A campfire is absolutely essential to the camp experience. It provides warmth, light, heat for food and an excuse to stare at something for minutes on end without feeling useless or creepy. The fire is the focal point of the camp site. It's where people come together, share stories, make food and provide entertainment.
Here are my top tips for an awesome campfire...
First, you have to make the damn thing...easier said than done. Some materials you'll need:
After centuries of debate, scholars maintain dry wood burns better than non-dry wood. Brown and down is the old adage, meaning wood that is dead and on the ground is normally an easy and appropriate fire source. Of course, most campsites will sell bundled wood on the premises which is an easier, albeit more expensive, way to obtain the almighty wood.
Small pieces of wood, or kindling, are necessary to start the fire. Big 'ole logs won't do you much good until the fire is well on its way. If you're unable to gather small pieces of wood, use a hatchet or knife to cut the logs into smaller pieces.
2. Tinder (not the dating app)
Your kindling needs a little help before it gets burning, so to get the party started you'll need tinder. Tinder is a term that applies to something small and dry that is used to start a fire. My go-to is newspaper or thin strips of cardboard. If you don't have those materials, you could gather straw, pine needles or dead grass to aid in the process.
Yes...fire. This is the 21st century, so no need for two stones or a magnifying glass. Just use matches or a lighter, preferably a long grill lighter, so you can set it all up in flames.
Next you'll need a place to start the fire. Most every campsite will come equipped with a fire ring. DO NOT make a fire without a fire ring or some protective barrier. Smokey the bear don't play that game...
Smokey the bear is the American symbolic mascot that warns us against forest fires
Once you have your materials and a place to burn, you'll need to arrange the fire. There are many different ways to arrange a campfire, but my favorite setup is the teepee. First inside the ring goes the tinder. I just bundle up some newspapers. Don't go crazy here, just a couple of pages out of your favorite tabloid newspaper will do.
The idea behind the teepee formation is that you are allowing air to escape between tinder and kindling, essential to the fire-making process. If you just pile a bunch of wood on top of paper, the wood won't catch.
Next comes the fun part – FIRE! Light that sucker up! Remember, the tinder catches the kindling, so make sure to light your tinder. If you see the tinder is still burning but is too low to catch the kindling, you should try to provide a little more air to the fire. Apply long, slow breaths to the tinder until it catches the wood. Be careful not to get too close to the fire. I've singed more than my fair share of facial hair during this endeavor. If the kindling isn't catching at all, you might need to add more tinder and start the process over again.
Author's note: I strongly recommend not using lighter fluid. It can be helpful if you're having trouble starting the fire, but there's much more sense of accomplishment if you build a fire without it. Don't cheat.
Once the kindling catches, you'll want to slowly add more wood. It might be time for logs, but the fire is still in its infancy so don't just throw logs on haphazardly. I continue the teepee shape, allowing for air again.
The wood will obviously need to be close enough to the kindling to catch fire, but not so close that it suffocates the fire. Think of it as the difference between a bump and grind and the tango. In this case, you're going to want to give your partner, "the fire", a little room to breathe in order to get the desired result. Go with the tango.
Once your fire is strong and healthy and you've completed your pre-rehearsed fire dance (very important), you'll want to sustain this beast by stoking, fanning and adding more wood when appropriate.
To stoke a fire, just use another piece of wood, a long piece of metal or a prosthetic arm to move the wood around to get oxygen flowing again.
To fan a fire you'll need a dried buffalo hide, at least 2′ x 2′ in length. If you don't have that....well I guess you can just breathe on it. Again, this gives oxygen to the fire.
Adding more wood...well that's self-explanatory.
Additional elements that make the campfire "experience":
An American camping classic. A s'more (contracted word for "some more") consists of a toasted marshmallow(s), chocolate and a graham cracker.
I could write a graduate school thesis on the art of making s'mores, but essentially it goes like this:
1. Prepare you cracker and chocolate. Best to get this ready for the eventual marshmallow immersion. The general recipe calls for 1/2 of a Hershey's bar in between two crackers. By all means, get creative with the chocolate portion. Crunch Bar, Kit-Kats and Reece's Peanut Butter Cups are better in my humble opinion.
2. Place a marshmallow (I prefer two marshmallows) on the end of a stick, or stick-like apparatus.
3. Toast the marshmallows. This is the most important part of the process. For me, I like to toast mine rotisserie-style, allowing for an even crisp. Others will just toast it on one side which allows for some saggage and, god forbid, a complete marshmallow collapse from the stick. Another method, and to me the most peculiar, is to completely engulf the marshmallow in flames, leaving the outside burnt. Although entertaining to watch, this method doesn't adequately melt the inside of the marshmallow. In the end though, to each camper their own...do as you see fit. Just make it hot enough to leave the chocolate slightly melted.
4. Slide the marshmallows off the stick between the chocolate and cracker.
Even the Neanderthals sang Oasis around the campfire. Grab a guitar, bongo or beat your chest. Either way, play some jams and sing along!
We all have a story – share yours. Or at least share a more interesting version of a story you once heard. It doesn't have to be true...this is a campfire not a court of law. Of course, scary stories are encouraged. I like to tell the one about the passenger I left in the Grand Canyon...
Never have I ever, 2 truths 1 lie, 20 questions...there are 9,500 different games you can play around a campfire that will keep the night alive.
And don't forget to put the fire out – a sad reality. But there's always the next night!