How To

How to Build the Perfect Campfire7 min read

So you want to build a campfire, huh? How about the best campfire ever?

RoverPass has you covered with Smokey approved techniques and a bit of know-how that puts some boy scouts to shame.



These are building blocks of every perfect fire.


All good campfires start with good tinder.

Common objects like leaves, dry bark, and grass are all suitable. Just make sure that everything is nice dry before you start because wet tinder simply does not make a good fire unless you like ‘em smokey and weak. Or non-existent. Pros recommend bringing dryer lint from home, guaranteed to work even if you’re camping in damp conditions. Good tinder will catch fire easily but burn fast, so next you’ll need:


Everyone knows that you can’t jump in to a fiery relationship straight from tinder (that goes for both fire pits and dating apps). You have to work your way up to that roaring fire by adding a little kindling to your budding flame. Kindling is more substantial than tinder, but it’s far from full-on firewood. The rule of thumb is that kindling should never be thicker than your thumb (yes, really!). Go for twigs and small branches, and remember to keep ‘em dry.

Fuel Wood

Now this is when things get serious. Fuel wood keeps your fire burning and hot. Contrary to what you might think, fuel wood doesn’t need to be huge. About the size of your forearm is the width you’re looking for, unless you’re some sort of colossal bodybuilder–in which case you can look for something a little smaller than your forearm.


Building a perfect campfire depends almost entirely on what you’re planning to do with it. Are you looking to cook up some grub or light up your campfire circle? A bright fire may not necessarily be hot enough for cooking, and a hot fire may not throw off much light. We’ve organized some prime fire formations for you based on their best use. Flame on!

Tipi – Good for Cooking

  1.     Start with a tinder bundle in the middle of your fire spot.
  2.     Form a tipi above the tinder with your kindling.  Be sure to leave an opening in the side so that your flames can breath–nothing kills a campfire quicker than a lack of O2. Keep adding kindling around your tipi working from smaller to thicker kindle.
  3.     Create a larger tipi with your fuel wood around your kindling tipi.
  4.     Now you’re ready for fire! Place a match under the tinder. The flame should be directed up, lighting your kindle and then your fuel wood.
  5.     Eventually, your tipi will fall, and that’s fine. Just add some more fuel logs to the fire as needed. You can even build up the fire using steps 3 and 4 of the Log Cabin lay listed below.

Lean-to – Good for Cooking

This fire keeps air space open due to the support stick and a steady, light wind really helps it get started.

  1.     Start with a long piece of wood stuck directly in the ground at a 30 degree angle, pointing into the wind.
  2.     Put a bundle of tinder underneath the support stick.
  3.     Surround the tinder nest with small pieces of kindling.
  4.     Lay more kindling against the piece of kindling that you stuck in the ground, and build it up with a layer of larger pieces of kindling.
  5.     Put a match to the tinder and burn, baby, burn!

Log Cabin – Long Lasting Campfire

This fire is good for throwing off light all night. It’s the easiest formation to build for beginners.

  1.     Start off with a small tipi lay (steps 1-2 in Tipi section).
  2.     Get large pieces of fuel wood and place them on opposite sides of the tipi.
  3.     Lay smaller pieces of fuel wood across the first set of wood parallel on the other sides of the tipi, just like Lincoln Logs!
  4.     Repeat 2 and 3, laying smaller and smaller pieces to form more of a pyramid shape.
  5.     Light it up starting with the tinder on the bottom.


Council Fire – Great for Cooking, Lighting, and Larger Crowds

Basically a subdued bonfire, a council fire burns hot, bright, and for a long time. Only for ambitious campers well away from flammable vegetation, council fires take bigger logs and are meant for entertaining council-sized crowds (AKA big).

  1.     Lay 4 logs, each about 5 or 6 inches across and 3 to 3.5 feet long, with about 4 inches of air space between logs.
  2.     Across the top, lay a platform of about 6 logs, each about 5 inches across and 3 feet long.
  3.     Over that level, place a layer of 4-inch logs, 2.5 feet long.
  4.     Then, two layers of 3-inch logs, 2 feet long, in perpendicular layers.
  5.     Next, 2 layers of 2-inch logs, 2 feet long.
  6.     Now, 2 layers of 1 inch split wood, 18 inches long.
  7.     Stick a lot of split kindling sticks into any open air space in the log layers.
  8.     Create a tipi structure with kindling on top of the last layer of split wood.
  9.     Leaving a space to light the tipi, continue placing more split pieces around the tipi to make a few more layers.
  10. Light up the tipi and watch the fire burn its way down through the layers. As burning fuel drops down into the larger pieces of wood it ignites them and there isn’t the large structural collapse that you might get with a log cabin formation.


  • Collect 2 or 3 times as much kindling and tinder as you think you’ll need. Trust us, you’ll go through it faster than you think.
  • Light the upwind side of your formation so that the flame blows into your fuel.
  • Make sure there’s airspace in your log lay so that your fire can breathe.
  • Build up not out, creating a higher pile of wood versus a flatter pile.
  • Don’t forget to properly put out your fire! Read Smokey the Bear’s tips to do it right!
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