5 campfire techniques you NEED to know:


Picture courtesy of the United States Department of the Army (Solider Manual Survival Guide)


For anyone who has gone camping or built a fire in their fireplace, you know that there is a distinct scent in the air that sends you off to a warm and cozy place. But, maybe you’re caught with no lighter fluid, or are without those fire logs that last nine hours long. ParkVisitor explores the five best campfire techniques to help you make that spark into a flame, and keep you warm or cooking all night long.

Type of wood


From left to right: Tinder, Twigs, Logs


  • Step 1: Tinder  – Tinder is anything that can catch fire instantly as soon as you introduce a heat source to it. Common tinder used in the outdoors can be: dry pine needles, tree bark, wood shavings, and even stalks from twigs; whereas things like: newspaper, laundry lint, and cardboard are common tinder used in a more urban setting


  • Step 2: Twigs – Twigs are the next evolution in the camp fire and the best friend to tinder. Twigs are considered anything that are about 1’-2’ feet long and are a diameter between the thickness of your pinky and two-fingers. They catch the flames started by the tinder quickly. Common twigs used in the outdoors can be: short dry twigs, pine cones and large pieces of dry bark that are broken up


  • Step 3: Logs The final step in the construction process of a proper campfire are the logs you choose! Logs vary in length, but the thickness is the most important part here. Thickness should be from the diameter of an adult’s wrist, to an adult’s thigh. Anything larger will either suffocate the fire, or burn too slowly to be of any use to cooking or heating


PeetyUsing an axe (and a superior level of coordination), split larger logs in half and the half into quarters so that the pieces burn faster. NEVER hold a log with your hand and tell someone to split it. Balance the log in the dirt so that it is free-standing. 


5 firewood combinations for the perfect campfire

1.) Tepee 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVaGXNZ1CLI]
The tepee is a classic rendition of the original campfire wood arrangement. It’s relatively easy to balance all the twigs together to form a cone. The empty space below is used as the pocket for the tinder (tree-bark or paper). Once the tinder is lit, physics does most of the rest as the flames attempt to escape upward but are blocked by the tip of the cone made by the twigs. This ofcourse helps catch the wood on fire faster.

1 – Gather small to medium-sized twigs (the thickness should vary from the diameter of your pinky and thumb)

2 – While gathering small/medium twigs, also gather larger pieces of wood, the diameter of your wrist is a good size to start from

3 – Set up the twigs in pairs with two twigs lenaing on eachother at first, then two more perpendicular to the first two. Then just continue to stack the twigs towards eachother, keeping the balance of the whole tepee intact.

4 – Allow yourself some room towards the base of the tepee to slip your hand in and place more tinder if need be. Then light up the tinder. Add more if necessary for the flames to reach the top of the tepee.

2.) Cross Ditch

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOMhM1HrWjE]


The Cross Ditch is always a great pit to make in the event of cold weather or rough conditions. Assuming that you’re in a wet climate, this form of campfire is ideal. Even if you’re around snow, and wind, the trenches you build are below ground allowing for oxygen to move into the fire without extinguishing it. The trenches you dig in the shape of a large addition sign (+) allow for air to flow under and through the pile of wood in the center of where all sides of the trenches are covered This makes for a quick light, after a 2-3 minute dig.

1 – Take a shovel, axe, large knife or a wide piece of wood and make a cross in the dirt. Each line from the center should stretch out at least three-feet.

2 – Two feet is fine if the area you are in is limited to the amount of movable soil

3 – The trench should be at least six inches deep. If the soil is too frozen, make sure the center of the cross is the deepest point with a shallow trench leading leading into it. [Remove loose dirt so that it doesn’t collapse onto your fire once you get it started]

4 – In the center of the cross,build a Tepee firewood structure. This ensures a quick burn, and the embers can be fed with larger pieces of wood sooner

5- Once the fire has started and burned out, and the embers remain, run two parallel green sticks (not dead) across the sides of the center of the cross.Adjust the sticks to a pan, grill, or kebob shishs – and have a good dinner.



