Looking for tips on how to build a campfire? Constructing the perfect campfire can be second nature for some people, but all campfire pros follow the same basic steps:

  1. Start with the smallest, most flammable bits of wood, bark, or paper – tinder – in the middle of where you want to build your fire
  2. Add kindling around the tinder to form the framework of your campfire
  3. Add fuel around the kindling in order to give the fire something substantial to burn

That is pretty much it! After your fuel logs have been set ablaze, you can add larger wood that will keep your fire burning for hours.

How to Build the Right Campfire for Your Next Adventure

female camper pokes at campfire in the foreground with wooded lake in the background

Image from The Dyrt camper Bri M.

There are many different types of fire and they all serve their purpose from providing warmth, to making excellent cooking embers, to offering light. Stick around to learn about three classic campfire structures – teepee, log cabin, lean-to – and how to build them.

Get Started With These Campfire Basics

Always make sure fires are allowed where you are camping. Check signs, check with rangers, or know where fires are or are not allowed before you go if you’re heading into the backcountry.

If you are at a developed campground, there is typically an existing fire ring available. These are typically marked by a metal ring with a grate, or a simple fire grate, or a well marked ring of stones. If you can’t find any of these fire ring markings, try to pick a place that is sheltered from the wind.

Make sure your fire is at least 10 feet from your tent. There is nothing worse than finding out that an ember has burnt a small hole in your rain tarp – or worse. And while you’re protecting your gear, protect the land too! Always follow responsible campfire principles by never burning plastics or leaving your fire unattended.

Gather Your Firewood

It is best to gather your firewood while it is still light outside. Stumbling around in the dark in the forest while trying to find dry campfire wood is miserable, so set aside some time when it is light out to look around your campsite and find dry, fallen wood. Developed campgrounds often have bundles of wood for sale at the ranger’s station, too!

beach campfire in the foreground with two tents in the distance at sunset

Image by The Dyrt camper Ryan S.

Start by looking right around the fire ring for tinder. Chances are extremely good that there are small twigs, shavings of wood, and bark leftover from previous camper’s fires. You can also prepare a fire starting kit at home complete with paper, dryer lint, or dry wood that you keep in a water proof bag.

Never cut down standing trees for firewood, not only will the green wood not burn, but there are plenty of other risks that make this a really bad idea.

Look for fallen logs, branches, and trees a little deeper into the woods away from your campfire. This is where a camp saw or a hatchet can come in really handy: when you come across a big branch, cut the smaller limbs off of it and then cut the branch into sections which you can then chop into more burnable sizes.

Use Tinder and Small Sticks to Responsibly Start Your Fire

  1. Put a bundle of tinder into the center of your fire ring
  2. Arrange kindling around the tinder
  3. Build your kindling loosely around your tinder so oxygen can reach it
  4. Add some larger fuel logs loosely around your structure
  5. Light the tinder and it will spread to the kindling
  6. Carefully blow the base of the fire to help it grow
  7. Add more fuel logs once you have a sustainable fire going

Now that you know the basic steps to keep in mind as you construct your perfect fire, let’s talk about three classic campfires and how to build them!

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How to Build a Teepee Campfire

The teepee campfire is probably the campfire that comes to mind first when you think of a fire burning at a campsite. The teepee campfire offers plenty of advantages including how easy it is to build and maintain, it offers a lot of light and warmth, and you can build it with a relatively small amount of wood.

man places stick atop freshly constructed teepee campfire

  1. Start with your tinder bundle in the middle of your fire ring
  2. Lean kindling up against the tinder bundle leaving ample space in between for oxygen
  3. Continue to build a teepee around the kindling with progressively larger sticks – if you can, lean the larger sticks against each other to form your teepee
  4. Add larger fuel logs in between your kindling while still leaving plenty of space for oxygen
  5. Light your tinder bundle
  6. Gently blow on the flame to get it to ignite the kindling

Sit back, relax, and start telling your favorite campfire stories!

How to Build a Log Cabin Campfire

If you ever played with Lincoln Logs, then you know how to build this fire. The log cabin campfire is great as a source of heat, holds its shape well, produces some excellent cooking embers, and can burn for hours. It does require some bigger fuel logs, but it can be well worth it!

log cabin style campfire burning intensely in a fire ring at night

Overlapping your wood in this campfire allows oxygen to flow in between your fuel logs and kindling.

  1. Start with your tinder bundle in the middle of your fire ring
  2. Place your kindling closely around your tinder bundle in a square pattern with the kindling overlapping at the ends
  3. Place your fuel logs close to your kindling and repeat your square pattern with your fuel logs overlapping each other slightly at the ends – just like Lincoln Logs
  4. Light your tinder bundle
  5. Gently blow on the flame to get it to spread to the kindling

Put your feet up, grab your s’more fixin’s, and settle in near this comfy romantic campfire.

How to Build a Lean-to Campfire

The lean-to campfire is one of the best cooking campfires. It creates hot embers quickly, is easy to control the heat of, and you can build one relying on backcountry logs or almost any fire ring.

a hammock hangs in the jungle beside a lean-to cooking campfire

  1. Place a large, split log against the edge of your fire ring
  2. Spread your tinder out in a line along the large log
  3. Lean kindling against the big log just over the tinder
  4. Lean fuel logs against the big log just over the kindling
  5. Light the tinder on both ends
  6. Gently blow on the flame to get it to spread to the kindling
  7. Allow the fuel logs to burn down substantially to create your cooking embers
  8. Add kindling or small fuel logs in order to moderate the temperature of your cooking fire

Cook your favorite camping meal and enjoy the amazing flavor that you just can’t replicate anywhere else.

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