One of the most important things you can learn with regards to camping, is how to safely start a fire. A fire can offer warmth in the cold, a heat for cooking, light in the dark, and most importantly – is a key ingredient in the making of S’Mores!
I’ve started my fair share of campfires as a Boy Scout growing up. My son, a raising 2nd grade, would not have the opportunity to start building camp fires until he crosses into the Boy Scouts mid-way through 5th grade. But, he was shocked when he found out that he was going to be learning how to start a campfire with Dad in the backyard.
To start with, we needed to learn the parts of a campfire. Tinder (not the app!) is the smallest and easiest burning material that is used to start a campfire. Tinder can be made up of many different things including wood shavings, wax, cardboard and even dryer lint (now you know why Firemen tell you to check this). You can also purchase commercial tinder or fire-starter kits, but one simple one to make involves cardboard egg cartons, wood shavings, melted candles or crayons and a small wick to get it started.
The next thing we need to understand is Kindling. Twigs or small branches are considered Kindling. These can usually be collected around the camp site.
The most iconic, and last to be put in the firepit, is the actual Firewood. Firewood is usually 1″ to 5″ in diameter, can be whole or split logs, and must be dry in order to stay lit. I generally err on the side of caution and bring firewood with me, so that I know it’s dry, and more importantly – so that I know I have it!
Now that we know what we need, we need to learn what to do with it. If your campsite has a firepit, you’re one step closer. If it does not, we’ll need to construct a safe place for a fire. Remember to leave no trace – if there has already been a firepit at your site, use the same pit. You’ll want to make sure there is no dead vegetation within 8-10 feet as this could ignite easily. You’ll want to have bare dirt around the fire, and then dig a small area and set the dirt around to be used in case of an emergency (i.e., you need to throw it on the fire to smother it). You can line the firepit with rocks for insulation, but in the center you’ll want enough space to construct your fire.
There are many different types of fires we will learn about but the one I generally go to with camping is the traditional TeePee fire. This type of fire starts with Tinder on the ground in the center of the pit. In TeePee fashion, Kindling is placed over the Tinder. I will light the Tinder and once the Kindling is catching, I’ll start placing Firewood around the Kindling in TeePee fashion. This type of fire can be used for cooking if using a tripod with a hanging bucket, but I typically wont use this for cooking.
Now we are ready to light the campfire. using a lighter or matches, it’s best to light the Tinder from many sides. NEVER USE GASOLINE ON A CAMP FIRE. Once we have the fire going, you can feed additional firewood as needed to keep the fire going at the height and consistency that you want. Remember to keep supplies nearby to extinguish the fire, or control it if it should get too big.
When it is time to go, you’ll want plenty of time to extinguish the fire. We start by sprinkling water on the fire to die-down the flames. We don’t want to flood the firepit because the next campers will likely want to use it. Once the steam has died down from sprinkling water on the fire, and we don’t hear any more hissing, the fire is out. Place the back of your hand near the ashes and if no heat is felt, you can feel good that you’ve done your job to put out the camp fire.
Want to see how Ray did with his first ever Fire? Check out our YouTube channel and see for yourself!