Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

How to Build a Campfire



To build a fire, to strike a match and to watch the flames leap up and lick the wood are all part of the thrill of camping. Yet there's a lot more to successfully starting a "one matcher" than just tossing a lighted match at a pile of dry twigs. To help you get your fire started here are a few suggestions.

If your campsite doesn't have an established fireplace, and if you have permission to build a campfire, select a spot that is in an open area away from trees of low-hanging branches.

Clear a circle of all leaves, twigs, or other combustible materials and build a fireplace on the ground by placing rocks around the rim of your circle. If you're building a cooking fire, confine the circle to the size of your grill. Don't use shale, slate of schist for your fireplace rime since these rocks are formed in layers, and when heated the moisture within them produces steam which can cause them to explode.

Lay a pile of tinder on the ground in the center of your fireplace, and over it place a generous amount of kindling. Light the tinder and after the fire is burning, add fuel.

The kind of tinder, kindling and fuel that's available for your campfire depends on where you are camping. Generally, most campground owners provide bundled firewood for a nominal sum, but if you're looking for these materials yourself you should know what to look for.

Tinder may be dead twigs from standing trees, bark from dead trees, finally split pi-on pine or pine needles. Our favorite tinder happens to be crumpled-up newspaper.

Kindling is made by chopping firewood into small pieces or by using small branches from dead trees.

Fuel is simple firewood-and the kind of fuel you burn determines how hot or how long lasting your campfire will be.

Arranging your tinder, kindling and fuel so that the fire burns properly is an easy matter. Our favorite fire is called the teepee, and we make it by placing kindling around the tinder in a conical shape resembling an Indian tipi, or teepee. If we plan to cook with a fire, we support our grate by building a teepee fire between two logs about three feet long.

Teepee fires built with softwoods re god for reflector oven cooking, which depends on a high, steady flame. A teepee fire built with hardwood, gives coals that are good for Dutch oven cooking.

Our Scouting daughters enjoy constructing a more elaborate campfire called a Log Cabin, and they build it by crisscrossing logs over a bed of tinder and kindling.

Trench fires are also used for cooking and they're easy to build. Dig a trench about one foot deep by about three feet long. Lay a good bed of tinder and kindling in the bottom of the trench and add fuel after the kindling is burning. Trench fires are useful for cooking on a windy day, but don't fill the trench opening with too many pots or pans or you won't have enough draft to keep the fire going.

Since most campers cover a lot of territory during their camping trips, it might be a good idea to learn which firewoods are available to build a fire in the different sections of our country.

There are six major forest areas in the United States and they contain 1,182 species of trees, which fall into two basic categories-deciduous and conifers.

Most deciduous trees are hardwoods with broad leaves which are shed in the fall. these trees remain dormant during the winter and they provide the best woods for a cooking fire. Hardwoods burn clean and slowly and leave lots of good hot cooking coals. Use them when you're cooking with a Dutch oven or roasting food in aluminum foil.

Most conifers are evergreens, or softwoods, and they produce seeds within cones. Conifers usually have needles which they shed, but not all at once, and they remain green throughout the year. Softwoods light easily and make a good campfire, but they burn fast and leave few coals. Use fostwoods for reflector oven cooking.

If you live on the Pacific coast, anywhere from Alaska to California, it will be difficult to find hardwood for your campfire since one of the largest coniferous forests in the world runs through this area and it includes the largest trees in the world-the redwoods.

East of this forest lies another forest of mainly coniferous trees that covers the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. The western forest consists of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Englemann spruce and other conifers, and among the few deciduous trees found in the area are aspen and cottonwood.

A mixed forest containing both hardwood and softwood trees is found along the northern edge of our country from New England through Minnesota, dipping down into West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. Coniferous trees in this forest are the red or Norway pine, the jack pine, white pine spruce and fir. Hardwood trees include the maple, birch, and beech.

The largest forest of all ranges from the Atlantic coast to beyond the Mississippi River and it's mainly a deciduous forest with many hardwood trees, including beech, oak, hickory, elm, ash, and walnut.

The beautiful southern forest covers a large area extending from the Atlantic coast through Louisiana, and it's composed mainly of conifers, although such hardwoods as oak, willow, cottonwood, ash, pecan and poplar may also be found.

The sixth major forest is a tropical one and lies chiefly at the southern tip of Florida and along the southern Gulf coast of Texas. Hardwood trees in this forest are mahogany, mangrove, and bay.

For a handy reference toe best-known hardwood and softwood trees, we've compiled a list showing the general areas of our country where they may be found.

Deciduous Trees
Alder, red-Pacific coast
Apple-east; central; northern; southern
Ash-east; central; southern
Aspen-Rocky Mountain; northern
Bay-tropical
Beech-east; central; northern
Birch- northern
Chestnut-east; central
Cottonwood-Pacific coast; Rocky Mountains; east, central, southern
Dogwood-east; central
Elm-east; central
Gum, black-east, central, southern
Gum, red-east; central; southern
Hickory-east; central
Locust-east; central
Mahogany-tropical
Mahogany, mountain-Rocky Mountain
Mangrove-tropical
Maple, bigleaf-pacific coast
Maple, red-east; central; northern
Maple, sugar-northern
Oak-east; central; northern; southern
Pecan-southern
Poplar-east; central; southern
Sycamore-east; central
Tulip-east; central
Walnut-east; central
Willow-southern

Coniferous Trees
Cedar, incense-Pacific coast; Rocky Mountain
Cedar, red-Pacific coast; Rocky Mountain; east; central
Cedar, white-northern
Cyprus-southern
Fir, balsam-Pacific coast; northern
Fir, Douglas-Pacific coast; Rocky Mountain
Fir, white-Rocky Mountain; northern
Hemlock-northern
Hemlock, western-Pacific Coast
Larch, western-Rocky Mountain
Loblolly-Southern
Pine, jack-northern
Pine, longleaf-southern
Pine, lodgepole-Rocky Mountain
Pine, ponderosa-Rocky Mountain
Pine, red-northern
Pine, shortleaf-east; central; southern
Pine, slash-southern
Pine, sugar-Pacific coast; Rocky Mountain
Pine, Virginia-east; central
Pine, white-Rocky Mountain; east; central; northern
Redwood-Pacific coast
Spruce, Englemann-Rocky Mountain
Spruce, northern-northern
Spruce, Sitka-Pacific coast
Tamarack-northern

Remember: Nine out of ten forest fires are caused by human carelessness. After you've built your fire and enjoyed its cheery warmth, be sure it's completely out before you leave the campsite. Pour water on it, stir it up and then pour more water on to be sure it's dead. If your fire isn't in an established fireplace, bury the dead coals or cover them with sand.

Excerpted from Woodall's Campsite Cookbook.

Find campsites for your visit at Woodall's.