How to make a campfire
A campfire is a glorious thing: it never fails to give your campsite a homely feel, it’s great for cooking and, at night, it’ll keep the chill of the evening at bay.
The “bush television” (so named because people are inclined to sit and stare at it for hours) is an integral part of any camping experience – but just how do you start one? Here are a few easy steps to help you create your very own campfire.
Know the rules
Don’t light any sort of fire if there’s a total fire ban or ‘no burn notice’ days in effect in the area in which you’re camping, or if there’s a ‘no open fires’ policy at your campground – it may be a seasonal rule (i.e. bushfire season) or a conditions-reliant one.
This is one of the most important rules of camping, so it’ll likely be well signposted in order to ensure campers are aware of it.
Not sure? Ask someone official such as a National Parks ranger or the owner of the campsite if you’re staying on a private property – don’t just take another camper’s word for it.
Besides, if the bush you’re in is tinder dry and the wind is strong, then seriously re-consider your urge to start a campfire because those are far-from-ideal conditions in which to start a fire.
Put your fire in the right place
Make sure your fire is in a designated fire pit, fireplace, fire ring or the like as this will make it easier for you to monitor and control the campfire, and you won’t get into any strife with officials.
The correct spots for fires are usually easy to locate and should be kept clear and ready for the next set of campers.
If you don’t have access to a designated fire pit then create your own: use your shovel to dig out a shallow pit and use the extracted dirt as a wind-break around the top edge of the hole.
(Note: many national parks and some campsites require visitors to bring in their own wood, as gathering wood from the area is prohibited.)
Okay, so let’s assume you’re camping in area where collecting wood is allowed. This is an activity where you can rope in everyone – kids, parents, friends – for a bit of fun to help get armfuls of wood from off the ground around the campsite.
You’ll want to collect tinder (dry leaves, grass, twigs; anything that will easily catch fire), kindling (small skinny sticks that will quickly catch alight and help fuel the fire), thicker sticks (to help sustain the fire until the bigger wood is well alight) and logs.
Set up the structure
A fire needs oxygen so you need to set up your fire structure in such a way that the fire will always be feed air, but not too much; you don’t want it to be blasted by gusts of wind as you try to get it – and keep it – alight.
Now, there are many ways to set up a fire structure – and people have their favourites – but we prefer the old-school ‘pointy tent’-style build.
Put your tinder – and some scrunched-up paper if you have it – in a little bundle in the fire pit, allowing for plenty of air flow through it. Add a few firelighters if you want to give your fire an extra boost.
Stand some kindling up in a tent over the top of that, so it should look roughly like an upside-down cone. Don’t smother the tinder as you want the flame to always be fed oxygen.
Add thicker sticks over the top, continuing in that tent-style of structure.
Okay, now its time to start your fire.
Light the tinder and firelighters using matches or a lighter. Make sure the fire is getting plenty of oxygen and give it time to establish a sustained flame.
Add three short logs, again in a tent style, over the top of the fire. The flame from the tinder-and-kindling combination should be continuously hot enough now to set the logs alight.
The fire should soon be strong enough to sustain itself but closely monitor it for safety and add more logs when needed to keep it burning.
Put it out
If you built your own fire pit, scrape your dirt wind-break back over the fire-pit so that dirt covers it. Then pour water over that area.
If you used a designated fire pit, let the camp fire burn down until it has no fuel left, then pour water over the embers left in the fire pit. Stir them around to scatter them and help them cool down faster.
Keep doing that – pouring water and stirring – until the ash is cool to the touch, then it is safe to leave the fire pit.
How to start a fire without matches or a lighter
It’s best to go camping fully prepared with matches or lighters but if you, for some reason, don’t have access to those, then you could use:
A magnifying glass: We all did this as a kid, right? No? Just me, then. Well, it’s easy enough. Make a nice little neat pile of dry tinder, hold the magnifying glass just above the tinder pile and focus the sun’s rays through the lens of your Sherlock Holmes tool to focus as small a point of light as you can on the tinder. If it’s a clear sunny day, then you should see smoke from the tinder within 30 seconds or so.
A 9V battery and fine steel wool: Pull the steel wool apart and ball them up into the pieces. Rub the battery’s connector points against the steel wool and it will ignite. You can use the same method with two AA batteries duct-taped together, positive end to negative end, and rub the exposed positive point of the top battery against steel wool.
A fire-starter tool: Part of any self-respecting camper’s go-to gear, a fire-starter is simply a magnesium rod, which you hold steady in one hand, and a striker, which you rub firmly against the rod to make sparks. Use those sparks to ignite the tinder and kindling structure you will have set up.