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How to build a campfire 101

The campfire… Or as I like to call it the television of the caveman.

It is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Since the dawn of humans, as we know today, a fire has been by our side.

After living in Finland for two years, I have noticed that most Finns are quite skilled in building fires. When the sauna needs to be started within minutes they are back and there is smoke coming from the chimney. Although making a fire inside vs. outside can be very different, the main principles remain. Heat. Fuel. Oxygen.

I used to make the same mistake over and over when building my fires only I did not realize it at the time. I always thought I had prepared enough small wood to get the fire going only to have my tinder burn out before the kindling and firewood began to burn.

What are you talking about Jeff? What in the hoot is kindling and why are you talking about tinder?

Lets back up a moment… To start a fire, you must build it slowly and surely. Using tinder, kindling, and firewood… no gasoline aloud!

Have a look at the three stages of building a fire that I find important and some frequently asked questions below.

Stage 1: To catch a flame

The tinder is the small fine wood that will surely burn by a match fast and hot and in Finland, there is no shortage of it. Birch bark is the go-to fire starter/tinder here as well as small dry twigs that can be taken from old fallen trees.

This is where my problem always started and unfortunately my fire ended especially in more challenging conditions like rain, wind, or in the winter. Collect enough tinder to create a lot of heat in the beginning and more to add to the fire as it starts to burn. This will create a nice warm bedding for your kindling to start.

Stage 2: Fire in the hole!

The Kindling comes next. A bundle of small sticks or chopped wood that ranges in thickness somewhere from 2 – 5 cm. The Kindling can be arranged in several different ways. I usually opt for the log house which allows oxygen to flow into all areas of the fire and it is easy to add more kindling and tinder when needed.

As your first wave of kindling begins to burn down you can begin to add thicker pieces to help build the fire. These next loads of kindling should provide enough heat and fuel to start burning the firewood. No, not that old tree over there but the firewood you safely chopped 10 minutes earlier.

Stage 3: The poking stage

The Firewood should be dry and roughly the size of your wrist, give or take. Remember to take airflow into account when placing bigger logs and leave some space between them. If you go to big you run the risk of a smokey and unpleasant fire. Once you are in the firewood stage and the elements are not against you there should be no problem keeping this fire alive. Good work!

This is called the poking stage because after your great accomplishment you get to reap the reward and poke the fire. Go find yourself a stick roughly a meter long and poke it. That's right, just stand there and poke it. Pretty relaxing right. There is no right or wrong way to poke so long as the fire keeps burning.

Always remember to extinguish your fire before leaving!

Every national park here in Finland and most nature reserves have campfire points where firewood has been provided. You only need to chop it down to a more food-friendly size, unless cooking over a bonfire is what you're into. In each of our national park day trips from Helsinki we always build a fire for cooking and in the winter to keep warm!

FAQ


Help! There is nothing but smoke coming from my fire!

The smoke is coming from the wood which started to burn but has since lost its flame. To get rid of the smoke, you must keep the fire concentrated and burning. Logs rolling off to the side or a fire which has been smothered will begin to smoke.
Try adding some smaller kindling to get the fire back up and running.

Where can I build my fire?

In a fire pit of course! If you are starting your fire here in Finland, every national park has designated fire pits with all the of the firewood provided. You only need to process the wood down into tinder, kindling, and firewood.
If you happen to be backcountry camping or in a wilderness area such as Hammastunturi you can make fires on the fly but must follow the given guidelines when doing so. Creating a safe fire ring would be the first step unless there is a designated campfire site available within 500 meters, you must use this site. Collecting fallen tree branches and twigs for your fire is okay but cutting or damaging stand trees is prohibited. Leaving no trace when you are packing up means repairing the ground and covering your tracks!

Is there a fire ban on right now?

There certainly could be, especially if you are visiting in July & August. Please check here.
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