How To Build a Roaring Campfire

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 4, 2008 · 54 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors

There is a primal link between man and fire. For ancient man, fire provided warmth, protection from wild animals, light in the dark wilderness, and a place to cook food. While fire is no longer vital to most men’s existence, it still has a magnetic power that attracts us. The flames of fire can inspire legendary stories, generate uplifting discussion, and build camaraderie among the men circled around them. Also, there’s nothing more romantic than cuddling up to your gal next to a warm fire. And I’d take some manly campfire cooked grub over the food of a four star restaurant any day. Thus every man should know how to start one and be well-practiced in doing so.

Create Your Fire Bed

When building a fire, always think about safety first. You don’t want to be that guy who starts a raging wildfire in a national park. If your camping site has a designated fire area, use it. If you’re camping in a more rugged area that lacks fire sites, you’ll need to make your own. Select a site away from trees, bushes, and other plant material. Your fire bed should on bare earth, not grass, especially dead grass. If you can’t find a bare area, make your own by digging and raking away plant material, taking particular care in clearing away all dry plant material.  Dry grass, branches, and bark catch fire easily.

After you’ve cleared the area, it’s time to make your bed. Gather in dirt and place it in the center of your cleared area. Form the dirt into a “platform” that’s about 3-4 inches thick.

Time to Gather Your Wood

You’ll need three basics types of materials to build your roaring campfire: tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.

Tinder. Every good campfire starts with good tinder. Tinder catches fire easily, but burns fast. Material like dry leaves, dry bark, wood shavings, dry grass, and some fluffy funguses make for good tinder. If you’re a smart camper, you’ll bring your own tinder in the form of dryer lint. Bringing your own lint is especially important when everything outside is wet. Wet tinder does not catch on fire.

Kindling. Tinder burns fast, so you’ll need something with more substance to keep your flame going. You can’t move directly to big logs. You’ll just smother your little flame. That’s where kindling comes in. Kindling usually consists of small twigs and branches. Go for something that’s about the width of a pencil. Like tinder, kindling needs to be dry or else it won’t burn as easily. If all you have are wet twigs and branches, try whittling away the damp bark with your pocket knife.

Fuel wood. Fuel wood is what keeps your fire hot and burning. Contrary to popular belief, fuel wood doesn’t have to look like the huge logs you use in a fireplace. If you go too big, it’s going to take a long time for the wood to catch fire. Look for branches that are about as wide as your wrist or your forearm.

General tips. When gathering wood for a fire, collect wood that snaps and breaks easily. Dry wood burns the best. If your wood bends, it’s too wet or “green.” If your try to make a fire with this sort of wood, you’ll just get a lot of smoke. Unlike tinder and kindling, fuel wood can be a little damp. The fire will dry it out. But it’s definitely not ideal.

Collect twice as much tinder, kindling, and fuel wood as you think you’ll need. You’ll be surprised how fast you’ll go through tinder and kindling when you’re starting your fire.

Lay Your Fire

There are several ways to lay your fire. Here are three of the most common types of lays.

Teepee Fire Lay

1.      Place your tinder bundle in the middle of your campfire site.

2.      Above your tinder bundle, form a teepee with some kindling. Leave an opening in your teepee on side the wind is blowing against. This will ensure that your fire gets the air it needs and will blow the flames onto the kindling.

3.      Continue adding kindling to the teepee, working your way up to pencil sized twigs.

4.      Create a larger teepee structure around your kindling teepee with your fuel wood.

5.      Place a match under your tinder. Because this lay directs the flame up, the flame should rise to the kindle and then on to the fuel wood.

6.      The teepee structure will eventually fall, and at this point you can simply add some fuel logs to the fire.

Lean-to Fire Lay

1.      Stick a long piece of kindling into the ground at about a 30 degree angle. The end of the stick should be pointing into the wind.

2.      Place a tinder bundle underneath the support stick.

3.      Place some small pieces of kindling around your tinder nest.

4.      Lay small pieces of kindling against the piece of kindling stuck in the ground. Add another layer with larger pieces of kindling.

5.      Light the tinder, and watch it burn.

Log Cabin Fire Lay

1.      Start off by creating a small teepee lay.

2.      Have you played with Lincoln Logs? Basically, you’re going to play a larger version of Lincoln Logs and burn them when you’re done.

