How to Start a Campfire the Right Way

From cooking to telling scary ghost stories, gathering around the campfire has long been a central part of the camping experience. Whether you’re heading off on your first camping adventure, or are dusting off the ol’ tent cot for the first time in a while, it’s always important to know the right—and safe—to get your fire going.

Setting up Camp

First and foremost, check with the ranger to ensure that your campground permits campfires. Always adhere to park regulations should there be any restrictions on building a fire.

After you’ve checked and have gotten the green light, you still have to prep your campsite before you go off searching for firewood. Clean, rinse, and remove all debris and any materials that could potentially catch fire. In case of stray flames, you will always want a bucket of water next to the fire site. It goes without saying, but never leave your campsite unattended while you have a fire going.

Three Types of Fire Setups

You should first know that there are three types of fire lays: teepee, lean-to and log cabin.


You’ll find the teepee as the simplest way to start and ignite. Since the heat is aiming directly up, you will find it easier cook food or boil water. However, it’s easily collapsible as it can burn very quickly. To start this kind of fire, first gather your tinder bundle on the dry bark. Stand your four kindling twigs up and in the ground (making a teepee) while leaning smaller kindling twigs down toward the tinder. Make an opening in the center of the tinder, upwind, where you’ll start the fire. Continue stacking smaller twigs in a teepee motion around the site while leaving a slight opening for air to circulate. Lastly, poke three or four sticks into the ground to create a larger structure while leaning the fuel pieces.


For the lean-to, grab a kindling log and stick in the ground at an angle pointed at the wind. Place the tinder under the kindling stick while leaning smaller kindling pieces on it. Stack larger kindling sticks against the first layer to continue to fire.

Log Cabin

This is the most common type of fire among beginners as it produces good coals. That said, it can be difficult to light, so make sure to leave open space to reach the tinder in order to light it. To start a log cabin fire, lay a small teepee fire then grab larger fuelwood and lay them parallel to each other on either side of the small teepee. Repeat with two small fuel wood pieces on the opposite side of the large wood.

When finished, be sure to douse the fire with water or dirt completely, using a shovel to stir the embers and ashes. The site should be cold to the touch after it is completely settled.