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Building a Campfire


Teepee style campfire

Picture used with permission of Lindsay Leonhard

The following directions for how to safely build a campfire are from The Boy Scout Handbook: The Trail to Eagle.

I would highly recommend this handbook to parents who are learning about camping. The reason this handbook is excellent for novice campers is because it does not assume previous knowledge. (Although I have plenty of experience, I personally still take it with me on camping trips for the knot tying section). Every topic is explained with clarity and simplicity. The pictures and diagrams make the directions very clear. See the citation at the bottom of the page to find all the information you need to find and purchase the book.

!!!Remember to check the restrictions on fuel gathering for your campsite. If gathering fuel is prohibited, be sure to bring all your own materials!!!

"Preparing Materials:

The flame of a match is just large enough to burn a matchstick. To light a campfire, you have to give the match some help. You'll need tinder, kindling and fuelwood.

Tinder. Tinder catches fire easily and burns fast. Wood shavings, pine needles, dry grasses, shredded bark, and the fluff from some seed pods all make good tinder. Gather a double handful or enough to fill your [baseball] hat once.

Kindling. Dry, dead twigs no thicker than a pencil are called kindling. Find enough to fill your hat twice.

Fuel. Fuelwood can be as thin as your finger or as thick as your arm. Use dead, dry sticks you find on the ground. Live wood is a poor fuel because it is full of moisture.

Build small fires you can get close to rather than roaring blazes that drive you back... Gather all the fuel before you light the fire so that you won't have to run off and find more wood...

Softwoods such as pine, fur, and aspen burn rapidly with lots of flames. Oak, maple, hickory, and other hardwoods burn more slowly and produce long-lasting beds of coals. Break or saw fuel into pieces about a foot long...

Building the Fire

Now you are ready to arrange the tinder, kindling, and fuel so that the heat of a single match can grow into the flames of a campfire. A tepee fire lay is a good way to start.

Tepee fire lay. Place a big, loose handful of tinder in the middle of your fire ring. Lean plenty of small kindling around it. Let the tops of the kindling sticks touch like the poles of a tepee.

Arrange larger sticks of fuel around the kindling. Leave an opening in the tepee on the side against which the wind is blowing. This "door" will let air reach the middle of the fire.

To light the fire, crouch in front of this door and strike a match. When the match is burning brightly, ease it under the tinder.

The flame should spread through the tinder and crackle up into the kindling. As the smaller sticks burn, larger fuel above them will become hot enough to ignite, too. Feed the growing fire with kindling and fuelwood" (p. 82-85).


Birkby, Robert C. and Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scout Handbook: The Trail to Eagle. Tenth Ed. Texas: 1990.


Last Updated on December 7, 2009


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