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how to build a campfire

How To Build A Campfire

Man and fire. The link between the two is primal, historical and one of the first things that we ever did on this planet that indicated innovation. When our ancestors started a campfire, it was for warmth, light, protection and to prepare their meals.

Today, we still use campfires for warmth, relaxation, a place of gathering and hanging out with our friends, and for cooking our favorite fire-side dishes like marshmallows and hot dogs and even our freshly caught fish and game.

However, there are also times you’ll find yourself in an emergency situation where a campfire will be a key to your survival.

So, here are step-by-step instructions for building 8 types of campfires that will help you be prepared for anything…

The Secret to Building The Perfect Campfire

The real secret to building a campfire is to feed it the two basic types of fuels that it needs to both thrive and survive:

  1. Combustible material (things like paper, tinder, kindling, and larger diameter logs to provide for a longer sustained burn).
  2. Oxygen. And in order to get plenty of oxygen your fire needs to breath, which means your wood and your combustible material has to be stacked loosely so air can flow freely through and around the wood (see the building your campfire section below to learn how to build several different types of campfires that facilitate strong airflow and combustion).

So, now you know the secret of the perfect campfire, let’s take a look at how to build a fire step by step.

Step 1: Prepare Your Fire Bed

Before you get the matches ready, think about the safety of your surroundings and yourself. You don’t want to be that person: the one who starts the fire in the wrong place and watch it turn from little marshmallow warmer to raging wildfire.

Choosing a campsite with a designated fire area is a smart choice, but if you are handling the fire in a more rugged environment that means you’re handling it on your own, you need to be as safe as possible. Choose somewhere away from the buses, trees and other plants that will catch quickly. The whole bed of your fire should always be on earth rather than any grass.

You can make your bare area by digging down and laying it out yourself. Dry grass and bark can catch fire very quickly, so you need to ensure that the ground is completely clear. Once you’ve cleared the area for your campfire, you need to start making your fire bed or fire ring.

Gather the dirt in and ensure that it’s in the center of the area of ground you’ve cleared. Keep forming the dirt together until you have a platform or mound of dirt that stands at 3-4 inches high.

You may also want to surround your fire pit with ring of medium sized rocks to help define the area, and to help prevent the first from spreading outside of the ring.

There, now you have your campfire bed ready to build on.

Step 2: Gather Firewood

There is more to building a campfire than just lighting it. While this is going to help, you also need the fire to continue to burn after you light it. For this, you need to ensure that you have the best firewood for the job including tinder, kindling and fuel wood, which are larger diameter logs. 


All of these make for really good on-site tinder, but you can also bring your own, such as the lint from the dryer. It’s always a good idea to bring tinder with you if you’re planning to camp because if it has been raining, the tinder on the ground is going to be wet. Wet tinder doesn’t burn!


Once you light the fire and get the tinder underneath to create a bigger flame, that’s where the kindling steps in. This is what will keep the flame going. You can’t move directly to the big log items; otherwise, you’ll put out your blaze before it has a chance to get going. Kindling can be in the form of smaller twigs and branches, just make sure it’s dry or dead so that it will catch and keep burning.

Our favorite kindling is Fatwood, which is a all-natural waterproof fire starter with an indefinite shelf-life and is highly portable so it’s easy to keep close at hand when you need it.


Once you get your campfire started you’ll need  larger diameter logs to keep it going. However, size does matter so try to collect different size logs ranging from an inch or two in diameter up to five or 6 inches in diameter (anything more than six inches in diameter will have to be split with an axe, which means a lot of extra work for you).

Always collect two or three times the amount of fuel wood, kindling, and tinder that you expect to use. You’ll shock yourself by how fast you would go through these materials, so it’s better to have too much rather than too little.

Step 3: Types Of Campfires

There is more than one way out there to build a campfire and there are dozens of different types of campfires choose from, but here are a few of the most common used by campers, survivalists, and lovers of the great outdoors.

Pyramid Fire

When you’re camping, it can be helpful to be able to build a fire that you can leave to burn for an hour or so. These are self-sufficient fires that can be safe to leave alone when you’re building a tent or getting the potatoes wrapped ready to cook! A pyramid fire, also known as a fire pyramid, can be the perfect self-sufficient fire, and here’s how to make one:

  1. Get five or six logs of different sizes and, starting from biggest to smallest, stack them in a pyramid shape. You do this by putting five of the same size logs opposite to each other in a pyramid, and then place another stack of wood in a perpendicular direction. A pyramid fire needs layers to burn!
  2. Once you’ve set up the logs, you need tinder! The bit at the top of the logs where they all meet is the perfect place for your tinder to go, so stuff it all in there without knocking over the structure. Top this off with kindling – dry kindling is better.
  3. Go through the logs and light it up where the tinder is laying. This will start the fire burning, and it should last for over an hour without you needing to add more to it.