3.      Get large pieces of fuel wood and place them on opposite sides of the tepee.

4.      Find smaller pieces of fuel wood and lay them across the first set of fuel wood, parallel on the other sides of the tepee. Just like you would with Lincoln Logs.

5.      Repeat laying smaller and shorter pieces to form a cabin or pyramid shape.

6.      Light this baby up.

Putting Out Your Fire

So you’re done with your fire. Unless you want to break Smokey the Bear’s heart, you need to put it out thoroughly. The following guidelines will kill your fire good and dead.

Start early. Putting out a fire completely takes longer than you think. Plan when you’re going to bed or leaving and start putting out your fire about 20 minutes before then.

Sprinkle, don’t pour. You should have a bucketful of water near your campfire for safety reasons. When it’s time to go, this will serve as your fire extinguisher. Avoid the impulse to pour all the water on the fire. You don’t want to flood the pit because you or someone else will need to use it later. Instead, sprinkle as much water as you need to put out the embers and charcoal.

Stir. As you sprinkle water over the embers, stir them with a stick or shovel. This ensures that all the ashes get wet. When you don’t see any steam and don’t hear any hissing noises, you know you’re getting close to a completely extinguished fire.

Touch test. Don’t actually run your hands through the ashes. You don’t want to brand yourself with a searing ember. Put the back of your hand near the ashes. If you still feel heat, it’s too hot to leave. Keep adding water and stirring. As soon as it feels cool, you’re good to go.

Dispose the ashes. You don’t want to leave the next camper a fire bed full of old ashes. Also, if you had to create your own fire bed, you want to leave the land in the same condition as how you found it. Scoop up the ashes in a bag and spread them out around the campsite.

Patch up your ground. If you made your own fire bed, replace the dirt and sod you dug up.

Every man has their own fire making secrets.  Drop a line in the comment box and share yours.

For information on how to start a fire sans matches, check out 9 Ways to Start a Fire Without Matches

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Justin September 5, 2008 at 3:49 am

One thing I would add is that when you’ve built your bed, you should create a fire ring. Find rocks and place them in a circle around the fire bed. If there aren’t any rocks, make sure there’s no vegetation for a good distance (a foot or two?) from the fire bed. Containing the fire is important.

2 Jay Pyatt September 5, 2008 at 4:00 am

I agree with the fire ring, but be careful of river stones. These are the nice round rocks you find. If they have been in the water recently, it is possible for the fire to heat the water still in the rock and cause it to pop pieces off.

3 Zorro September 5, 2008 at 5:04 am

Real men know how to light a fire without matches or a lighter! :)

I’m surprised you didn’t cover this at all, are you planning to do a future article on that? (A Firesteel/knife is a good method if you have the tools to hand, otherwise the various forms of rubbing bits of wood together, whether with a bow or not)

4 Brett & Kate McKay September 5, 2008 at 5:08 am

@ zorro- already got you covered! 9 Ways to Start a Fire Without Matches:

5 Keljeck September 5, 2008 at 6:02 am

I was also told to stick a stick upright in the center of the fire bed to let other people know you’ve cleaned it.

6 Malachi September 5, 2008 at 6:38 am

Dig two three foot holes about six feet apart, then dig a tunnel between the two. Putting your fire in one of the holes, air will come through the other and you’ll have a pretty big fire.

7 smokeythebear September 5, 2008 at 6:42 am

Another method similar to the lean-to is to take a piece of fuel wood and lie it perpendicular to the wind, then build a small pile of tinder on the windy side. Above that, place your kindling forming a “roof” above the tinder.

The advantage of this method is that while the tinder catches the kindling on fire, you’ve already started with the fuel wood. Additionally, you now have a structure to place your fuel wood in a way that allows for maximum airflow.

8 Peter James September 5, 2008 at 6:59 am

I had no idea this was this complicated. I guess it’s a good thing I read this before I went out and tried. :)

9 Evan September 5, 2008 at 8:03 am

Nice article! Something everybody should be able to do. Plus, if you can make a nice fire, you’re everyone’s best friend on a cold, wet night.

If you think you might need a longer burning fire starter, you can save money by making your own out of a cardboard egg carton, wood shavings (pet bedding works great), and some melted paraffin. Simple fill the egg holes will the wood shavings, then pour the melted paraffin over the entire thing. After drying, cut the carton into 12 pieces for 12 individual fire starters that burn long and hot.

