Step By Step Guide: How To Light A Campfire

We all know that no campsite is truly complete until you have a roaring fire to sit beside and enjoy.
Some call it the bush TV, others just love to cook on an open fire. And there is no denying that when it gets a little cooler you can’t resist pulling your chair in closer and just soaking it all in.

We do all of the above when we go camping, so our fire is really important. As soon as the gear is unpacked and the tent is set up, we are straight into building the fire. I know what you’re thinking – how hard could it possibly be? All you need is some paper, matches and a few logs, right? Wrong.

How to build a campfire | campfire safety

10 steps to building the perfect campfire

1. Pick the perfect spot.
Find somewhere flat and clear of leaf litter and small debris so that your fire doesn’t spread. Add a rake to your camping equipment and do a quick clean up before you start; if the leaf litter is dry you can even use it to help start your fire. You want your fire close to your campsite but far enough away that you don’t get smoked out. We find around 7-10 meters is ideal.

The benefit most established campgrounds have is that you can see where the last fire was and this generally indicates that it’s a good spot to set up camp. Whenever possible use the designated campfire locations for your safety and to help preserve the beautiful nature around you.

TIP: Never use rocks that have been near water to outline your fire, they have the potential to explode when heated.

How to build a campfire | picking the perfect spot

2. Make a wood pile.
It is important to stack everything close and in a logical order. It will make maintaining your fire a lot easier as the day/night progresses. By stacking your wood with the larger logs on the bottom and smaller pieces on top, it allows you easy access to the wood that you intend on burning first. Just remember that you can’t just rock up with a chainsaw and cut whatever you like. Most areas that let you cut wood will have rules or might even require you to have a permit. So do your research before you cut!

How to build a campfire | wood pile
3. Starting your fire.
To start your fire you will need some paper; butchers paper or newspaper works best. Loosely scrunch a couple of sheets of paper and stack them in the middle of where your fire is going to be. It’s important that they are loose so the air can get in them to keep them burning. *If the paper is scrunched too tightly air will not be able to get into it and it will suffocate the flame.

How to build a campfire | scrunching paper for campfire

4. Stack your kindling.
Build a teepee around your paper; smallest kindling to biggest. If you are using sticks make sure they are dead and dry, as green wood doesn’t burn very well and will smoke a lot. We always carry a bag of kindling and a couple of pieces of dry wood from the servo just in case. This makes starting a fire easier if it has been raining or if we don’t have a lot of time before it gets too dark.

TIP: Gathering the kindling is a great way to get the kids involved.

5.Light your fire.
Now you can light the paper. We like to light it in three or more spots to try and get every side going quickly and get the heat into it straight away. Once your larger kindling has caught alight, carefully place a few of your smaller logs in your fire. Be careful not to knock it all over while you try to maintain the teepee shape, as this will assist in keeping the air feeding oxygen to the fire.

How to build a campfire | smaller logs

6. Preheat your wood.
Start thinking about which logs will be going in next and put them close to the base of your fire to preheat them. This is particularly important in winter as hot logs catch alight easier. Every time you put one in the fire get another one preheating. Take care not to burn yourself when picking them up.

TIP: Keep in mind the logs can get hot enough to catch fire even if they aren’t touching anything that is already burning.

How to build a campfire | preheating logs

7. Cooking on coals.
If you are going to be cooking on your fire it is best to use the red hot coals as opposed to using burning logs. We like to use some of the larger logs to put around the campfire BBQ to protect us from the heat whilst cooking. When you finish cooking throw these larger logs in the fire and it will keep your fire burning while you eat. In the beginning of our camping days, we spent many nights scrambling to keep the fire going because we didn’t re-stack and feed the fire before going to eat.

TIP: Welding gloves come in handy when dealing with campfires, BBQ’s, etc. Be careful because you can still get burnt when using welding gloves.

How to build a campfire | camp BBQ on the coals

8. Turn your logs.
Sit back and enjoy your bush TV. When the fire starts to die down, turn the logs. This will burn both sides of your wood and keep it burning better.

TIP: Try only turning one log at a time and get it burning well before turning the next to avoid strain on your fire.

How to build a campfire | campfire

9. Putting your fire out.
When it’s bedtime simply pull your fire down and spread your wood out so it is as flat as possible. This will help to disburse the heat and it will burn out faster. Depending on the size of your fire, it will take a good 30 minutes or so before your fire is completely extinguished. You can use water but keep in mind that 1L of water will quickly turn into 1700L of steam if the fire is hot enough.
If you choose to put your fire out this way keep in mind that it’s really easy to get burnt with steam so stand back and be careful. We advise against this method!

How to build a campfire | campfire

10. Fire Safety
Always treat your fire with RESPECT as it can get out of control and has the potential to injure or even kill people. These tips will help to keep you and those around you safe.

* Never walk through coals; even in the morning you’ll be surprised how much heat they hold. You never know what the camper before you has thrown into the fire pit either.
* Never leave your fire burning unattended. Always have someone watching it.
* Educate your children on fire safety and always ensure they are safe around the fire and understand the dangers.
* Take into account the weather conditions and make a judgement call on whether it is safe enough to have a fire.

Check for fire bans in your state here:

NSW     QLD     VIC     SA     NT     WA     TAS

How to build a campfire | campfire red hot coals

Follow these steps and have a perfect campfire to enjoy each and every time. You should definitely consider adding a long handle shovel, welding gloves and a rake to your camping gear. These three items make it much easier to be safe around your camp fire.

Remember to be safe, responsible and considerate of other campers. Go and make some memories.

Share your campfire tips & hacks below!


How to build a campfire | campfire safety

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