Teepee Fire Lay

Also known as Tepee Fire, Tipi Fire or Cone fire.

  1. Put the bundle of tinder that you have gathered into the middle of the site of the campfire.

2. Form a teepee shape with your kindling and ensure that you leave an opening for adequate oxidation.

3. Add more kindling to the teepee.

4. Create a significant structure in a teepee shape with your fuel wood around the kindling teepee.

5. Pop a match under the tinder, and this will direct the flame up, rising to the kindling and then onto the fuel wood.

6. Eventually, the teepee will collapse in on itself, allowing you to add more logs to the fire as it burns.

Swedish Fire Log

This particular way of building a campfire is impressive, and you may not have even seen it before. A Swedish fire log is a log that has been vertically cut – not entirely – and set on fire. It’s perfect for camping out because the wood burns from the inside out and it can last for up to five hours. It’s been called the Canadian candle, Swedish Log Candle, as well as a Swedish fire log. Here is the best way to do it safely!

You can use a hand saw, but a chainsaw is MUCH faster and easier to use (use the proper safety gear and read the operator’s manual before using any type of power equipment) .

  1. Make four cuts vertically into the log in the same way that you would cut a cake. Go slowly, and only cut about 3/4 of the way down the wood.  If you don’t have either of those types of saws, you can create a Swedish fire log with a group of thick wooden branches tied together. As long as it can stand up, you can stuff the wooden branches with smaller branches.

2. To start your swedish log  fire, use kindling and tinder – as mentioned earlier – and pile it on top of the log and the inside of the cuts. Once the tinder begins to burn the embers from the fire will drop down, which ignites the inside of the log. Nifty, hey?

3. There’s really no step 3 because you’re done. You can add a cast iron pan to the top of the log and cook on it, just make sure the whole thing is stable so that you don’t end up tipping it over!

Log Cabin Fire Lay

This is a very simple and time-honored method for building a campfire that virtually all experienced outdoorsmen know. It might easily be described as a square fire-lay. This is a very versatile method that can be used for cooking, heating, or anything else that fire can do. Perhaps the only downside of this method is the fact that it doesn’t do a good job of conserving wood.

1. You start by taking your two largest logs and laying them down, then using two more sticks on top to make a square. Think of it like building a house.

2. Once you’ve got the first “level” of your “house,” put your most flammable tinder in the middle of the square. If necessary, take a stick and dig out a small area in the ground so that you can access your tinder. Add some dry twigs and leaves if possible. Now add more sticks and build the “cabin” up to the desired size.

3. To light, just use whatever you have at your disposal to light your dry tinder at the bottom of the “cabin.” As long as your wood is dry, it should catch easily and will burn for some time before more wood is required. One of the best things about this method is that it is quick and easy, and also the easiest fire-lay for beginners to learn.

Platform Fire Lay

While the log cabin fire burns from the bottom up, the platform campfire burns from the top down. This allows it to burn longer and conserve fuel a little better. However, it does require a little more maintenance.

1. Start by taking your three biggest logs and cutting them down into small sections (about two feet or so). If you have no way to do this, try sticking them in the forks of a tree and breaking them with your body weight. Lay these three biggest logs down in a row like a platform. Repeat and do a second layer if you want a larger fire.

2. Take your smaller and medium-sized tinder and pile it on top of the platform. As with any fire, make sure to start with your finest and most flammable material and work your way to the larger twigs.
Pro Tip: The sap of certain trees is highly flammable. In particular, look for the sap of evergreen trees, as they make great fire-starting material.

3. If you want maximum heat, let this first platform burn down all the way so that it creates a really nice bed of coals. Now build another platform fire on top of the coals.

Keyhole Fire Pit

This type of campfire and fire pit is named for its resemblance to a keyhole when its shape is viewed from above. It is a specialized method that is designed to be the best fire-lay for cooking.

1. Gather up some good medium-sized rocks (at least the size of your two fists), and lay them out in the shape of a keyhole, with a circular top and a small protrusion at the bottom.

