How to Build a Campfire

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A campfire should be built with progression in mind, meaning that the fire should start small and build towards a bigger fire. Find out how to use birch bark as the base layer of a campfire with help from a recreational kayaking instructor and outdoor adventurer in this free video on building campfires.

Part of the Video Series: Camping & Backpacking
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Video Transcript

When considering how to build a camping fire, it is very important to consider your materials. It's impossible to take a lighter to a large piece of wood and just light it this way. We need to think in terms of progression. We want to start small and build big. We also want to think about what type of fire we're going to be using. Is this a campfire? Are we going to be sitting around for a while? Is it going to be a cooking fire, do we need a good hot bed of coals to cook on for a nice even temperature? Are we more concerned about light for a campfire? Things like that. So we think about our materials and we choose our materials wisely. One of the materials I have here is birch bark. This is a fine choice as a base layer. There is many other things that you could use and of course this did not come off of a live tree. One of the things that we need to do is we need to be very concerned that we don't damage anything when we're camping, anything that's living or standing should not be harmed in any way. So this has come off of a dead tree and I have peeled the layers down. What I'm going to do is I'm going to take a small ball of that and place it down in the bottom of my campfire pit then I'm going to take a baseball sized pile of tender. These are dry small branches that are broken off the bottom of a dead pine tree. Starting small, working slightly bigger. Now remember that fire burns up so we're going to be lighting this at the bottom and letting the flames dry the wood and catch the wood as it goes up. The next thing that I'm going to take is I'm going to take some kindling which is just a little bit bigger and I'm going to lay that on top of each other in a little teepee. In this case I'm going to build a combined fire. It's going to be a combined teepee fire and the beginnings of a log cabin. I'm not going to get too fancy with the log cabin. A log cabin would be basically like your Lincoln Log sets where you just build a frame of larger wood around this pile of tender and this teepee that I'm beginning to create with kindling. Now if you notice all of my wood snaps easily. There is nothing green here. That's a sign that it's dry and ready to burn. If it didn't snap it is probably not quite dried out and that it hasn't been off the tree for very long and it's not going to burn well. So now you can see how I'm laying that loosely. The next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to take fuel which is two fingers or bigger and I'm going to create that Lincoln Log set up that I told you about just a bit ago and as I build I'm going to be building slightly inward. You get the idea and this is going to create a good bed of coals for me to cook on. Now I reach down underneath and I light that birch bark. Now there's a lot of things that you can use other than birch bark if you're car camping you could have soaked some newspaper in wax. That works very well or cardboard and wax. That would work real well as a fire starter. So you can see there is no great science to this. It's easy. Once you build your fire you are set for hours.

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