There are many other ways to make a fire starter, but this was always my favorite as a kid growing up.

10 MightyKC September 5, 2008 at 8:28 am

Birch bark is the best tinder you can use. Goes up like the Fourth of July even when damp. Never ever ever take it off standing trees, though. Makes me want to head-cuff those people when I see stripped bark scars on birches.

11 Basil Moss September 5, 2008 at 10:17 am

Peeling birch bark from standing trees does them no harm. You’d have to use a knife to make it come off deep enough to harm the tree. Peeling it down to the pink stuff doesn’t hurt the tree at all- it is like dead skin is to us. You’ll see it hanging off some trees in tatters.

12 Tim J. September 5, 2008 at 11:33 am

Putting out the fire properly can’t be emphasized enough. I once started a fire in a friend’s fireplace using just newspaper and the remains of a fire they thought they’d put out the day before.

This ranks as one of my manliest accomplishments.

13 Jon L. September 5, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Another great tinder is the lint from your dryer. Collect the lint and put it in a plastic baggy, so it is always ready to go.

14 Rodney Hampton September 5, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I just got back from a camping and canoeing trip in northwestern Michigan. Man that was a blast! It was raining all day yesterday and through 3am this morning. The first fire we built used the old lean-to method for stacking the wood.

I tried out a technique I learned on some SAS video ( It was called great balls of fire. I coated a couple of cotton balls in vaseline. Those things make great tinder and kick up a lot of heat pretty fast.

We went to bed around 11pm last night. It rained continuously through 3am or so. We woke up at around 7:30 this morning and the coals were still hot enough to make a breakfast campfire.

You definitely need to stir water and dirt into your ashes and make sure your fire is out when you break camp.

15 Rich Landers September 6, 2008 at 3:35 am

Glad someone mentioned birch bark, for it is my absolute favorite fire starter. If you’re also a hunter and are fortunate enough to be building a fire while on a hunting trip, another good firestarter is steel wool with a 9-volt battery. Put the steel wool in place, make contact with the battery & off you go. Just make sure to pack them in separate compartments while carrying them :)

16 GreyOwl September 6, 2008 at 6:22 am

Here’s something I learned in the Boy Scouts. The best source of dry wood is “squaw wood”: that’s dead wood that’s still on the tree. Twigs for kindling and limbs for fuel. It should be dry enough to snap when you break it off. Wood that’s laying on the ground will usually be wet even if it’s not raining.

17 Bernie September 7, 2008 at 6:20 am

Good ideas all. However, I would like to be the eco-friendly guy and mention “leave no trace” camping. The campfire idea is great fun, but we’ve all seen campsites stripped of downed wood and fire pits where the stone ring surrounds a burned out area that’s sunken into the ground.

NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) teaches people how to be guides in various activities, like camping and hiking. I consider it most manly to learn how to do things the best way, so that others can enjoy nature for decades to come!

18 Doug September 7, 2008 at 9:20 am

Just another idea to add to the whole manly fire building thing —

Please remember that fire building is indeed a manly art, and like all such skills it comes with responsibilities. I have done a fair bit of back country camping and climbing in my time and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across firepits (often filled with half-burned garbage) in sensitive areas. I’ve also found beer cans (all empty, sadly) on the trail, on mountain tops — you name it.

Sometimes the truly manly thing is to husband the earth’s resources.

If you pack it in, man up and pack it out — and walk softly in the wilderness!

19 Sean M. O'Grady September 7, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Written like a scout. Nice work.

20 Crazy Ivan September 8, 2008 at 5:42 am

We went camping with friends, in-laws and out-laws one time about 6 years ago.. Went to one of those Yogi Bear joints. I brought a cord of wood and a keg of beer for 3 campsites. My Brother-in-law marinated a log in charcoal lighter fluid for 3 days prior to arriving at the camp. I think his fire won the contest for easiest to light. He stood back and threw lit matches at it.

21 C Fearns September 17, 2008 at 6:21 am

Truth be told the romantacised image of a campfire with stones around it should be abolished. For two simple reasons really: 1. it doesn’t prevent fire from spreading that much and 2. the rocks heat up and stay hot for a long period of time and just end up scorching the ground. which is more important on a wild camp rather than on a designated fire spot in a campsite.

