beyond The Tent!