January 19, 2018
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6 traditional ways to build a better campfire

By Ken Youngquist, author at Survivaltek, special to the BDN
Updated:

Campfire photo credit by Ken Youngquist

Campfire photo credit by Ken Youngquist

How many ways can you build a campfire? About as many ways as you can cook using them. Here are five traditional ways to build a fire and perhaps a few that may be new to you. There are generally two parts to fire craft: the creation of a flame and sustaining the flame as a fire.

The common thread leading to sustained combustion is the progression of thin-to-thick flammable material. The three basic categories of material are referred to as tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder might be dry grass, leaves, bark or twigs, or kindling might be pencil sizes branches. Fuel might be arm-sized branches or larger logs. Because heat rises along with the flames these materials generally are stacked with the tinder at the base followed by kindling and the fuel placed beside or on top of the fire once it is established. The materials should be close enough to transfer heat but loose enough to allow air flow.

Safety measures should be taken when building a fire. Always have an open container of water close by. In addition, there are various ways to contain and control the fire such as by using a fire pit, trench, or Dakota hole. In environments where there is snow or soggy ground, a fire may need to be insulated from beneath using green logs as a base. When a fire is needed on a deck or floor, a thick earthen pad can be used.

The campfire constructions (or fire-lays) that follow are intended to be constructed using materials that you might naturally find in the woods. Although the larger fuel logs shown in the illustrations have been cut or split, this is not necessary for a successful campfire.

Log Cabin

Log cabin

The log cabin configuration is a classic structure and picturesque. It allows air flow and elevates kindling above the initial flames of the tinder placed within the structure. It may be helpful to dig a slight trough under one side with which to accommodate the lighting of the tinder.

Teepee

Teepee photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

Teepee photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

The cone shape of this campfire takes advantage of the rising heat produced from the lit kindling located inside at its base. Like a teepee, an initial tripod of sticks with interlocking branches can be placed to support additional sticks that are leaned against it. Some of the sticks may need the stability that can be gained by pressing the bottom ends into the ground. At some point after the ignition and building up of flames, this structure will collapse.

Lean-to

Lean-to photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

Lean-to photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

The lean-to is built with a log (or dry stone) as a prop to hold up kindling that is leaned against it. Underneath the kindling is placed tinder. This is a preferred method for several reasons: it is a stable structure, the fuel log can act as a wind break or wind scoop and the fuel log is immediately heated for quicker ignition.

Star

Star photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

Star photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

This is another classic campfire that works well. Fuel logs are placed like spokes in a wheel, leaving an opening at the center for a mound of tinder and kindling. The logs provide the same benefit as a lean-to but with the added advantage that the logs can vary in length and can be pushed into the center as they are consumed. This comes in handy when you are unable to cut the fuel logs into shorter convenient lengths.

Inverse

Inverse photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

Inverse photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

In recent years the inverse campfire has gained popularity. Counter to the rule of using thin-to-thick materials that start from the bottom, the inverse construction uses fuel logs (thick) at the bottom with kindling and tinder (thin) placed above. When the tinder is lit, gravity takes hold and the fire and embers descend onto the fuel below, igniting each consecutive layer as it grows.

Bundle-up

Bundle-up photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

Bundle-up photo credit: Ken Youngquist of Survivaltek

This design is a variation of the Swedish Log Candle. The Swedish Log Candle is a fire log that is split or cut lengthwise into wedges, using an axe or chainsaw in the process. The bundle-up can be made without tools by using broken pieces of wood that are wrapped together with vines, cordage or wire. Longer pieces can be placed on the outside with shorter pieces in the center. This creates a slight bowl area into which a mound of kindling and tinder is placed and lit. This aspect resembles the inverse fire structure. Binding the bundle-up low allows for the longest burn time from above. One advantage of the bundle-up variation is that it raises the fire off the ground, which is great using in wet areas.

There are many other campfire methods that exist but these methods have been proven effective and provide options for you to use in various conditions.

For more information by contributor Ken Youngquist, check out his website Survivaltek or visit him on Facebook here.


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