22 Dan Keller September 17, 2008 at 6:55 am

I have often purchased split oak fire wood that was too green to burn no matter how much kindling I used. The only answer I’ve found, and I hate this answer, is to marinate the wood in charcoal starter fluid overnight. You can douse it with starter fluid right before you light it, but it works better if you do it some hours before lighting it. Squirt the fluid on the split sides of the logs, not the bark side. I realize this is not a very manly approach, but it’s the only answer I’ve found.

23 Forest September 21, 2008 at 8:52 pm

To address the hot rocks issue, I have a use that at least works in colder weather. When you get ready to go to bed, and before you start putting the fire out, pull the rocks away from the fire to let them start cooling. After the fire is out, you can wrap some of the rocks-that-were-the-ring in a towel or a couple shirts and set them in the foot of your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm while you sleep. I’ve found that I sleep much better when I don’t have to try to keep my feet warm all night.

24 SGT Harry September 27, 2008 at 11:15 am

A couple of simple lessons I’ve learned from my time in the Army and camping with friends…

Remember that fire needs three ingredients:
- Heat
- Fuel
- Oxygen (air)

The reason to keep this in mind is that too often I’ve seen people pile their wood close together, eliminating airflow. Or they try to spread it out and let most of the heat escape through the top of the pile.

Watch your fire carefully and adjust it as needed. If it seems to be dying, and you can’t figure out why, it’s probably one of these ingredients is lacking. Trap your heat in by placing larger fuel about an inch apart across the top of your coals. Ensure airflow by leaving channels through your fire. (Use a flap of cardboard or something similarly wide to fan it if absolutely necessary.) And of course, make sure your fuel is dry and flammable (as many have already pointed out). Keep TONS of tinder nearby (twigs aprox. 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch in diameter are excellent), as there may be times you need to keep the heat high to light new bits of fuel (larger logs) that you have added.

Laslty, bear in mind that a picturesque fire (lots of light) is very different than a good cooking fire (lots of heat). If you want to do any serious field cooking, let your fire build up a nice large bed of coals, clear some of the larger logs from those coals, and do your cooking over those.

Hope this helps!

25 jack the clipper October 5, 2008 at 5:52 pm

If the purpose of the fire is to look good the teepee style fire is the most picturesque and generally the fire will fall in on itself as it burns thus keeping “rollouts” to a minimum ……..
also since this type of fire tends to burn hotter the smoke will dissipate better….

26 Jane November 9, 2008 at 9:03 am

I have always heard “Where there is smoke there is fire,” but in the our case there seems to be more smoke than fire.
We go camping at least once a month with several of our friends and when the weather starts getting cool we sit around the fire day and night. I love the fire, but there is always so much smoke I can’t stand it. We are constantly having to jump up and run because every little breeze sends a tremendous amount of smoke. Since camping is all new to me is this just part of it, or is there something we can do to prevent so much smoke.

27 Boone November 12, 2008 at 9:26 pm

Some things I’ve learned:
1) AIR! Fire need it! Giving a little extra helps a lot in the early stages. Blow on the fire, or fan it with a newspaper. After the kindling catches, don’t worry about blowing out the fire. Where you have coals, you can blow as hard as you can.
2) GOOD TINDER: Someone mentioned Birch bark… Dry lichen burns well too. Also, tiny twigs can work well when bundled together.

In wet weather:
3) FINDING DRY WOOD: If it’s just rained, look tunder thick trees and bushes.
4) WET WOOD: Place wet wood just outside the fire – just out of reach of the flames. Radiating heat will help dry it out. Don’t use a wet log for your lean-to. It robs the young fire of heat.
4) WET GROUND: Don’t start a fire on wet ground – it’s a bottomless heat sink. Build it on a flat rock or a bed of sticks.

28 nricco December 1, 2008 at 8:54 am

My problem is the same – the fire is always too smokey and we have to move away and the warmth is never worth the amount of smoke in your eyes, throat and clothes. In fact most of us end up with sore throats from the smoke. What are we doing wrong? Are there any poisonous woods that you should not burn in the US – specifically North Texas.

29 Eric December 11, 2008 at 11:17 pm

An overly smoky fire is caused by wet wood, rotting wood especially.

