One of the joys of camping in the colder weather is getting warm by the campfire. Sharing stories, drinking hot chocolate, cooking – or just get mesmerized by the best television show there is; fire! In this post we will share the essential ingredients of the art of fire making, different ways to get your fire lit and various campfire building methods. Let’s get into it!
Preparation is key
Especially in cold, wet or windy conditions preparation is even more important than usual. Without the right materials available at the right time, chances are, your fire will die out, and you will have to start again. Of course, building a fire is for fun and learning purposes in most situations, but in other situations, building a fire the right way is vital to life. We are by no means fire experts, but we have build countless fires in all kinds of weather conditions.
The first step in preparation is fire safety. Are there fire bans you need to be aware of, what kind of nature are you in? Be aware that some surroundings can carry fire beneath the ground, and can cause wild fires. Peat and heather are infamous for this. Do you have any form of fire extinguisher near by, such as water or sand? Make sure to clear the ground, and watch out for overhanging branches.
The next step in preparation is to gather all the materials you will need. As a rule of thumb, bring twice you think you need. Gather tinder, most often small dead twigs, that are about the diameter of a pencil lead, and snap when you break them. Make sure the twigs are about as long as two hands, and gather at least two big hands full. Besides twigs, pine cones, birch bark and fat wood are a nice addition to your tinder. They all contain fatty resin that will make fire lighting easier, especially in wet conditions.
Next to tinder, you will need kindling. These are dry branches about the diameter of your thumb, and as long as your fingertips to your elbow. Gather an generous armload of kindling. Make sure that the branches are dry, you can find these branches hanging in between trees, or standing next to trees (this is called dead standing wood).
Now you have got your tinder and kindling ready, go gather fuel for your fire. These are bigger branches or split fire wood, to start with about the size of your wrist and as long as your arm. Make sure this first stack of fuel is dry, larger dead standing wood is perfect for this! Gather three very generous armloads. Split any wood that is too large with an axe, or use an sturdy knife to batton the wood into smaller pieces.
Lite a fire
There are so many amazing ways to actually get your fire lit. Matches, flint and steel, ferro rods, bow drills, hand drills, magnifying glass. All methods demand slightly different materials, and of course there is personal preference too! We will give a short overview of our preferred combos, but we invite you to find your own favourites!
Build a fire
For every situation there is a different kind of fire building method, the tepee method is a well tested way to start your fire. Build a tepee out of the small twigs you gathered as tinder. Make sure to leave an opening, preferably to a side that is not facing the wind. This opening will allow you to insert the actual fire. Don’t make your tepee too compact, for air will need to travel through, to make a fire. Now the first layer of the tepee is up, add the kindling as outer layer of the fire tepee. When the conditions are really dry, you might me able to light the tinder with just a match, in other situations you will need a way of combustion and a highly flammable tinder (such as the options we shared before!). On that note, it is an more than excellence challenge to try one match fire!
When your feather stick, fatwood, punkwood, birch bark, grass or others are lit, carefully place them inside the tepee, so the twigs and kindling can catch fire. When the fire is roaring through the twigs and kindling, add the fuel piece by piece. Don’t rush trough this step, this is actually a time when fires can die out easily. Add more and more fuel to keep the fire going and get really hot. When the fire is burning pretty solid, you can add more fuel in a pyramid or criss-cross fashion. This way you will be able to add larger pieces of wood, and the fire will need less feeding. This method is also very good for cooking!
Both the tepee as the pyramid or criss-cross method, will not work in every situation. When the ground is really wet or cold, you could give an upside down fire a shot, and when it is really windy, you should consider making a reflector (both for retaining heat, as keeping wind out).
Have a Plan B
We have been in situations were the rain was pouring down heavily, with cold stormy winds. Situations were we weren’t able to lite a fire in ‘a pretty way’. We have been there, and you will find yourself there at one moment in time. In these situations it is good to have a Plan B, such as a shelter and an outdoor stove (also a good bet when there are fire bans). Another great Plan B are store bought fire starters, such as paraffin based ones. We always carry packages of paraffin that can be lit to start a fire, and to be honest, these fire starters have saved our asses more than once.
We hope you have an amazing time making safe campfires, and you will enjoy cold nights around the fire, with good company and warm drinks! Please share with us your amazing campfires on Instagram or in the comments. We would also love to hear your best hot drinks to enjoy on cold nights!