How to Build the Perfect Campfire
Winter is coming.
No, that’s not a clever "Game of Thrones" reference. Look at your upcoming 5-day forecast and odds are good you’ll see cooler temperatures and snow in the foothills. Fall has finally arrived, bringing with it winter weather at many of our favorite outdoor destinations.
That said, don’t let the wind, rain, or snow dissuade you from getting out there this winter. Join us this season in embracing the weather, not fighting against it. One of the best ways we can think to warm up on a cold winter day is building that perfect campfire.
We’ve rounded up five of our favorite tips for finding fuel, building a cozy campfire, and keeping the fire burning. Combine these tips and our favorite Marmot gear and you’ll realize why we think there is #NoBadWeather.
1. Find the Right Fuel
Once you’ve found a firepit protected from the wind and rain (preferably under a thick forest canopy), here’s how to heat up in a hurry.
You’ll want three types of fuel to start your fire. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Tinder isn’t just everyone’s favorite dating app - it forms the basis for any lasting campfire. As opposed to sticks and logs, tinder usually comprises some combination of leaves, bark, twigs, and grass. Whatever you choose, it should light easily and be as dry as possible.
Kindling consists of sticks and logs that are larger than tinder, but not quite firewood. (A good rule of thumb: Kindling is typically thicker than a finger, but no thicker than a wrist.) This helps the fire "catch" as your tinder burns.
Firewood is the largest log you’ll throw on a fire. The more firewood you use, and the bigger the log, the longer your fire will burn.
Naturally, all manner of lifehacks can help when natural fuel is in short supply.
Dryer lint is among the most popular forms of homemade tinder, especially when stuffed into an empty toilet paper tube. (Feeling especially creative? Melt some candle wax on your stovetop, and pour it into the tube. Once solidified, cut the tube into coins for an especially effective firestarter.)
Vaseline-covered cotton balls will light quickly, even in damp conditions, though you’ll want a few Ziploc bags’ worth—just to be safe.
Cardboard and rolled-up newspaper will work in a pinch, though neither burns for very long.
Note : If you’re bringing wood to your campsite, take care to buy it at the campground or a nearby store. Doing so lessens the risk of introducing invasive insects into the new ecosystem.
2. Have a Plan
There’s no one "right" way to build a campfire. Here are some of our favorite formations for getting the fire going:
Tipi: When you think of a campfire, this is probably the shape you’re imagining. Kindling and logs are stacked vertically in the shape of a cone, with the tinder nestled inside. The tipi formation helps guard against wind and makes it easy for the burning tinder to "catch" on the surrounding wood.
Log Cabin: Another popular formation, the log cabin looks like a tic-tac-toe board from above. Achieve the form by criss-crossing parallel sets of two logs, usually three or four high. Give yourself enough room between logs for tinder and kindling.
Platform: Place three or four of your biggest logs parallel to each other to form the base layer With each progressive vertical layer, choose slightly smaller logs to eventually create a pyramid shape. Place the kindling and tinder on top once you’ve achieved the desired formation.
3. Learn to Love the Lean-To
The aforementioned formations are fine and should get you through most evenings at the campsite. But if the winds are a little too fierce this winter, the lean-to formation helps protect your finicky fire against the elements. Here’s how to pull it off:
Find the biggest log in your bundle, and set it down on the ground. (This log will protect your fire against wind gusts.)
Set your tinder down parallel to the log’s long side. This should butt up against the side of the log and extend a foot or so away.
Lean your kindling on the log, covering the tinder in the process.
Light the tinder, and wait for the fire to "catch" on the kindling.
4. Starting the Fire
You have your wood, fuel, and formation picked out. Now it’s time to actually light your fire. Here are a few tips for ensuring your fire starts quickly—and lasts, even in the face of wind, rain, and snow.
Pack the perfect firestarter: We’re partial to long-necked lighters for staying out of harm’s way, but waterproof matches are perfect when the weather won’t cooperate.
Light the tinder: You won’t get very far trying to light kindling or firewood.
Get up close and personal: While your tinder smolders, don’t be afraid to blow on the base of the nascent fire to help it spread.
Don’t forget: When you’re ready to retire for the night, make sure to fully put out the fire. Do so by splashing water until the fire is fully extinguished and ashes are cool to the touch. If you run out of water, kick a little dirt onto the embers. NEVER leave a fire unattended.
5. Grab the Right Gear
Campfires can only do so much to keep you warm. For a comfortable night around the fire, check out the Featherless line of jackets, hoodies, and vests from Marmot. The Featherless line uses synthetic materials to provide state-of-the-art insulation, and the water-resistant fibers keep you dry in damp conditions. The breathable fabric, meanwhile, keeps you from overheating.
Whether you’ve never built a fire before or are a seasoned pro, these tips will help you make a bigger and better fire. Just don’t forget the marshmallows!
Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.