30 Erik December 16, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Before you lay the tinder, kindling, and logs, prepare the gound under the fire.
dig a trench along the path of the breeze into the ground. It shound be 2-3 inches
wide, 2 inches deep, and 1-2 feet long. That way air gets sucked through
the channel and up into the fire. That fire will grow super quick.

To start a raging fire with wet logs is a manly art when everyone around is freezing and numerous attempts to start the fire has failed. My trick that works
everytime is an aluminum canister of white-gas with a spigot cap. Hold it
two to three feet above the sputtering fire and flick with your wrist to dispense
a few drops of gas at a time into the heart of the fire. The goal is to keep a
good hot flame going CONSTANTLY. Keep the action going for 10 minutes, enough for the wet logs to dry out and the fire to gain temperature enough
to be self-sustaining. You will be declared man-of-the-day by your buddies.

31 Little man January 31, 2009 at 2:05 pm

allright once when I was fourteen last year I hiked up a mountain near my house in the Hudson valley with my friend all I had was a flint I got the fire goin not so impressive but I got it working then I found a copper mesh and I ripped some off bent it stuck it in the fire till It was glowing bashed the end with a rock to make it sharp made bark string and I made a whole fishing line and hook took grubs and caught some fish we were going to eat them then we decided to go home and make hot pockets

32 Katakato April 20, 2009 at 5:17 pm

The absolute best tinder that I’ve used is to buy a bicycle inner tube and cut it up into 1-inch wide strips…using a couple of these under your kindling works like charm and doesn’t blow around or go out in the wind.

33 Gavin November 9, 2009 at 3:41 pm

An overly smoky fire can also be caused by green wood. If your buying wood from anywhere for fires it is usually a good idea to buy the wood and let it sit for at least 6 months in a basement or a cool arid place. The greener the wood, the more smoke. But remember it’s a fire – it’s always going to be smoky.

34 Tim December 4, 2009 at 2:43 am

Regarding the stripping of birch bark. Please, please do not take whole strips from around the tree. Taking off the upper dried layer is fine but you risk serious damage to the tree by stripping a ring of its bark. Also if it doesn’t peel easily by hand it’s not going to be good tinder anyway!

I don’t like spending too much time looking around for branches and so on for kindling might have something to do with growing up camping in damper areas. Generally if there was nothing immediately obvious near the campsite to be used, we would make due by splitting a piece of dried wood up into finger width kindling and using the axe to shave off tinder. Anyone who uses a wood stove at home or the cabin has likely done this hundreds of times as well.

35 gus April 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Use your knife to whittle away the wet outer layers and make dry tinder and kindling.

36 cbosarge April 10, 2010 at 10:24 pm

A really good firestarter found in the wild is pine sap, you can find it running down evergreen trees where branches have broken off. Also, if you happen to have some hand sanitizer on you, it works REAL good!!

37 Brett April 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I should add that an always essential principle for effective firebuilding is adequate and concentrated stacking of tinder and kindling. As long as your fire is compact yet with enough ‘breathing room’ for the young flame, you will produce a warm, radiant, and long-lasting fire. You can also even start a fire with wet wood if you stack your kindling and tinder tightly.

All the best -

38 Bill August 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm

If your fire is too smokey you have a few possible problems.

1) Wet wood. This has been stated before but it is the main cause. Wet wood also doesn’t burn as hot. If you are able, leave the wood to dry out for as long as possible.

2) Your fire is not hot enough. You can have a big fire that is not as hot as a small fire. Basically, the wood is burning at a lower combustion rate meaning less of the solid matter is converted to gasses before being sent up in the air by the updraft. Keep the fire contained in a smaller area (especially smaller vertical area) and tend it to be sure there is a good heat base on the bottom and it is really hot. This takes a lot more work, but in the end you have a much more effective fire. It will be warmer AND you can sit closer because you don’t have loose flames jumping around pushing you back.

Most likely, it is both of these. You can have a fire with wet wood, but if you get it hot enough the smoke will be minimized and it will not need too much moving around. A good dry wood fire still has some smoke, so try to enjoy it. There are few things in this world that smell better than a good campfire.

39 Keith September 23, 2012 at 10:08 am

If in North Texas:
The only poisionous wood to watch for is Poision Ivey/ Oak. So no wood with vines on it.
The best starter/ kindling is ‘squaw wood’ (dead limbs with lots of brown needles still attached) from cedar (mountain juniper). Even when damp this stuff will rapidly flame up due to all the aromatic oil it contains.

