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A Campfire for Every Occasion

Summer is prime time for camping, and camping means building fires to cook food, stay warm, and let’s be honest, continue in the quest to roast the perfect marshmallow. We’ve talked about how to start a fire, but actually putting the logs together and building a fire is a different story.

You can build a fire in many different configurations, each with different purposes and benefits. Some configurations are for cooking, others are better for keeping you warm. Knowing each configuration and its use can help you in any situation, whether you’re out camping or in a survival situation.

What You Need

The basics of starting a fire include air, surface area, fuel, and an ignition source to start the fire.

Air- Fire is a chemical reaction and needs plenty of oxygen in order to burn. The configuration of your wood should allow plenty of airflow to fan the flame.

Surface Area- The formation you use should have plenty of area for the spark to catch and burn. Build the formation large enough that your fire has room to grow.

Fuel- Fuel includes tinder, kindling, and larger logs for the fueling of the fire. Tinder should be small, dry sticks that can easily catch fire. Kindling is slightly larger and used to grow the fire into a larger flame. Larger logs burn more slowly and fuel your fire, creating heat and light.

Ignition Source- Your formation is useless without a way to start your fire. This can be done in multiple different ways, like matches, fire starters, kits, or friction.

Types of Campfires

Each of the following configurations provide you with the key fire-starting components listed above and help you to build a fire for any situation.

Teepee- This campfire works best for creating lots of heat, especially at the top of the teepee. Because of the high heat, this campfire will burn through fuel more quickly than other formations.

Begin by placing tinder in the center of the area where you will build your campfire. Place kindling around the tinder in a cone shape. Next, take three large logs from your fuel pile and lean them against each other to form a point over your kindling. Light the tinder and add fuel to the original three logs as your fire grows.

Log Cabin- Built similarly to an actual log cabin, this structure is ideal for cooking because it provides uniform heat. This is also one of the easiest campfires to build.

Build a log cabin fire by placing two parallel logs on the ground, then placing two more on top of those in the opposite direction. Alternate like this until you have formed four walls. Place your tinder and kindling in a cone shape in the center of your walls. Light from the bottom, you may need to dig small holes at the base of your walls to allow for more air flow.

Pyramid- The pyramid campfire is known by many names, including the inverse campfire because you light it at the top rather than the bottom. It is also known as the council fire because you can build a very large fire that creates lots of heat and light for entertaining.

Pyramid Fire

To build the pyramid campfire, lay your largest logs of fuel on the ground next to each other about five logs or more, depending on the size you want. Lay logs on top of this in the opposite direction. Continue alternating like this, with each layer smaller than the layer before. Your top layers will be you kindling sticks. At the very top, build a cone shape of tinder to start the fire. The pyramid will slowly burn down through the fuel.


Lean-to- The lean-to formation is ideal for windy conditions because it helps block your flame from being blown out.

Begin with a large log from your fuel pile. Place your tinder next to the log and lean your kindling sticks against the log over your tinder. The kindling sticks should lean on the opposite side of the log that is facing the wind. Once you light your tinder and kindling, your main fuel log will immediately begin to heat and catch fire.

Star- This fire is simple and great for controlling the amount of heat emanating from your fire. The other advantage is that you can use any length of log for the fire.

The star campfire is made by placing logs in a circle on the ground like spokes of a wheel, all meeting in the center. Leave space in the center to pile tinder and kindling in a cone shape. Once the fire is lit, you can push the end of the logs into the fire as they burn or pull them out to create less heat.

Bundle- The advantage of this formation is that the fire is held up off the ground. If you are in an area where the ground is watery or damp, you can still build this fire.

To build this fire, start with short kindling sticks on the inside of the bundle surrounded by larger fuel logs on the outside of the bundle. On one end of the bundle, align all of the ends of the fuel, creating a bowl shape on the opposite end. Bind the bundle together with rope or wire and place tinder in the bowl end of the bundle. The fire will stand upright on the flat side of the bundle.

firewood-831990_1920Hunter- A hunter’s fire does not give much warmth or light, but it is perfect for cooking. The configuration also protects the flame from the wind.

To make this fire, find two logs that have roughly the same diameter and shape. Place them parallel on the ground a few inches apart. For more wind protection, place one end of the logs together to form a “V”. Build a cone of tinder and kindling between the two logs. The fire will burn between the two logs and the top of the logs provides a perfect platform to cook food.

All of these formations will provide you with heat and light at the very least. But if you need to cook, entertain, or keep warm, some of these configurations may be more useful for you than others. Which type of fire do you like to build? Which formation have you found most useful?

4 thoughts on “A Campfire for Every Occasion”

  • Sherrie Allen
    Sherrie Allen June 12, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you for this informative article. Silly me didn't know there was so many ways to light a fire. I see a lot of practice and learning in my future. That's a good thing!

  • Tom Ozminkowski
    Tom Ozminkowski June 12, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Growing up, my dad taught me most of these. I didn't know the name 'Star' fire, though. He called it the Indian fire, or sometimes the scout (NOT Boy Scout) as, if done correctly, it provided enough heat for a small meal, with very little smoke or light to give your position away. It's also very easy to extinguish and disperse to help hide your campsight from those who may be tracking you.

  • Ken

    Another technique in fire building is the Dakota hole fire, Not so much the placement of the wood but how the pit is dug.
    A large hole below ground connected with a tunnel to a smaller hole along side of it. The heat convection from the burning fuel will pull air in through the tunnel making it burn efficiently with less smoke.

  • survival pirate
    survival pirate June 14, 2015 at 7:53 am

    The Dakota Fire Hole is a very important campfire configuration that keeps your fire and smoke out of sight and to a minimum. very nice in case you don't want someone to know where you are. great for camping or survival emergency.

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