How to Start a Campfire

How to Start a Campfire. A Full Guide

(Last Updated: June 29, 2019)

We have been using fire since time immemorial. Nowadays, we cook our foods on fire to make it more palatable and reduce the risk of consuming different types of bacteria like E. coli. Aside from this, we use fire to keep ourselves warm during the cold nights of winter.

At a campsite, a campfire offers both light and warmth. In fact, it does much more than that. We are going to use this article to learn 6 easy ways to light a campfire. Listed below are the 6 methods and the detailed description of each.

  1. Classic Teepee Campfire
  2. Lean-To Campfire
  3. Log Cabin Campfire
  4. Upside Down Fire
  5. Wooden Rocket Stove
  6. Dakota Fire Hole


1. Classic teepee campfire

If you want to cook snacks on the campfire, the classic teepee is an ideal option for you. However, it may not work well for cooking a meal.


Start by laying small sticks over the tinder to form a teepee-like shape. Each stick should be leaning against the other sticks. The first three or four sticks should be stuck into the ground for better support. At this step, they shouldn’t be bigger than twigs. Next, you can set up bigger pieces of twigs over the top.

Now, use some smaller twigs against the downwind side but leave the upwind side of the fire more open. After a couple of layers, start building up the size of the campfire by adding pencil-sized sticks and digging them into the ground. On the outside, you can use a few fuel sized wooden pieces. After the structure burns down, you can use the log cabin to create a structure on top of it.


  • You can use green or wet wood to make this hot campfire


  • Not ideal for cooking meals as it burns the kindling quickly


2. Lean-to campfire

It’s a bit harder to light a fire on windy days, but this approach can make it easier for you.


First of all, you need to lay a thick, larger piece of wood on the ground. It should point into the wind. Next, you should get some tiny pieces of sticks and lean them on the tinder bundle, and then lay some smaller piece of sticks onto the bigger piece of wood for a lean-to-effect over the tinder. Similarly, you should lay another layer of bigger sticks over the first layer. Based on your needs, you can add one more layer over it.


  • Easy to set up everything and ideal for winding weather.


  • Can’t generate enough heat to cook a meal


3. Log Cabin

If you want to cook your breakfast or lunch, the Log Cabin fire can work great for you. Plus, it’s easy to set up.


Create a pile of tinder and surround it with kindling. Make sure you stack the pieces at the right angles. Do it as if you are erecting the walls of the cabin. The smaller kindling pieces should go on top. Next, lay two fuelwood pieces on the opposite sides and two smaller pieces on the other two sides. These two pieces should be parallel to the other two pieces.

Keep laying shorter or smaller pieces to make a cabin-like shape. Ideally, you might want to have some twigs near the campfire to drop into the center when the cabin collapses.


  • This type of campfire is a great choice for cooking. Plus, it’s low maintenance


  • Unlike the teepee fire, it is not that hot.


4. Upside down fire


This is a non-traditional method to make a campfire. Typically, tinder or kindling is placed on the ground upon which layers of twigs and sticks are built. But in the upside-down fire, we do the opposite.

Although it may sound like a joke, this method works great. Once you have built the layers, the fire can last more than 2 hours. Since larger wood logs are placed on the ground, nothing will crush the campfire. Plus, you don’t need to keep adding more wood for many hours.


  • The fire keeps going for hours with little to no maintenance.


  • Takes more time to set up


5. Wooden rocket stove

This is another non-traditional approach to start a campfire.  For this method, you need a large log and a tool to drill a hole.


You need to place the log horizontally and drill a hole in the top center spot of it. Another hole will be drilled on the side of the log. Keep in mind that the two holes should meet in the center. The horizontal hole is for air flow and the vertical one acts as a chimney. The diameter of the holes should be at least 2 inches.

Once the holes are ready, all you need to do is put some tinder in the hole and ignite it. Soon the fire will be ready to serve your cooking needs.


  • Ideal for cooking
  • Offers a level surface for a pan or pot
  • Requires little to no fuel.


  • You need a large log of firewood and a tool for drilling the holes


6. Dakota fire hole

If you don’t like the other methods of starting a campfire, the Dakota Fire Hole may work for you. This method can work well on windy days even if you don’t have a lot of fuel at your disposal.


First of all, you need to dig two holes with the diameter of each hole between 10 and 12 inches. The first hole is going to act as the chimney while the other hole will be for wind. The two holes should be close enough and connected by an underground tunnel. The tunnel will allow the air to reach the fire in the other hole. Once the fire is ready, you can cook whatever you want over it.