2. Make sure that your main firepit (the larger circle) is dug just a little bit deeper than the notch. Also, make sure you have a tool that can be used to scrape hot coals.

3. Make a fire in the main pit, by whatever means you choose. When a good bed of coals is built, scrape it into the notch (the smaller area) and use that area to cook. This method is the absolute best for cooking with hot coals.

Star Fire Lay

When you’re running low on firewood (or it’s scarce to begin with)… the Star Fire campfire is what you’re looking for because it’s  meant to conserve wood to the maximum extent possible. Although this type of fire does require a lot of careful attention to keep it from going out, it really is an efficient method. It is also good for instances in which you have no way to cut a piece of wood easily.

1. Take 8-12 good-sized logs that are between 2 and four feet in length. Lay them out in a radial pattern (like a star or a wheel). Leave a place in the middle where you can dig a small pit and place your most flammable tinder.

2. Add some small twigs in a bundle to the middle pit, so that you can have a good start. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to gather up a bunch of smaller twigs and make yourself a pile. In this way, you can make sure that your fire will not go out.

3. Light your fire in the middle and keep an eye on it. When the large logs become burnt away at the ends, push them inward so that the log can continue burning. You can use your foot to kick the logs into place as you walk around the fire, but be careful not to overdo it, or you can ruin your entire setup.

Lean to Fire Lay

This fire-making method is specifically designed for windy conditions. This makes it ideal for camping in high altitudes. Anyone who has ever camped or lived in a high-altitude location can attest to the frustrations of making a fire in the wind.

1. Take a large log and lay it down in front of you. This is your windbreak, so make sure it faces the wind. Try to use rocks or hills to block the wind from the other side. If nothing is available, you can probably find some rocks with which to build a wall on one side of your fire pit.

2. Dig a small ditch underneath your large log, so that just a little bit of air can get to the fire. On the shielded side of the ditch, place your most flammable tinder.

3. Take some larger sticks and lean them against the large log, covering most of the tinder to shield it from the wind. As the fire builds, lean more sticks against the main log to create as large a fire as you need.

Step 4: How To Start A Campfire

You’ll need a source of fire to ignite your combustibles and start that roaring campfire you’ve been dreaming of.

You can always use a lighter or matches to light the tinder, but where’s the fun in that.

Why no be adventurous and prepared for an emergency (not to mention how impressed your friends will be) by learning how to use a ferro rod to start a fire, how to make your own waterpoof matches, or at least 8 proven ways to start a a fire without matches.

Step 5: Putting Out A Campfire

Safely putting out the campfire is as important as building a fire that successfully burns. This needs to be done as thoroughly as possible because even the smallest embers could burn down an entire forest area. There’s no need to cause devastation if you can avoid it.

Here are a few tips for putting out a campfire!

  1. Plan ahead. If you plan to leave a campsite at 5 pm, put the fire out around 3 pm. You want the time to make sure that it’s 100% out!
  2. Gently pour approximately a third of you water across the entire fire, as opposed to dumping it all on at once, and slowly stir the wet ashes with a stick to make sure all of the coals are wet. Then, repeat the process two more times, just to make sure the fire is completely extinguished.
  3. Feel the heat with the back of your hand to make sure it’s completely cooled down before you leave.

Now  that you know how to build a campfire and just now fun building a campfire can be…

Here’s another great article to check out Fire Starter Kit – The Ultimate Survival Checklist For Starting A Fire.


how to start a fire without matches using a hand drill

How To Start A Fire Without Matches (8 Proven And Reliable Ways)

Let’s face it. The only thing cooler than hanging out with your buddies by the campfire that you built with your bare hands, is being able to tell them that you know at least a half a dozen ways to start a fire without matches.

Not to mention that the ability to start a fire has always been and continues to be an essential survival skill that could very well save your life, or the life of someone you love.

Today, we have a variety of handy fire-starting tools like lighters, waterproof matches, stormproof matches, strike anywhere matches (it’s starting to sound like that guy from Forrest Gump describing all the types of shrimp he’d make if he owned his own restaurant)… I think you get the idea.

However, you may find yourself in an emergency situation where your survival depends on starting a fire… and you find yourself without matches or a lighter. When faced with such a situation, you are probably going to need a fire. Without a fire, your chances of survival can diminish, especially once the sun goes down and it starts getting cold, dark and wet.