40 Gary Niger October 1, 2012 at 9:47 am

You’ve left out the most important thing! You must always have a gallon of gasoline to start a fire. You then do not need tinder or kindling. What you do is find some logs. Big ones are ALSO fine. Then you pour the gasoline SLOWLY over those logs so they absorb all of it. Then you pour a thin trail of gasoline from the logs to where you are standing. And then you flick your ciggy butt-end (assuming you’re man enough to smoke) into the gasoline. Viola! Instant fire. Good luck and God bless!

41 Gongo October 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

When we go camping a couple of days before I go to the coin op laundymat. Ask on of the workers there if you could get some lint. I take a couple of gallon sizr zip-lock bags and fill them for free. Usualy they will be happy to get rid of it. Works great as tinder.
For kindling go to a store like salwmart and ask for “dead” (non painted or broken) pallets remover the planks and split them with a hatchet. The 2x4s work as good starting fule logs. They are non treated and usually very dry burn hot and fast.
I make a teepee by cuttin a poin on one of the 2x4s and driving it into the middle of my pit, placing the lint around it then start with slivers of the planks around it then get bigger and bigger sticks and end with acual spli wood that I had cut last year, post isaac debris is almost dry now. get good hot fire in no time and the other campers around us are impressed on a quick hot fire.

Another thing to use as kindling and tender or dry pine needles. They burn quick but great even if damp.

42 pat October 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Pack a cheap bottle of aftershave and body spray… Soak ya tinder in aftershave and get a spark to it, then spread it with the spray. An added bonus you and the camp will smell good… Depending on how cheap they are of course… Maybe not very manly, but gets a fire going quick… Might even attract a mate for you real wild m*********rs out there…

43 Jason Wendleton December 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Thanks, I used this article for a short story I’m writing. Much obliged.

44 gaffer February 24, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I have always like the pile fire method. In scouts we all learned the standard tipi, log cabin, and lean-to style but one of the leaders would just pile up a big pile of loose kindling, put a little tinder under it and get it going fast with one match. It is much easier and faster than any of the other methods (of course it doesn’t look as pretty but if you are hungry or cold who cares what it looks like other that it being bright and roaring flames). The main tip with it is to not break up the kindling into small pieces, you want to leave plenty of air space, and as it starts to get going you then start to slowly add your fuel wood.

The other tip is to not waste your time cutting up wood when you can just put one end in the fire and push it in as it burns down to coals. Of course it might not be as sexy as the perfect tipi fire but what is going to be sexier to a cold lady a) a perfect visually composed fire or b) a man who knows how to get a nice fire and is competent with is outdoors skills? ;)

And really guys, leave the girl scout juice for those not competent in fire making skills and as your bottom of the bag emergency situation solution to fire starting. It is not difficult to start a fire without highly flammable liquids, if you rely on them to get a basic fire going you will be in a bad place if you ever really need to start a fire in a bad situation.

45 wayne April 7, 2013 at 9:26 pm

had to leave a comment for Gary Niger… If you a gallon of gas to start a fire, you are not manly enough, also its a good way to get burnt. Camping in the back country, I don’t have gas, if I do, it’s probably for the little 2 hp Johnson that’s on the back of the canoe, I would rather save the gas so I can explore and fish the lake.

Everyone else has great tips here, I especially like the egg carton with wood shavings and wax idea. I used to go to mickey d’s and take some of those white mini cups for ketchup and fill that with lint and melted wax.

46 sam August 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm

needs to cover starting a fire without matches LIKE A MAN other wise ”like a sir”

47 Aziz September 1, 2013 at 4:17 am

These are all GREAT tips, thanks fellas!

I live in NYC and never been camping before. I want to go down the Hudson valley for some camping and fishing. Who can point me to a good spot for fishing building a fire and overnighting without paying some fee to the local state park (i.e. Bear Mountain).

I did use the Bow method once as a kid on a class trip and can’t wait to try it again and see if I can still do it.

