You never know when your life might depend on having the skill to create a fire on sudden notice. More often though, you might just want to enjoy a camping trip or a backyard marshmallow roast.

 Most people assume that you can just throw some wood in a pit, light a match  and voila! instant fire. But if you’ve ever spent an hour, or two, in the middle of the woods crouched over a smoking pile of sticks that has apparently been cursed by the gods of fire to never be lit, then you know that sometimes a little fiery finesse is necessary. In this article, I will teach you three of the fire building techniques that I have personally found to be most effective at starting, and more importantly, maintaining a healthy fire for comfort or survival.


The Lean To

This method is my least favorite, simply because of how long it usually takes to build. Like each of  these techniques, however, it has plenty of advantages as well. A lean-to fire structure is created,first by either pushing a green stick into the ground at a 30 or 40 degree angle, or leaning one end of the stick against a much larger log to achieve the same angle. After the main support is placed all that is left to do is place your tinder underneath, and kindling along the main support. Once finished your lean-to should look something like an elongated tepee.


The main advantage of this technique is that when it does eventually collapse, it usually remains controlled and doesn't fall out of your fire ring, a big plus for safety. Also, this style has the best chance of getting your fire from a spark to a blaze due to the amount of kindling exposed to the flames of the tinder. Unfortunately the lean-to does take a bit of time and focus to create, and will burn least intensely out of the three. But if you're looking for a success on the first go round, this is your best bet.

The Teepee

The teepee has been the stereotypical standard of a campfire for much longer than I've been alive, and it’s ideal for many a festive occasion. To create a proper teepee fire structure first, you must determine the width of the fire by making a circle in the center of your fire ring. When it's completed expect your teepee to be about twice as tall as it is wide. Next you'll need to find three sturdy, relatively straight sticks to be the base skeleton of the structure; preferably ones with protrusions at the top. The stability of your entire fire is going to rest on the stability of this skeleton, so I would highly recommend sticking the bases into the ground if possible. The rest is filling the empty spaces between the skeleton with similar sized sticks. Depending on the size of your teepee it may be necessary to build one, or even three descending smaller teepees inside the original so that the tinder can actually catch other wood.


The teepee structure is a bit of an extreme fire in that it has large advantages and disadvantages. The best part about teepee fires is that they burn big and bright, providing plenty of heat and light. But this also means you're pretty teepee has a short life span, and when it does collapse its almost guaranteed to fall to one side or the other. This might not sound so bad except for the fact that due to the height of teepee fires, this usually means it is going to fall out of your fire ring, and close to those sitting around it. Lastly, be warned, teepees direct lots of heat very high, I have personally set tree branches 25 feet off the ground ablaze by making my teepee fire too large.


The Log Cabin

To build a log cabin, you're going to need two base logs that will be placed parallel to each other in the center of your fire ring. The rest of the structure is simply stacking two pieces of wood at a time on top of the previous two in, you guessed it, log cabin style. You are going to want to make the size and distance between each piece gradually smaller the higher you build, so that when finished it will look more like a log pyramid than a cabin. Finally to fill the space inside of the structure, all you have to do is slide your kindling through the spaces on each level to create the perfect balance of fuel and air space to to get the fire burning quickly and stably.


The log cabin is by far my favorite technique for several reasons. Some of which being that it is easy to build, and it tends to be a very sturdy structure. Also, the cabin provides a nice balance between heat and light production. And while the build is usually pretty quick, be cautious of using especially round logs because they tend to undermine your (the structure’s) stability by rolling off their bases.

Helpful Tips and Facts

  • Softwoods such as pine burn quickly and intensely while hardwoods like oak burn slowly and with less intensity.

  • Always have a fire stick to move burning sticks and logs.

  • Liquid accelerants like lighter fluid and gasoline will literally explode if you put too much of them on your fire.

  • Always start small and work your way up. The larger a piece of wood  the more initial heat  required to catch it.

  • Fire is a great heat source, use it to dry wet wood.

  • In addition to fuel, a fire needs plenty of oxygen, aka airspace, to burn. Don't fail before you start by putting too much wood in and on your structure.

  • Do not leave your fire unattended. A buddy of mine and I once accidentally cleared an acre and a half with a fire we started by doing just that.

  • Greenwood makes lots of smoke and doesn't burn well at all.

  • If at all possible avoid burning rotten or decayed wood, as there is a good chance the smoke will cause allergic reactions due to the inhabitants who have been feeding on, or living in the wood.

  • Your breath or a fan is probably the most important tool to use when starting a fire.