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How To Build The Right Kind Of Campfire

Nothing caps the day like a bright, cheery campfire. Building one that doesn’t smoke, lights quickly, and burns a long time is not difficult, if you start with the right ingredients and a little fundamental knowledge.

Unless you plan to signal the International Space Station, a small- to mid-sized fire (a couple feet in diameter) is plenty for warming, cooking and camaraderie. Search out three kinds of burnable material: tinder, kindling, and fuelwood.

Tinder is dry, light, small-diameter or fluffy materials. Leaves, grass and some types of bark are common examples. If you can crush it in your hand and it crunches, it’s probably good tinder. Get several big handfuls.

Kindling is pencil-diameter wood: twigs, small branches, slivers from larger pieces of wood. I like my kindling to have “edges,” rather than all rounds. It seems to better catch the flame from tinder – the fire has somewhere to “start.” A couple good handfuls, 4-12 inches long, should do.

Fuelwood is anywhere from an inch to a foot in diameter. Downed branches and pieces of split logs are common. A foot or two in length is plenty.

Clear the area down to mineral soil, and build a circle of stones to contain it. Don’t build under overhead branches that might be lit by a wind-blown spark or drip melted snow. Then, pick your architecture. I like the “modified log cabin” style of architecture: two fuelwood “walls” forming a right angle, a big ball of tinder nestled in the corner. Kindling is laid against the walls over the tinder, and a few pieces of fuelwood above it all. Leave plenty of room for air – a smokeless fire is equal parts heat, fuel and oxygen. Touch a match to the tinder, and get out the marshmallows.


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