Building a campfire for Newbs
You’ve just driven for hours, found your perfect place to pull up for the night, pitch your tent or park your motorhome, put out your chair, filled up your wine glass and now you’re ready to craft your first camp fire. What are the tricks to getting a comforting blaze going? How do you keep the bush and yourself safe?
Here are a few tips:
- Follow the law of the land. Before you hit the trail looking for firewood, check on whether fires are allowed in your campsite. Pack enough gear so that if you find you are in a fireless area, you can keep yourself warm and well fed.
2. Check the fire danger. Has drought left the bush ready to ignite, or have monsoon rains made finding dry wood difficult? Let safety and respect for nature lead in your decision making. Never start a fire during drought or high winds.
3. Choose a fire ring. Some established campsites and camping grounds often have a metal or stone fire pit. Use it. If a fire ring is unavailable, you will have to d.i.y, which is all part of the fun right? Sit for a moment in the spot you choose. Do you feel strong winds that will carry embers away? Are overhanging branches close enough to ignite? Will your fire be too close to your caravan? Make sure to plan how you will put out your fire when you are done.
4. Clear the fire ring. Once you have chosen a safe spot, clear the area around the fire ring of leaves, twigs, or any other fuel that could catch and let your fire spread.
- Gather wood. The best wood is dead branches. They make the best campfire fuel because they are dry. Any dead wood lying on the ground that is too wet to catch fire without a lot of preheating over a roaring blaze, leave behind.
6. Collect dry, dead branches. How can you tell if a tree branch is dead? Gently bend it. If it flexes, that’s living wood that won’t burn and should be left to grow. Aside from burning down the bush, cutting green wood is the biggest newb’s mistake.
7. Gather kindling. Gather small, dry twigs, from the size of a blade of grass to a pencil, up to about 6cm in diameter, and keep them dry. Tuck fire starting materials under your raincoat in wet weather, and don’t set them on the ground, where they will absorb the earth’s moisture. Some trees, like eucalyptus gum & pine are especially useful because they contain oils that will quickly ignite and spread fire to larger pieces of wood.
8. Get your tinder ready. You can pack in cotton balls dabbed with Vaseline or use a small wad of the finest fibers from an abandoned bird’s nest. Fine, flammable, fibrous material makes the best tinder. A candle stub works well too.
- Make a tent. Start your fire by creating a tiny tepee of the finest kindling broken into 8-inch lengths. Leave an opening facing the breeze so that nature will blow fresh air into your fire. Add an outer tepee of twigs up to pencil-sized pieces. Place your tinder inside the tepee and light it. If you’ve built your tepee well, it will catch on fire, and you can add larger sticks.
10. Don’t smother it. Always allow space for your fire to breathe. Too much fuel piled on quickly will snuff out the flame. You gotta keep that fire burning, keep that fire burning!
11. Start small. Small fires are safer and easier to tend and provide all the benefits of a large fire, with less work.
- Snuff that fire. Never go to bed or leave your campsite and leave a smoking fire behind. Let the flames burn down, then pour water over the embers. Stir the ashes, and add more water if needed to fully douse any live coals.
Fire has been our companion since ancient times, and you will be surprised by how useful a small campfire when you’re camping can be for cooking your food and warming yourself. Basking in the campfire’s glow after a physically demanding day feels deeply relaxing. Knowing you have made a fire safely and responsibly makes the experience all the more satisfying.