When you think of camping, what comes to mind? Scenes of nature, relaxation and, of course, the iconic campfire. Even if you’re RVing, building a campfire is one of the “must do” activities on many campers’ lists. If you’ve never built one – or it’s been years since you’ve had your last campfire – you might be stunned to know that building a campfire now is a lot more complex than it used to be.
The most basic things to know about campfires is where and how to build one. If your campsite doesn’t already have an established fire ring, you need to clear an area that’s free of any low-hanging tree limbs. Remove all brush and debris in a five-foot radius, stripping the area to bare soil. Use fist size or larger stones to create a ring around the cleared circle, forming a barrier against errant embers.
Gather up a mixture of twigs and dry leaves to use as tinder, and small sticks to use as kindling, as well as larger limbs for firewood. As for assembling the wood for the optimal fire, the jury is out on whether a teepee, pyramid or log cabin-style stacking is best – largely it’s a matter of preference.
Light the tinder with a match or lighter and gently blow at the base of your stacked kindling and firewood to move oxygen to the embers to create a flame.
Leave No Trace
Campers in all situations are encouraged to leave as little trace of their existence on the campsite as possible – which means you should use existing fire rings when possible if you absolutely must build a fire. Unless you absolutely need a fire, it’s better for the environment and campsite if you forego building a new ring. If you’re camping at an established site, use the fire ring or burn center supplied.
If using a camp stove or grill is out of the question and you’re building a new fire pit, minimize your impact on the campsite by using rocks that are already loose to form your ring and wood that’s already downed rather than cutting live growth. Pack out any debris or items that didn’t fully burn after extinguishing your campfire.
Burn Bans and Fire Prohibitions
Some campsites ban campfires. In these instances, it’s best to abide by the rules or risk a hefty fine – especially if you’re camping on state or federal land. Some parks and recreational areas require a campfire permit which must be obtained at the start of your trip. Privately owned campsite owners may opt to ban campfires in the interests of maintaining the site for all users. Failure to abide by the rules can result in a loss of camping privileges or worse, charges in civil court.
Even if campfires are allowed or you’ve obtained the appropriate permits, your campfire might still get the kibosh due to dry weather. Regional officials enact burn bans to prevent or reduce the likelihood of forest fires and uncontrolled burns. Check the weather station nearest to your campsite or talk to campground officials before starting a fire.
Enjoying Your Campfire
After ensuring you’ve got permission and a proper site to build a campfire, and evaluating whether its impact on the campsite is worth having one – rather than an alternative such as a camp stove or grill – you can enjoy your campfire throughout the duration of your firewood supply. Keep a few liters of water handy for emergency extinguishment and be sure to respect the fire as a hazard while cooking, using it for warmth or just enjoying its dancing glow.