Types of Campfires (and How to Light Them)

Campfire near the lake

One of the best things about going camping is sitting around the fire, and learning the types of campfires can help you build one properly the first time. To be successful, a fire has to have the following three elements: fuel, oxygen and heat. These fire designs make sure that this is possible. Before you get started, note that the designs refer to how the wood is placed, not the shape of the actual flames. That is basically beyond your control.

The Teepee

As far as types of campfires go, this one is the easiest to build. It is conical in shape, reminiscent of traditional Native American teepees. To build this fire, do the following:

  1. Gather at least 10 pieces of dry kindling that are between eight and 12 inches long.
  2. Hold four of the pieces vertically in your fire pit. Then lean them into each other in such a way that they remain standing.
  3. Add the rest of the kindling to your teepee, being careful not to make it topple over.
  4. Fill the area inside your teepee with smaller pieces of kindling.
  5. Light the fire and add more kindling as needed.

You may see bonfires in the teepee style that use much larger pieces of wood. It's best to start small until you master the technique. Your fire is a lot safer if it's small and collapses than if one topples that is six feet tall.

Father and son building campfire

The Log Cabin

Unlike the teepee, the log cabin fire depends on large, thick logs, such as the ones you would use in a fireplace at home. Here are the directions to make this fire type:

  1. Take two logs and arrange them parallel to one another in your fire pit, about eight inches apart.
  2. Take an additional two logs and lay them across the first two logs perpendicularly.
  3. Repeat the first two steps with four more logs so you have a good solid square.
  4. Toss your kindling into the center of the cabin and then light your fire.

It's best to reach under the second set of logs and light your fire from the bottom. It's safer than trying to reach down from the top.

Man starting a fire

The Trench Fire

If you're more interested in using your fire for cooking than in making it large and warm, you can simply make a trench fire. All you need to do here is place two or more thick logs parallel to each other, so close that they are almost touching. Then light your fire in between the two logs. You will get a small fire that is very, very hot. Make sure the logs don't touch completely since you need room for the oxygen to get in.

Rudd frying in a pan

The Star Fire

This is not known as one of the popular types of camp fires, but it's an interesting one if you'd like to try it. You need five thick logs to make the five points of the star. Simply arrange them so they look like the rays of the sun, with a small empty area in the epicenter. Then light the end of each log that is closest to the center. As the fire burns up the logs, push them further into the center.

Man sitting by bonfire

Troubleshooting Tips for All Types of Campfires

The worst part of building a campfire is when the fire doesn't cooperate. If you have trouble getting your fire to start, try these tips:

  • Make sure your wood is dry. A good way to tell it is too wet is if it gives off steam instead of smoke. The gas will be colorless instead of gray.
  • Try blowing on the flames from underneath. This will add more oxygen to your fire. Just don't get too close or you could burn yourself.
  • If you're really in a bind, use a fire starter.

Try a Different Type of Fire

Each of these fire shapes is ideal for certain circumstances and uses but may not be suited to every situation. If one of these campfire types isn't working for you, try a different one.

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Types of Campfires (and How to Light Them)