How to Build the Ideal Campfire

Any dedicated campers out there know that the campfire is the lifeblood of your campsite. Without it, you can’t boil water, prepare food, or have the heat on a cold night. With it, you’ll be able to do all of those things and more – but the trick is, you have to know how to make a good one.

This article is the part I of II in a series on building the ideal campfire so that you can have the most thorough information possible. Since part of creating a great campfire is to be thorough in your preparation and your knowledge, this initial research will be an integral part of learning how to create a campfire that lasts, provides plenty of heat, and gives plenty of flame for cooking. Let’s take a look at the steps to accomplishing this.

Tools to have handy: A bucket of water, a shovel, a matcher/lighter.

First, let’s tackle site preparation. You’re not going to just pile up a bunch of wood and set it aflame – that might make a quick fire, especially if you’ve got lighter fluid with you, but it won’t make a great camping fire. The difference begins with the preparation of your campsite.

For your first site preparation step, choose a camping location for the fire. Typically, this will be lower than all of the other areas – including where you have already set up your tents. You’ll want to create as much space as possible around your fire so that you can bring plenty of chairs up to it when night falls. You’ll also want to avoid low, overhanging branches.

Second, clear this location of debris and any flammable items. Get rid of the garbage and other objects that might get in the way.

Third, pick exactly where your fire will be and dig a large but shallow circle, square, or rectangle. Keep the dirt in a nearby pile – dirt can make a good fire extinguisher for later on. This, in addition to the bucket of water you have prepared, will help you contain the fire should the need arise.

Fourth, gather as many nearby rocks and large stones as you can and make a ring around the area you dug. This will create a barrier between you and the fire, and since rocks aren’t flammable, it will help control the fire and keep it contained.

Forget What You Know About Campfires

An upside-down fire is called “upside-down” because it’s essentially the opposite of the tipi-style fire. In essence, you’ll want to place your biggest logs at the bottom and your tinder at the top. Doing so seems counter-intuitive, but once you build a fire that really lasts by itself, you’ll see how it works.

You start by placing the heaviest logs next to each other as tightly as possible. You take the next biggest sticks and logs and place them perpendicular to the layer beneath, slowly building this way upward until you have a complete “pyramid” style fire. Make sure that the longest sticks/logs are at the bottom and that they decrease in length, moving upwards.

When you get to the top, you can use firesticks to get the fire going – firesticks are high-resin sticks that help to start fires. What happens next is how the art of the upside-down fireworks: gravity pulls down embers and heats up the layer below, slowly kick-starting the entire fire itself. The result is a relatively slow-starting but long-lasting fire that you don’t need to poke or prod.

How to Practice an Upside-Down Fire

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to do some practicing. Gather plenty of firewood near your closes firepit. You can try building “mini-upside-down” fires in order to start practicing. As you practice, you’ll need to fill in the blanks between reality and this article, so don’t assume you’ll build a perfect fire the first time.

After you’ve built a small fire successfully, you’ll be ready to move on to the bigger ones. Once you’ve mastered these, you will be able to enjoy long-lasting fires that produce a consistent flame, ideal for campfires and the occasional marshmallow. These fires will also be great ways to consistently cook a breakfast skillet in the morning.

Like building a skyscraper, much of the work into a great structure goes into a solid foundation that will accommodate large additions. In the next article, we’ll use this campfire site as the foundation for a great campfire.

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