ESSENTIAL #2: Fire
Nothing comforts campers more than a good camp fire at the end of a long day on the trail. But planning your fires, particularly the wood and tools required to sustain a good rager, is often what gives campers trouble. Too little and you go a night without fire. Too much and you have to load it up at the end of the weekend and take it home. Those that know how to camp like a champ eliminate as much of the guess work as possible.
Know your burn rate
- 12-14 logs (split sections of course) will provide enough wood for cooking dinner in cast iron and fueling a comfortable fire until midnight
- Lighter, dry wood will burn faster than hardwoods so take that into account
- Take enough extra wood for an unplanned bonus day to cover any contingencies – sell it off to other campers in lieu of taking it home
Every scenario is different. Camping in colder climates means you could be stoking a fire all day and most of the night. In the desert southwest, campers may only burn a fire in the evening hours after returning to camp. The key is to count logs and know how long a stack will last you.
Use these 5 essential tools
- A folding military inspired shovel is great for moving coals, adjusting logs in the pit, and covering the smoldering fire with dirt when you leave
- A poker – a handy branch makes a good poker and who can resist making necessary “adjustments” to the fire all evening long
- Rocks make a great decorative surround for the standard issue rolled steel firepit ring. It can also be built as a buffer to keep inquisitive little ones away from the fire. The bonus – kids love to help gather the rocks!
- For those that enjoy dutch oven cooking, a steel grate with 4-5 inch legs is a perfect tool. Place it inside the firepit ring directly over the coals. It can support a dutch oven or coffee pot and can even be used to sear steaks if that’s your thing!
- Fire resistant gloves (I use a pair of Ove Gloves – an infomercial special!) come in handy when moving grates or cast iron
Learn to start a fire effortlessly
- Cotton balls with a smear of petroleum jelly make great fire starters. Store them in a plastic resealable bag for easy access and to minimize the mess.
- Fill cardboard toilet paper rolls with dryer lint for a fire made easy
- Place small balls of dryer lint in the spots of an old egg carton and cover each with wax to make 12 individual fire starters.
- Fire starter sticks can also be purchased in the section of the grocery store where you find charcoal
- Establish piles of wood when you set up camp in graduated sizes. Having a tinder pile to get things started and a pile of thin slat wood can make the process much easier especially in breezy conditions.
Practice fire safety with kids
- Firepits get hot to the touch almost instantly. Use rocks to surround the firepit. It makes the pit look great (style points!) and creates a bit of distance between kids and the flame.
- Explain the process of fire building to your kids so they understand what you’re doing and how it all works. Giving them an activity like collecting tinder can make them feel included.
- Establish a “one poker” rule. Kids will want to poke the fire but that can be avoided when the poker is in the hands of an adult.
- Consider what your children are wearing. Some synthetic garments can be dangerous when exposed to an open flame.
Camping tips for building the perfect campfire:
- Work on your wood pile as soon as you’ve set up your shelter. Create piles by size ranging from kindling to big logs. This makes building the first fire of the day a breeze.
- Take multiple fire starting methods with you on every trip. Some may work better than others in certain conditions.
- Smooth rocks placed along the outside of the firepit ring can be useful for heating hands, feet, or low back while you lounge in your favorite camp chair or useful in “preheating” your sleeping bag.
To be continued…