In order to be a bit more environmentally conscious, bring two pieces of scrap rebar with you to use in place of the green-branches mentioned in step 3

3.) Triangle (Lean-to)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeoG2_wzEGE]
  If you imagine this setup with larger sticks and a tarp draped over the whole thing, it would look like a great temporary shelter in a survival situation – and in most cases you would be right. But on a smaller scale with twigs and kindling, the “lean-to” is used as a great fire set up to resist wind from all sides, yet funnel it through the opening at the front. This allows for a very even burn, and it’s a simple way to start a fire.

1 – Find a longer and thick stick, preferably not too dry. Let’s call this stick the beam. Impale it into the ground so that it’s sticking out at an angle
You don’t have to be mathematically precise with degrees and what not; just make sure that the beam is leaning at a low enough angle where the twigs  you’ve gathered can reach it and rest sturdily on the side

2 –  Line the twigs you’ve gathered against the beam so that they form a triangle looking shape. See the video above for more detail. As you line the twigs, make sure you have them set up wide enough to allow for an opening where you can fit kindling  and tinder comfortably

3 – Once the beam is lined with twigs, add a large pile of tinder atleast a couple of inches down from the opening. This allows for protection from the wind, but also air pockets where the tinder can be fed oxygen

4 – Once you lite up the tinder, add smaller twigs to it until the flames start to reach the beam. From here on, keep adding twigs and larger sticks around the beam

5 – The length of the beam and the amount of twigs you have lined up will dictate the spread of the fire and coals

4.) Pyramid (Log fort)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFdk_sg-klk]
The Pyramid frame for the campfire is one of the most commonly used for outdoor excursions. It’s simple, “self-feeding” and slow burning, allowing for a long night of enjoyment. This setup is by far the easiest on our list, as long as you paid attention during the gathering of the tinder, twigs and logs.

1 – Start with the logs at the bottom. You’re going to want to place two logs parallel to eachother, spaced 6-8 inches apart (basically, just enough room for the tinder). Between both logs, add a healthy dose of tinder (pine needles, tissues, small twigs, etc)

2 – After the first two of your largest logs are set, place another two in the opposite direction. For example. Say you placed the first logs facing North/South, now face the other legs East/West on top of the first two. You’re trying to make a square.

3 – Once you have the second level, just keep switching back and forth between directions, with each rising level having smaller and thinner sticks

4 – You don’t have to make a perfect pyramid point. Just stop stacking the pyramid when you can’t fit your hand through the top.

5 – Sprinkle some left over pine needles over the pyramid, or find small crevices in the whole stack where such tinder can be placed.

6 – Take a match and light the tinder at the bottom between the two logs. If the tinder is hard to reach, tie some small sticks together and light those up creating yourself a longer and extended match.


Once the pyramid has lit, let it burn and fall into itself. When you notice that only the logs are burning, you can start adding twigs to the fire. Just make sure to repeat the placement of the wood; don’t just toss it in anywhere.  


5.) Cowboy Fire (Star or Indian star)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayjNwiz71CE]
A classical take on the cowboy and “Great Plains” camp fire! The Cowboy fire is framed to last all night, and be used for backwoods cooking as well. The set up is simpler than the Pyramid too! The reason it’s also called the “Star Fire,” is that once it’s set up, it looks like a star…pretty simple right? Let’s get into it shall we? Giddyup!
1 – Dig a small depression into the ground. Nothing complex, just the diameter of a salad bowl, and just deep enough to be below level ground (usually measure with the depth of your index finger

2 – Find 4-5 logs of similar length and thickness. Line them up to point at one another, just like a Star ( see video)

3 – Once all are pointed to eachother, build a small tinder and twig pile in the middle. Be generous with the tinder, but only cover the first quarter of the logs where they meet.

4 – Light the tinder to flame, and let the twigs catch fire. Add some more twigs so that there is an ample amount of coal to feed the ends of logs with heat. Once you see the logs catch fire, follow step 5 closely

5 – Start moving the logs towards the center as the fire starts to burn. Since the logs are laying on the ground cutting off circulation from below, the only part of them that will burn is the part you feed into the flame.



You can put your cooking pan in the center of the fire pit where it will balance on the logs. If the fire is being used just for warmth, just keep adjusting the wood every now and then and you’ll have a fire all night.