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Survival Hack: Best Tips on Campfire Building Techniques

best campfire building techniques

 How to Instantly Build the Right Fire?

In yesterday’s post, we discussed the different methods for starting a fire, and the essential survival fire starters you should have in your disaster supply kit. But did you know that there are different types of fires?

These are called “fire lays,” and they each have a different purpose. You should not just dump a pile of wood on the ground and light it. Instead, you should build the fire you need for what you are trying to accomplish, and under which circumstances. 

campfire building techniques

Today, we will introduce the different types of fire lays, show you how to construct them, and discuss what they can be used for. Let’s get started!


 Life Hacker Truth: Did you know that there are different types of fire?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Depending on the type of emergency you are facing, keep in mind that there may be ruptured gas lines in the area. DO NOT build a fire if this is the case!


Types of Fire Lays

There are basically eight different ways to construct a fire, with a lot of different variations.


  1. Tipi (tepee, teepee)

This fire lay is the basic arrangement and is used as a starter fire for most of the other lays, which is why we have listed it first.

 Tipee How to build a right fire

Begin your fire lay by placing your tinder at the center of where your fire will be. Stack small twigs around it in a conical shape, followed by progressively larger (in diameter) pieces of wood.

Remember to leave an opening so you can reach in and light it! A tipi fire can be scaled according to how you will use it. If it is the starter for another type of lay, you won’t need the bigger logs.


  1. Star

This is a long-lasting, low-maintenance fire lay.

 Star Type of Fire Lays

Begin by building a tipi fire. Once that is burning, place your wood around it with one end within the flames. As the wood is consumed, push the logs into the center.

Note: digging a hole with sloping sides and placing your logs into it will let gravity pull the wood into the center for you.


  1. Log Cabin

This is a good fire lay to use when you want a long-lasting fire you don’t really have to pay any attention to (other than for basic safety, of course!).

Log Cabin types of fire lays how to start a fire with sticks

Begin with a tipi fire lay in the center, and arrange your other logs from the biggest at the bottom to smaller pieces on top. Lay two pieces to either side of the tipi, then two on top of them at right angles. Continue layering until you have the size you want.


  1. Pyramid or Platform

This fire lay is similar to the log cabin, but without leaving space in the center for a tipi. Instead, use your wood to create solid platforms, from largest at the bottom to smallest on top (this can also be inverted), then start your tipi fire on top.

Pyramid on how to start a fire the right way

The coals from the tipi fire will ignite the log platform at the top, which creates the coals to ignite the next level down, and so on. This is also known as an “upside-down” fire.


  1. Trench or Trough

This is a great fire lay for cooking. Simply dig a narrow trench in the ground, or use two thick green logs or rows of stones placed parallel to each other to create a trench, and build a fire between them.

Trench how to build a right fire


Your pots and pans should rest on the edges without falling in.

Tip: You can also construct the trench at an angle, so smaller-diameter cookware can be placed on one end, and larger-diameter cookware on the other. Some variations, such as the “T” and the “keyhole” fire lays, allow you to build a fire in one part, then rake hot coals into the other section to cook on.

Best Guide to building a fire in the Wilderness

  1. Dakota Fire Hole

Named for the Dakota Indian tribe, this is probably the most labor intensive fire lay to construct. A hole is dug straight down, and a connecting tunnel dug to provide air flow to the fire.


Dakota Fire on how to create a right fire

A platform is constructed over the first hole to support cookware. In some variations, the air supply is dug at a slope that allows easy feeding of new wood to the fire.


  1. Reflector or Lean-to

This isn’t so much a separate type of fire lay as it is an addition to other forms. A reflector is constructed out of green logs, sod, stone, or other materials to block wind and reflect warmth.

Reflecto or Lean to type of fire lays

Anyone that has tried to sleep next to a campfire knows that one side of you is always cold. By sleeping between the fire and a large enough reflector, you will be surrounded by heat.

Hint: Stone walls, whether natural or artificial, make great reflectors.


  1. Swedish Torch

Another labor-intensive fire lay. A large log is split into several sections about three-quarters along its length, then a fire kindled in the middle.

Swedish Torch Fire Lays

The log is consumed from the inside out.

Essential Benefits to Build Fire the right way!


How to build a campfire


Using these Fire Lays for Cooking

As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, no one enjoys cold stew, and drinking warm beverages is the fastest way to treat hypothermia. Any of the above fire lays may be cooked on with the proper setup.

Useful tips on how to use fire lays for cooking

Platform fires, trench fires, fire holes, and Swedish torches can all support cookware directly (pay attention to prevent the supports from crumbling!).


Useful tips on how to use fire lays as cooking

And by rigging a simple counterweight or spit, you can suspend cookware over all of the other types of fire lays.


Using Fires for Signaling

Fires aren’t just for cooking or staying warm, you can also use them to signal rescuers. Three fires in a triangle is an internationally-recognized emergency signal.

Fire Lays as Fire Signaling during emergency

Obviously, they will show up better at night, but if it’s daytime, you can put green wood or other vegetation on top to create easily visible clouds of smoke.


Fires in High Wind

If it is very windy, build a trench fire, hole fire, or reflector fire. Set your trench edges or reflector perpendicular to the wind.

Best Camping tool Alloy Wind Shield Screen

 A tipi fire can also be constructed for windy weather, simply place more and thicker logs facing the wind. 

HOw to build a right fire

If you build it correctly, they should block the wind long enough for the rest of the fire to begin burning well.


Fires in Wet Conditions

Obviously, you want to use dry wood to build a fire. In wet conditions, dry heartwood can be chopped out of wet logs. Damp logs can be placed on top of the fire to dry before they reach the center.


How to make a Fire with rocks and sticks?

A Note about Fire Rings

If rocks are available, use them to surround your cleared patch of ground to protect against unwanted fire spread.


Ring campfire fire starter


IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT use rocks that have been submerged, as they may contain pockets of water that can flash into steam when the rock heats up, causing it to explode.


Basic Fire SafetyBasic Fire Safety When Building a Right Fire

Do not build campfires near overhanging branches, dead/rotten trees, or dry grass and leaves.

  • Always clear the ground before you build a fire.
  • Only build the fire as large as you need it to be.
  • Never leave a fire unattended. Sleep in shifts if you must.
  • Keep water, dirt, and a shovel handy for smothering fires quickly.

When putting out your fire, drown it with water, stir, and drown it again. Check under rocks and leftover wood for embers. Feel all materials with your bare hands.

 We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the different types of fire lays. Tomorrow, we will continue our fire theme by discussing how to survive wildfires. See you then!

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