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How to build a campfire

How to Build a Campfire in 7 Easy Steps: Ultimate Guide

There’s something magical about sitting around a campfire under the stars, sharing stories, and enjoying the warmth. Whether you’re camping in the backcountry or in a designated campground, knowing how to build a campfire safely and efficiently is an essential skill for any outdoor enthusiast.

This guide will walk you through the steps to create the perfect campfire, from preparation to lighting, while emphasizing safety and environmental responsibility.

Table of Contents

How to Build a Campfire in 7 Steps

Here is a quick overview of the steps for building a campfire safely.

  1. Know Before You Go: Check if campfires are allowed in the area.
  2. Gather Your Materials: Collect tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.
  3. Prepare the Site: Clear the area and set up your fire pit.
  4. Arrange Your Fire: Choose your fire structure (teepee or log cabin).
  5. Light Your Fire: Carefully ignite your tinder.
  6. Maintain Your Fire: Keep the fire at a manageable size.
  7. Extinguish Your Fire Completely: Ensure the fire is out before leaving.


Now, let’s dive into each step to ensure you fully understand how to build a campfire during your next outdoor adventure.

Step 1: Know Before You Go

Before you strike a match, make sure campfires are permitted in the area you’re camping. Check local regulations and fire bans to avoid fines or, worse, starting a wildfire. Always use established fire rings or pits when available to minimize your impact.

Step 2: Gather Your Materials

You’ll need three types of material to build your fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.

  • Tinder: Small, easily ignitable materials that catch fire quickly. Dry leaves, grass, pine needles, or paper work well.
  • Kindling: Small sticks and branches that will catch fire from the tinder and help build your fire up to be strong enough to ignite larger logs.
  • Fuel Wood: Larger pieces of wood that will burn for an extended period, keeping your fire going. Gather a variety of sizes to gradually build up your fire.
Never collect wood from live trees or from the tree line where vegetation grows slowly and takes decades to recover. This is essential if you want to learn how to build a campfire that aligns with Leave No Trace ethics and best practices.

Step 3: Prepare the Site

Clear a 10-foot diameter area around the fire site of any flammable materials. If you’re not using an established fire pit, dig a small pit about a foot deep and circle it with rocks. This containment helps prevent the fire from spreading.

Step 4: Arrange Your Fire

There are several methods to arrange your fire, but the teepee and log cabin styles are particularly beginner-friendly:

  • Teepee: Place your tinder in the center of the fire pit. Arrange kindling around the tinder in a teepee shape, leaving some gaps for air to flow. Add larger sticks to the outside, following the same shape.
  • Log Cabin: Start with a small teepee of tinder and kindling. Then, stack larger pieces of wood around it in a square, log cabin style, gradually building up with smaller pieces on top.

Step 5: Light Your Fire

Light the tinder with a match or lighter. If the wind is strong, shield the flame with your body or a piece of cardboard. As the tinder catches fire, the kindling will ignite, followed by the fuel wood. Add more wood as needed, but avoid overloading the fire.

Step 6: Maintain Your Fire

Keep your fire at a manageable size, and never leave it unattended. As you add more wood, keep the structure of your fire in mind to ensure it gets enough air to continue burning efficiently.

Step 7: Extinguish Your Fire Completely

An essential element of learning how to build a campfire is putting out when you are finished. Otherwise, it may spread and cause a wildfire and you may be legally responsible for it.

When you’re ready to put out the fire, sprinkle water over it, stirring the ashes to make sure all embers are extinguished. Avoid pouring too much water, as it can damage the soil. Ensure the fire is completely out before you leave the site by touching the ashes gently and ensuring they are cold to the touch. 

Campfire Safety Tips

Always follow Leave No Trace outdoor ethics and wildfire prevention best practices including these essential tips:

  • Never use gasoline or other accelerants to start or revive a fire. 
  • Supervise a campfire at all times while it is burning.
  • Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby in case the fire gets out of control.
  • Make sure all embers are cold to the touch before leaving the campfire site.
  • Respect local wildlife and the natural environment by not burning trash or items that produce toxic fumes.
Minimizing Campfire Impacts

Campfire FAQs

If your question isn’t addressed already below, leave a comment and we will get you an answer and more information as soon as possible.

Q: How do you make a campfire step by step?

A: To make a campfire, follow these steps:

  1. Check local regulations to ensure campfires are allowed.
  2. Gather tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.
  3. Prepare the campfire site by clearing flammable materials and setting up a fire pit if necessary.
  4. Arrange your fire materials, starting with tinder, then kindling, and finally, fuel wood. You can use structures like the teepee or log cabin.
  5. Light the tinder with a match or lighter.
  6. Maintain the fire by adding wood as needed, keeping it manageable.
  7. Fully extinguish the fire with water, stirring the ashes to ensure no embers remain.

A: The teepee structure is often considered the simplest and most effective type of campfire to build, especially for beginners. It allows for easy lighting and good airflow.

A: Lay wood for a campfire by starting with a layer of tinder in the center of your fire pit. Arrange kindling in a teepee or log cabin structure around the tinder. Finally, place larger fuel wood around the kindling, leaving gaps for airflow.

A: To start a campfire, you need tinder (small, easily ignitable materials), kindling (small sticks and branches), fuel wood (larger pieces of wood), and a source of ignition like matches or a lighter.

A: To start a campfire, you need tinder (small, easily ignitable materials), kindling (small sticks and branches), fuel wood (larger pieces of wood), and a source of ignition like matches or a lighter.

A: No, you cannot start a campfire anywhere. Always check local regulations and use designated fire pits or areas. Avoid making campfires in prohibited areas or during fire bans to prevent wildfires.

A: To start a campfire without a commercial Firestarter, use natural tinder like dry leaves, grass, or pine needles. Arrange them under your kindling and carefully light them with a match or lighter. Blowing gently on the base can help spread the flame.

A: Firewood might not stay lit due to being wet or green, insufficient tinder or kindling to establish a strong fire, lack of airflow, or improperly arranged firewood. Ensure your wood is dry, properly arrange your materials for good airflow, and start with ample tinder and kindling.

How to Build a Campfire: Now You Know!

Building a campfire is a rewarding experience that enhances any camping trip. By following these steps and prioritizing safety, you’ll be able to enjoy the cozy ambiance and warmth of a campfire while preserving the beauty of the outdoors for future adventurers. Safe travels during your next camping trip! 

Additional Reading:

These are some great resources for learning how to build a campfire. Leave a comment if you have suggested websites or links to add to the list!

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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