A campfire is something that every would-be wild camper should know how to make. Campfires are incredibly useful. Firstly, they offer a source of heat. This can be a literal life-saver, or simply make your camping evenings that little warmer. Secondly, they provide light. This can act as a deterrent to wildlife, but also make it easier for you! Finally, there is just something cool about sitting around a campfire, cooking a meal, or just relaxing and talking about your adventures.
There may be times where you want your campfire to be hot. This could be for cooking, or it could be if temperatures have dropped. Knowing how to build a campfire is one thing but knowing how to build a campfire which stays hot requires a little more knowledge. We look at campfire basics in the below guide!
Before we look at how to build a campfire which stays hot, let’s take a refresher on the basics. It is important to have a firm grasp of basic techniques and scientific knowledge. This will help understand what makes a campfire hotter, and what changes you can make.
What Makes a Campfire Burn?
You may think this is a stupid question, it’s the wood surely?! Partially, but this is not the only contributing factor. There are three factors, known as the fire triangle, that makes a campfire burn. These are:
Energy / Fuel / Oxygen
Initially, something is needed to create the fire and start it burning. This is the energy. The energy is that initial burst of heat that the fire needs to get going. There is a correlation between an increase in energy, and the increase in more fire rising.
This is the actual substance being burned. Without fuel, there is no fire. Different fuels affect fire differently. For example, some fuels burn incredibly hot, but for shorter periods. Alternatively, other fuels may burn cooler but will endure for longer. Typical fuel for campfires includes wood, tinder, and kindling.
Finally, oxygen is also needed. Once the energy level is sufficient, and the fire starts to burn, oxygen is needed during the combustion process. Without sufficient oxygen, the fire will die out.
Required Equipment to Make a Campfire
If you want to build a campfire which keeps hot you need the right tools and materials! The basics include:
- A starter. (e.g Natural fire lighter)
Tinder (not the dating app!) is material that catches fire easily, as a result, it also burns fast. Examples of tinder include wood shavings, dry bark, and dry grass. As tinder burns quickly, you need something at the start to keep it burning. This is kindling. Kindling is like the bridging component between tinder and fuel. Examples of kindling include small branches and twigs
Fuel is the actual material that will keep the fire burning. It is the workhorse! The best type of fuel for a campfire is wood – larger twigs, and branches are the best options. Ideally, the branches should be a similar width and length as your forearm. Finally, a starter is something to provide that initial spark of energy. Something like a lighter is perfect for this task.
Simple Steps to Build a Campfire Which Stays Hot
There are five things you can do to build a campfire which stays hot. Some of these things you do whilst the fire is burning. Others, you must do beforehand.
Step 1: Increase the surface area of the campfire
One of the simplest things you can do to increase the heat of a campfire is to increase its surface area. By this, we don’t mean create a huge campfire. Instead, we mean the positioning and structure of the campfire, the ashes, and the wood.
The aim is to increase the surface area of the campfire, within the confines of where you have made it. First, you can use a long stick or poker to spread out the ashes. Ideally, there should be an even layer of ash across the entire area of the fire. Next, the shape of your wood should be in something like a tepee. However, this should be broad. I.e., it should not be too tall and narrow.
By increasing the surface area, you can allow more oxygen to reach the fire, and thus make it burn hotter!
Step 2: Softwood vs Hardwood
Most woods can be placed in two broad categories – hardwood, or softwood. Hardwoods are perfect for creating cooler fires that will burn for longer. In contrast, softwoods are perfect for creating hot fires – they will not burn for as long, however. The main types of softwood are pine, cedar, spruce, yew, hemlock, larch, redwood, and fir.
Step 3: Check the type of wood (As in the tree)
Aside from the softwood vs hardwood pointer, you should also consider the type of wood. Obviously, there may not always be a large variety of trees available for you to pick fuel from. In many instances, you simply must work with what you get.
If possible, however, be mindful of the type of wood and be selective if you can. This is because some types of wood are better for making a hot campfire. These include:
If your tree knowledge is limited, this could be the perfect opportunity to learn something new! You can find many guides online such as this one from the Woodland Trust on identifying tree types. This shows what to look for including the leaves, size, shape, and bark
Step 4: Increase the Oxygen supply to the campfire
As mentioned above, a supply of oxygen is vital for a campfire. The amount of oxygen also contributes to the heat of the fire. Essentially, more oxygen equals a hotter fire. An increase in oxygen boosts the energy levels and thus boosts the intensity and heat of the flames.
It is difficult and impractical to continuously boost the oxygen supply to a campfire. Therefore, this step is only suitable when you want short blasts of heat. Once the oxygen levels return to normal, so will the intensity and heat of the fire.
So how do you increase oxygen supply? The best option is to use some type of bellows. Either electric or manual bellows will allow you to give blasts of air (and therefore oxygen) to your campfire.
Step 5: Make sure the wood is dry
Did you know that it is possible to light a fire using wet wood? It simply takes longer. However, when looking at how to build a campfire which stays hot, dry wood is vital. Firstly, using dry wood will help the fire start quicker. This is because the energy required to start the burning can get to work quicker without contending with wet things like sap.
Secondly, dry wood also helps a fire burn hotter. This is again because of the energy. If energy can enter the wood quicker, it will produce a hotter flame.
Finding dry wood may be tricky when you are wild camping, especially if it has been raining. However, where possible, always use dry wood without directly chopping it from trees and damaging the environment. You should ideally use branches and twigs that have fallen naturally to the ground.
If you make a campfire, you must understand basic safety protocols. Regardless of it is in a controlled fire pit or the wild. Fire can be incredibly dangerous. It can cause burns. Also, if left unchecked, a campfire could spread. This could lead to wildfires. In turn, this could damage entire habitats and ecosystems.
The following are some simple safety tips to remember when building a campfire:
- Always keep something close by to quickly extinguish the fire.
- Never leave the campfire unattended.
- Never leave children around a campfire without supervision.
- A campfire should be built away from fuels and flammable materials.
- The campfire area should be cleared of debris that could potentially ignite.
- It should also be enclosed by a ring of stones or something that fire cannot pass.
As you can see, most of these safety tips are common sense! Still, simple things like these can easily be forgotten in the heat (get it?) of the moment. On campsites, there are often dedicated areas where you can build campfires. These are usually contained and are set apart, so the fire cannon spread. As a result, clearing the area is not always as important. However, watching the fire and making sure children are supervised is a must.
Alternatively, in the wild, you must pay attention to the location of your campfire. When wild camping, you must always try to cause no disruption to the surrounding area. Also, you should leave your campsite exactly as you found it and cause no damage. Therefore, soil or rocky ground is better for campfires – this means you don’t have to pull up any grass or plants
Improve Your Campfire Skills for Your Next Wild Camping Trip
A campfire is a brilliant thing to have during your wild camping trips… if you know how to make one! There is no denying that this can be a tricky skill to master. As you can see from the above guide, it also takes extra effort to build a campfire that stays hot!
However, once you know the basics, and have had plenty of practice, fire making is an invaluable skill to have. There is nothing quite like sitting around a roaring campfire that is gushing out ample heat. It’s satisfying, but it’s also comforting, and enjoyable, after a tough day hiking and exploring! Don’t forget to check out our other camping articles for more useful information!