How to Build the Perfect Campfire

A couple sitting around a campfire during the day with green trees in the background.

The art of creating a fire was one of the first survival skills mankind learned. Fire truly helped the human race survive and thrive as a species, and this is an art that should not be lost. Once you know how to make your own fire, you’ll know that you have the ability to survive and thrive in any situation, too. Who knows when you’ll end up needing such a skill? Here's how to do it.

Prep the Area

A great many raging wildfires have been started by a single person and a campfire. Do not be that person. Take extra pains to prepare your campfire area before you do anything else. Many designated campsites will have specific fire-safe areas to use, so use these sites when they are available. When they are not, prep very carefully to avoid a horrible accident.

Begin by choosing an area that's several feet away from trees, brush, and all other plant life. Scrape the ground to remove all grass, sticks, and plant matter until you have a wide swath of bare earth at least four feet square. Make a pile of dirt about three to four inches deep in the middle of this area. The dirt should be free of sticks, dead grass, bark, and anything else that may catch fire. Make a circle, square, or rectangle with your dirt, and surround it completely with stones. This border will keep your wood inside your fire area and prevent things from getting out of control.

Gather Tinder

It's not possible to light a pile of logs on fire and get a roaring fire. Every fire has to catch and burn in stages, so you need to build it in stages. Start with tinder, which are very small and very dry pieces of flammable material. Bits of dry grass, wood shavings, and bark are all good natural tinder. You can also bring some dryer lint with you on your adventure, as this makes for excellent tinder.

Get Some Kindling

Lighting kindling on fire.

Even with the world's best tinder, you can't go from wood shavings to full-on logs immediately. To really build a good fire, you're going to need kindling. This is the essential middle step of building any fire, and it can't be ignored. Kindling is small twigs, sticks, and branches. Look for fallen twigs and branches and gather them when available. Sticks that have already broken away from trees are more likely to be dry, but if you must, you can always snap twigs and branches off of trees to get this necessary material. These sticks should be no bigger in circumference than your thumb.


Your tinder and kindling will burn up quickly because they're small. If you want a roaring fire that will last more than five minutes, you want to gather some larger pieces of wood as well. You don't have to have logs to build a good fire, but you will need some good-sized branches to make a fire roar. Get a few logs, three to four, when possible. When that's not possible, gather thick branches that are as big as your wrist or bigger. Break them up so they are no longer than two feet. Remember that all your wood needs to be dry. If it snaps easily, it's dry. If the wood flexes and bends instead of breaking, it's probably wet or fresh "green" wood.

Lay the Fire

A teepee of branches to make a fire in the woods.

Once you've prepared the area and gathered all your materials, start building your fire. Gather all the tinder in a little bundle and place it in the middle of your fire area. Next, take your kindling and place it upright around the tinder in a teepee-like shape. Lean the top of each piece of kindling against the others to form a triangle above the tinder at the center. Note which way the wind is blowing, and leave an opening in the teepee facing this direction. Fire needs to breathe, so work with the wind and not against it to build a healthy fire. Start with the smallest pieces of kindling at the center, and then layer the larger pieces against it.

Light the Fire

Set your larger pieces of wood at least two feet away from the fire you laid, and light the tinder at the center of the fire. If there is very little or no wind, you will need to use your own breath to help the tinder catch and flame up. Keep blowing until flames shoot up from the tinder and start to catch the kindling on fire. Sit back, and let the kindling catch fire and allow the flames to roar to life.

As the kindling catches fire and begins to burn, your teepee structure will collapse. This is when you want to start adding your larger pieces of wood to the fire. Stack them carefully, directly on top of the flame starting with the smallest pieces first. Be careful not to smother your fire now that you have it going. Make sure the flames are strong and the pieces of wood are catching on fire before you add each piece one at a time.

Enjoy your fire! Whether you’re camping, cooking, or just proving to yourself that you can do it, building a perfect fire satisfies a primal need that is as old as the human race itself. And should you find yourself in a survival situation one day, fire will become your very best friend.