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Campfires have kept people alive for thousands of years.
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They provide warmth and comfort, cook your food, and can keep predators at bay.
We’ve already covered how to start a fire, but that’s just the first step.
If you want more than just a small flame, you have to build that fire up.
There’s more than one way to build a fire.
Do you need something easy, for a few marshmallows with friends?
How about one that will keep you warm throughout a wintery night?
Or do you need to cook an animal you just trapped?
Below are seven different ways to build a campfire that suits your purpose.
Teepee Campfire – Easy to Make
Chances are, you already know how to make this type of campfire, even if you don’t call it a teepee fire.
To make this type of campfire, you lean logs against each other so they form a pyramid shape.
It’ll look like a teepee.
You can build them over unlit kindling or put the fuel wood in place after the fire has started.
This is a good type of fire for making a lot of warmth.
However, as it burns, the logs can come crashing down, sometimes away from the fire!
Surely we can do better, right?
Lean-To Fire – Wind Resistant
Instead of leaning all of your sticks into each other, let’s lean them on top of a large log.
Figure out where the wind is coming from then place your biggest piece of wood perpendicular to the wind.
Start your fire on the downwind side of that log, right next to it.
It’ll block the wind from putting out that fire.
The fuel wood should be leaned on top of that big log and over the kindling.
By the time the big log ignites, your fire will be big enough to withstand the wind.
Plus the smaller pieces of wood are much less likely to fall away from the fire when they collapse.
However, what if you only have small pieces of wood?
You can use a large stone as the windbreak.
Make sure that it’s dry, though.
You don’t want any trapped moisture to heat up and cause the stone to shatter!
Star Fire – Small and Easy
If you don’t have much fuel or are making a fire for a shelter, you want something small.
A star fire, also called an Indian fire, produces a small flame that doesn’t use up fuel too quickly.
Get your kindling going, then stick the ends of several logs into the fire.
As the logs burn, push them into the fire.
This type of campfire won’t produce a big roaring fire.
That’s a good thing.
You don’t always want the biggest fire possible.
You can be warmed just as well by a small fire as by a large one.
Just sit closer!
Dakota Smokeless Pit Fire – Wind Resistant and Smokeless
Also called a Dakota fire hole, this campfire method is used by the US military.
The design takes a bit of work, but produces almost no smoke or light and is protected from the wind.
This makes it a good choice for when you’re hiding from an enemy.
Or, you know, when there’s a lot of wind.
To make a Dakota smokeless fire pit, you need to dig two holes.
The first one is straight down. It contains the fire.
The second starts away from the first and slopes down to meet the first hole at the bottom.
This allows the fire to draw in air through the second hole to make the burn more efficient.
More efficient fire produces less smoke.
Also, since the fire is in a hole, wind has a harder time putting it out.
You can partially cover the first hole with stones or place it near a tree to further disperse the smoke.
Log Cabin – For Cooking
Let’s go back to something a little bit easier.
A log cabin campfire is made a lot like, well, a log cabin.
You get the tinder and then kindling going, then stack logs around it.
Place two of about equal size, parallel to each other, next to the burning kindling.
Then place two more sideways, to form a box.
Go ahead and continue stacking until you have it four layers high or more.
This is an excellent fire for cooking, for two reasons.
The first is that the logs at the top can support the weight of your pot or pan.
The second reason is that this type of fire burns slowly.
A slower fire is better for evenly cooking your food.
However, log cabin fires can be tough to get started.
You can overcome this by building a teepee fire in the middle and then building a log cabin around it.
Inverse Campfire – For Sleeping
You’ve been in the woods for a long time now, and it’s time to go to sleep.
However, it’s cold enough that you’ll need a fire burning to keep you from freezing.
Most campfires require additional fuel added to them as they burn.
You can build a self-feeding campfire.
Fire prefers to burn upward since that’s where the flames go.
But the coals still produce heat that travels downward as well.
Let’s take advantage of that.
For this to work, you need to have fuel wood in a variety of thicknesses.
Take your thickest logs and lay them on the ground, parallel to each other.
There should be enough to roughly form a square.
Lay your second thickest logs on top of those, perpendicular to the bottom layer.
This second square should be slightly smaller.
Keep layering up until you have no more fuel wood. Everything should still be pretty much flat.
Build a small teepee fire on top of the pyramid of wood.
The teepee fire will burn into coals, and the coals will burn down through the fuel pyramid through the night.
Now you won’t have to get out of your sleeping bag to put another log on the fire!
Sideways Campfires – Good for Wet Ground
We’ve turned campfires upside down, so why not sideways?
There’s a type of campfire called the Swedish torch, but it’s a little difficult to do in the woods.
With a Swedish torch, you lay a log on its end, then use a chainsaw to cut down into the top to create wedges.
Only cut down about three-quarters of the way.
Start a fire on top, where the wedges meet, and it will burn down.
The log will burn from the inside out.
This campfire is also excellent for cooking.
But, if you’re like me, you don’t take a chainsaw with you when backpacking.
You can do a similar type of fire by bundling together your fuel logs.
Use something natural, such as cotton, twine, or vines, to tie up the bundle.
Turn it on one end and start your fire on top.
You can even place your fire in a stream and it will still burn for quite a while!
So, it’s good for starting a fire on wet ground.
Which One is the Best Method?
All of the fire building methods above can be useful for certain purposes.
Even the teepee fire!
That one is good for spending a casual night outdoors with friends.
But in a survival situation, you need a much better fire.
The Dakota fire pit is an excellent choice when you plan on staying in one place for a while.
It’s efficient, good for cooking, and is stealthy.
But it requires more work than the other methods.
If you are going to be on the move but need a little fire, I recommend building a star fire.
However, if you’re done for the night and need a long lasting fire, try the inverse campfire.
The log cabin fire is good for cooking.
Sometimes weather can work against you.
If the ground is wet, try a sideways fire.
But if the wind is blowing, try a lean-to fire.
The best campfire depends on your current situation.
That’s why it’s important to know how to make more than one type of fire.
There are many types of campfire construction methods.
The seven (eight, really) methods of making a fire here are but a sampling of the methods possible.
If you learn how to make these campfires, you’ll be set for most conditions.
It’s a good idea to practice how to make these fires before you’re subject to those conditions, however.
Oh, and if you can’t get a fire going, why not use a solar cooker?
Remember, practice your skills before you need to rely on them for your survival!