A fire is needed in almost any backpacking, hiking, or camping survival situation. It may seem like a simple task building a campfire, but most people struggle building one. Furthermore, it can be more difficult to build a campfire if you run out of matches. Whether it is a campfire for cooking or for providing heat during cold nights, it is essential that you know the proper way to build a campfire, with or without matches, when camping.
No matter how fascinating the scenery, campfire meals are always the highlight of the camper’s day. Nothing beats the appeal and taste of meals cooked over the campfire. The freedom to cook over an open fire today is a privilege due to restricted areas of camping and declining firewood stocks in many campgrounds. This calls for utmost caution and respect.
Requirements for Building a Campfire for Cooking
- Fire location
Pay attention to the ground where the fire is going to be lit before starting to prepare the fire place. It is recommended you build the fire over a rock. In case it is not possible on a rock, you should ensure that the base of the fire is on a bare mineral soil. The fire will be burning all evening, thus will have lots of time to burn through the organic layer of the soil. When the time comes to put out the fire, a simple bucket of water won’t do-have a fire extinguishing mechanism in place. First, look out for previously established pits, if any, before scarring the area with more fire pits.
Campfire for cooking needs to be clean, and burning hot. You will achieve this only with a dry, seasoned wood. Getting green wood from trees won’t bear fruit as its fire burn poorly and create unnecessary smoke. You can pack in dry wood to carry along in case it won’t be available. Call ahead to see what’s available as many public campgrounds supply firewood.
- Wind Shelter
Strong winds are hazardous in cooking. And can cause sparks getting away, which can ignite forest fire. Strong winds reduce firewood quickly and provide much less cooking time. Therefore, a wind shelter is necessary to daunt significant winds from interfering with your cooking.
These are small materials that ignite easily and quickly with a spark. They include dry grasses, fungus, mosses or shredded dry bark. The material need to be as dry and finely shredded as possible.
Medium-sized materials that would catch fire from tinder, quickly. Kindling may include small twigs, dry leaves, larger pieces of barks, or sticks. Kindling material must be dry, small items in order to catch fire.
Building a Campfire for Cooking
When building a campfire for cooking, the objective is to have all the wood turn to coal at the same time. This would produce an even fire with no flames going up to the food or blackening your cookware. This also builds the longest cooking time from the fire produced.
- Site preparation
The fire site should be located at least 8″ from bushes or any combustibles. Ensure no tree branches hang around the site. Use green logs or large rocks to make a U-shaped perimeter around the fire place. If using logs for the perimeter, have them wetted down from time to time. In case of a breeze, have back end of fire place face the wind. Create some form of chimney; you can have a large flat rock put at the rear of the fire place, to help direct the smoke up and away.
- Laying the Kindling
Spread the fire area with tinder. Place kindling material over the tinder in layers, interchanging direction with each layer. You can employ use of thin splits of wood or small dead branches. Do not place kindling materials the “teepee style”. Cover the whole fire area with the kindling stack. Have a bucket of water near the fire area. To start the fire, light the tinder material.
- Blazing the Fire and Grading the Coals
When the kindling material is ablaze, add firewood. The wood should have the same size, as much as possible. You can use hardwood or hardwood branches. Spread wood evenly over the fire bed. When flames start to die down leaving mostly white coals, remove the white coals by pushing them at the lower level at the front and back end at a higher level. This would level the remaining coal to your liking. Set rocks or wetted green logs around the fire for setting the cookware or grill for cooking.
Best Method of Building a Campfire for Cooking
There are three popular methods of building a campfire for cooking; the log cabin, the platform, and the tepee. Although the tepee method is more popular, the log cabin method is the best for cooking.
- Log Cabin Method
First, you build a small tepee of tinder and kindling in the center of your fireplace. Then stack wood logs a foot or less apart in an interchanging pattern around the tepee in the shape of a square. The space between logs allows for air circulation from bottom to top of the fireplace. Build the wood logs as large as you’d like. Light the kindling in the middle. You can blow into the tepee if the fire struggles to set ablaze or dig small air holes beneath the base logs. Keep the fire at a reasonable and safe size.
- The Platform
This is achieved by building a solid log cabin, with the largest logs at the base and something about the size of your wrist on top. The platform is for those who want a nice bed of coals to cook on. Light fire on the top and let it burn down through the logs, which will create a big, thick bed of hot coals. You don’t have to wait for all of it to burn down before you start cooking. You can use a cast iron cookware, placing it directly on the hot coals as soon as that first layer of logs is burning solidly.
The platform method is known as “upside down” fire when bigger logs are used. It is upheld for its ability to burn for a long time, unattended. Remember to put the biggest logs on the bottom and scale up to smaller stuff at the top. Light fire at the top. As you practice, you’ll figure out the right size of wood needed to create fire that burns on its own, all night.
It can be a little bit difficult learning how to create campfire using platform method. The trick is to create a large enough teepee on top so as to create a bed of coals that will be capable of burning down through the first layer, igniting it, building a larger bed of coals etc.
- The Tepee Method
Compact the tinder into a ball formation, about 4″ in diameter. Then place it in the middle of the fire place. Stack the kindling material into a corn formation, around the tinder. Lean wood logs on the kindling. Leave an opening in the teepee for lighting the pile of tinder from the bottom with matches. The fire spreads to the kindling and logs when the tinder lights; giving you a great campfire. You can blow softly on the fire to get it spread to the kindling and wood. In case the fire goes out, add more tinder or kindling. Once the blaze is going, keep adding logs in the tepee pattern.
Never build your campfire closer than 6 feet from your shelter, near low-hanging branches, or vegetation.
There are a bunch of ways to build campfire, but the key here is to practice, find the method that most suits your cooking and you are comfortable with. You can even customize the fire to your unique needs on a given night, Practicing the hard way, with Ferro rod, knife and tinder, and leaning to prepare your own wood with limited tools helps develop key skills for survival.
Jeffrey Howie is a hunter and survivalist with a fanatic interest in survival gears and wilderness survival techniques. He regularly publishes articles on his blog: http://www.survivalcrib.com. Survival Crib is the ultimate resource for anyone looking for survival tips and techniques. To learn more, visit Survival Crib (survivalcrib.com).
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