Even though you’re probably reading this in the comfort and safety of your home, it’s good to be prepared (and that’s probably why the Boy Scouts motto is Be Prepared).

Tip: If you don’t know how to build a campfire, then check out our How To Build A Campfire post for step-by-step instructions

So, here’s what you need to know about starting a fire without matches.

The most basic rule of starting a fire is that fire requires heat, fuel and oxygen to get going… and keep going.

Required Materials For Starting A Fire Without Matches

For each of the fire-making techniques listed below, you will need to gather some combustible materials. In order to create and maintain a flame, these materials need to be dry.

You can use dry, flammable grass, pine needles, moss, or plant fiber as tinder (or you could keep a stash of vaseline soaked cotton balls in your bug out bag). This will help you nurture the sparks or embers created into a flame. It’s best to use pencil-sized pieces of wood as kindling and larger chunks of dry wood as fuel (fuel wood should be the same size as your wrist in circumference).

Tip: Fatwood is our favorite type of kindling. If you don’t know what Fatwood is, be sure to check out our what is Fatwood FAQ page.

Tips for gathering the required materials

• Areas protected from wetness offer the best chance of finding dry wood. When trying to gather dry wood, check the interior of logs and under ledges, especially if the location is damp.
• Not all types of wood ignite the same. Some trees will catch fire more readily than others. For example, paper birch produces paper-like bark that can be an excellent tinder even when wet. The availability of some trees will often depend on the locality. So know your trees as best as you can.
• Fire-starting is often taught as a necessary survival tool for life in the wilderness but this skill can come in handy even in an urban setting. Unfortunately, trees might not be as available in an urban area, in which case you may have to adapt. Consider using things like old furniture and books to get a fire started.

How To Start A Fire With Sticks

Because of the risks involved, these friction based methods of starting a fire without matches are not for the faint-hearted. Compared to the other methods, starting a fire with sticks are probably the hardest. Friction can be used in different ways to make a fire.

Even so, the type of wood used for both the spindle and fire board remains the most crucial aspect. You will spin the spindle against your fireboard to create friction. Sparks or embers can be created when enough friction is generated between the spindle and fireboard.

These embers can then be nurtured into a flame. Walnut, cottonwood, willow, juniper, cedar, cypress, and aspen are the best types of wood for spindle and fireboard sets. Regardless of the species, only bone-dry wood can be used to start a friction-based fire. So make sure you gather dry wood first.

1. Using a hand drill to start a fire

This is the most primitive, difficult and tiresome method of all. Effort and determination are therefore necessities.

• Use dry, combustible plant material to build a tinder nest. Again, make sure the material used can catch fire easily. Dry leaves, grass, and bark are good options. You will use this tinder nest to nature the sparks created into a flame.
• You’ll need a piece of dry wood to serve as your hand drill’s base. This wood piece is what we call a fireboard and you’ll drill on it to create friction.
• With the help of a sharp knife-like object, cut a small, V-shaped notch into the fire board. Make the depression big enough to hold your spindle.
• Put pieces of bark next to your V-shaped depression. The bark is meant to catch the sparks created from the friction of the spindle and fire board.
• Place your spindle stick into the V-shaped depression you made on your fireboard. For this to work properly, you’ll need a spindle that’s about half an inch in diameter and two feet long.
• Hold the spindle between your palms, pushing it firmly against the board. Make sure you maintain the pressure as you begin to move your hands back and forth, one after the other. This motion should effectively roll the spindle. Continue to roll the spindle as fast as you can until ember forms.
• Tap the fireboard to drop the glowing ember onto the piece of bark and then transfer this to your tinder nest. Blow on the tinder nest gently to create a flame. It might take you a while or several tries to get a fire started.

2. How to start a fire with a bow drill

To create enough friction, you need to maintain pressure and speed. The bow drill technique allows you to do this a lot easier. You’ll need a bow and socket along with the fire board and spindle.

• Find a heavy piece of wood or a stone to use as the socket, which you will use to put pressure on the rotating spindle. Wood with sap allows for better lubrication of the socket.
• Use a long, slightly curved or flexible piece of wood to make your bow. It should be about the length of your arm. Use any strong, abrasive material capable of withstanding lots of friction to make your bowstring. You can use a strip of rawhide, a thin rope or string, or your shoelace. String your bow as tight as possible, using grooves or notches to anchor the string.
• Prepare your fire board and place your tinder nest next to the V-shaped notch.
• Loop the bowstring around your spindle once. Doing so in the middle of the string will provide more space for rolling the string back and forth.
• Place the pointed end of your spindle stick in the V-shaped notch and use the socket to apply pressure on the other end. Hold the bow handle with your dominant hand. Start to saw back and forth, rotating the spindle as fast as possible. Keep sawing until the friction creates an ember.
• Drop the ember into your tinder nest and blow on it gently to create a flame. Add dry kindling to the flame to get your fire going.