48 Patrick September 26, 2013 at 12:42 am

I didn’t read through all of the comments, so I don’t know if this has been mentioned but I’m from Charleston, SC and my favorite thing to start fires with is dead palmetto fronds. The leaves are ideal tinder and the boughs are great kindling. Palmettos are everywhere along the coast and at least in Charleston you are rarely more than a few hundred yards from one. The rest of the state is covered in mostly pine forest which is ripe with my other most used tinder, pinestraw. As for actual fire starters I just cheat (if it is cheating) and keep plenty of mini Bic lighters around. If I have to start more fires than than two mini Bics allow things are very bad.

49 Bullrush October 31, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Fun reading all these comments. Some good tips. A few laughs here and there… for various reasons. As a solo back country camper, I would like to say the following about firewood:

1) For harvesting firewood, leave your hatchet at home and take a 12 inch bow saw into the woods with you. It is far more efficient than an axe. Think about it. The only thing you can “chop” efficiently is green/wet wood… which won’t burn. Dry wood is hard and brittle. It will “split” easier but you won’t have the energy (or time) to “chop” a dried log or even a stout dried limb into practical lengths for fire wood. You will need dry “dead-fall” (or “squaw wood” as others have mentioned) for a fire and nature provides this in all thicknesses, from twigs to sticks to branches, thicker limbs and logs. If you can’t break the small stuff with your hands or over your knee (or a rock), you won’t have the strength to “chop” thicker stuff, believe me. There should really be no need to “split” wood for a fire out in the woods. You should be able to find limbs thick enough for decent fuel pieces that don’t need to be “split”. However, these “dried” lengths of limbs can easily be “cut” into suitable lengths for the fire with your 12″ saw. A hatchet wouldn’t be of any help for thicker limbs or logs anyway. If it’s too thick to saw up by hand, it is certainly too thick to chop up too!.Yes, some people prefer to “feed” long logs/limbs into a fire… which doesn’t require a hatchet either. Shaving off fine tinder with a hatchet? If you can’t find thin dry tinder, shave off some thin stuff with your knife… it’s much lighter to lug around with you and will have other uses. All I ever see people do with hatchets is damage “live” trees because they can’t really cut much in the way of dried wood. They eventually hack at green/wet (live) wood for something to do I guess. It certainly doesn’t advance the task of building a fire… and the damage is permanent.

2) To conserve fire wood, remember the old adage: “White man build big fire and sit way back. Indian build small fire and sit close.” (Nothing but respect intended there!) I can usually get one or two more sticks of firewood out of a limb or log by cutting them a bit shorter.

Enjoy your campfires and, as the authors say, don’t be that guy who starts a raging forest fire!!

50 Lou Guertin December 13, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Excellent article. As far as the Birch bark goes, as someone previously mentioned, if you leave the pink layer alone, there is no problem harvesting the tree. I’m surprised that you have not mentioned the burn down fire. It works with most any kind of wood but it’s greatest asset is that it will burn wet wood very efficiently.
On the ground, lay the four biggest pieces into a square. Build a second layer using the next biggest pieces. Within this frame, loosely fill in the space with whatever dry tinder that is available. Continue adding more layers and a bit more tinder. Over the top, place the driest kindling available. Set fire to the tinder and enjoy the magic. The principal is quite simple: the heat generated by the fire helps dry the following layer. Once the fire is established continue piling on wood and have at it. This type of fire has saved my butt more than a few times.

51 Simeon December 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

A trick I learned about giving your fire air is to pinch thumb and for finger of each hand together making a small diamond shaped hole. Blow through this hole and with a little practice you will get a powerful stream of air to fan your blaze with. It’s really helpful because you don’t have to stick your face near the flame as the stream has a range of a few feet.

52 Aaron December 20, 2013 at 1:39 am

I find that a paper cup is a a good firestarter; poke some holes for airflow and fill it with tinder. Kindling can stack nicely on around it as well.

One of the hottest fires I ever made was with a fire starter made of a newspaper with bacon grease between each sheet (it smelled good too)

53 Cammyman January 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

This was surprisingly good. Lots of sites have articles like this, but when you try it, it goes out immediately. Good job.

54 GreenMountainBoy February 13, 2014 at 3:21 pm

It may not be manly, but get a box of Safelite firestarters from They’re made of all natural materials with no oil-based products They come as thin squares about 2″ on each side, and they light quickly even when wet, and burn for about 5 minutes each. You get 24 in a box that weighs about 8 oz. Use these instead of tinder, although laying twigs or birch bark over them helps things along. Quick, easy, efficient, and eco-friendly.

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