A campfire is a controlled outdoor fire, lit to provide lighting, warmth, deterrent of pests and aggressive animals, opportunities for outdoor cooking, and a priceless sense of community during camping.
Fire safety is the first step at the campfire. Be sure to check government warnings for wildfire risk, and to have water or any other extinguishing equipment nearby.
During high-risk conditions, the government might issue a total ban on outdoor fires.
Campfires are not allowed everywhere. Law and practices vary wildly from one country to the next, so acquaint yourself with local regulations.
In some locations, it may be illegal to bring your own firewood as a means to help prevent the spread of plant diseases. If going to collect firewood yourself, familiarize yourself with what suitable firewood you are likely to find and allowed to use. Be considerate about others; avoid taking branches that are nicely part of the view.
Cutting down trees without the landowner's permission is usually illegal, and in any case, an individual tree might be critical to the local ecosystem. Knowledge about botany is needed to minimize damage.
Do not make excessively big fires, but use firewood sparingly. If firewood is provided and some of the firewood is ready-made and some not, or some is stored farther away, you may be supposed to make or fetch new firewood instead of what you use.
You should always be careful when making a fire – make sure you know what that means. It should always be watched and carefully extinguished. When there is an elevated risk of wildfire campfires may be prohibited altogether (and absent such regulation, should not be done other than in emergencies and really knowing what one is doing). Use designated or already used campfire sites when possible.
You should have a fire break between your campfire and any nearby vegetation. A fire break is typically stones or dug dirt. It may be necessary to remove a layer of organic material. It is also important to have extinguishing material nearby, such as water or sand. Some soils, such as peat, are very hard to extinguish reliably and thus unsuitable to making fires on. In addition to the safety aspect, the campfire place should be chosen not to crack smooth rock or making other such harm.
Note that the fire may spread not only to the vegetation around the fireplace. Some material is easily carried away by hot air or winds, and can light a fire farther away. Likewise, in some circumstances the fire can spread by tree roots, and light up several hours later, away from the fireplace.
Decide what kind of fire you are going to build before preparing to light it. The suitable designs depend on available firewood, wind conditions, and what you need the fire for: light, warmth, making coffee, barbecuing, ... Also plan where the starting material is to be put and from what direction to light it. In good conditions just lighting a fire and adding firewood as needed may work, but a well made fire needs much less tending.
Small dry sticks and dry newspaper make for good kindling. Try to light these pieces first to get the larger logs to catch fire. Damp wood will likely require lighter fluid to get the fire to stay long enough to dry out the wood – unless you have or are able to make enough thin sticks or other natural starting material. With an axe, a good knife and wood, making a fire should be possible without artificial materials, given the skill. The most common mistake is to have too little starting material – and to start the fire before having it ready.
For wilderness hikes, newspaper is not the best kindling, as it easily gets damp enough to be unusable. There are better natural alternatives, varying by location, and specially made kindling available in specialist shops (making such kindling yourself is not too difficult, either). In temperate woods, birch bark may be available, or thin dead branches low on spruces.
In conditions with deep snow, either most of it has to be removed before lighting the fire, or the fire should be made on a platform e.g. out of damp thick material, which will persist until you are ready to let the fire burn down.
- Grilling dinner.
- Roasting marshmallows.
- Singing campfire songs.
- Telling ghost stories, e.g. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." See also horror fiction.