With a little bit a preparation and a few tools, you will soon be cooking and warming up by an open fire on your next outdoor adventure.
Assuming there’s no fire ban in effect, and you’re following Leave No Trace principles where applicable, building a fire outdoors is not only a right of passage, it’s the only way to really put the icing on the camping cake.
Here are four popular types of fires to try building outdoors, whether you are trekking solo or teaching your child the ways of the world.
The first type of fire I learned to build as a kid in Boy Scouts was a log cabin style fire. As with every fire you’ll build, start tiny, with your kindling (which you brought from home and is completely dry) in a little pile in the middle of your fire pit. Build up stick over stick of dry kindling in a small square around your kindling pile. Go ahead and build up some larger fuel logs in a log-cabin style around the fire-to-be as well.
The small fire you start will prime your larger wood as it grows. Be sure you’ve got enough kindling and tinder in the center to get burning and keep adding small stuff to it as it gets started until it starts to burn the outer structure of your cabin. Once this is roaring, you don’t have to worry so much about how you stack your fuel wood on the fire.
The next most popular fire-building method, or maybe equally as popular as the log cabin, is the teepee style fire. When you look online, you’ll see most people using small teepee fires to light other configurations as well.
Build your little tinder pile, maybe even use a DIY or store-bought fire starter, and stack your kindling over it like a teepee. The heat and flames will rise from your starter pile and ignite the top of the teepee and eventually the whole thing will take off. The tip of the flame is often the hottest and heat rises, so you’ve got nature working for you here. Keep stacking larger and larger dry kindling in a teepee fashion until things are roaring.
A variation of the teepee fire style, the lean to takes advantage of a large log for a wind block. By building the small starter fire down underneath the large log, your small leaning kindling also serves to pre-heat—it can even help dry out a larger piece of wood that will become your larger fire.
Stack some nice dry kindling in a leaning fashion over your tinder onto the larger log, and keep gently piling it on as it grows. Once your lean-to log is roaring, you’ve got a legit fire. A variation on the lean-to fire is sometimes called a hunter’s fire. You’ll have two nice larger logs forming a V instead of just one.
Use green wood for the four- to eight-inch main logs so they don’t burn up quickly; use them to place pots and pans over the fire like a makeshift grill. This also gives a good wind block for getting your fire started.
Also sometimes called an inverse fire, the upside down fire somewhat goes against tradition. If most of the fallen wood you find is wet, this is the kind of fire you need to go for, but in my experience works best with dry wood, obviously. Start with a log cabin, but don’t worry so much about stacking your small kindling first. Go ahead and stack some larger logs to begin the construction of your cabin, and concentrically stack smaller sticks, kindling and logs inside of it, building it up a foot or so.
Inside this nest you can pile in some small dry kindling and on top of that, your tinder and fire starters. It will burn downwards and gravity will help your larger logs underneath catch fire. This produces nice coals in a wind-protected fire.
To get your fire started, the hardcore among you will want to try a spark from the 19-tool Leatherman Signal. Always keep a lighter in your first aid kit or emergency preparedness kit.