3. Starting a fire with a fire plow (or fire plough)

• Cut a groove into your fireboard and whittle one end of your spindle stick.
• Place your tinder nest at the furthest end of the fireboard. In this way, you will plow embers into the tinder nest as you rub the spindle against the fire board.
• Place the whittled tip of your spindle into the track in your fire board. Rub it up and down the groove repeatedly. The faster you rub, the more friction you’ll create.
• Once your tinder nest catches an ember, blow on it gently to get the fire going.

4. How to start a fire with flint and steel

When going on a camping or hiking trip, bringing some flint and steel is always a good idea. Regardless of the conditions, you can always get a spark from putting steel to flint rock. If you don’t have a flint and steel set on hand, you can always improvise. Pocket knives are usually made of steel and can be used with quartzite to create a spark.

In addition to the tinder nest, you’ll also need char, which is easily combustible charcoal made from cloth. Once char catches a spark, it will continue to smolder without bursting into flames. But if you do not have any char, lightweight tree fungus or birch will do just fine. Make sure you use dry plant material to build your tinder nest.

• Hold your flint between thumb and forefinger, allowing two or three inches of the rock to extend past your grasp.
• With the piece of char held between your thumb and the flint, scrape your knife’s steel blade against the flint.
• The sparks that fly off should land on the flint, resulting in a glow.
• Fold the glowing char cloth into your tinder nest and blow on it gently to induce a flame.

5. How To Start A Fire With A Battery And Steel Wool

You’ll need a tinder nest for this technique. Use dry plant material for the tinder nest. Any battery will work but 9-volt batteries are likely to ignite the quickest.

• Locate the battery terminals. These are the two circular receiving prongs found on the top part of the battery.
• With the battery in one hand and steel wool in the other, rub the steel wool against the battery terminals to create friction. This process generates a current through the small steel wires, and these will, in turn, heat up and ignite. Finer steel wool works best for this process.
• You can also rub a metal paperclip against the terminals of a battery to create sparks. This process works the same way the wires in toaster ovens and light bulbs work.
• As the steel wool starts to glow, blow on it gently to nurture the flame. Transfer the burning steel wool to your tinder nest. Don’t waste any time because the flame will extinguish quickly.
• Keep blowing until the tinder ignites and add larger pieces of dry kindling to build the fire.

Lens-Based techniques for starting a fire

Lenses can be used to start a fire in several different ways. The only drawback to using a lens is that this technique can only work when you have sun. Here’s a look at a few of these methods.

6. How to start a fire with a magnifying glass

You can use many different types of lenses to light a fire, including eyeglasses and binocular lenses. To create a fire using this technique, you will need enough sunlight. So make sure the sun is unobstructed. You can also intensify the beam of light by adding water to the lens.

• Use dry plant material to build a tinder nest and place it on the ground.
• Tilt the lens toward the sun to focus a small light beam on the tinder nest. To create the most focused light beam possible, you’ll probably have to test different angles of holding the lens.
• Once you’ve achieved the best possible angle, hold the lens in place until your tinder nest starts to smoke and glow. Blow on it gently to nurture the flame.
• Add some dry kindling to your tinder nest and you’ll soon have yourself a fire.

7. How to start a fire with an aluminum can and a chocolate bar

I know this one sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it done on YouTube multiple times.

Here’s how it works:

Use the chocolate to polish the bottom of your soda can. By rubbing chocolate onto the bottom of your soda can, you can make it shine like a mirror. Toothpaste has the same effect and can, therefore, be used instead of chocolate.
• Angle the bottom of your soda can towards the sun to create a highly focused light beam. Sunlight will reflect off this newly created parabolic mirror, forming a single focal point in the same way a mirror telescope works.
• Aim the ray of light at your tinder nest and you will have a flame within seconds.

8. How to Use A Ferro Rod To Start A Fire

Check out our complete “How To Use A Ferro Rod” tutorial to learn how to use a ferro rod the right way to start a fire without matches.