  • Burns hotter
  • Uses less fuel
  • Generates less smoke
  • Easy to clean up
  • All you need is a digging tool


  • Takes more time to prepare
  • Can’t work on root-filled, sandy or rocky soil

Alternatives to matches

You need matches to light a fire. If you don’t have a matchbox, you must have something else. But if you have nothing of this sort on you, your only bet is to try and learn the caveman basics. You can try out different ways of lighting a fire with nature’s tools. You may take some time to get the hang of these tricks. However, you don’t need to worry as there are other options as well. Let’s discuss them.

Friction method: 2 easy ways

Friction creates enough heat to ignite the fuel. Since you need to raise the temperature to around 800 F, know that you need to put in some serious effort to start a fire using this method.

The biggest hurdle in this method is the moisture. If you are using a damp piece of wood to start a fire, you will need to put in more effort. Dry wood catches fire much quickly. Ideally, you need a piece of wood that is a lot harder than the other. Make sure you try this method sitting close to the tinder pile so you can transfer the fire easily.

Let’s try two methods of fire by friction. You can stick to a method that works for you.

Hand drill

For this method, you need to opt for a 2 feet long, straight stick. It should be smooth and have no branches on its sides. Since you are going to rub the stick between your palms, make sure the stick is not rough. After all, you don’t want to injure your hands in the process.

Your next move is to look for a flat piece of wood with a thickness of at least one inch. This wooden piece should be used as a heart board. Next, cut a depression in the board so you can drill into it.

Keep the hearth board steady, place the stick in the depression and twist it to ensure it fits well. Now, you need to carve a notch in the middle of the depression to collect the dust. Keep on twisting the drill stick going back to the top of the drill each time you reach the bottom. As soon as you see the smoke coming out of the wood dust, you should transfer it to the kindling.

Fire plow

For this method, you need a flat, soft wooden plow board. It should be a  few inches wide and a few feet long. Also, you need another harder but thinner plow stick, which should have a sharpened end.

Rub or cut a depression around 6 inches long in this board. Ideally, it should fit snugly in the board so that you can move it up and down without any problem. Keep the board steady and push the stick into the board with a rapid backward and forward movement with downward pressure. Wood dust will appear at the end of the trough. Make sure all the strokes end at the same point so you can gather the dust at the same spot. As soon as the wood dust catches fire, you can drop it onto the tinder and go from there.

Campfire safety tips

Campfire safety tips

Safety should be your number one priority when starting a campfire. Although it’s fun to start a campfire, make sure you plan carefully. If things go out of control, you might end up with an injury. Therefore, we suggest that you follow some important safety tips before you go ahead and use the methods explained above. After all, you are responsible to take care of yourself, your buddies and the environment.

Given below are some considerations you make before lighting a campfire.

  • Check the rules. If fires are not allowed, you can’t use any of the methods listed above.
  • Check the weather conditions. If it’s too dry or too windy, you shouldn’t light a fire. The wind might make it harder for you to light a fire. Even if ignition happens, the wind may spread fire across the area. So, this is important to keep in mind.
  • Opt for the right location. There should be no flammable vegetation around the spot you have chosen. You can build a fireplace or dig a trench to keep the embers from jumping out. Make sure the location is away from tents and other flammable stuff.
  • Prepare the location. Use rocks to build a boundary around the spot you have chosen. Also, clear any twigs or debris from the area to prevent the accidental spread of fire.
  • Avoid using the flammable liquid. It’s not a good idea to use diesel or gasoline to start a fire.
  • Limit the size of the fire. If your fire is too big, it may increase the likelihood of causing a fire spread. So, the fire should be just big enough to meet your needs.
  • Don’t leave your fire “alone”. Make sure at least one person keeps an eye on the fire at all times.
  • Keep an eye on the kids and pets. You just can’t trust kids and pets when they are around fire. So, it’s better to limit their access to the fire. Never leave your kids alone with the campfire.
  • Don’t cover the campfire with glass. Heat may cause the glass to pop and harm the people sitting around the fire.
  • Use dead or fallen wood. You don’t want to damage the environment by cutting the surrounding trees to start a campfire. Also, damp wood generates a lot of smoke, which is bad for the environment.
  • Keep some water nearby. Ideally, you might want to have a bucket of water near the campfire to put the fire in case of an emergency.
  • Put out the fire before you sleep. Make sure you put out the fire properly before going to sleep. There should be not embers left behind. It’s not a good idea to use soil to extinguish the fire. Instead, you may want to use water at all times.


It’s never too late to learn new skills and this applies to the skill of starting a campfire as well. All you need to do is opt for one or more of these methods to start a campfire without a matchbox or a lighter. So, gather your kindling, tinder, fuel and other stuff you may need for your desired method. Let the blaze begin!

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