For outdoor wilderness enthusiasts, balmy summer weather is a reason to celebrate. My friends and I love soaking up the summer sun out on the lake or river. We try to take full advantage of gorgeous summer days by playing outside as much as possible — and what better a way to appreciate nature than taking a camping trip or enjoying a bonfire.
One thing I have found surprising is that many of my most capable, bad-ass, granola friends don’t know how to build a proper campfire. I’m not sure why, but it’s a basic wilderness skill that virtually anyone can learn. Here’s how.
Contain Your Fire
The first thing to determine when building an epic bonfire is WHERE you’re going to build it. Often this is predetermined if your campsite has a fire ring. If it does not, select a flat area that is on bare earth, not on grass. Choose a site away from flammable plant material. You can make your own fire pit by creating a “platform” of dirt that is about 3-4 inches thick. Complete your fire pit by circling it with large rocks.
A successful fire needs three key ingredients: oxygen, heat, and fuel. I recommend bringing a fire source (matches, lighter, etc.) and fuel. You should be able to gather most of your fuel onsite, but it’s a smart idea to bring large logs and something that catches fire easily, such as birch bark or even newspaper. Remember, kindling (small dry twigs and branches) is what keeps your fire alive — collect as much of this stuff as possible.
There are many fire styles, but I’m going to keep it basic — log cabin fire lay. A log cabin fire (box fire) is simple to build, stable, and burns well. It’s my go-to fire.
- Start by creating a small tepee of kindling and tinder.
- Next, create a box out of mid-sized sticks around the tepee. Ensure your sticks are not too big, and allow oxygen to flow through your fire (try to find sticks that are about the size of a half dollar). Lay one stick across the middle of your box.
- Light birch bark or some other flammable, organic material and place the flame directly on your tepee.
- Squat low and fan the fire. Blow on the fire. Ensure it’s receiving enough oxygen. (This may take a little time and patience).
- Once your fire has caught to your box, you can begin feeding it larger logs.
The last step in building a campfire is obviously putting it out. Plan to put your fire out about 20 minutes before you go to bed or leave your campsite. Keep a bucket of water near your campfire at all times and sprinkle it over the flame once you’re finished with your fire. Stir the wet fire with a stick. Allow your hand to hover over the fire — if it feels cool you’re good. If you built your fire in a pit be sure to dispose of your ashes and trash, and if you built your own pit be sure to patch the ground with fresh dirt. Basic rule of thumb: Leave no trace.
What other wilderness skills would you like to learn more about? Did you already know how to build a bonfire? Do you think most people know the basics of campfire safety? —Alex