The campfire is regarded as a symbol of outdoor adventure and rugged survival around the world. There are a wide variety of campfires that work better in specific use cases and weather conditions. This article will explore six common types of wilderness survival campfires and the pros and cons of each.
General fire safety tips:
- Remember to clear the area around your fire of any fire hazards.
- Build your fire on clear, dry ground or a stone.
- Keep water or some other fire extinguisher nearby in case anything unexpected occurs.
- Be mindful of weather conditions. Some types of campfires are easier to start in poor weather conditions and some are easier to control in case of high winds.
- Never leave your fire unattended.
- Fully put out your fire when you are finished with it.
1. The Teepee Fire
The Teepee Fire, also sometimes referred to as a pyramid fire, is what most people think of when they think of a traditional campfire. These fires are great for social gatherings. They are easy to build and put off a lot of heat. Due to the pointed shape that the arrangement of logs creates, it is not the most ideal campfire for cooking.
Build a teepee fire by placing kindling in the center of your fire pit and leaning sticks against each other to form a cone shape. As your fire catches continuing adding larger and larger sticks until you can add full logs.
If you are building directly on dirt or soft ground, you can drive the sticks slightly into the ground to give them more stability as you start your fire.
- Easy setup
- No prep work
- No tools needed
- High heat
- Great for social gatherings
- Fast burning
- High maintenance
- Not ideal for cooking
2. The Dakota Fire Hole
The Dakota Fire Hole is a fantastic fire for a windy day. The fire gets its name from the Dakota Tribe that used this type of fire to avoid sparking prairie fires on the windy plains of their native lands. The fire is contained largely underground making it a fairly safe fire method.
The Dakota Fire is built by digging a fire pit and then digging out an air tunnel that feeds into the fire. You can cover the main fire pit with a cooking rack or mesh and place pans on top of the fire.
This campfire is incredibly fuel-efficient and makes a great cooking fire. This type of fire also produces very little smoke.
The downside to the Dakota Fire Hole is that it does take quite a bit of work to build and not all types of soil will be able to maintain the necessary shape. Soil that is too sandy or loose will collapse. This fire is also not ideal for wet conditions as the whole can easily fill with water and extinguish the fire.
- Highly fuel-efficient
- Easy to cook on
- Safe even in windy environments
- A significant amount of setup work
- Requires a specific type of soil environment
- Not ideal for damp or wet conditions
- Requires some basic digging tools
3. The Swedish Log Fire
The Swedish Log Fire, Log Stove, and Fire Bundle Stove are similar in functionality but are each constructed slightly differently. All three make use of a log or logs stood up on end to create a flat surface to cook on.
The Swedish log is a single log stood on its end and cut, typically with a chainsaw, 4/5ths of the way down. Typically two cross-cuts are made, however, logs with a wide diameter might need three cuts. Tinder or lighter fluid can then be shoved between the cracks and lit. It is optimal to light the fire as close to the base of the cut as you can. Because these logs are difficult to prepare at a campsite, a Swedish log will often be prepared at home and brought along on a camping trip. Softwood is recommended for a Swedish log as hardwood will have a harder time igniting and may burn itself out more easily.
A Log Stove is very similar in that it is made from a single log. Rather than cutting the log from the top to 4/5th of the way down as you would a Swedish log, you instead fully split the log into four pieces and then bind them back together with wire. This method is much easier to accomplish at a campsite as you simply need an ax or a splitter to chop the wood apart.
A Fire Bundle is also bound together with wire, but instead of a single log, these bundles consist of a group of similarly sized logs. When bundling the logs together leave a significant gap or hole in the center to allow the fire space to get oxygen.
- Highly portable
- No maintenance
- Best for cooking
- Long burning
- Fuel efficient
- Chainsaw or ax may be necessary
- Can be difficult to get the right amount of spacing to allow for oxygen
- You can’t add additional fuel to this fire. Once the log burns out you will have to ignite a second log(s).
4. The Council Fire
The Council Fire, or top-down fire, is built by stacking consecutively smaller logs on top of each other in a box shape until you place your smallest kindling on top. Your base will consist of your thickest, sturdiest logs and you will light the fire at the top as opposed to the bottom.
This fire requires no tending as each layer will burn and fall into the next layer igniting it. It works great in damp or wet conditions as the fire will start high off the ground and by the time it reaches the bottom layer it will be a strong enough blaze that the moisture won’t put it out.
- Low maintenance
- Large, long-lasting fire
- Easy to light
- Can be built in damp and wet conditions
- Requires a lot of wood to build
5. The Lean-To Fire
Lean-To Fires are constructed by leaning smaller logs and sticks against one much larger log. The larger log acts as a windbreak and the cave-like space under the smaller logs create a lot of space for oxygen, allowing this fire to easily catch and burn hot. This can be used to get a fire going quickly but isn’t as fuel-efficient as some of the other methods in this article.
- Easy to set up
- Can be built in windy conditions
- Burns hot enough to light wet wood
- Fast burning, not fuel-efficient
Starfire campfires start as simple teepee fires. The difference is in how you add fuel to your fire. A teepee fire requires you to continue adding logs to the pyramid structure. In a Starfire design, you would lay logs flat on the ground radiating away from the fire and slowly push them into the fire. The deeper you push the fuelwood into the center of the fire, the hotter the fire will burn. This allows you a lot of control over the strength of the flame.
Be mindful that your wood will be fully exposed to the ground so damp conditions may make it harder for the wood to burn and if the fire gets too low it may self extinguish from the moisture.
- Easy to control the temperature
- Fuel efficient
- Not ideal for damp conditions
The wonderful people over at Bush Cooking have even more examples of different types of fires, how to build them, and what they are best used for. True to their name, their posts focus more on campfires that are ideal for cooking outdoors.
What are some of your favorite types of campfires? Let us know by reaching out to us on Instagram and Facebook @PREPARED4x or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing from you and can’t wait to share some of your stories on social media.